- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

Reliably skillful and entertaining, "Stuart Little 2" deserves a niche among the seasonal favorites. After "Lilo & Stitch," the return of the E.B. White mouse is the classiest of recent attractions designed to beguile a family audience.

The system of computer graphic animation that makes Stuart's miniaturized world feasible on the screen appears to be getting more expert and versatile. The animators also are in love with New York City and show it in a sumptuous way that may prove even more appealing in the wake of September 11.

Tolerating the movie depends on being charmed by the comedy of scale that informs its clever miniatures and by the crisply colorful palette that governs its vision of New York. If you resist gags that emphasize big-little contrasts and also resist the prevailing lushness of the illustrative style, the picture could set your teeth on edge or induce an early naptime.

There's only one conspicuous trouble spot: The program used for the canary Margolo, who becomes a principal character in this installment, needs an upgrade; the leading lady looks much too ceramic. Stuart's fur and contours have become so softly "pettable" to the eye that the contrast is jarring.

The familiar softness of Melanie Griffith's voice as Margolo also argues for a different skin texture. One amusing detail helps: Margolo enters with an injured wing and looks better when Stuart resourcefully rigs her bandanna as a sling.

Directed by Rob Minkoff, who supervised the original two years ago, the sequel was written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who enjoyed a considerable supernatural vogue in the early 1990s when he dreamed up "Ghost" and "Jacob's Ladder." He has faded from prominence in recent years but seems to be in command of a light touch with "Stuart 2."

There's an imposing heavy: a falcon voiced by James Woods and derived from Fagin and Bill Sykes in "Oliver Twist." Margolo is the falcon's delicate protege; she deceitfully insinuates herself into the Little household on Fifth Avenue, as she is assigned to case the joint for her predatory mentor.

Despite being physically overmatched, Stuart rescues her from the falcon's clutches. Ultimately, his bravery takes the form of challenging his nemesis to an aerial duel over the skies of Central Park. The best single prop is a toy World War I plane, introduced when Stuart recklessly flies it around the house. Snoopy of Peanuts fame would be extremely jealous at the heroic possibilities associated with this sturdy flying machine.

Mr. Rubin gets an eccentrically funny brainstorm when he links Margolo in a guilt-by-association bond with the mystery woman played by Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo." In fact, the canary and the mouse share a "Vertigo" drive-in date: They watch scenes on a Little television, mounted just outside a window frame, while parked in Stuart's red convertible.

Nathan Lane remains in good smarty-pants voice as the sarcastic, complaining Little house cat, Snowbell. He's even better this time around while deployed as a reluctant rescuer, following Stuart to the falcon's hangout in the tower of a Central Park West skyscraper called the Pishkin Building.

The Little son, Jonathan Lipnicki as George, gets a buddy down the block named Will (Marc John Jeffries). Will's mother is played by Amelia Marshall. Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie enhance the absurdly doting aspects of Mr. and Mrs. Little, whose offspring now include a baby girl named Martha (impersonated by twins Anna and Ashley Hoelck).

A running gag invites the audience to keep anticipating the tot's first words. It's rather more fascinating to ponder an amusing resemblance to Miss Davis in her puckered little lips.


***

TITLE: "Stuart Little 2"

RATING: PG (Occasional ominous episodes and fleeting comic vulgarity)

CREDITS: Directed by Rob Minkoff. Screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin, based on characters created by E.B. White.

RUNNING TIME: 78 minutes


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