ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.8 - NOVEMBER 1999

Stuart's Not-So-Little Journey
To The Big Screen

by Ilene Renee Gannaway

Stuart Little is a comedy-adventure that tells the story of a clever mouse, who learns the true meaning of family, loyalty and friendship when he is raised by a human family, the Littles, played by Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie. Photo © Peter Iovino/Columbia Pictures.

Mickey. Fievel. Jerry. And now -- Stuart. Throughout animation history, mice have always played a crucial, yet ironic role in making us re-examine our own humanity, in making us ask that highly existential question, "Are we mice, or men?"

On December 10, Columbia Pictures will introduce the newest animated mouse bent on burrowing its little way into our psyche and our hearts. Based on the beloved 1945 children's classic by E.B. White and brought to vibrant life by Director Rob Minkoff and the crew at Sony Pictures Imageworks (SPI), Stuart Little tells the story of a tiny mouse (voiced by Michael J. Fox) who is adopted by a human family. And not as a pet. As their child. Yes. You heard me. Because he is obviously so different from his adoptive parents and brother, both he and the Littles learn to appreciate the true meaning of family and home. As producer Douglas Wick explains, "(The Littles) don't really see a mouse. They see another creature who seems alone, like an orphan to them, and their hearts tell them that he should be the new member of the Little family."

From our first glimpse of this extremely lovable, "you just gotta hug him" character, it is astonishingly clear that Stuart isn't your typical, run-of-the-maze rodent. He may have white whiskers and a pinkish tail. He may be only three inches tall. And he may look at the world through black, beady eyes. But he also walks on two feet, talks, thinks, emotes and even drives a snazzy red sports car. And, sporting everything from a formal tux to trousers and high-tops, he looks like he just walked out of a Gap ad -- "Everybody in corduroy -- size extra, extra, extra, extra small."

A Man or A Mouse?
In fact, most of the filmmakers claim that Stuart isn't really a mouse at all. Beneath all his snow-white fur lurks an intelligent, clever and compassionate human being.

"I've always felt that Stuart was a person and that he actually saw himself like any other kid would look at himself," explains SPI Animation Supervisor Henry Anderson. "He has some characteristics of a mouse, but he's really not necessarily a mouse. Part of the message of the film is not to judge a book by its cover."

Stuart may be cute and hip, but on a more important level he functions as a metaphor for adopted kids who struggle to fit into their new families. Though the slightly-eccentric but extremely warm-hearted Littles (Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie) love Stuart like they gave birth to him, their real son George, (Jonathan Lipnicki), isn't so sure he wants a teensy-weensy mouse for a sibling. In fact, when he told his parents he would like a little brother, he didn't think they would take him so literally.

Adding to the sibling rivalry are Stuart's physical limitations within the Little household. Let's face it. He's short. Really short. Brushing his teeth with an oversized toothbrush poses a Herculean challenge as does escaping from a merciless washing machine.

Producer Douglas Wick believes that Stuart encapsulates just how frustrating and frightening childhood can be. "Every child feels like a different species than his parents," he observes. "As a child, you're always looking at the world at knee-level, and it seems overwhelming and scary. A protagonist like Stuart -- who has a big heart and can go out into the world and problem-solve -- is very inspiring."

Snowball the cat, voiced by Nathan Lane, contemplates the pros and cons of saving Stuart, voiced by Michael J. Fox, from disaster in the washing machine. © Columbia Pictures.

A more formidable problem than your average Kenmore appliance materializes in the form of Snowbell, the Little's pampered pet cat (voiced by Nathan Lane) who can't stand that a mouse occupies a higher niche in the family hierarchy than he. As a result, the talking feline (whose mouth moves with assistance from the folks at Rhythm and Hues) enlists the help of a menacing street cat to oust Stuart from the place and people he is beginning to call home.

Clearly, Stuart faces more daunting obstacles in this adaptation than he does in White's original story in which the mouse quickly ingratiates himself in the family and then leaves them -- without a backwards look -- to set off on his own adventures. Barry Weiss, Senior Vice President of Animation Production at SPI, explains that it was necessary to deviate from the original story in this fashion in order to emphasize the thematic importance of family.

"Stuart Little is about how a child is going to integrate into a family, what makes a family," he says. "In the book, Stuart just runs off into the sunset, and we didn't want to do that in the movie. We want the resolution."

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Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.


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