At 78 minutes, “Stuart Little 2” runs 14 minutes shorter than its kid-pleasing predecessor, which should give some idea of the target aud for this slight but lively sequel. Aimed squarely at moppets with piddling attention spans, second pic about the adorably cute mouse and his human adoptive parents should perform nicely as a midsummer B.O. magnet even without luring many teens or childless grown-ups. Original 1999 release sniffed out $300 million in global B.O.
Michael J. Fox reprises his splendidly apt voiceover chores for Stuart, the 3-inch-tall, walking-and-talking rodent introduced in E. B. White’s classic children’s book. Better still, Nathan Lane returns to speak for Snowball, a white chinchilla Persian cat with the overcompensating hauteur of a snooty waiter in a second-rate restaurant. Also back in harness for human roles: Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis as Mr. and Mrs. Little, Stuart’s proud and protective adoptive parents, and Jonathan Lipnicki as George Little, Stuart’s older “brother.” (Twins Anna and Ashley Hoelck take turns playing the newest member of the Stuart household, baby Martha.)
Sequel picks up several months after “Stuart Little,” with Stuart happily attending school (in his very own miniature car) just like a regular kid, George serving as a simpatico older sibling — and Snowball reluctantly accepting the fact that he’s sharing the Littles’ Manhattan brownstone with the equivalent of bite-size fast food.
Pic quickly establishes that Stuart, while mostly happy with the Little family, yearns to have a friend of roughly his size. Which leads to the first of many life lessons offered in Bruce Joel Rubin’s streamlined script: Be careful what you wish for.
While Stuart is zipping home from school one day, a seemingly injured bird named Margalo (Melanie Griffith) drops out of the sky and into Stuart’s passenger seat. The frazzled fowl claims she has incurred the wrath of Falcon (James Woods), a malevolent bird of prey who forces smaller birds to hunt and steal (think Fagin with feathers). Stuart eagerly offers to take Margalo back to the Little residence, where she can recover.
Naturally, a shy romance starts to blossom. But returning director Rob Minkoff slyly preps aud to expect the worst. A nice touch: At one point, Stuart and Margalo watch “Vertigo,” the classic drama of a man who’s duped by a woman who isn’t all that she seems. Sure enough, Margalo eventually vanishes with Mrs. Little’s favorite ring. Stuart sets out to find her, with a little help — very little help, actually — from a skittish Snowball.
Given the spectacular and sophisticated CGI work on view, it’s tempting to wonder whether, in terms of a budget-to-running time ratio, “Stuart Little 2” may be one of the most expensive pics ever made. Stuart looks more impressive than ever, with each hair on his face, every crease in his pants, vividly rendered. Margalo is animated with equal attention to detail, and Falcon is so thoroughly persuasive in his steel-eyed menace that some tykes may be genuinely frightened by his icy ferocity.
Interaction between digital figures and human beings is so remarkably seamless that, after just a few minutes, one stops marveling and simply accepts the miracles as a kind of matter-of-fact naturalism. Production designer Bill Brzeski does a fine job of grounding pic in something like reality by evoking a Manhattan that is at once romanticized and contemporary.
Griffith’s voicings charm the audience as well as Stuart, while Woods is terrifically sinister and amusingly sardonic. Steve Zahn, another vet of the original, has a couple of funny moments as Monty, a none-too-bright alley cat. And Lane once again steals every scene he’s in with his purring petulance. Human players are game, and somehow manage to keep from being completely upstaged by visuals.