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COLUMBIA TRISTAR

MOVIE INFO
Director:
Rob Minkoff
Cast:
Michael J. Fox, Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, Jonathan Lipnicki, Nathan Lane, Chazz Palminteri, Steve Zahn
Screenplay:
M. Night Shyamalan, based on the book by E.B. White

Tagline:
The Little Family Just Got Bigger
Box Office:
Budget $103 million.
Opening weekend $15.018 million on 2878 screens.
Domestic gross $140.015 million.
MPAA:
Rated PG for brief language.

Academy Awards:
Nominated for Best Visual Effects.

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Standard 1.33:1
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround
Subtitles:
English; Closed-captioned

Runtime: 85 min.
Price: $19.95
Release Date: 5/21/2002.

Bonus:
• Stuart's Central Park Adventure Game
• Bloopers & Gag Reel
• Visual Effects Gag Reel
• Making it Big: HBO Special
• Race with Stuart: Hasbro Interactive ROM Game
• Director and Animation Supervisors' Commentary
• Visual Effects Interactive Featurette
• Read-Along with Stuart!
• Artists' Screen Tests
• DVD ROM & Weblinks!
• Boat Race: Early Concept Reel with Director's Commentary
• Art Galleries
• Talent Files
• Theatrical Trailers
• Scene Selections
• Exclusive Sneak Peek at Stuart Little 2
• New! "A Little Look With Stuart" Game


PURCHASE
DVD
Music soundtrack

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EQUIPMENT
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RELATED REVIEWS


Stuart Little: Deluxe Edition (1999)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Were it not for the enormous success of both The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project, it seems likely that a rather different film would have gone down as the biggest sleeper hit of 1999. That movie would be the unassuming children's picture, Stuart Little, which opened during the crowded Christmas season but still managed to rake in almost $140 million. It ended up as the second most successful film of the 1999 holiday period after mega-hit Toy Story 2.

Bizarre aside #1: two of those three sleepers were at least co-written by M. Night Shyamalan. He's better known as the writer and director of The Sixth Sense, but he also co-wrote the screenplay for Stuart. Freaky!

Not so bizarre aside #2: you want to know when $100 million stops being the marker by which blockbuster films are judged? When twenty-one movies in one year make that much money! That occurred in 1999, the year in which Stuart hit screens. Face it folks, it's time to use $200 million as the baseline figure, for even $150 million seems insufficient; nine films hit that mark in 1999, but only four surpassed $200 million.

Anyway, Stuart definitely emerged as one of the surprise success stories of 1999 and it actually makes for a "kids movie" that also seems tolerable and fairly fun for adults as well. Not for a second does it approach the likes of the better Disney films, which are equally entertaining and stimulating for a variety of age groups. However, compared with other recent "family fare" like Baby Geniuses and Muppets From Space, Stuart stands above the competition.

Stuart tells the tale of the title character. An orphan who looks somewhat like a mouse, Stuart (voiced by Michael J. Fox) gets adopted by the Littles: mother Eleanor (Geena Davis) and father Frederick (Hugh Laurie). Their young son George (Jonathan Lipnicki) wants a little brother, but not one this little! He initially resists Stuart’s charms, but soon the two of them become close friends.

However, not all seems well in Stuart’s new world. Family cat Snowbell (Nathan Lane) resents being the pet of a mouse, and he schemes to remove Stuart from the house. With the aid of some street cats, two mice named Stout - Reggie (Bruno Kirby) and Camille (Jennifer Tilly) - claim to be Stuart’s real parents, and they take him to live with them. This ruse doesn’t last long, as the Little family discovers the truth, and they institute a major search to find Stuart. After the police get involved, the street cats want to prevent that, so they send out an order to “scratch” Stuart. Snowbell must choose between family and the cats as he decides whether or not to help save Stuart.

A lot of the credit for the success of Stuart comes from the terrific cast assembled for the film. In front of the camera we find solid veterans Geena Davis - who no longer seems to want to be an action hero now that she and Renny have split - and Hugh Laurie in the lead human roles. We also find a fine crew of character actors in support. We get performers like Brian Doyle-Murray, Dabney Coleman, Julia Sweeney, Estelle Getty, Jeffrey Jones and a slew of others in small roles.

Even better are the voice actors of Stuart. Most prominent, of course, is Michael J. Fox as our lead mouse. Fox pulls off the role in a manner that's both charming and endearing without being overly sappy, at least most of the time. Nathan Lane steals the show with his catty comments as Snowbell, the Littles' resident feline who's none to happy to have to share the house with a mouse; Lane can't quite elevate Snowbell to the heights of a character as memorable as Timon in The Lion King - codirected by Stuart's director Rob Minkoff, by the way - but he makes the cat more entertaining and enjoyable than I'd otherwise expect.

More hepcats appear through the voices of other terrific actors. It's a strong roster of faux felines: Steve Zahn, Chazz Palminteri, Jim Doughan and David Alan Grier all make appearances. Add to that Bruno Kirby and Jennifer Tilly as the other pair of mice and you find a startlingly strong cast of voice actors.

The weakest link in the group comes from little Jonathan (Jerry Maguire) Lipnicki. The kid was still cute three years after his big break, but cute can only go so far; it worked for him in 1996 but now he's supposed to actually act, and the kid really isn't very good. Granted, there's a limit to how much you expect from a child in his age range - Lipnicki was only seven when filming started in 1997 - but he's still rather awkward and stiff; I don't think he'd have gotten the role without his established semi-fame. Lipnicki doesn't hurt the film, but he's not one of the better child actors.

Director Minkoff does just enough right to bolster the cast and keep things moving nicely. As I already stated, most of the humor in the film is aimed at little folks, and the plot will hold virtually no suspense for anyone over the age of eight. Nonetheless, the movie remains entertaining and pleasant throughout its brief running time and makes for a fairly charming diversion that avoids much of the crassness usually found in "children's" entertainment these days, though I could have lived without the occasional butt/gas jokes. Stuart Little provides a fairly cute and charming experience.


The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio A- / Bonus A-

Stuart Little appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The absence of the original aspect ratio seemed odd. When Stuart first came out on DVD in 2000, it was available in both fullscreen and widescreen versions, but the “Deluxe Edition” only appears in the altered dimensions.

Obviously, individual viewers will decide for themselves if this compromised image is acceptable. While I don’t like modified dimensions, I don’t let that influence my opinion of the picture quality; if it looks good, I’ll say so. While the fullscreen Stuart generally presented a positive image, it showed some moderate problems and didn’t seem as strong as the old anamorphic 1.85:1 presentation.

Sharpness generally came across as good, but it showed some variations. At times, the movie appeared a little soft and fuzzy. However, those instances occurred infrequently, and most of the film appeared acceptably distinct and accurate. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no concerns, but I noticed a little edge enhancement at times. Print flaws never seemed strong, but I saw more than I expected. Light grain showed up at times, and I also witnessed occasional examples of grit, specks, and some marks. Again, these didn’t appear heavy, but they looked a little heavier than I’d like for a recent film.

For the most part, colors seemed nicely bright and vivid. Stuart presented a somewhat cartoony palette that translated well to the video screen, and the hues generally appeared virbrant and lively. However, at times they came across as somewhat heavy, and flesh tones could look a little pinkish. Black levels were reasonably deep and dense, while shadow detail appeared clear and appropriately opaque. Ultimately, the fullscreen image of Stuart Little seemed acceptable but not as crisp and distinct as the anamorphic widescreen version.

As I watched Stuart, I tried to determine if the transfer was unmated fullscreen or a true pan and scan affair. Frankly, unlike the obviously pan and scan Snow Dogs, I never could settle the matter one way or the other. On one hand, the picture could look a little cramped at the sides, but on the other, I saw an awful lot of headroom throughout the film. That seems like a sign of an open matte image, which is what I think this is. Nonetheless, even if we don’t lose any information, I still prefer the original theatrical dimensions.

The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack seemed stronger than the picture, and it matched the quality of the prior. The soundstage provided a wonderfully immersive experience. Audio appeared consistently well placed and still spatially integrated; the entire mix blended together smoothly and created an enveloping soundfield. The surrounds contributed quite a lot of aural information and they did so naturally and convincingly. From the washing machine scene to the boat race to the climactic events, the surrounds didn’t provide constant accompaniment, but they added a lot to the experience.

Sound quality appeared very good as well. Dialogue sounded largely natural and clear. The only problem I noted was that much of Stuart's speech did not match that of the human actors terribly well at times and it didn't seem as neatly integrated as it could be. Some of that may be inevitable, however, given the nature of the production. Effects were realistic and forceful, plus they lacked any signs of distortion, while the score displayed strong dynamic range with clear highs and some deep bass. All in all, it's a very fine soundtrack that nicely supported the films.

This new “Deluxe Edition” of Stuart Little alters the original "Collector's Series" release from 2000. However, don’t expect many differences; the vast majority of the DVD’s voluminous extras also appeared on the old disc. Unless I explicitly mention the new material, assume that the goodies also showed up on the 2000 release.

First we encounter two audio commentaries. The first comes from director Rob Minkoff and animation supervisor Henry Anderson. Both men were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. Overall, they offered a good chat that covered a variety of issues. Given the technically complex nature of Stuart, I didn’t feel surprised that they often concentrated on those issues, and they did so well. Minkoff and Anderson nicely discussed all the challenges involved, particularly as they related to the use of Stuart and the cats. In addition, we learned a lot about story and character points, including material about the differences between the novel and the film. I enjoyed this clear and engaging track that provided a lot of solid information about the movie.

The second commentary features Senior Visual Effects Supervisor John Dykstra and Visual Effects Supervisor Jerome Chen. As one would expect, this track mainly concentrated on technical specifications. They went over the details about all of the visual effects in the film. Since the first commentary was so inclusive, this one could be somewhat redundant. It remained enjoyable, but it seemed less necessary. It'll probably be most interesting for folks really interested in this area, as others will likely be satisfied with the discussion in the Minkoff/Anderson piece.

Next up is Making It Big, an "HBO First Look" featurette that runs for 22 minutes. It's a pretty typical promotional program in which we see clips from the film interspersed with interview snippets and behind the scenes shots. One unusual approach taken by this program is that it occasionally pretends that Stuart's an actor; as such, we find clips of cast and crew discussing him as if he were one of them. No one seems to have let Jonathan Lipnicki in on the joke, though; he answers the interviewers off-camera questions seriously. It's a good but unspectacular piece that deserves a screening.

A section titled "Basement Treasures" includes a slew of other features. First are 2 and a half minutes of animators' screen tests. These are literally what they say they are: a few different animators were given Stuart, the same setting and objects and had Stuart interact with them. I guess the producers picked who they liked based on these tests. It's something I've never seen before and makes for an interesting addition.

This area offers six deleted scenes, which can be viewed with or without Rob Minkoff’s commentary. They can also be seen either individually or as one running piece; actually, the program will just keep going if you don't stop it, and the total of all six clips is five minutes and 15 seconds. These make for some interesting segments, especially number 3 (which shows a quick retake of a scene and provides a cool look at filmmaking) and number 4 (which uses rough animation), but the content is nothing special. The commentary seems pretty useless because Minkoff basically only explains the scenes, which is unnecessary; with the exception of number 5, he never explains why the segments were cut, which is the most basic requirement of a commentary that accompanies deleted scenes.

Two more segments feature gag reels. One - the "visual effects gag reel" - displays premeditated bloopers reminiscent of the ending of A Bug’s Life and runs for 30 seconds, while the "production gag reel" - which lasts for about three and a half minutes - sticks to the more typical human goof-ups. Honestly, I really hate bloopers, so the second piece is generally useless in my opinion, except it intersperses some cool looks behind the scenes of the film with things like shots of the Stuart prop used on the set. I wish I didn't have to watch all the usual misreadings of lines to get to the good stuff, but at least it's there.

The "Basement Treasures" area closes with the Boat Race Early Concept Reel. This piece offers a running presentation of storyboards for an unused version of the boat race; the boards are accompanied by commentary from Minkoff during this eight-minute segment. It's an interesting look at this alternate possibility, which Minkoff states was discarded because it would have been prohibitively expensive. (From the sound of it, it also would have been too far from reality, but that's just my opinion.)

That finished the "Basement Treasures" area but not the supplements - we still have a loooong way to go! The Visual Effects Interactive Featurette presents six different segments: "The Making of a Mouse", "A Goodnight Kiss", "How A Mouse Brushes His Teeth", "Dressing Up Stuart", "Stuart Steers the Wasp", and "In Bed With Mom and Dad". Each of these includes four mini-features, most of which run between 30 and 40 seconds, though a few go for between 20 and 30 seconds. All of these show different steps of effects process and include narration from members of the effects crew. It's a very unusual and effective presentation and it helps show us the steps for creating this type of film.

The Read Along presents a video storybook. The child can either read the tale on his own, or have it read to him as he follows the text. If read to the kid, the program last for three and a half minutes. Since I don't have kids, so this doesn't do much for me, but it's a great addition for parents with children in the appropriate age range. One very nice touch: Michael J. Fox - as Stuart - reads the story.

Those kinds of video storybooks are becoming more popular on DVDs, as are interactive trivia games, another feature we find on Stuart Little. The latter offers three difficulty levels ("Little Mouse", "Big Mouse", and "Professor Mouse") but seems insanely simple at any of them; as such, this thing's really meant for kids, unlike some of the Disney trivia games, which sometimes present a few tough questions. One nice touch is that the child can never "lose" "Stuart's Central Park Adventure Game": if he or she misses a question, a video shows backwards progress but doesn't greet the kid with some of the nasty "WRONG!" messages found in other games.

The music videos section includes three songs. We get "If You Can't Rock Me" by the Brian "I Refuse to Acknowledge That Music Has Changed In Any Way Since 1962" Setzer Orchestra. The song is Setzer's usual retro junk, but the video's more entertaining than most as it shows Stuart at a gig by the band. One interesting note: if you've learned a lot about effects-intensive movies, you'll know that whenever actors interact with objects that weren't there at the time of shooting - like Stuart - it's insanely important that they maintain the correct eye-line so it really seems as though they're looking at the correct object. If you ever doubted that this really was crucial, check out the guy who watches Stuart play the trumpet; his gaze is off, and though it's not by much, it's enough to completely kill the illusion.

The next video comes from Trisha Yearwood with the sappy ballad, "You're Where I Belong". Please God - save us from any more insipid Diane Warren-penned clunkers like this! You may not know Warren's name but you know her songs, like Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" and Milli Vanilli's "Blame It On The Rain"; when Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" is easily someone's best tune, that's when you know that person is a miserable hack. This is the typical lip-synch/film clip combination that so often appears when we see movie-related videos, and although it's lush, it's also pretty dull. At least Yearwood's very pretty and she seems on the slim side of her Oprah-esque weight fluctuations here.

The final video gives us R Angels and their song "I Need to Know". Who are "R Angels"? Based on the evidence of this clip, they're Spice Girls wannabes who wannabe Spice Girls so badly their song badly reprises "Wannabe". It's another pretty lame lip-synch/film clip video, though at least the blonde's pretty hot. The redhead would look good, too, if she didn't so closely resemble a walking glass of milk - get some sun, baby!

A DVD standby appears in the cutely retitled The CATrical Trailers section, which features a preview for Stuart itself plus five other Columbia-Tristar family-oriented programs. We get a teaser for Stuart Little 2 plus promos for Stuart Little, Kermit’s Swamp Years, The Trumpet of the Swan, Maggie and the Ferocious Beast and Little Secrets. Note that although the original DVD also provided “TheCATrical Trailers”, this one features a different crop. An additional DVD basic can be found in the booklet, which provides good although rudimentary production notes.

That last area included one of the very few pieces new to this DVD. The teaser for Little 2 didn’t show up on the old disc, and we also get two additional new bits. Found in the “Stuart Little 2 Sneak Peeks domain - which also provides the teaser - we find On-the-Set, a four-minute and 20-second featurette that shows bits and pieces of the sequel. We watch short snippets from the movie as well as lots of shots from the set and quick interview bits with director Minkoff, actors Davis, Laurie, Fox, Melanie Griffith, Lipnicki, and costume designer Mona May. For the most part, the featurette resembled a long trailer, but I did enjoy the material from the set. It included lots of short but cool snippets that I found to be very entertaining.

The last new component to the Stuart Little “Deluxe Edition” provides an interactive game called A Little Look With Stuart. This moderately fun piece requires the participant to take a “Stuart’s-eye” view at a number of objects and then identify them. Maybe I’m just a moron, but I actually found this to offer a surprising challenge; I had to choose twice for a few of them. Happily, the game offers a painless experience, as you can select as many times as you need without punishment, though the contest concludes without any real “reward” sequence.

While CTS generally do a very nice job with all areas of their DVDs, there are two kinds of extras that they consistently botch. One comes from the terrible Talent Files they foist upon us. The biographies for Stuart are typical of those seen on other CTS DVDs; we find terribly rudimentary and useless listings for director Minkoff and actors Michael J. Fox, Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, Nathan Lane and Jonathan Lipnicki.

The other poorly executed area appears in the Scrapbook. This section offers three subheadings, each of which presents still-frames of conceptual drawings created for the film; the subtopics are called "Stuart", "Concepts", and "Cars and Boats", and each provides between 18 and 20 screens of illustrations.

The information itself is great; I like to see the early ideas that went behind the creation of a film. The problem stems from the way the DVD presents the images. As with a number of other CTS DVDs - like Ghostbusters and Jumanji - the disc's producers got too creative for their own good, and they try to make the screens look like they actually are in a real scrapbook. Cute, but this comes at the expense of image size; many drawings are rather small because they take up less of the screen than they should, and this problem is compounded because sometimes two or even three drawings are crammed onto the same frame! Most of the art remains visible, but I simply think that they should make the entire presentation easier to see, since many details will be lost along the way.

For those with DVD-ROM drives, the extras don’t end there, though surprisingly, the “Deluxe Edition” eliminates some choices from the original disc. It provides an “archived” version of the film’s original website, which means you get to check out its information without any Internet connections or downloads. In addition, we find a link to the Stuart Little 2 site. The old DVD included something called the “Race With Stuart: Hasbro Interactive ROM Game” that doesn’t seem to appear here. Back when I reviewed the original disc, I didn’t have a DVD-ROM drive, so I was unable to critique it; because of that, I can’t relate if this is a real loss or not.

In addition, the “Deluxe Edition” appears to omit Alan Silvestri’s isolated score from the original DVD. Maybe it’s buried in there somewhere and I just can’t find it, but I indeed failed to locate it in the new package. While I don’t much care about isolated scores, I still think this offers a notable subtraction.

Stuart Little makes for a pleasant enough viewing experience. It seems more appropriate for the wee ones, but there's enough fun for adults to make it worth their while, especially since the movie features a terrific cast. The DVD itself offers a pretty solid piece of work. The fullframe picture showed more concerns than I’d like, but audio quality was very good, and the package included a roster of good extras.

Normally when a new version of a DVD appears, I recommend it over the prior one(s). However, this isn’t the case for Stuart Little. In fact, I think the old version is superior since it offers an anamorphic widescreen image, whereas the “DE” only features an inferior fullscreen picture. Audio and extras seem virtually identical; the “DE” tosses in a couple of very minor looks at Stuart Little 2, but these definitely aren’t enough to warrant a repurchase, and it drops an isolated score. If you already have the old DVD of Stuart, stick with it. If you don’t, try to find a copy of the widescreen release; it’s preferable to this “Deluxe Edition”.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.125 Stars Number of Votes: 8
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