Cute and charming

Stuart Little 2 tops the original with winning characters and great animation.

“I am so much cuter than Tony Hawk!”

“I am so much cuter than Tony Hawk!”

Rated 3.0

Offering some good smiles with decent special effects, Stuart Little 2 is the exception to the sequel rule in that it tops the original. It’s harmless, good-natured fun that shows this franchise has legs and deserves future installments. Chock full of good old-fashioned family values, parents will find next to nothing to sweat about in taking their kids to this one, apart from a scary falcon voiced by James Woods and some litterbox humor.

The majority of cast and voices return for the further adventures of Stuart the mouse (voice of Michael J. Fox), now happily adjusted to his human family but looking for some friends of his stature. Stuart finds a pal in Margalo, a wayward bird (the all-too-cute voice of Melanie Griffith) who Stuart rescues from the scary James Woods falcon. Margalo is temporarily adopted by the Littles, and she isn’t the sweet, innocent bird she appears to be.

At the heart of the movie is the sweet, innocent determination of Stuart the mouse, excited to play soccer with what are essentially giant teammates, scaling skyscrapers to save a friend and constantly looking for the approval of his big brother George (Jonathan Lipnicki, who must’ve been negative-2-years-old when he starred in Jerry Maguire, because he looks like he’s 4 now).

The operative word here is cute. The way Stuart is animated, coupled with Fox’s winning voice, is just so gosh-darned cute. The mouse is one of those seamless animated creations, integrating nicely with the “real” surroundings, and I found myself missing dialogue due to my captivation with the artwork. From his expressive smiles to his hilarious scream when he unexpectedly hitches a ride on a kicked soccer ball, he’s a marvelous creation.

And he’s got some good company this time out. Margalo the bird is a little cartoon sweetheart, donning a pilot’s cap and batting some big eyelashes. The falcon is a nasty creation, and having Woods’ sinister voice growling out of him makes the bird all the more creepy. An aerial battle between Stuart in a model airplane and the falcon is a real rouser.

The beauty of the Stuart Little films is that they incorporate three entities: CGI characters like Stuart and Margalo, humans and real animals with animated talking mouths. Nathan Lane once again lends his voice to the fluffy family cat Snowbell, who helps Stuart on his quest to rescue a captured Margalo from the falcon. Steve Zahn, who did some hilarious voice-over work as the nervous grizzly bear in Doctor Doolittle 2, also returns as perpetually hungry Monty the cat, who is continuously denied requests to devour Stuart.

Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis are adorable as Stuart’s adoptive parents, with the film’s live action creating a goofy Ozzie and Harriet vibe. Lipnicki, who seemed clueless in this summer’s Like Mike, has better luck under director Rob Minkoff, actually giving off the appearance of a decent child actor. Fox has such a distinctive, enthusiastic charm in his voice that the actor’s presence is actually channeled through the cartoon creation.

One gripe: Enough already with the stereotyped foreign taxi driver caricatures. There’s an all too familiar sequence involving an Indian cab driver that plays off all the clichés and reeks of insensitivity. Some day, this garbage will stop.

That glitch only takes up a few seconds of the film. The rest of the movie is a delight and quite refreshing after the recent sequel misfire of Men In Black II. In a summer full of bad cartoons and lame family fare, I’ll take the virtuous Stuart over the farting Scooby-Doo, thank you.