Video Picks & Passes
Stuart Little: PASS
Stuart Little 2: PASS
Toy Story 2 Special Edition: PASS
All three films contain mild menace. The Stuart Little films contain mild bathroom humor; the original has a few instances of minor profanity, mildly crass language, and themes of sibling rivalry; the sequel deals with lying to parents. All are fine family viewing.
There are exceptions to every rule, and sometimes the sequel is better than the original, as a pair of recent family film DVD releases illustrate.
Exhibit A: Rob Minkoff’s Stuart Little and Stuart Little 2, with Michael J. Fox as the voice of E. B. White’s boy-mouse hero and Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie and little Jonathan Lipnicki as his family. After being out of print on DVD for awhile, both are newly available in a twofer edition that readily illustrates how much smarter, funnier, more heartfelt and more exciting the 2002 sequel is than the amiable 1999 original.
Both films are very loosely connected to the 1945 children’s story by E. B. White. White, of course, wrote no sequel to Stuart Little — though if ever a story needed a continuation, it was that one, as it simply trails off without a satisfactory resolution. (Like the Stuart Little movies, E. B. White’s children’s books improved successively: Charlotte’s Web is much better than Stuart Little; The Trumpet of the Swan is the best of all.)
In the first film, the main impression created by the Little clan is of quirky unhipness and preternatural good cheer. In the sequel, Stuart’s parents still have their colorful retro quirkiness (compare to Jimmy Neutron’s parents), but they also reveal a more endearing and charming side, and make their family life genuinely appealing.
At the same time, Stuart Little 2 effectively balances its sweetness with acid wit and clever asides for the grown-ups, and never runs the risk of becoming cloying or saccharine. Much of the credit in this regard goes to Nathan Lane in the role of the cat Snowbell, funnier and better utilized here than in the original.
Exhibit B is a closer call: Both of Pixar’s Toy Story films are classics, but I give the edge to Toy Story 2, now available in a new DVD special edition. It’s the best kind of sequel, the kind that neither repeats the original nor merely adds to it, but lovingly builds upon it and goes beyond it into narrative and emotional territory no first film could reach.
In Toy Story, Woody the cowboy doll (Tom Hanks) helped Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) come to terms with the fact that he’s only a toy. Now it’s Woody’s turn to have an identity crisis as he learns more about his own identity — he’s the central figure in a highly collectible 1950s-era phenomenon — while Buzz is left to uphold the toy ethic that nothing matters more than being loved by a child.
On an emotional level, the toys’ dilemma resonates with parental empty-nest anxiety: Like parents, the toys give everything they have for a child’s sake, until the day the child needs them no more.
The imaginary “Woody’s Roundup” franchise is retrofitted into its 1950s milieu with unerring nostalgic precision. And, where the climax of the first film gave Buzz a brief opportunity to soar through the sky like a real space ranger, Toy Story 2 ends with a brilliant, rousing homage to old Westerns that allows Woody, in his finest hour, to become a real cowboy hero.
Incidentally, besides improving on their predecessors, both Stuart Little 2 and Toy Story 2 are even friendlier to the youngest viewers, avoiding some of the originals’ more menacing situations or images.
- January 1-7, 2006