Weekly Video Picks

Stuart Little 2 (2002)

A thoroughly entertaining family film, Stuart Little 2 is smarter, funnier, more heartfelt and more exciting than the amiable 1999 original. In fact, it manages to be both more satisfying for adults and more kid-friendly than the original. As an added plus, Stuart Little 2 can be enjoyed without ever seeing the first film.

In the first film, the main impression created by the Little clan was of quirky retro un-hipness and preternatural good cheer. In the sequel, Stuart's parents reveal a more endearing and charming side, and make their family life genuinely appealing.

Besides standard platitudes about looking on the bright side and having confidence in yourself, Stuart Little 2 deals with the moral issues of lying (and, to a lesser degree, stealing) versus honesty and integrity. The message that lying is bad comes across with welcome clarity (contrast Big Fat Liar, which couldn't commit to anything stronger than “the truth isn't overrated”). If only all sequels were this good.

Content advisory: Mild menace; mild scatological references; recurring lying to parents.

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1959)

One of the 15 titles on the Vatican film list in the religion category and the grandest of Hollywood 's classic biblical epics, William Wyler's Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ doesn't transcend its genre: The emphasis is on spectacle and melodrama, but it does these things about as well as they could possibly be done.

Ben-Hur holds up better than such productions as The Ten Commandments in part because the biblical subject itself is reverently left in the background and another more appropriate tale is the subject of its melodrama.

Though Christ's life is traced from his birth to his passion and death, we never see his face or hear his voice.

Instead, Ben-Hur is a classic revenge epic leavened with an edifying message of forgiveness. Charlton Heston stars as Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince whose boyhood friendship with a Roman officer turns to enmity over politics and betrayal. The classic chariot race remains a brilliant action set piece.

Content advisory: Some action violence.