Setting a Trap

E.B. White's tearful prepubescent semi-classic gets the Happy Hollywood treatment, but with disappointing results—Stuart himself is a winsome CGI with Michael J. Fox's sour-skim-milk voice, and White's ruminative fairy tale is reduced to a cycle of departures and homecomings childishly dolled up for the Catdog crowd with butt and fart jokes. Don't wait for the rueful poetry that snuck into The Iron Giant or Toy Story 2 to surface here; the movie reneges on virtually every emotional punch the book delivered. Whereas White's Stuart was, strangely enough, born into the human Little family and convinced he was no different from them, just smaller, the movie's Stuart is an amiable adoptee. Instead of the aching search for Margalo the vanished bird-girlfriend, the movie (cowritten by M. Night Shyamalan) swabs Stuart in the adoption blues, presenting him with a conniving set of fake mouse birth-parents hired by evil cats. Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie (the unlikeliest movie marriage since Marlene Dietrich and Herbert Marshall in Blonde Venus) are the enthusiastic adopters as well as the parents of the obnoxious, bespectacled cherub Jonathan Lipnicki, who, along with the family's bitter Persian cat (voiced in full-on Billy Crystal yenta-ish by Nathan Lane) dismiss Stuart and then redeem themselves by loving him. Getting the nondigital felines to act is a dilemma never adequately solved (although Steve Zahn's boggle-brained alley cat has his moments), and the story is little more than overdetermined trials and triumphs. Kids won't care, but they won't fall for it either; unsurprisingly, it doesn't stand a chance of providing them with the memories the book provided their parents.

 
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