Stuart Little

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

E.B. White’s story of a family whose son happens to be a mouse is lovingly Hollywood-ized. In other words, it bears very little relationship to the book but has a lot of great special effects. Fans of the book will do well to stay at home and re-read it, but families looking for some good action scenes, appealing characters, and a wise-cracking cat will enjoy it very much.

Mr. and Mrs. Little (Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis) drop son George (Jonathan Lipnicki) off at school on their way to the orphanage to adopt a child. They fall in love with Stuart (voice of Michael J. Fox), who is charming, insightful, unselfish — and a mouse. Despite warnings against “inter-species” adoption, they bring him home.

George is disappointed. He does not see how Stuart will ever be able to play with him. And maybe he is a little more jealous than he was expecting. He insists, “He’s not my brother — he’s a mouse!”

But that is nothing compared to the ferocious resentment of another member of the Little family — Snowball the cat. Snowball (hilariously voiced by Nathan Lane) is furious at being told that “we don’t eat family members,” and humiliated at having a mouse as “an owner.” He plots to get rid of Stuart.

Stuart manages to surmount the literally enormous obstacles of a world way out of proportion. He even wins over George, after he demonstrates his courage and loyalty in a boat race in Central Park. But he still feels an emptiness inside, and wonders about his birth parents.

Then two mice show up claiming to be his birth parents. Stuart realizes that the Littles are his real family. “You don’t have to look alike. You don’t even have to like each other.” Your family are the people who stick with you. His home is where they are.

This is a terrific family movie. Stuart, created entirely through computer graphics, is perfectly integrated into the live action. And I do mean action — the boat race and chase sequences are among the most exciting on screen this year. The script by the screenwriter/director of “The Sixth Sense” does not talk down to kids and has some genuine insights about sibling rivalry, the fear of failure, and family.

It is worth noting that this movie had by far the most enthusiastic audience reaction of any I saw this year, with shrieks of joy when Snowball went into the trash can and cheers at the boat race and chase scenes. I have to admit, I felt like cheering myself.

Parents should know that the movie is rated PG for brief mild language and scenes of peril.

Adoptive and foster families may want to think carefully about whether the themes will be upsetting or reassuring to their children. They should prepare adopted or foster children before they see the movie. They can emphasize the way that the Littles selected Stuart because they could tell he was right for them, and they should make it clear (if appropriate) that they would never let anyone take their children away. Like Stuart, they can explain that they recognize that families are people who stick up for each other. In the movie, it was not just Stuart who learned that lesson — the Littles also learned that they were wrong in thinking that Stuart would be happier with mice than with people.

All families who see this movie should talk about what makes people feel that they “fit in,” about jealousy and the way it makes us think that hurting others will help us feel better (but it doesn’t), and the importance of Mr. Little’s advice about trying — and George’s success in reminding him about it at the right moment.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy another movie based on a book by E.B. White, “Charlotte’s Web.”

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Animation Based on a book Comedy Family Issues For all ages For the Whole Family Talking animals

The Parent Trap

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This delightful remake of the Hayley Mills classic stars Lindsay Lohan as both Hallie and Annie, twin girls separated at birth, who meet up at summer camp and decide to switch places. Lohan is utterly adorable and does a masterful job of creating two separate characters, each of whom spends a large part of the movie impersonating the other. Their father, Nick (Dennis Quaid), owns a vinyard, and their mother Elizabeth (Natasha Richardson) designs wedding gowns. Meredith, the scheming girlfriend who hopes to marry their father for his money (Elaine Hendrix) has this year’s bad guy profession: publicist.

Parents may want to reassure their kids — one child who saw it with me was distressed that the parents had split up the twins and made no attempt to see the child they gave up. Divorced parents should make sure their children have no illusions of a reconciliation, and all parents should make sure that while it may be charming for the children in the movie to manipulate their parents, it is not appropriate for real life. Other parental concerns include Elizabeth’s getting drunk (portrayed as funny) because of her nervousness at seeing Nick again, and a truly grisly scene where one twin pierces the other’s ears. There is also a poker game bet which ends with a child jumping in the lake without any clothes. Children who enjoy this version will get a kick out of comparing it to the original. Make sure that they notice Joanna Barnes, who plays Vicki (the fiancee) in the original, playing Vicki (the fiancee’s mother) in the remake.

Related Tags:

 

Comedy Family Issues For the Whole Family Remake

Anywhere But Here

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Adele (Susan Sarandon), a free-spirited teacher, takes her 14 year old daughter Ann (Natalie Portman) to Los Angeles in a gold-colored Mercedes. Ann resents her mother for taking her away from everything she knows, and she misses her family and friends in Wisconsin.

Adele dreams of a more glamorous life and wider opportunities for Ann. They struggle with each other and take care of each other until Ann leaves for college. Once Ann is ready to be on her own, she can admit to herself and to Adele how much she loves her.

Adolescence begins with it an avalanche of mortifying self-awareness. All of a sudden, everything is embarrassing, especially parents, in whose eyes teens can see their past more easily than their future.

This movie does a good job of portraying that stage of life from both the teen’s and the parent’s perspectives. In the first scene, Ann is embarrassed that Adele is eating so loudly, even though they are driving through the desert with no cars anywhere in sight.

Adele’s relish for more than she can find in Wisconsin is unsettling to Anne. Adele says, “I wish someone had kidnapped me back when I was your age,” and Ann responds, “So do I!” Part of Ann wants Adele to be the magical parent who can provide everything without effort. But when she begins to accept Adele’s mistakes and vulnerability, she can begin to grow up.

Adele seems to have endless optimism, leaving for Los Angeles on the strength of “an interview and a great outfit.” She blusters her way into a mansion by pretending to be a possible buyer. She forgets to pay the electric bill but is always ready to get some ice cream. Heartbreakingly, she thinks that a one-night stand with a dentist means that her true love has arrived.

As teens and parents struggle with independence through those years, it never seems that they are both ready to let go at the same time. Ann says that what keeps her going is knowing that someday she will leave Adele. A kindly policeman tells her that “you leave her when you are ready not to come back,” and that gives Ann an ideal of herself as an independent person to reach. Then, when she and Adele return to Wisconsin for a funeral, she sees how much closer to that ideal she has become than she would have if she had stayed.

Throughout the movie, Ann and Adele do a sort of relationship minuet, stepping toward each other, and then away. Ann imitates Adele in an acting audition, and Adele sees that she appears self-deluding and foolish to her daughter. Adele often acts more like Ann’s sister or even daughter than her mother. But when she needs to be the adult, to make the sacrifices necessary to help her child, she comes through.

Parents should talk about Ann’s decision to have sex with a boy who has a crush on her, which is more a reaction to a cool reception from the father who abandoned her than a reflection of a mature and intimate relationship. When she invites him over and tells him to take off his clothes, her words are tough, even cold, but when he walks over to her she throws her arms around him and holds him as though she is desperate for human contact.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Tumbleweeds.”

Related Tags:

 

Drama Family Issues

Cradle Will Rock

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

How do you stay true to ideals when there is pressure to compromise in order to make a living? How can you sell without selling out? These questions are provocatively posed in “mostly true” intersecting stories surrounding a pro-union play funded — and then closed — by the U.S. government.

Today’s teens live in a world in which politicians squabble about whether an “elephant dung Madonna” should be hung in a government-funded museum exhibit and rap stars famous for being outrageous and outspoken issue bowdlerized versions of their recordings in order to meet the requirements of chain stores. Older teens, who try to grapple with the problem of holding onto integrity in a complicated world, will appreciate the way those issues are raised in this movie, thoughtfully constructed by writer/director Tim Robbins to show characters with a range of dilemmas and priorities.

We see artists who want to make political statements, artists who want to make money, and artists who are thrilled by art for its beauty. The director — 22-year-old Orson Welles, just before going to Hollywood to make “Citizen Kane” — simply says that his goal is ‘to all the right people.”

We see a young businessman (Nelson Rockefeller) who wants to use his fortune for art – as long as its message is one that does not make him too uncomfortable. An older businessman wants to use his fortune to buy Old Masters — and to buy the support of politicians, so he can make more money.

Teens should notice the irony and symbolism, like the rich people dressing as Marie Antoinette’s court for a costume party and the opening newsreel showing art being censored in Nazi Germany. Why does the movie show Welles objecting to a union-required break during rehearsal? Why does the ventriloquist leave his dummy on the stage? Why is the main character of the play a prostitute? Why does Diego Rivera refuse to paint the design he agreed to?

Be sure to ask teens what they think about the movie’s final image, an attempt to tie the story directly to the present day. See if they think that the movie has any heroes, and if so, how they can tell.

Parents should know that the movie has strong language, nudity, including an artist’s nude models, and sexual references, including references to homosexuality.

FAMILY PROJECT: Welles went on to annoy one of the most powerful men in the country, William Randolph Hearst, with his next project, “Citizen Kane,” number one on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest movies. Teens might want to read more about Nelson Rockefeller and check out Digeo Rivera’s surviving murals at http://www.diegorivera.com. For more on the Federal theater project, read Hallie Flanagan: A Life in the American Theatre, by Joanne Bentley or Flanagan’s own book, Arena: The Story of the Federal Theatre.

Related Tags:

 

Biography Documentary Inspired by a true story

Hanging Up

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

There are movies where the writer and director focus on the emotions of the characters. Then there are movies like this one where they make the mistake of trying to focus on the emotions of the audience, and you can almost hear them saying, “A party at the Nixon library! And an old guy who tells dirty jokes and who wants to have sex! That will make them laugh! A parent dying! That will make them cry!” But it doesn’t. It doesn’t even earn our sympathy, much less our interest. We never really care about these selfish, charmless, and superficial people. The result is formulaic, inauthentic and manipulative, despite the best efforts of an irresistible cast.

Meg Ryan, Lisa Kudrow, and Diane Keaton (who also directed) play three sisters who try to connect to each other by phone through their father’s last illness. But as the title suggests, they more often disconnect. Meg Ryan plays Eve, the classic middle child, trying desperately to bring everyone together but stressed out and resentful because her sisters are not helping her. Diane Keaton is Georgia, a sort of cross between Martha Stewart and Tina Brown. Lisa Kudrow is Maddy, a soap actress still hoping for her sisters’ approval.

Sometimes the loss of someone we love is not as painful as the loss of our hope for what that relationship could have been. The three sisters have to understand that their parents are never going to be the loving, wise, supportive people they want them to be, but that they find that elsewhere, even in each other. In the movie’s best scene, Eve meets with Ogmed Kunundar (Ann Bortolotti), the mother of the doctor whose car she has crashed into. Ogmed is just the loving, wise, and supportive mother of everyone’s dreams, and she salutes Eve for her bravery and her grief. She shows Eve the gifts that she did get from her father and gives her permission to “disconnect.” That scene just shows us that it is a real shame that that this isn’t a good movie. It tries to deal with issues that deserve better.

Related Tags:

 

Drama Family Issues
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2019, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik