Before I even start the review of STUART LITTLE ($28), I want to say this- run to favorite DVD shop and buy this disc. Then again, you could save yourself some energy and buy the DVD on line. Either way, get your hands on a copy of STUART LITTLE.
Prior to popping this DVD into my player, I was convinced that STUART LITTLE was going to be nothing more than a cute kids movie with some neat special effects. I am glad to say that my preconceived notions were definitely way off the mark. Yes, STUART LITTLE is a movie designed to appeal to kids, yet the film is both intelligent and genuinely funny enough to become an adult favorite as well. STUART LITTLE is based upon the book by E.B. White, who is probably familiar to many of you as the author of CHARLOTTEíS WEB. The plot of STUART LITTLE concerns a big-hearted couple named Little (Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie), who decide to adopt a child and give their own son George (Jonathan Lipnicki) a sibling. On the day Mr. and Mrs. Little go to the orphanage, the find themselves confounded by a choice of so many seemingly wonderful children, whose best features are pointed out to them by another orphan named Stuart.
While Stuart differs from the other children by the obvious fact that he is a mouse, Mr. and Mrs. Little are so taken by his loving personality; they adopt Stuart on the spot. From the moment Mr. and Mrs. Little take Stuart home, they make their new son feel more than welcome, however the other members of the household are less than thrilled with the latest addition to the family. George is immediately confused and disappointed by his parentís choice for a new brother, while Snowbell, the family cat, is having major difficulty with the indignity of have a mouse as one of his owners. Eventually, George is swayed by Stuartís honest and caring nature, however Snowbell becomes determined to rid the Little house of a certain little mouse.
The cast of STUART LITTLE is splendid, with all the leading and supporting roles being perfectly filled. Even the voices of the animated characters and the (computer aided) talking cats are ideal. Michael J. Fox brings a childlike innocence to the vocalization of Stuart, yet Foxís voice remains distinctive and never sounds like he is trying to imitate a child. Nathan Lane practically steals the movie as the voice of Snowbell; there is so much brilliant comic timing in each and every line that Lane will have one continuously laughing. The talent pool for STUART LITTLE also features Jeffrey Jones, Brian Doyle-Murray, Estelle Getty, Julia Sweeney, Dabney Coleman, Chazz Palminteri, Steve Zahn, Jim Doughan, David Alan Grier, Bruno Kirby, Jennifer Tilly, Allyce Beasley, Stan Freberg and Harold Gould. In addition to the fine performances, STUART LITTLE is also a visual marvel because the special effects seamlessly integrate the computer generated Stuart into the live action world, without the character ever looking like a CGI effect. Even the talking cats are beautifully realized by the visual effects team that invisibly added lip movements and facial expressions to footage of real cats. STUART LITTLE truly is a wondrous technical achievement because the filmmakers have made sure that their slight of hand goes completely unnoticed by the audience.
Columbia TriStar Home Video has done an absolutely spectacular job with their fully loaded, wide screen, Special Edition of STUART LITTLE. Adults should be warned, that there is also a full screen version of the film with identical supplemental content available at the same price. So, if you think that you are buying STUART LITTLE just for the kids, and that the full screen version will do just fine- think again. Adults are certain to want the anamorphic enhanced wide screen version of STUART LITTLE for themselves. So, anyone who buys the full screen version first, just may end up with two copies of this DVD in their house. Those who opt for the 1.85:1 wide screen version of STUART LITTLE will be blown away by the image quality of this DVD 16:9 enhanced DVD. Every tiny nuance of detail is beautifully rendered on this DVD, which shows the formatís continued propensity to push the limits of NTSC reproduction. The picture is always crisp and clean; with the close-ups of the Stuart character showing the Herculean efforts of the designers and animators to make him appear photo-realistic, without a CGI quality. Color reproduction on this DVD is superb. Every highly saturated hue is reproduced without a hint of bleeding its boundaries. Flesh tones are very appealing and they are never drowned in the filmís sea of eye-popping blues, reds and greens. The film element utilized for the transfer is pristine and doesnít display any evidence of unwanted grain. Blacks are very accurate and the picture delivers excellent shadow detail, as well as very smooth contrast under various lighting conditions. It is highly unlikely anyone will find any noticeable digital compression artifacts on this beautifully authored, dual layered DVD.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack sports a very good and very active mix, unlike a typical comedy or childrenís film. The forward soundstage has good channel separation, in addition to delivering a very open and effortless sound quality that sometimes wraps around the viewer into the rear channels. Speaking of the surrounds, they are well utilized for ambient sound and occasional directional effects, as well as adding fill to Alan Silvestriís delightful score. Dialogue reproduction is very natural and always intelligible; even the well-recorded voices of animated characters never suggest any artificiality. The bass channel has relatively little to do, but when required, it supplies the necessary oomph. An English Dolby Surround soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles.
The interactive menus are very nicely designed and take advantage of full motion video, animation, music and sound. Through the menus, one can access the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the DVDís wealth of supplemental materials. Starting things off on the DVD are two audio commentaries. The first commentary features director Rob Minkoff and animation supervisor Henry Anderson, while the second includes visual effects supervisors John Dykstra and Jerome Chen. Both talks go into elaborate detail as to how the filmís visual wizardry was achieved and will appeal to those who find this particular aspect of movie magic fascinating. However, the first commentary with director Minkoff also covers story development and the more personal side of the production.
Making It Big: HBO Special is a twenty plus minute featurette that takes a look at the filmís production and includes interviews with cast members both alive and almost alive. The Visual Effects Interactive Featurette dissects various moments in the film and gives one a detailed look into how the effects were achieved. Artistís Screen-tests are audition reels submitted by the animators to get their job on this production. There are six deleted scenes on the DVD that can be viewed with or without the directorís commentary. The Boat Race: Early Concept Reel takes a look at how the filmmakers originally envisioned the boat race sequence and includes a directorís commentary. Alan Silvestriís wonderful musical score is also provided in an isolated 5.1 channel mix. On this DVD one will also find a Bloopers & Gag Reel, Visual Effects Gag Reel, art galleries, talent files, three music videos and a theatrical trailer for STUART LITTLE, in addition to several other films. The goodies donít stop here, for the kiddies; one will find Stuartís Central Park Adventure Game that is playable with the DVDís remote control and a Read-Along With Stuart. STUART LITTLE is also DVDĖROM enabled and contains a genuine computer game entitled Race With Stuart from Hasbro Interactive.
STUART LITTLE is a wonderful family movie that will absolutely appeal to every member of the family. Not only has Columbia TriStar Home Video delivered a fantastic looking and sounding presentation, they have also assembled a truly excellent supplemental package. This DVD gets the highest marks I could possibly give and is absolutely recommended.
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