Stuart Little

Stuart Little (1999)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, Jonathan Lipnicki
Extras: Featurettes, Commentary tracks, Isolated score, Music videos, Games and more...

One of the biggest hits with families around the country last year was a film that starred a mouse in a leading role. No, you did not overlook a new Mickey Mouse feature and it wasn’t a Tom and Jerry film either. The film I am talking about is called "Stuart Little," a whimsical movie based on the book by E.B. White that presented us with a menagerie of fully articulate animals as well as a series of human actors. Achieved with the processing power of modern day computers, Stuart, our titular hero himself was completely computer generated and proves once again that computer generated imagery can be more than just cheap showmanship. Much more.

Mr. and Mrs. Little (Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis) decide to adopt a child and when they arrive at the orphanage they immediately fall in love with an adorable little boy called Stuart. However Stuart is a mouse (with the voice of Michael J. Fox) and a very eloquent and intelligent one at that. Their older son George (Jonathan Lipnicki) has some issues with his "little" brother however and it takes some while for him to get used to the fact that Stuart can be a lot of fun despite his little size. And then there is Snowbell (voiced by Nathan Lane), the house cat who would rather let Stuart see the inside of her belly than have him around as a member of the family. Snowbell asks the advice of some alley cats who know just the right remedy to do away with the little unsuspecting Stuart. Before long a series of strange incidents occurs and Stuart’s life takes a turn he had never hoped for – but often thought of. His real parents appear and take him back to their sanctuary. A world shatters for the Littles and the little mouse alike and on different ends of town, they work on plans to reunite the family once and for all.

After watching "Stuart Little" on this splendid DVD from Columbia TriStar Home Video I was very pleasantly reminded of the films by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Movies like "The Dark Crystal" and "Labyrinth" pull much of their strength from the fact that their non-human characters have very human personalities and traits, and it is the same thing that makes "Stuart Little" a wonderfully enjoyable family movie. You won’t believe what you see and hear in "Stuart Little," when cats roll on the floor laughing, when the mouse wins a sailing regatta or races through Central Park in its red convertible. The inventiveness and wealth of ideas that made it into this film are truly remarkable and ensure that the movie is enjoyable for children and grown-ups alike. Without a doubt, "Stuart Little" is one of the most enjoyable and most light-hearted films of recent memory.

Columbia TriStar Home Video presents "Stuart Little" in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> presentation on this DVD release that restores the movie’s 1.85:1 aspect ratio. A <$PS,fullframe> version of the movie is also available as a separate DVD, so keep your eyes open when you go out to buy this disc to avoid unpleasant surprises at home. Given the high quality of the source material, it is hardly surprising that the transfer on the disc is a real treat for the eyes. Without any marks or blemishes in the source print, the transfer is bold and sharp, boasting a very high level of detail without any signs of noise or grain. The color delineation of the film is spectacular, which is especially important given the movie’s colorful, almost cartoony production design at times. Reproducing every hue and tinge without over-saturation or any signs of noise and bleeding, you will be simply in awe of this splendid transfer. Blacks are solid and deep and highlights well balanced at any time with very good gradients and contrast. No edge enhancement is evident in the transfer and no compression artifacts of any sort can be found.

"Stuart Little" contains a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track, as well as a <$DS,Dolby Surround> track in English. Especially the <$5.1,5.1 mix> is very expansive with a wide and deep sound field that allows the viewer to immerse himself in the bustling story. Spatial integration is very good with effective use of the discrete surrounds and a good and unexaggerated bass extension. While the Dolby Surround track is also very good, it does not have exactly the same transparency and spatial dimension of the <$5.1,5.1 mix>. Dialogue integration is very good in both mixes, ensuring that lines of dialogue are intelligible throughout and never drowned out by effects or the music.
The film features a great music score by Alan Silvestri that mostly uses playful orchestral arrangements to embellish the pictures on screen. It has also been perfectly integrated, giving the score depth and dimension. The entire score is also available on an isolated track on the DVD so that you can study and enjoy the music without any distracting dialogues or sound effects.

"Stuart Little" comes as a special edition and if you flip over the packaging disc’s to read all the added materials on the disc, you can’t help but wonder how they all fit on a single disc – but they do without even degrading the quality of the feature presentation. Designed to appeal to the whole family the disc strikes a great balance between hard-core filmophile content and more playful supplements for children.
Two separate <$commentary,commentary track>s can be found on the release. The first one features director Ron Minkoff and Henry Anderson, the film’s animation supervisor. Starting up with an extensive explanation how the project to bring Stuart Little to the screen came about, the <$commentary,commentary track> soon turns out to cover many, many different aspects of the movie and the story. Capturing the challenges and working practices, this <$commentary,commentary track> offers great insight in to the production of the film, especially in regards to the problems that arose from the fact that much of it was computer generated.
The second <$commentary,audio commentary> features John Dykstra and Jerome Chen. Both have been working on the film to bring the computer-generated imagery to life and not surprisingly their <$commentary,commentary track> is very technical in nature. If you are somewhat familiar with the technology behind 3D rendering techniques however, this commentary offers great insight into the working methods that were applied to overcome some of the challenges the project posed to them. The commentary is quite candid with a lot of valuable information that can serve as a springboard for inspiration to many 3D artists out there.

The disc also contains so-called "Visual Effects Interactive Featurettes" but the name may be a bit misleading. Not in a real documentary, but a commentary style, the feature gives you a close-up look at a number of scenes and elements from the movie, explaining in detail how they were done. Offering four different views for each scene, ranging from background plates over work-in-progress to the final versions, the commentary supplied with these elements gives viewers a good idea how these scenes come together inside the computer.

The boat racing scene in the film was originally planned to be much more extensive and elaborate before it was reduced due to budgetary and practical reasons. On the DVD however you can see a fully storyboarded version of this original scene with commentary by director Rob Minkoff. It is a very dramatic scene and it is too bad it never got realized because I felt it was much more powerful than the one in the film. Since it would have eaten up half of the film’s whole budget as Minkoff explains, I understand however the reasoning behind its cutting back, and was delighted to get a glimpse at the original concept in this first rate feature. A series of deleted scenes – wisely so – is also part of the release as well blooper reels and trailers, talent files and art galleries.

With that we’re getting more into the family oriented part of the special features, starting with the artist’s screen tests. It is a reel that shows work of a number of the movie’s animators when they applied to work on the project. All starting out with the same scenario, it is nice to see how they approached the scenario differently and some of Stuart’s final mannerisms already shine through in these funny little clips. A game called "Stuart’s Central Park Adventure Game" is also on the disc and it is playable on any DVD player with the remote control. It is an entertaining little game that will give the younger viewers quite a bit of fun. On the DVD-ROM section of the disc you can find another game entitled "Race With Stuart." It is a full computer game for Windows 95/98 machines from Hasbro Interactive. Last but not least, the disc also contains a read-along feature that you can use to have your little ones practice their reading skills while they have a lot of fun with their new furry little friend Stuart.

Going through all the special features on this disc will keep you and our kinds engrossed for quite a while, adding immensely to the disc’s overall appeal. Since the disc contains a stunningly beautiful version of this great family movie as well as a wealth of well-balanced supplements, we decided to award this release with our "Gold Seal Of Excellence." Director Rob Minkoff has yet to build a roster of films, but with his cooperation on the "Lion King" and now with his first own full-length feature film under his belt, it is clear to see that we are watching some incredible talent here. I can’t wait to see more of Minkoff’s future films, especially if they will be released on DVD through Columbia TriStar Home Video in such sensational special editions as this one. Get this disc!