Stuart Little 2 is liable to immediately put you into a good mood. As director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King) once more pushes in on his mostly idyllic, colorful, Sesame Street-esque New York, we listen to a tuneful plea: "Put a Little Love in Your Heart." Because this is a modern Hollywood kids' film, a certain amount of scary adventure is obligatory, so a villain is held in reserve. But as with the first Stuart film, the compelling crises are humane...in an animalistic way (or is that vice versa?).
Minkoff adheres to the contradictory commandments of Hollywood sequels: "Thou Shalt Not Change the Formula" and "Thou Shalt Make the Second Film Bigger and Better." He starts by reuniting the key players from the original--the voices of Michael J. Fox and Nathan Lane and the beings of Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, and Jonathan Lipnicki--and replacing celebrated screenwriter M. Night Shyamalan with celebrated screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (famous for spiritual adventures Ghost, Jacob's Ladder, and My Life). Composer Alan Silvestri returns to provide Gershwin flavor (dig those "Rhapsody in Blue" trills!). True to the films' message that big things come in small packages, this film is shorter than the first, yet more expensive (purportedly more so than Star Wars: Episode II!). It's literally more animated than the first (which accounts for the budget), but not in an ostentatious way.
The sequel story makes Stuart's adoptive human parents (Davis and Laurie) more vivid characters, as Mom struggles with her overprotectiveness and Dad runs interference. Stuart (Fox), looking to get out more (and neglected by brother Lipnicki), encounters a canary named Margalo (voice of Melanie Griffith). Margalo--a Hitchcockian "cool blonde" (hey, like Griffith's mom Tippi Hedren!)--spells trouble for the couple when they run afoul of an acquaintance of hers, James Woods's ratty falcon. Soon, there's much day-saving to be done, by family cat Snowbell (Lane) and just about every other character in the film.
Though I'd settle for the novelty of domestic sitcom "strife" played out with a mouse instead of a "Beaver," Stuart's adventure has a pleasing kiddie kick that's also hard to resist, and the messages remain sunnily unambiguous. As Dad advises--in what could be as much a locker room pep talk for the cast and crew as an audience advisory--"Keep your chin straight, your back up, and your heart open."