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Movie Review

I remember one sunny Saturday when I sat watching a scrawny Little Leaguer step warily up to home plate. This little fella, who had yet to get a hit all season, was kind of uncoordinated, kind of slow and exactly the kind of player most teams wouldn't want. He was lucky enough to have the heart of a champion and the support of his friends on the team, but each time he approached the plate he had to face the fact that he was really very ... unremarkable.

That's a simple story that happens all the time and that most people can identify with. Maybe that's why Stuart Little stories always seem to pluck a recognizable chord. And maybe that's why the lovable, ever diligent little mouse is back again for round three (straight to DVD this time) in Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild.

Stuart and his adopted human family, the Littles, are spending their summer vacation at a rustic lakeside cabin. He and his brother, George, decide to join the Lake Scouts. George isn't much interested in "scouting stuff"; he's more interested in a girl (she rewards his attentions by kissing him on the cheek at summer's end). Stuart, though, dreams of earning the coveted gold scouting kerchief. But even with Mr. Little helping as an assistant troop master, Stuart is just too small to keep up. His arrows fall anemically short, his knot tying is a jumbled mess and he almost becomes fish food while canoeing.

Reeko to the rescue! When all hope of having fun seems lost, Stuart meets Reeko the skunk, who, for the price of a chocolate, helps him learn the ways of the woods.

The first thing he learns is that there is a Beast of a mountain lion who terrorizes the forest denizens and demands tributes of food from them. And when said Beast captures Snowbell, the Littles' self-absorbed cat, Stuart know he has to help. He seeks assistance, but the troop members don't believe him. Reeko, for his part, is too afraid. So, little Stuart must pull together his newly learned skills, push aside his fears, and face the Beast alone.

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Positive Elements

Mr. and Mrs. Little are constantly showing love and support for Stuart and all the members of their family. When Stuart decides he wants to be a Lake Scout, Mr. Little volunteers his summer to help out with the troop and keep an eye on him. Remarkably, considering how many kids' movies portray dads as goofy and inept (or worse), Mr. Little is balanced, believable, loving—and a pretty good assistant scout master, too.

When Stuart is having trouble meeting his scouting goals, Mr. Little heartens him with, "Not everyone gets a gold kerchief their first summer. But the important thing is that you try your best." Mr. Little and the other scouts also encourage George to get his nose out of his portable video game player. By the end of the summer, he decides to give away his game and enjoy the world around him ("The graphics are way better").

Kids can also learn positive lessons from negative actions by carefully watching the transformation of Reeko, who initially is a self-serving, lying, thieving ... well, skunk. Early on, he manipulates everybody he comes in contact with, even the Beast. He convinces her he'll pay her a double tribute next time they meet and is instrumental in deceiving Snowbell (a potentially tasty Beast treat) and sending him into the Beast's trap. But we find out that Reeko's attitude and actions are tied to his belief that nobody likes him or wants him around simply because he's a skunk. A change begins happening in Reeko when he realizes Stuart respects his skills and sincerely wants to be his friend. It begins to dawn on him that the animals weren't objecting to him being a skunk; they just didn't want him around "because he was a jerk." Reeko tells Stuart, "You didn't judge me, and that goes a long way."

Still, when Stuart asks for his help to save Snowbell, Reeko turns him down, saying, "Slow down and think about what you're doin'. It's too risky, man." That sets up Stuart's brave response, "When it comes to friends, sometimes you've gotta take a risk." And Reeko eventually repents of his betrayal of Stuart ("He was the first real friend I ever had, and I done him wrong"), asking the other forest animals to forgive him and rally to Stuart's aid.

When everyone else has turned away, Stuart puts his life on the line for his friend, even though he knows that the odds are stacked against him. In the end, Stuart, the scout troop, the Little family and the forest animals all work together to save Snowbell and end the Beast's tyranny.

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

None.

Violent Content

There are some moments that could be a little disturbing for younger children—we see the Beast's glowering eyes in the shadows and a close-up of her sharp claws impatiently tapping a rock as she listens to the whimpering animals. When the Beast praises Snowbell for the softness of his fur, Snowbell thinks she's being romantic ... until the Beast reveals that she actually wants to remove his fur and make a rug out of it. She proceeds to kick Snowbell down into a pit to hold him till she fattens him up. Later, while Stuart is attempting his daring rescue, the Beast angrily roars and pursues them.

Other lighter moments include Snowbell falling into a toilet, the scout master's shoelace accidentally catching on fire and giving him a "hot foot" and bees stinging the scout master after he pokes at a beehive. Though not violent, some children might be upset when Stuart gets lost and is washed downstream on a lily pad.

Crude or Profane Language

Stuart blurts out, "What the heck?" as a fish attacks his canoe. Reeko says the same thing and appears to be obsessed with his "derriere." He talks and even sings about it, using the terms "butt," "booty," "trunk" and "gassy." The words "golly" and "gee" are also used once each.

Drug and Alcohol Content

None.

Other Negative Elements

Reeko isn't the only animal with deceptive tendencies. Snowbell lies to another cat, telling him that he and the Littles are going on vacation to a luxurious cat retreat rather than on an embarrassing family camping trip. The kids have the troop master tied and hanging upside down when we first see him. Stuart sneaks out to meet Reeko without his parent's knowledge. And Reeko teaches Stuart's baby sister to belch.

Conclusion

Stuart Little was originally created by E.B. White, a defining voice in American writing. He first published the collected stories of the little mouse in 1945, so it was no surprise that some fans of the original Stuart weren't very entirely happy with Hollywood's take back in 1999. He was different than they had imagined. Should he really look like that? Why did these movie people have to go and change everything? Well, there now may be another group of unhappy people.

Those who did grow to love the films Stuart Little and Stuart Little 2 will find a number of noticeable changes with this third installment. It's fully animated, for one thing, instead of using the franchise's established combination of live action and animation. And the target audience seems to be narrowed to kids somewhere around the age of 7.

But while the adventure isn't as large and the songs aren't so singable, Stuart's still the little guy with the big heart. He's still got the charm, the determination and the spunk. He still helps us see that with a loving family and the help of our friends we can persevere, despite the odds.

Now, most critics have been less than kind. They've called this latest Stuart movie everything from cheap to a very dull effort. The Associated Press lumped it in with a group of releases it deemed "unremarkable," which made me think of that Little Leaguer I watched on a certain sunny Saturday.

The little guy actually got a hit that day, and—miracle of miracles—found himself on first base. His teammates cheered and screamed with jubilation; his mother openly wept and hugged anyone within reach. He looked up, astonished to find himself where he stood, and meekly grinned. Many people would think that scene unremarkable, but I found it enjoyable and worth watching. I think, sometimes, unremarkable things can be like that.

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