Dir: Rob Minkoff. US. 2002. 78mins.

A summer sequel to a surprise Christmas smash, Stuart Little 2 takes its computer animated mouse hero and his idyllic human family out into the world with a story that touches on such contemporary issues as child empowerment. However, it comes off as a lightweight adventure romp. With less of the warm and fuzzy dramatic appeal offered by the first film, which was based on EB White's classic 1945 children's book, the sequel, based on an original story by scriptwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost) and producer Douglas Wick, focuses more on rollicking, special effects-laden action. The shift in emphasis - and release date - should ensure a much bigger opening than the original's modest $15m. But it could ultimately leave the sequel, which opens this week in a US market already well supplied with kids' fare, falling somewhat short of the first film's impressive 1999 holiday season totals ($140m in the US and $158m from overseas territories).

The sequel re-unites the acting and voice talents from the first film with director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King), producer Wick and the animation and special effects team from Sony Pictures Imageworks. Rubin's script uses the characters from the original film and introduces Margolo, a talking bird who appeared in White's book but not its big-screen adaptation.

Two years after the events of the first film, Stuart (voiced by Fox) has settled into life with Mr and Mrs Little (Laurie and Davis), their son George (Lipnicki), their new baby daughter Martha and the family's curmudgeonly cat Snowbell (voiced by Lane). But the perky mouse and his human brother are beginning to grow up and Stuart in particular is starting to chafe against his Mum's protective instincts. Looking for new friends and new adventures, Stuart meets Margolo (voiced by Griffith), a city sparrow whose cute looks and worldly wisdom incite Stuart's romantic interest. When Margolo is carried off by threatening predator Falcon (voiced by Woods), Stuart is determined to save her from what appears to be a grisly end. With a little help from Snowbell, he leaves home to rescue his friend from Falcon's lair.

Before it turns to the rescue quest that will provide it with its climax, the film takes time to look at the changing dynamics of the Little family. The story threads give the sequel a broader dramatic scope than its predecessor but none of them leads far before the focus shifts to Stuart, Margolo and Falcon and the life lessons that their interaction provide. The film's returning characters are as charming as ever, though the human Littles are more like supporting players this time out and Snowbell gets a significantly expanded role.

With more advanced computer animation techniques at its disposal, the sequel brings Stuart and Snowbell even more impressively to life than the original and shows off the animators' abilities to depict realistic feathers as well as fur: Falcon is an effectively scary presence while the more cartoonish Margolo is cute, if a little bland.

The design work maintains the stylised feel of the first film but uses a more natural palette to give the sequel less of a period look. Whereas the original was shot mainly on Sony sound stages, the sequel makes use of outdoor locations in Central Park and elsewhere in New York City.

Besides its animation, the sequel's biggest asset is its action. Using the new 'Spider cam' machine to shoot in the skies above Central Park, Minkoff provides the film with a terrific climactic sequence as Stuart, flying his brother's toy aeroplane, engages in a dogfight with Falcon while his anxious family waits below.

Prod co: Columbia Pictures
US dist:
Int'l dist:
Columbia TriStar
Prods: Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher
Exec prods:
Rob Minkoff, Gail Lyon, Jason Clark, Jeff Franklin, Steve Waterman
Bruce Joel Rubin
Steven Poster
Prod des:
Bill Brzeski
Priscilla Nedd Friendly
Alan Silvestri
Main cast:
Michael J Fox (voice), Melanie Griffith (voice), Nathan Lane (voice), Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, Jonathan Lipnicki, James Woods (voice)