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FEBRUARY 7, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 5

'He's Not Just a Mouse, He's Also Stuart'
American director Rob Minkoff met with TIME reporter Stephen Short in Hong Kong Jan. 24 about adapting the children's classic Stuart Little for the big screen.

Columbia Tristar
Director Rob Minkoff on the set of Stuart Little.

TIME: You co-directed The Lion King, right? Don't you ever want to do something a little more sinister, more dangerous. An animated Psycho III?
Minkoff: You know, I'm thinking about something like that right now. How animation can cross over into the purely adult realm, but then, there's some sinister undertones in this movie too.

TIME: How's that?
Minkoff: Well, you've got the sense of alienation and adoption. Stuart's a mouse, let's face it, and he's living with a real family. At the same time they've got a cat that feels ostracized from the family for their adopting Stuart. And in the whole movie, none of the cats speaks to a human. Stuart's the exception that way. I mean, that makes for a lot of anger in the cat.

TIME: Yeah, but the cat's not exactly a mad ax murderer.
Minkoff: No. But then he and his mates have the potential to be.

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TIME: Maybe. I guess then we're into the adult realm. Was this project greeted with a lot of sniggering by those who got involved? Particularly Michael J. Fox, who does the voice for Stuart, and British actor Hugh Laurie?
At first, yes. I remember Michael a couple of times trying to say lines when Hugh Laurie would be talking to his hand pretending Stuart was on it, and he'd just break off and say, "No way. I can't do this. It's just ridiculous."

TIME: You must have worried about credibility--getting people to take seriously the idea of a Manhattan family adopting a mouse without anyone questioning such a crazy premise.
You're right. That was a big battle. Creating Stuart alone was the most difficult part. Everyone early on just looked at him and said, "You're trying to tell me a New York family adopts a rat," and I'd say, "Stuart's not a rat, he a mouse. There's a difference."

TIME: You must have felt like Stuart's adoptive father. Minkoff: That's exactly what I was. And you know, we had to create this strange world in which none of the characters questions the idea of the film. I mean, nobody's acting normal, nobody's acting like they would in everyday life and Stuart's happily talking to a cat in the house. This ain't your normal setup.

TIME: Why Michael J. Fox for the voice of Stuart?
He fits Stuart's can-do personality--very positive, very sincere, very winning and yet with an edge.

TIME: Where's the edge in Stuart exactly?
You know Hugh Laurie said there was something Brando-ish about him, that he was just aware of his image and told all the other actors to stay out of his light.

TIME: Yeah, well that's Hugh Laurie for you. But this is a mouse we're talking about.
Yeah, but he's not just a mouse, he's also Stuart.

TIME: You haven't fallen in love with Stuart have you?
I think a lot of us have.

TIME: Wasn't there a huge temptation to throw cheese jokes into the movie? Particularly working with Hugh Laurie since he's a Python type if ever there was one. How many good lines did he come out with that you had to drop?
It's funny you say that. There's one scene where Stuart accidentally gets thrown into the washing machine with a pile of clothes and then develops a fever as a result. When they put him in bed and Geena Davis was talking to Hugh Laurie about what they should do to make him feel better, Hugh improvised the line: "Perhaps as a gift we could give him a box of assorted French cheeses." Geena just looked at him in disgust and said: "That's so lame Hugh, I'm not even gonna dignify that with a response." Hugh was doing stuff like that all the time.

TIME: Might be lame, but it's damn funny.
Yeah, in the context of the movie, it's one of the funnier lame lines I've ever heard.

TIME: Was there any one scene that got axed in pre-screening which you regret like mad?
There's one scene after the party they hold for Stuart and the Little's son played by Jonathan Lipnicki, where Geena and Hugh were in the kitchen and Hugh's looking lost in thought and is making a sort of erm.... noise. It goes like this: Hugh: "I was just" Geena: "What is it? Wasn't it a good party?" Hugh: ", not that, I was just wondering if there's any more cake left in the fridge." Geena: "Well, I don't know, maybe we should ask Stuart?" Hugh: "What, whether it was a good party or not?" Geena: "No, whether there's any more cake in the fridge." Hugh: "But what about the party?" Geena: "For God's sake, we're becoming strangers, I feel like I don't even know you anymore." I loved the idea of that. It's quietly funny and also emphasized the separate loneliness that both the humans and animals feel as a result of Stuart coming to the house. There was another scene I really liked. When Stuart goes missing and the family advertises for him, we had a scene where the potential Stuarts all turn up in a police station to be identified. That was kind of cute, having 10 separate speaking mice all with different personalities, but that got dropped too.

TIME: That's excellent. A variation on the usual suspects--the usual rodents.
Yeah, I kind of liked it. But hey, that's the movies for you.

(Stuart Little has opened in Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea. It opens in Taiwan Feb. 5, the Philippines Feb. 9, Indonesia March 10, Thailand March 17, Hong Kong April 20, India April 28 and Japan July 31. These release dates are subject to change without notice.)

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