In 'Stuart' surprises drop from sky

America's unlikeliest new action hero isn't a 20-something arachnid, but a five-inch mouse with a heart as big as Central Park.

As voiced by the incomparable Michael J. Fox, Stuart – now the "middle Little" in a family of five – is struggling with fitting in at school (he's very short for his age), the perils of soccer practice (where the ball looks four stories high – not to mention those cleats!), and his mom's suffocating over-protectiveness.

His sprouting brother George (Jonathan Lipnicki) has play pals of his own now, and Stuart longs for a friend he can look right in the eye. His wish comes true, in the fetching form of an adorable canary named Margalo, who literally drops from the New York sky right into his lap – and into his heart.

Melanie Griffith, in her best performance in years, takes a captivating turn as Stuart's fine- feathered friend. And thanks to the talented designers and digital animators at Sony Pictures Imageworks, the love that soon grows between the two is genuinely convincing and touching.

In a New York minute, however, the sky produces another surprise for our little friend – this one not so welcome.

If you're casting an ominous, hawk-eyed bird of prey to wreak havoc on our diminutive hero and heroine, who you gonna call? How about the perennially creepy bad guy James Woods?

Not since Cruella de Vil has an animated villain seemed so happy to be bad. Speaking of bad (or at least cranky), Broadway megastar Nathan Lane returns as the family cat Snowbell and gets most of the big laughs – and there are many.

Our plucky hero's daring air-to-air rescue of Margalo from the clutches of James Woods's frightening falcon is a cinematic tour de force that had the preview audience on the edge of their seats.

It was a thrilling climax to a very funny and satisfying chapter in the life of our favorite little mouse. Bring on Chapter 3.

• Rated PG for mildly offensive language and a few scary scenes.

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