Mousehunt (1997)

(In French, On DVD, April 2016) There’s been a glut of kids movies with CGI animal characters lately, but an early (and enjoyable) prototype of the form can be found in 1997’s Mousehunt, in which an exceptionally intelligent mouse goes to war against two brothers trying to renovate an old house. While the film does feature a handful of CGI creatures (usually easy to spot), most of the mouse scenes are shot using real trained mice, and the result, in all of its limitations, is surprisingly enjoyable. It helps that Mousehunt features some real good physical comedy, and earns a number of honest laughs along the way. Nathan Lane and Lee Evans are fine as the brothers battling against insolvency and a smarter-than-they-are mouse, but Christopher Walken has a very good small role as an exterminator who finds his match. Still, the star here is director Gore Verbinski’s efforts at orchestrating mayhem as the war between the mouse and the humans escalates to pure chaos. There’s quite a bit of wit to the way the film is put together, balancing entertainment with a darker-than-necessary tone. Much of the film can be seen coming in advance, but there are enough small surprises here and there to keep things interesting and funny. For some reason, Mousehunt doesn’t seem to have endured all that well twenty years later, which is a shame given how it combines humour, action and small furry creatures appealing to kids, while having just enough cleverness and suspense to appeal to adults. (One note, though: the opening cockroach scene is disturbing to young kids. Heed the PG rating, especially given the small much-darker hints in the dialogue.) It’s quite a bit better than you’d expect … or possibly remember.

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