Mouse Hunt: The Green Mile and Stuart Little
Runty rodents are livin' large in Hollywood
This article, the fourth installment of our six-part series on The Green Mile, focuses, in part, on a brown mouse named Mr. Jingles.
Readers of Stephen King’s popular 1996 novel (on which the film is based) are well acquainted with the cheese eater, who plays an equally significant role in the adaptation of the death-row drama, opening Dec. 10 and starring Tom Hanks as a prison guard. Yet it may come as news that Mr. Jingles isn’t the only mouse making movies. A week after Mile opens, another such creature will debut in the title role of Columbia’s Stuart Little.
As Hollywood vermin go, these two were fairly high maintenance. The Green Mile script called for mysterious Mr. Jingles to be an integral jailhouse figure, ordinary in every respect except for his ability to outsmart the prison guards and push wooden thread spools. Apparently there is no Robert De Niro of rodents: More than 30 were needed for the demanding role. ”One mouse pushed the spool with its nose,” says Boone Narr, one of the animal trainers. ”One pushed it with his feet. Some would just turn left, some right. Some were better at close-ups. Some were stunt mice.”
But all were divas when it came to food. ”Some were motivated by walnuts,” says Narr. ”Some only by Gouda cheese.” The more down-market mice (obviously straight out of indies) worked only for Velveeta. To keep their obsessions straight, Narr named each after a cast or crew member. ”The mice became celebrities,” Narr says. ”People visiting the set wanted to have their picture taken with either Tom or one of the mice.”
Stuart Little, meanwhile, never had a photo op, because he was never really there. Based on E.B. White’s 1945 children’s classic about a debonair mouse born into an urbane human family, the Hollywood Stuart is a combo of computer-generated images and sophisticated animatronics. ”It wasn’t easy,” says director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King). ”Stuart had to look like a mouse and still be able to talk and wear turtlenecks.”
The two-year process of creating Stuart began with artists studying real mice. ”They considered every detail,” says F/X wiz John Dykstra (Star Wars). ”Where his ears should be, how he should blink, whether he’d be pear-shaped or a hunk.” Sixty clay models and 1,000 sketches later, Stuart was born. Almost. ”Just before shooting,” Dykstra says, ”we realized he needed to be more expressive.” The filmmakers summoned comic and pantomime artist Bill Irwin, who was taped reading the script aloud, improvising Stuart’s mannerisms and facial expressions, which animators mimicked.
Finally, the CGI animation team posed Stuart one frame at a time on the computer, using the recorded dialogue of Michael J. Fox (Stuart’s voice) as a guide. Later, the mouse was morphed into live-action scenes, opposite stars Jonathan Lipnicki (as George Little) and Geena Davis (as Mrs. Little). ”Aside from an animatronic mouse we used for faraway shots,” says Minkoff, ”Stuart never actually appeared on the set. It was like making a movie with a star who never left his trailer.”