Dreamworks Studios was started in 1994 by Steven Spielberg, Jeffery Katzenberg, and David Geffen to create a new Hollywood studio of which they would own 72%. Dreamworks has gone on to make movies, video games, and television programming. In 1997, they released their first family film, MouseHunt directed by Gore Verbinski.
After the death of their father, Rudolph Smuntz (William Hickey), Ernie (Nathan Lane) and Lars Smuntz (Lee Evans) inherit the family business, an old string factory. Ernie wants to sell it immediately in hopes they can get any kind of profit from it. Lars wants to keep the business running in honor of their deceased father’s wishes. The brothers also inherit an old mansion their father never mentioned before. Upon getting the house apprised they learn that is the last house built by Charles Lyle LaRue, which was until then thought to be a rumor. The house dubbed “The Missing LaRue” draws the attention of architectural enthusiasts and LaRue collectors. The Brothers agree to restore the house and put it up for auction in hopes of earning millions of dollars. But the house is inhabited by a very intelligent and mischievous mouse. Fearing another vermin-related incident that caused Ernie to lose his restaurant job, the two set out to get rid of the mouse. This proves to be an insurmountable challenge, pushing the Smuntz brothers to more and more extreme tactics as the auction draws ever nearer.
MouseHunt is unquestionably a comedy; it’s full of physical humor and slapstick. Part of the appeal of MouseHunt is that it uses common physical gags that you would normally find in an old cat-and-mouse cartoon in a live action movie. It’s like Home Alone (1990) meets the Tom and Jerry cartoons with a dash of The Money Pit (1986) thrown in. A cat the Smuntz brothers purchase chases the mouse into a piano, playing musical notes as they run around inside it. Lars gets a mousetrap caught on his lips. Ernie is fired out of the chimney like a cannonball due to a gas leak. Various characters are hit with frying pans. There are also explosions involving a septic tank; what family comedy is complete without potty humor?
The characters in MouseHunt are amusing, but simple. Normally simple characters are a weakness in a film, but not in this one. MouseHunt really is going for a simple Saturday morning cartoon quality. Having deep, dynamic characters that end up falling downstairs, out the front door, and sledding down a snowy hill in a Jacuzzi tub would just be stupid. While the characters are simple, they are not annoying or pointless. Often times child characters are thrown into films in an attempt to appeal to child audiences. There aren’t any major child character in this movie, and there doesn’t need to be. Kid characters are always depicted as being more intelligent than the adults and manage to avoid any pratfalls. That would have weakened MouseHunt considerably. The characters are all adults, but they are expressive and interesting enough to keep child viewers interested.
Kids may recognize Nathan Lane’s voice as Timon from The Lion King (1994). MouseHunt makes a couple of subtle references to this role. Ernie Smuntz bows to a sheik who is attending the auction of the house. In doing so, he greets him with “Hakuna Matata,” referencing a song he sings in The Lion King. The actor Ernie Sabella, the voice of Pumbaa, makes a cameo appearance as the pound owner where the Smuntz’ purchase “catzilla” to help rid them of the mouse. Young viewers probably won’t catch these details, but it’s worth noting.
The only weakness in MouseHunt is a lack of a villain. You’re never quite sure who to be rooting for; The cute little mischievous mouse or the down on their luck Smuntz brothers. There is plenty of conflict, but who do we want to win? The movie itself doesn’t seem to know, and by extension, neither do we. This is a fairly trivial detail, the movie doesn’t take itself any more seriously than a Tom and Jerry cartoon, and neither should we.
MouseHunt is a fun movie. It has funny characters, wacky comedy, slapstick, and some amazing visual effects. Kids will want to watch it again and again. It is directed by the same director who did Rango (2011) and the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies, if that is any indicator of MouseHunt’s quality. There are a couple of scenes that might be a bit scary for younger viewers; the cat is pretty funny, but might scare some youngsters. It’s probably good for about ages six and up. If you have kids, this is worth purchasing. If not, it’s still a fun movie to watch sometime.
Did you see MouseHunt? Did you like it? Was it too “cartoony” for your tastes? Comment below and tell me why!