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Stuart Little 2


The film Stuart Little, directed by Rob Minkoff, is a classic live-action and animated comedy that explores the adventures of a mouse who is adopted by an affluent family residing in New York's Gramercy Park. The movie is loosely based on the 1945 novel of the same name by E.B. White, and the reason I triple check my laundry before every wash. There is a scene in the sequel to the film, where Stuart flies a toy plane around Manhattan, evading skyscrapers. "In mortal peril in New York air-space, Stuart is able to parachute safely to the ground," says Guardian and Radio 4 commentator Mark Lawson who goes on to interpret the mouse’s aviation adventure as “a cathartic re-imagining of 11 September.”17  Stuart Little 2, was one of the films released in 2001 that digitally removed the twin towers prior to its premiere.


In his book "Film After Film,"18 J. Hoberman argues that September 11th was a cinematic event. Witnesses described the event as being just like watching a film, and it was the most extensively documented disaster event in human history.  In the Aftermath of the catastrophe, there was concern in the entertainment industry about the public appetite for plots involving disasters and terrorism. It is this absence and the desire to represent, reenact, reiterate and render it, that led to my interest in disaster ecologies in this essay and the catastrophic furnishings of cinematic space.


The void of the two-acre holes in lower Manhattan provides a useful starting point for understanding the imaginations of disaster that have long fascinated society. Imaginations of disaster provide spectacle and solace alike, they tickle the deep desire for societal collapse and play out societal anxieties, they feel good because they remind us that things can always be worse. However, on September 12th witnesses were confronted with an image that was realer than real. While the event had all its symbolic and contextual resonance, it also left a deep void in the city's skyline that people struggled to reconcile.


In the days, weeks, and months following the event, film directors and distributors with big apple films ripe for release were faced with a difficult decision. Should they sit on their films like hens wading through the temporal strata until society sufficiently buried their trauma, or should they remove the towers like one would a bug on the lens? The reality was that people didn't want to see the skyline as it was before that fateful day because the reality was always in front of them. As Moyra Davey writes “Every morning for a long time I would leap from my bed and foolishly scrutinise the skyline to see if the Empire State Building was still standing.”19  American audiences needed a suspension of disbelief like never before.


The decision to remove the towers through editing creates a poetic adjacency to the site-specific tourism. Those who needed to bear witness to the hole in the ground could do so without the distraction of the towers. The absence of the towers in filmic depictions following the 9/11 attacks compliments the notion of the disaster event as a transformative void. For those who remember, the void remains etched in their memory, and it is the absence that is most salient. My parents like many witnesses recall the crisp day and bluest of blue sky. Many remember the sky because of the absence of the buildings, for a moment they could see through walls. I recall the unusually long walk home through a gridlocked city, the before and the after.   

Stuart little 2 wasn’t alone in their removal of the towers,  the avoidance of representing the towers on screen was shared by many films. Stuart Little 2 was in the company of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York , Zoolander, Spider-Man, and Mr. Deeds among others who digitally erased the towers prior to or after release. As Mark Lawson demonstrates, the decision to redact the towers was not without interpretation, as the towers held a significant symbolic weight.


Gangs of New York (2003), the infamous Martin Scorsese film featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis, decided to keep the towers in the final scene of the film. By showing the towers in a time-lapse sequence that spans over a century, Scorsese was trying to both pay tribute to the architects and workers who built these towering structures and provide a message of hope for the future. The inclusion of the towers suggests that even in the face of tragedy and loss, the spirit of New York City perseveres. The destruction of the World Trade Center was a sharp reminder of the vulnerability of even the most iconic and seemingly impenetrable structures. In the films that followed, the towers stood as a symbolic message of human capacity for hope and renewal. Alternatively their absence acted not only as a time marker for the films but as a symbolic representation of the event. It is clear that when it comes to the events of September 11th there is no neutral void. The towers and their absence continue to hold a place in our collective memory and each iteration of the event holds the potential for re-contextualisation.

Stuart Little 2_.png
Stuart Little 2.png
Time capsule article  

It's intriguing to note how September 11th is referred to here as "11 September." The BBC article followed the European convention of dating, as the significance of the date hadn't yet been widely indexed or universally referenced in the way it is today.
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