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Film: MouseHunt

Ernie Smuntz: We can't handle any more intrusions.
Caesar: Sure. That's how you perceive it. But to that mouse, you are the intruder.

Imagine if you were to create a comedic movie that's a cross between Tom and Jerry and Home Alone, have it star what looks like Mario and Luigi (or Laurel and Hardy) as the protagonists, set it in a Retro Universe of the 30's/40's and today, and for good measure, give Christopher Walken an extended cameo. The result would be this film.

Nathan Lane and Lee Evans are Ernie and Lars Smuntz, brothers with a recently deceased ruined father. In his will, he leaves them "the future of string" — a Steam Punk string factory with No OSHA Compliance — and a seemingly worthless Victorian mansion. Oh, and spoons. But then the duo discovers that the abandoned house could be worth millions if it were renovated. Unfortunately for them, the place is already inhabited by a single rodent and it ain't leaving. Hilarity Ensues as the clever mouse thwarts the brothers' increasingly elaborate Zany Schemes to kill it, all while dealing with improbable house payments and the string factory's revolting employees.

This was the 1997 directorial debut of Gore Verbinski, who later gave us the Pirates of the Caribbean films and Rango. This was also one of the first movies released by a fledgling little company called DreamWorks and the one which established their rivalry with Disney. One wonders if they made the film center around a mouse just to be ironic.

Given its odd combination of Slapstick and Black Comedy in a Retro Universe setting, the movie will probably become a Cult Classic one of these days. Don't confuse it with the Facebook app.


This movie contains the following tropes:

  • The Ace: The mouse
  • An Aesop: Teamwork and sharing are good things. These are the last things Mr. Smuntz tells his sons.
  • All Cloth Unravels: Lars ends up naked when he tries to run the family string factory. For the practical effect to work, the clothing unraveling had to be knit, and knit upside down. See here for pictures.
  • Amplified Animal Aptitude: The mouse — it's the whole premise of the movie. Lars initially lampshades this, which Ernie promptly mocks, though he later agrees.
    "I don't think we're dealing with an ordinary mouse."
  • Amusing Injuries: Much of what happens to Ernie and Lars (and Caesar and Catzilla).
  • Angrish: The brothers have a short conversation in angrish after the first time the mouse blows them up. Followed by Unstoppable Rage, a complete lack of gun safety, and the mouse blowing them up again.
  • Anti-Climax Boss: In-universe. After repeated and increasingly extreme attempts to get rid of the mouse fail, the brothers turn on each other leading Lars to throw an orange at Ernie, missing and knocking the mouse behind him unconscious.
    "Just think of all the trouble we could have saved ourselves if we'd just thrown fruit at him in the first place!"
  • Apocalyptic Log: Caesar The Exterminator's log is found after the ambulance carts him away - we don't see what happened but it sure sounds terrible.
  • Arc Words: "A world without string is chaos."
  • Auction: The eventual fate of the mansion, which was ultimately averted by its destruction just before it was sold.
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • Catzilla is portrayed as being such a good mouse hunter because it's psychotic.
    • The brothers ultimately become this after too many plans turn on them, destroying a fair chunk of the house they were trying to save.
  • Badass Adorable: Catzilla and the mouse, but especially the mouse.
  • Blown Across the Room
  • Breakaway Pop Hit: The film's original score, specifically its main title, has found extensive use outside the context of the film, being used in movie trailers, TV commercials, as well as other films.
  • Butt Monkey: Ernie, Lars and Caesar. Catzilla probably counts too.
  • Cats Are Mean: Catzilla is the pet of your nightmares. It's apparently unkillable (they tried gassing it twice in the animal shelter), permanently kept in a sealed container because it's so vicious and is portrayed as a Godzilla-like monster from the mouse's perspective.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The flea bomb
  • The Chew Toy: The brothers, Caesar, and Catzilla.
  • Christmas Carolers: While Ernie and Lars wander the streets at night, both of them with nowhere to go, cynical Ernie belittles Lars for not looking at the big picture, though Lars says it's Christmas, and instead of dwelling on what they don't have, they should be thankful for what they do have... all the while carolers are singing, "I'll Be Home for Christmas", until the brothers give them an Aside Glance, prompting them to leave.
  • Consolation Backfire: At the climax, the Smuntz's last attempts to drive the mouse away result in the house getting flooded and several walls being destroyed. And this happens in the middle of the auction to sell the house. All the would-be buyers start to leave...
    Ernie Smuntz: Hey! Don't go! [waves an arm at the flooded house] A demonstration of how durable a LaRue really is! Now you know this house will last forever!
    [As if on cue, the house collapses.]
  • Creepy Cockroach: In the beginning of the film, Ernie's restaurant gets shut down due to an incident where the mayor dies of shock after eating a cockroach head.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ernie
  • The Dutiful Son: Lars
  • Eccentric Exterminator: Caesar, played by Christopher Walken of all people. He has an almost supernatural intuition to pests, and maintains an overly dramatic log report about his work. Eventually he gets Driven to Madness by the mouse he's trying to catch.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The brothers did not have the heart to kill the mouse while it is unconscious (and hate themselves because of it) so they had it deported. The mouse still found its way back, but throws the two a bone after their plans literally blow up.
  • Evil Laugh: A rare "good guy" example: Ernie does this every time he chases the mouse or when he thinks he has got him.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • It's mentioned that the last owner of the house was found in a trunk in the attic. Caesar later ends up getting the same treatment by the mouse.
    • "One vermin can bring you down."
  • The Fun in Funeral: Lars accidentally breaks the handle on his side of his father's coffin, causing Mr. Smuntz to fall out of it and into the sewers.
  • Funny Answering Machine: Ernie: "When ya hear the beep, start talkin'."
  • Gold Digger: Lars' wife April. She leaves him after learning his late father left him nothing but a string factory in his will and that Lars didn't want to sell the place. But she returns and seduces him after learning about the house auction. In the end though, she runs off with a wealthy Texan with at least 17 million dollars kicking around (which she learns from his bidding).
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Roger Ebert's problem with the film. Essentially, the movie never really decides whose side we're supposed to be on. You can't fault the brothers, who are flat broke with sympathetic backstories, for wanting to get back on their feet. Nor can you blame the mouse for defending its home and its life. At the film's close however, it manages to subvert this by giving both sides a Happily Ever After. This trope is also true of the majority of the Tom and Jerry shorts which this movie borrows heavily from, so perhaps it was done on purpose.
  • Hand or Object Underwear: The outcome of the above-mentioned string factory episode. Ironically, the balls of thread Lars uses to cover his crotch appear to actually be his clothes in their unraveled form. Heh, heh, balls.
  • Heads Tails Edge: Attempted resolution to a There Is Only One Bed dilemma.
  • Heel-Face Turn: After the house is completely destroyed, the mouse helps set the brothers off on a new future in making cheese string.
  • Henpecked Husband: Lars
  • Heroic BSOD: Caesar after his run in with the mouse.
    Ernie: Caesar, what happened? Did you catch the mouse?
    Cesar: What's that? Horse? Fiendish!!! I WON'T EAT IT!! -chatters like a mouse-
  • Hidden Depths:
    • There are hints throughout the film that not only is the mouse very old and more than just a trickster, but that it also has some sort of connection with Rudolf Smuntz, most obviously that it knows how to make the Smuntz's incredibly unique signature sandwich. These hints are never elaborated on.
      • Supposedly a mouse was said to be able to receive a dead person's soul. Makes the connection here rather interesting.
    • Additionally, the fact the movie seemingly takes place in the 1940s allows for some interesting parody and social commentary on the period, if one pays close attention to the subtext.
  • Humiliation Conga: Pretty much the entire movie is this for Ernie and Lars.
  • The Hunter Becomes The Hunted
  • I Ate What?: The mayor, before dying of a heart attack. The answer? A cockroach. Specifically, the front half of it.
  • Iron Butt Monkey: Lars and Ernie survive getting blown up, rocketed into a frozen lake, and getting hit by a bus, among other things.
  • It Always Rains at Funerals
  • It Can Think: A rare non-malicious example (depending on your perspective) in the mouse's case. This goes into Up to Eleven levels when Ernie accepts that they're not dealing with an ordinary mouse.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Ernie does not think highly of his father Rudolf or the family string business at all, and has no problem making this clear. It's understandable though considering that Rudolf supposedly didn't give a damn about Ernie's cooking and expected him to run the business with Lars after he passed away, even though Ernie had his own business to run. That, and the Smuntz's string factory is outdated and barely makes any money until the end of the film.
  • Karmic Trickster: When left to his own devices, the mouse doesn't really bother the brothers beyond stealing their food, and most of the mishaps in the film are the brothers' own faults. As they start trying harder, though, the mouse starts getting mean in retaliation. At one point it turns on the gas and hands one of the unwitting brothers a match.
  • Killer Rabbit: The mouse. The last owner of the house before Rudolf Smuntz was found dead locked in a trunk in the attic. Later, the ambulance picks up Caesar the Exterminator halfway through the film. He was found the same way, except it's implied this time the mouse called 911. Not to mention the rest of the stuff it does to Caesar and the Smuntz brothers.
  • Large Ham: Caesar the exterminator (being played by Christopher Walken, this shouldn't be a surprise). The brothers also ham up everytime they get excited chasing the mouse.
  • Made of Iron:
    • The Smuntz brothers live through a heck load of torment from the mouse.
    • Catzilla qualifies as well. Maury offhandedly mentions how Catzilla had already been gassed at one point.
  • Misplaced Accent: The Belgian sisters, Ingrid and Hilde, who sound nothing like Dutch or Belgian.
  • Missing Trailer Scene: Lampshaded in the film's offbeat trailer:
    "These are the cha-cha twins. They are not in Mouse Hunt. Tell your friends."
  • Mouse Hole
  • Mouse Trap: Hundreds of them.
  • Nail 'Em
  • Never Recycle a Building: Justified as the mouse drove out everyone who tried to live in the house.
  • Non-Fatal Explosions: Ernie and Lars are both blown up by the mouse twice (the first time, Ernie is blasted from a chimney and into a nearby lake) but luckily, they only have some soot on their faces and shredded clothes to worry about.
  • Non Sequitur Thud: This happens to Caesar after the mouse made a fool of him, sending him careening through the house and effectively driving him to madness. He is then being taken out on a hospital stretcher when the brothers return to check up on things.
    Ernie: Caesar, are you all right? Try to think, did you catch that mouse?
    Caesar: What's that? Horse!? FIENDISH!!! I WON'T EAT IT!! AAAGH! (makes chattering noises like a mouse)
  • Odd Couple: Ernie is tight-fisted and practical while Lars is dumber and more idealistic.
  • Oh, Crap: Caesar, as he realizes he's about to go on a painful journey through the house.
  • Pounds Are Animal Prisons: You wish it were a prison. A little girl is seen being dragged screaming from the pound, where her kitten is then immediately gassed to death (*possibly* for absolutely no reason). Note that this isn't treated as a good thing or something to laugh at. It comes across more like the "business as usual" angle.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The brothers both throw this at each other, in a naturally poorly handled fashion, after realizing each were making different arrangements for the factory without informing the other, as well as a particularly brutal defeat by the mouse.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The entire film seems to run on this, but moments of particular note would be the very opening scene with the funeral, the over-the-top reaction to the cockroach that results in Ernie's restaurant going out of business, and of course the ending—both the false climax where the Escalating War finally takes out the mouse (it seems) and the real one with the Auction.
  • Retro Universe: The film has a 1940s look, but seems to take place in the present day. The Zeppco guy's comments about bringing the factory into the 21st Century imply that it simply takes place in an undefined, anachronistic modern-day setting like Tim Burton's Batman films.
  • Rube Goldberg Hates Your Guts: This makes up a lot of the physical comedy.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: The exterminator. It doesn't help.
  • Self-Made Man: Rudolf Smuntz
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sniff Sniff Nom: The mouse exterminator character mentioned above does this to judge the dietary habits of the titular mouse.
  • Tempting Fate: "Now you know this house will last FOREVER!" Just before it collapses right behind Ernie.
  • Third Act Misunderstanding: When Lars finds out about Ernie's intentions for the factory. Contributes to the above "Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • Toilet Humor: As the brothers try to suck up the mouse with the vacuum, they fail to realize that the mouse has escaped and attached the sewage line to the vacuum so that they suck up sewage. As they keep sucking and sucking, the vacuum bag expands larger and larger until finally it explodes, covering the house and the brothers in sewage.
  • Understatement: "I don't think we're dealing with an ordinary mouse."
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The brothers wouldn't have to move in the house if it weren't for the cockroach that ruined Ernie, and Lars horrible wife kicking him out.
  • Visual Pun: String Cheese
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Ernie views his relationship with his father as such, never managing to gain much approval for his cooking profession, outside the string that ties the food together of course.

The Mouse and His ChildAnimal Title IndexMrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
MimicFilms of the 1990sMs Scrooge
Minority ReportCreator/Dream WorksMunich

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