LILO & STITCH
Directors: Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Cast: The voices of Daveigh Chase, Chris Sanders, Tia Carrere, David Ogden Stiers, Kevin McDonald, Jason Scott Lee, Ving Rhames
MPAA Rating: (for mild sci-fi action)
Running Time: 1:25
Release Date: 6/21/02
Review by Mark Dujsik
Lilo & Stitch continues the recent trend in Disney animation by ignoring the usual formula (a.k.a., the Disney musical) and demonstrating a commitment to making actual animated films. It also bypasses the financial success of computer animation and goes the way of highly detailed, highly imaginative, and highly successful traditional hand-drawn animation. The film takes the setup of E.T. but changes the locale from Suburbia, USA to Hawaii and reinvents the alien’s characteristics. Instead of a fearful, lovable, healing creature, we have Stitch, a foul-mouthed (at least in his native tongue), hyperactive, destructive alien who is so endearingly demented that it seems as though this movie is merely scratching the surface of the possibilities available for him. His character is essentially trapped in a shaky narrative that ultimately keeps the film too pinned down in formula to soar. What we’re left with are clever jokes, a sincere heart, and one of the most peculiar, inventive, and genuinely funny comedic characters in years.
In a galaxy far, far away, the crazy (but not quite mad) scientist Jumba (voice of David Ogden Stiers) has been toying with illegal genetic research and has created the ultimate weapon of destruction: a bullet-proof, fire-proof, four-armed creature capable of lifting objects three-thousand times its size. It’s called Experiment 626 (voice of Chris Sanders), and the galactic council has determined it must be cast into exile. During a daring escape, Experiment 626 hijacks a spaceship, finds its way to Earth (pronounced E-arth), and lands on Hawaii where he’s found and brought to a kennel. Elsewhere on the island, young Lilo (voice of Daveigh Chase) is having difficulty adjusting to her broken family life after the death of her parents. Lilo has no friends—in part due to her antisocial behavior and general strangeness—and her older sister Nani (voice of Tia Carrere) has trouble playing the part of both sister and parent. Not helping is the appearance of a social worker called Mr. Bubbles (voice of Ving Rhames)—he’s the guy who comes in when things are bad. So to try and correct things, Nani and Lilo head to the pound where she adopts Experiment 626 and names him Stitch.
The animation team behind Lilo & Stitch have made an important move by reminding us just how thrilling and potent hand-drawn animation can be when done right. The film isn’t lazy or skimping on detail. The character design and animation is smooth and telling, and the background art (all done in watercolor) is gorgeous. Even when the film intersperses 3-D animation, the results are generally seamless. The plot, rough and feeling more like a general outline at points, serves its purpose almost to formula. On a simply comedic level, the movie is a series of misadventures between a girl and her alien. Stitch is a running joke unto himself, filling almost every second of screentime with some action worth at least a chuckle. The rest of the gags hinge on Stitch’s destructive behavior and Lilo’s tendency to bring him everywhere, the movie is a series of very funny set pieces. Take, for example, one sequence in which Lilo is determined to make Stitch into a "gentleman" by molding him into the only example she knows of—Elvis—and in the process wrecks Nani’s chances of getting a job.
In events like this, though, the film also has an important message building up. On a deeper level, the movie is about relationships. A major piece to the film’s message is the sense of ohana or family, which to Lilo and her family means "no one gets left behind. No one is forgotten." It’s this display of loyalty that gives Lilo & Stitch its most affecting moments. Lilo’s character is fully believable, and we sense the confusion and loneliness that must accompany her situation. The two sisters have a credible interaction which fluctuates because of their age difference and the role of authority Nani is suddenly placed in. Stitch goes through a large change in the course of the film. He starts off as a weapon of mass destruction but, finding himself on an island with no big cities to destroy, is forced to reevaluate his existence. Stitch is the closest Lilo has had as a friend, and, as he comes to discover, Lilo and Nani are the closest to family that Stitch has ever had and will ever have.
Both the final test of loyalty and the last straw of the machinations of the plot come to a head in the climax which pits Stitch against his potential captors from home. There’s an entire subplot involving aliens trying to capture Stitch which does no insignificant damage to the movie. Elements like this contradict the nature of the title relationship and characters, which are bursting with energy, life, and realism (at least to the extent a blue, koala-looking alien can be real). It’s a shame really, especially when a large part of the film is full of strong humor and more complex emotional resonance than should be expected. Lilo & Stitch is a solid and entertaining introduction to characters who need much more freedom to really let themselves shine.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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