“Lilo and Stitch” is a new animation film from the house of the Mouse (re: Walt Disney). As such, it has all the trademarks and “touches” of the Mouse, namely manipulation of emotions, a loud soundtrack that’s been pre-planned to sell albums, and outstanding animation that took years to make.
All of that is here, but you know what? So what. No one does animation better than the Mouse, and they’ve created yet another great film in “Lilo and Stitch,” the kind that will appeal to both kids and adults.
One of the two titular characters of “Lilo and Stitch” is Lilo, a lonely but highly imaginative Hawaiian girl living on an island with her sister, Nani (voice by Tia Carrere). The duo’s life is not exactly serene, as Lilo is forever lonely, unable to cope with having lost her parents, unable to make friends (she bites one of them), and her life with big sis is precarious at best since the State of Hawaii is looking for a reason — any reason — to take her away. Things don’t get better when Stitch, an alien lab experiment built to be mischievous (and oh my does he excel at it) and supposed to be destroyed, escapes his captors, steals a ship, and crashlands on Lilo’s island.
“Lilo and Stitch” relies on cell animation and backgrounds done with watercolors. The images have that traditional look and feel, and the character designs are well done and realistic. Nani and Lilo, along with the other Hawaiians, are appropriately dark-skinned, dark-haired, and easily contrasted against the white-skinned and out of shape tourists that dot the island. The movie also does a good job of showing the new (and only) industry for Hawaiians — serving and entertaining not-so-bright mainlanders.
For an animation, “Lilo and Stitch” is surprisingly very adult. The subject of Nani’s struggles to keep her sister despite all the odds is quite touching. Lilo (voiced by Daveigh Chase) is very human, and her loneliness is so realistic that I was sometimes surprised I was seeing these situations and hearing this type of dialogue in a cartoon. And from the Mouse no less, a company known for sugarcoating everything with cute animals that sings at the drop of a hat.
That doesn’t mean “Lilo and Stitch” is completely without the cute factor. You can’t have a Disney film without cute. It’s like asking Laurel to go on stage without Hardy, or Abbot without Costello, or peanut butter without jelly — you get the idea. Anyone stepping into a Disney film not expecting cute is seriously in need of some movie IQ, or a good shrink.
The inescapable and overwhelming presence of cuteness aside, “Lilo and Stitch” resonates as a surprisingly serious animation at times, and at other times it’s nothing more than a silly alien chase film meant to keep the kids in the theaters happy. When the aliens land on Earth in pursuit of Stitch, they have no trouble finding him. The mischievous Stitch, who was invented to create mischief on a large city populace, realizes he has to lower his standards when he finds himself on this small, lightly populated Hawaiian island. The scene where he realizes this is quite funny.
The aliens’ hunt for Stitch is actually the weakest element of the movie, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the movie might not have been better served if the alien bounty hunters were taken out completely in favor of more scenarios involving Stitch and the sisters. After one of Stitch’s stunts get Nani fired from her job, she’s forced to find a new one, and there’s a sequence where she goes job-hunting and lying her you-know-what off. All the while Stitch is in the background ruining all her would-be job prospects.
I do foresee a slight problem with the film. The character of Stitch might be a little hard to take at first, since he comes across as too much of a bully, especially toward the little Lilo. The little alien furball pushes Lilo around, grabs her bed when she tries to make him sleep in the little doggy bed, and at one point completely trashes her house. But to the lonely Lilo, whose best friend pre-Stitch is a voodoo doll she created herself, Stitch is a Godsend. Since this is a Mouse film, Stitch eventually warms to Lilo. What, did you think he wouldn’t?
“Lilo and Stitch” is a joy for kids, and adults won’t feel left out. It’s highly manipulative, the music works, and the aliens are sometimes a little too “cartoonish.” It should also be noted that kids who see the movie will get a lesson about the real world and how hard it is to survive out there — all of this without them ever knowing a lesson was in progress. How sneaky is that? Then again, no one does sneaky better than the Mouse.
Dean Deblois, Chris Sanders (director) / Dean Deblois, Chris Sanders (screenplay)
CAST: Daveigh Chase …. Lilo
Jason Scott Lee …. David Kawena
Tia Carrere …. Nani