Lilo & Stitch
directed by Dean Deblois
& Chris Sanders
(Walt Disney, 2002)

On a recent trip to Walt Disney World, my son and I were bombarded with Lilo & Stitch merchandise, trailers and images. Our wake-up calls featured the voice of Stitch urging us to see his movie. A gigantic inflatable Stitch loomed outside the entrance to MGM Studios Theme Park. In The Magic of Disney Animation, a professional animator drew Stitch for us and talked about the three-year process of creating the film.

Upon returning home, we had no option but to scurry over to our local theater and see if Lilo & Stitch lived up to the hype. It did. Admirably. Both times we saw it.

Lilo (Daveigh Chase), orphaned in typical Disney fashion at an early age, is a little girl with some serious antisocial behaviors and quirks. She bites the little girls in her dance class and she feeds sandwiches to fish. She currently lives with her sister Nani (Tia Carerra), but even that limited family connection of threatened by the hulking social worker Cobra Bubbles, menancingly voiced by Ving Rhames.

Meanwhile, lightyears away, the evil scientist Jumba (David Odgen Stiers) has created an invulnerable, super-intelligent demolition expert called Experiment 626. The Grand Council of the Galactic Federation objects to the existance of this destructive creature, which is banished to a prison asteroid. Of course, something goes horribly wrong, resulting in the critter crash-landing in Hawaii, where he passes himself off as a dog, meets Lilo at the animal shelter and wreaks havoc pretty much everywhere.

The Federation sends Dr. Jumba and Agent Pleakley (Kevin McDonald), an environmentalist Earth expert, to retrieve Stitch, which sets in motion a complex interplay of explosions and Elvis songs that work amazingly well together.

In contrast to recent computer-generated renderings, Lilo & Stitch proves there's still magic in hand-crafted animation. And the lush watercolor backgrounds, used for the first time since Dumbo, create gorgeous Hawaiian landscapes. The soundtrack of both traditional Hawaiian music and Elvis songs, crooned by The King and others, adds to the playfulness and the suspense.

But it's the story and characters that can raise a movie to the level of "classic." Lilo & Stitch, written and directed by Dean Debrois and Chris Sanders (also the voice of Stitch), will earn that title. The main characters are emotionally involving to a degree I'd not thought possible for a six-legged, teeth-baring blue bit of evilness from outer space. By the final credits, he seemed positively cuddly.

The theme of family weaves thoughtfully throughout the film with believability -- especially for those who find certain relatives exasperating. The focus is "Ohana" -- a family in which no one gets left behind and no one is forgotten.

Between Stitch's destructive tendencies to delight the children and a tight, riveting plot for the parents, Lilo & Stitch is entertainment you won't soon forget.

[ by Julie Bowerman ]
Rambles: 21 September 2002

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