"LILO & STITCH"
80 minutes | Rated: G
Opened: Friday, June 21, 2002
Directed by Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois
Voices of Daveigh Chase, Tia Carrere, Ving Rhames, David Ogden Stiers, Kevin McDonald, Jason Scott Lee, Zoe Caldwell, Chris Sanders
SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 15%
LETTERBOX: COULDN'T HURT
The outerspace stuff at the beginning of the film won't be quite as transporting on TV, but as with all Disney animation, this movie will survive the small-screen transition just fine.
VIDEO RELEASE: 12.03.2002
Deviating from Disney norms, 'Lilo & Stitch' is a hilarious cartoon comedy about a cute extra-terrestrial terror
A very entertaining tweak on Disney tradition, the lost little alien cartoon comedy "Lilo and Stitch" is a hybrid of the studio's standard elements (the main character is an orphaned little girl) and a funnier, edgier, but still kid-flavored sense of humor.
Stitch is a super-strong, super-intelligent, bulletproof, fireproof, razor-toothed, cute but uncontrollable, destructive little blue monster who was genetically engineered by a mad scientist on another planet. The film begins on that far-off world where Stitch has been condemned to exile on an asteroid by an alien council that has deemed him too troublesome to keep around.
But just as he's about to be transported, the little bugger gets loose. He swipes an inter-stellar police cruiser ("He took the red one!" exclaims an exasperated alien cop who clearly favored that ship for himself) and, after a space chase, crash-lands on Earth -- in Hawaii to be specific -- where he's mistaken for a peculiar stray dog.
Taken in by a native Hawaiian girl named Lilo (voiced by 11-year-old Daveigh Chase), who is something of an outcast herself, Stitch begins to wreak humorous havoc on the household, headed by Lilo's 19-year-old, struggling-waitress sister Nani (Tia Carrere), who has raised Lilo since their parents died. But the girl has taken such a shine to the creature that Nani grins and bears it for the sake of her lonely little sister.
Complications soon arise on two fronts -- one comedic and creative, the other hackneyed and farfetched. The first is that the extra-terrestrial mad scientist (David Ogden Stiers) has been sent to retrieve Stitch, or failing that, destroy him before he's "drawn to big cities where he will disrupt sewer systems, reverse street signs and steal everyone's left shoe." The scientist's guide is a skinny, high strung, three-legged cyclops (Kevin McDonald) who fancies himself an Earth expert and demands they be careful and inconspicuous because "Earth is a protected wildlife preserve." Their attempts to blend in as tourists are a great source of comedy. The fact that they do blend in is even funnier.
But that's not the farfetched part. The farfetched part is the subplot about a burly, booming-voiced, ex-CIA social worker named Cobra Bubbles (with the deadpan voice of Ving Rhames) who threatens to put Lilo in a foster home for idiotically contrived reasons. Lilo is definitely a handful, and she has lessons to learn about behaving herself in the course of the film, but Nani takes very good care of her. This storyline is basically Disney's transparent excuse to ply the flick with false tension and family messages that usurp the Hawaiian language. "Ohana means family," Nani reassures Lilo. "Family means nobody gets left behind."
Driven more by its zany comedy than its animation, "Lilo and Stitch" has an unembellished artistic style that includes watercolor backdrops and characters with clean, refreshingly rudimentary lines. The menagerie of aliens and their ships are diverse and creative, but Lilo and Nani have simple, distinctively Hawaiian faces with wide noses and almond-shaped eyes.
Disney is not trying to compete with CGI creations like "Monsters, Inc." and "Ice Age" in this outing. Instead writer-directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois focus on what's funny, and the laughs are nearly non-stop. From the spaceship with a horn that plays "La Cucaracha" to Lilo protecting a painting from the rampaging Stitch with an over-the-heads-of-kids Picasso reference ("No!" she screams, "That's from my blue period!"), this movie has well-timed, off-the-wall humor hiding in every nook and cranny.
It is unfortunate that Sanders and DeBlois let the film get ridiculous in the last act, with alien ships flying around Hawaii without arousing the attention of anyone except primary characters. It's even more unfortunate that Lilo's love of Elvis music is used as an excuse to litter the soundtrack with downright torturous manglings of The King's classics by Wynonna Judd and Euro-teenybob pop group The A-Teens. Elvis's original recordings are used throughout the film, so what possible excuse could there be for these remakes? Lilo herself would be appalled.
But while the picture's shortcomings are sometimes glaring, they never get in the way of having a good time in this delightful break from the Disney formula.