Lilo And Stitch Review
In 1961, Elvis made Blue Hawaii, beginning a run of twenty-one films in eight years that would see his credibility vanish completely. In Blue Hawaii, Elvis played Chad Gates who defies his wealthy parents and their pineapple-growing business to escort a group of girls around the islands whilst singing "Aloha Oe". Forty-one years later, Elvis reappeared on Hawaii but instead of working in a gas station or a burger bar, it was as the inspiration behind an imaginative little girl and a vicious alien - Lilo & Stitch!
Lilo & Stitch opens on the planet Tura, where one of the scientists, Dr. Jumba (Stiers), has been experimenting with the genetic engineering of new life forms and has created Experiment 626 (Sanders), a small, blue, toothy, six-armed creature whose only purpose in life is to destroy but, due to his molecular weight, unable to either float or swim in water.
Following his trial, Jumba and Experiment 626 are imprisoned but the latter escapes, taking a spacecraft from Captain Gantu's (Richardson) command ship to make the jump into hyper space only for his escape to be tracked to his landing site on a Hawaiian island. Jumba is released from prison and along with Earth-specialist Agent Pleakley (McDonald), is dispatched to bring back Experiment 626.
Meanwhile, on Earth, Nani (Carrere), who lives with her younger sister Lilo (Chase) is battling to keep what's left of her family together following the death of their parents. This is made more difficult now that social services, in the guise of Cobra Bubbles (Rhames) is investigating their case. One night, Nani and the lonely Lilo see a falling star and Lilo prays that God deliver her a friend in the shape of an angel. The falling star is, in fact, Experiment 626's spaceship who is found by some truckers and brought to a dog sanctuary. The next morning, Nani takes Lilo to pick a pet at the dog sanctuary and, what do you know, Lilo picks Experiment 626, whom she names Stitch.
Lilo and Stitch, now partners, have to learn the meaning of friendship and 'ohana', meaning 'family' ensuring that no one gets left behind, even with Cobra Bubbles and Captain Gantu seeking to break this little family unit apart...
Lilo & Stitch, billed as Disney's forty-first animated classic, was developed by first-time directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders but neither are new to Disney's feature animation department. Both had worked previously on the script for Mulan and Sanders is also a veteran of Disney's Beauty And The Beast, which remains one of the most wonderful animated films yet produced within that studio. Yet, with Disney running low on traditional tales that have yet to be adapted, Sanders and DeBlois have ensured that they have produced a film with an original story but one that feels as though it has been told many times before, so typical of a fairy tale that it is only the more modern influences that prevent it from being thought of as ages old.
In fact, Disney is rather adept at introducing modern twists on traditional tales taking Treasure Planet as an example - an updating of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island with a space theme. In not making an extravagant leap of imagination, it is possible to imagine Lilo & Stitch as being a traditional Hawaiian fairy tale that has been updated with an intergalactic visitor as opposed to Stitch being, say, a fairy in the traditional telling. Taking a slightly similar view, where Nani and Lilo are orphaned and are looking out for one another, it's not impossible to imagine a traditional tale where Nani is in fact, a mother struggling to bring Lilo up on her own after the death of Lilo's father.
In saying that, it is actually the replacement of a mother by Nani that allows a rather modern family unit to be portrayed. With the terrestrial and extraterrestrial social services being represented by Cobra Bubbles and Captain Gantu, respectively, both Lilo and Stitch represent families that have problems, are a little bit broken but work out nonetheless. With Nani and Dr. Jumba being the natural guardians of both, neither of whom are perfect parenting material, the connection between Lilo and Stitch, aside from the bond they make with one another, is complete - one born on earth, one in a laboratory on Tura.
What Lilo & Stitch also manages to do that is really most impressive is to capture as much of the action and the entire world view from Lilo's perspective and, as a result, retains a sense of wonderment at everything yet, at the same time, a lack of surprise at events that we, being much older, would consider amazing, such as finding out that our pet dog was actually an alien...who can talk. By employing this approach, the complexities of the modern world are reduced to little more than distractions and Lilo is likely to charm all but the hardest of hearts, similar to Bill Watterson's Calvin (whose reasonable friend Hobbes is the mirror of the anarchic Stitch) who views each day, event and other person against his own sense of place in the world, uncannily similar to how the parent of every young child sees their offspring deal with everything. In fact, one of the film's masterstrokes is in concluding the entire film with a joyous ending that remains consistent with what has gone before and resolves everything with a piece of childish reasoning that is both surprising when it happens yet unexpected.
With being modern Disney, there are, of course a number of other references thrown into the movie for a more adult audience to look out for including Godzilla (the moment Stitch builds a model of San Francisco only to stomp through it), Men In Black (Cobra Bubbles admitting saving the world from destruction) and Gremlins (Stitch is a distant cousin of the titular creatures). Similarly, the use of a real picture of Elvis within the animation brings Lauren Child's Clarice Bean books to mind, which feature photographs within an otherwise hand-drawn picture book to connect reality and imagination. Finally, it shares a scene and point of view in common with William Cameron Menzies' Invaders From Mars in that both feature the child at the centre of the story looking out of their bedroom window at night to see a spacecraft land behind a hill and, for the remainder of each film, we see the world from that child's perspective.
With Lilo & Stitch being set in Hawaii, it also examines the differences between the tourist version of the American state and the real version, lived in by the local population. Therefore, Nani and her boyfriend David work at a typical tourist restaurant with Nani wearing a grass skirt with David as a fire-eater on stage entertaining visitors as they eat. This contrasts with a simple yet beautifully animated surfing trip to the beach with Nani, David, Lilo and Stitch away from the crowds and featuring some of the most exhilarating surfing seen since John Milius' Big Wednesday, albeit animated rather than live action.
Of course, Lilo & Stitch works by adding to all of the above with a sense of humour that, like The Emperor's New Groove, is both wicked and heartwarming, often within the same breath. There are jokes that wouldn't be out of place in a pitch black comedy with the knowledge that Stitch, as Experiment 626 is a dangerous creature bent on destruction. At heart, however, this is still a wonderful tale of family life in whatever form it takes and that, no matter what, nobody gets left behind.
Lilo & Stitch has been anamorphically transferred in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and looks wonderful. The animation is bright, colourful and at times beautifully drawn with a very distinctive style that makes each character appear without sharp edges and spikes (compare this with Ralph Steadman's designs for Disney's Hercules) as though gravity has dragged their bodies southwards and into a rounded and slightly inflated form.
Lilo & Stitch is a THX-certified disc (coming with a THX optimiser) and is available with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS soundtracks with the latter being a wonderfully vibrant audio track with a crisp using of the five main speakers and a spot-on use of the subwoofer.
Despite this not being a Collector's Edition, Lilo & Stitch isn't bad for the number of extras available, including:
Disneypedia (8m35s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a short series of films on six Hawaiian islands.
Create Your Own Alien Experiment (1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a simple game for young children to answer a few questions about the film to create their own Turan experiment.
A Stitch In Time (3m33s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a very short series of stills showing Stitch in a number of scenes from past Disney movies such as a pirate on Captain Hook's boat (Peter Pan) or a guard at Maleficent's castle (Sleeping Beauty).
Hula Lesson (3m37s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a feature on the traditional Hawaiian dance.
Burning Love (1m31s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Incredibly, the Elvis song that closes the main action in the film is (a) not sung by Elvis and (b) actually sung by a Wynonna, a woman who sounds uncannily like Elvis and who is shown here recording her version in the studio.
"Can't Help Falling..." (1m02s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a terrible cover version of the Elvis classic "Can't Help Falling In Love" by the A*Teens. No, I have no idea who they are either but America's version of Steps would be getting close.
The Look Of Lilo & Stitch (4m06s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a good feature on the animation style of Lilo & Stitch that originated with Chris Sanders.
Animating The Hula (3m06s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a brief feature looking specifically at the animations techniques as used in Lilo & Stitch to include a Hula dance sequence in the opening credits.
On Location With The Directors (19m07s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This shows Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois talking the audience through storyboards, scoring the music, voice recording and the techniques used to animate the film.
Deleted Scenes (1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Introduced either by Dean DeBlois or Chris Sanders, this includes three deleted scenes as a mix of rough and finished animation and still sketches:
- Stitch's Trial (3m00s)
- Gantu Challenges (1m25s)
- Bedtime Story (2m36s)
Theatrical Trailers (1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This places Stitch into four other Disney films including:
- Beauty & The Beast (1m06s)
- Aladdin (1m05s)
- The Little Mermaid (1m02s)
- The Lion King (1m07s)
Each trailer finishes with a quick blast of AC/DC.
Gareth Gates - "Suspicious Minds" (4m13s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Why? Why invite this spud-faced karaoke crooner to record this song? What was wrong with the original?
Gareth Gates aside, not a bad selection.
Well, whatever the analysis, Lilo & Stitch is simply one of the best Disney films since the double success of Beauty & The Beast and The Lion King with only The Emperor's New Groove as real competition. It cheerfully throws away the grimly earnest storytelling of, for example, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and lets Disney show that the riotous fun of the Pixar films is feeding back from the child to the parent, as though ...Groove and Lilo & Stitch are demonstrating how mum and dad learned how to have fun again - wonderful stuff.