Lilo & Stitch (2002)

Posted by on Dec 22, 2011 in Out of This World | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: However-many-Elvis-fans can’t be wrong.

To credit Lilo & Stitch’s success to marketing or the fact that Disney’s name accompanied it would be completely short sighted. Disney creations do, almost always, guarantee success, but it’s short term. And up until this film’s release, Disney’s animation department had quite a dry spell for quality filmmaking (Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tarzan), so that couldn’t possibly explain the success of this marvelous story, which led to a handful of sequels and spinoffs, including a decent TV series.

Lilo & Stitch is definitely not the kind of animated Disney family film we’ve become used to,” Kenneth Turan wrote in The LA Times. “With its hand-drawn characters and its use of watercolors for backgrounds (the first time the studio’s done that since the 1940s), this is a happy throwback to the time when cartoons were cinema’s most idiosyncratic form instead of one of its most predictable.”

Nearly everyone will tell you that Lilo & Stitch’s success and treatment is owed in great deal to co-writers and directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (who also wrote Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Aladdin, and Mulan and served as the voice of Stitch). Not only did they conceive a unique and jackpot idea, but the studio took the unusual risk of allowing the duo to storyboard their script and see the project through as they envisioned.

That vision begins in space, lilo2with a scientist standing before a council regarding an evil genetic experiment. The result of which has super strength and a desire to destroy just about everything, so the council deems the creature “an affront to nature; it must be destroyed.” Their plan goes awry, however, and, ultimately, of course, it finds its way to Earth (Hawaii, to be specific). The council orders the scientist (David Ogden Stiers) to retrieve his creation, and he gets help from a so-called “Earth expert” (Kevin McDonald). To avoid capture, and eventual destruction, the four-armed blue meanie pretends to be a dog and is adopted at the pound by Lilo (Daveigh Chase).

Just the evening before, Lilo spotted a falling star outside her bedroom window and made a wish for “the nicest friend in the world, maybe an angel.” It seems young Lilo has had a rough go of things lately. The misunderstood outcast is from a family comprised solely of herself and her older sister Nani (Tia Carrere), after a car accident took their parents. Now they’re regularly visited by a Men in Black-resembling social worker (Ving Rhames) during untimely moments when they experiment with voodoo and fill pillow cases with bricks, which could threaten their living situation together. Added to their misfortunes is the alien monster that she names Stitch, who doesn’t quite fit the description of her wish.

Though Stitch seems to want nothing more than to channel Godzilla and destroy metropolitan cities, being located in Hawaii only affords him lessons in hula dancing, fire dancing, and Elvis impersonations. The location also allows Disney to enroll us in Hawaii 101, a tour replete with recognizable locales. As usual, they also plug various pop-culture iconographies like Norman Rockwell, Viewmasters, and loads of sci-fi cult classics.

Perhaps the strangest and most welcomed aspect of the film is the choice of the main character, who is not only female but also a minority. Surrounded by things like luaus and hula dancing, it’s easy to label Disney’s portrayal of Samoans the same as their treatment of Hawaii, as “exotic” yet stereotypical (still, nothing compares to Pocahontas’s grandmother). But the theme that drives the entire film, The Ugly Duckling, forbids judgment of anyone or anything based on their appearance. I can’t think of a more suitable theme for Lilo & Stitch, an animated Disney movie that appeared to be another ugly, but became a rare and beautiful individual.

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