Lilo & Stitch is not your average Disney flick, and is a serious contender for the best animated movie I’ve seen in a long while, just slightly behind Monsters Inc. If you’d previously dismissed Disney as saccharine dross featuring a journey of some kind by a reluctant hero (or heroine) aided by a couple of wise-cracking sidekicks usually voiced by Eddie Murphy, then think again. This is no Aladdin, Mulan, Lion King, or—shiver—Little Mermaid.
Instead, Lilo & Stitch is an energetic, funny movie, aimed at kids, but full of the film references and humour that adults appreciate, just like the critcally acclaimed output of Disney partner Pixar. There is of course, a message—this is Disney, after all—but it is delivered with refreshing subtlety, not ladled on by the spoonful as we’ve seen in previous movies. Best of all, Lilo & Stitch is not a musical. Sure, the movie is peppered with Elvis songs (more Elvis songs than ever appeared in any single Elvis picture), but they simply add to the kitschy Hawaiian backdrop and are genuinely humorous rather than grandiose.
Stitch, actually known as Experiment 626, is an alien genetic experiment, designed to destroy all he touches with superhuman strength and ferocity. His creator Dr Jumba Jookiba (voiced by David Ogden Stiers), a self proclaimed “evil genius”, is imprisoned and Experiment 626 banished to a distant asteroid. However, by creative use of his bodily fluids, 626 escapes and makes his way to Earth pursued by Jookiba and the one-eyed Agent Pleakley (Kevin McDonald, from The Kids in the Hall).
Earth is considered a nature reserve by the aliens, and so rather than blast Experiment 626 with their pleasingly liquid laser guns, Jookiba and Pleakley must bide their time until they can grab him in secret.
626 lands on Hawaiian island of Kauai and is mistaken for a weird looking dog. He is adopted and named Stitch by Lilo Pelekai (brilliantly voiced by Daveigh Chase), a troubled, exuberant and quirky young Hawaiian girl who is obsessed with Elvis and taking photos of sunburnt tourists. She lives with her sister Nani (Tia Carrere), who struggles to provide for the troublesome Lilo since their parents died and attracts the attention of social worker, Cobra Bubbles, who has more than a passing resemblance to Pulp Fiction’s Marsellus Wallace (both are played by Ving Rhames).
Lilo & Stitch is set in a bright, vivid Hawaii, helped by the amazing watercolour backgrounds (apparently the first time Disney has done that since the 1940s). Writer-Directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders must take credit for producing Disney’s least formulaic movie in recent memory and creating relatively complex, engaging characters: when we first meet Lilo she ends up punching a classmate in the face, which is not traditionally how Disney has gone about creating sympathetic characters. We can share Lilo’s sister Nani’s world weary resignation and frustration and the family situation rings true. It’s small things like this which root the movie and allow it to spin off in surreal directions (Stitch’s Elvis impressions and his ability to use his claw as a record player needle and his mouth as a speaker).
I’m hoping that Disney will learn some lessons from this and their relationship with Pixar and start producing more movies of this calibre. Unfortunately, Disney’s next releases, Treasure Planet and Jungle Book 2 seem to be looking at the more traditional way Disney makes movies, which is a shame.