imageLilo and Stitch (Walt Disney Pictures, 2002).
Review by Amy Harlib
Running time: 89 minutes. Rated: PG.

Official Site: http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/liloandstitch/ 
IMDB listing:  http://us.imdb.com/Title?0275847 
Directed by: Dean Deblois, Chris Sanders (III) Writing credits: Chris Sanders (III) (based on an idea by) Chris Sanders (III) Cast: Daveigh Chase .... Lilo / Chris Sanders (III) .... Stitch / Tia Carrere .... Nani / David Ogden Stiers .... Jumba / Kevin McDonald (I) .... Pleakley / Ving Rhames .... Cobra Bubbles / Zoe Caldwell (I) .... Grand / Councilwoman / Jason Scott Lee .... David Kawena / Kevin Michael Richardson .... Captain Gantu / Susan Hegarty .... Rescue Lady / Amy Hill .... Mrs. Hasagawa  Original music by: Alan Silvestri with songs performed by Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu and Wynonna.

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Disney studios took a chance with its latest animated feature, allowing Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois, veterans in animation production and design, to venture into directing for the first time with creative control over a full-length production the script of which they co-wrote based on a concept by Mr. Sanders. This gamble paid off for the result, Lilo and Stitch dazzles and delights, offering a witty, refreshing and original departure from the 'Mouse House's" usual fairy-tale or traditional source based, musical offering.

The Grand Councilwoman presides over a Galactic Federation gathering to decide Stitch’s fate.Lilo and Stitch, set in the very recent past (with record players representing the standard level of audio technology) on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, opens with an amusing prologue, a parody of space opera sagas. In a meeting of the Galactic Federation, on the planet Turo, hulking humanoid mad scientist Jumba (David Ogden Stiers inexplicably speaking with an odd Russian accent), gets convicted for conducting an illegal genetic experiment named 626 (gruff voice of Mr. Sanders) that involved the creation of a sentient creature of uninhibited destructive tendencies, a disruptive entity that faces exile on a deserted, desert asteroid.

photoThe resourceful and willful 626, proving unstoppable, contrives to escape to the above-mentioned Hawaiian location where he disguises himself in the form of a weird-looking dog and gets adopted by the eponymous, lonely Lilo (Daveigh Chase) who names him Stitch. Pre-teen Lilo, raised as best she can by twenty-something older sister Nani (Tia Carrere), displays much bratty and hostile behavior (alienating her schoolmates), acting out that masks grief over the tragic deaths of her parents in an automobile accident alluded to in passing. Endearing aspects of Lilo's personality, offsetting the negative ones, are her sharp mind and eccentric passion for Elvis Presley, 6 of whose biggest hits, including "Hound Dog" and "Heartbreak Hotel" get put to excellent, amusingly appropriate use in the film.

The title characters, both starting out with highly troublesome personalities that take considerable warming up to, get given believable motivations explaining how they got that way and how they develop and mature to act better and to display genuine caring---testimony to the high quality of this movie. Lilo, joyfully considering Stitch to be her best buddy, patiently tolerates his zany destructive tendencies that result in trashing the house, frightening tourists and that includes the uncanny skill with which he turns her toys into a facsimile of San Francisco in order to enthusiastically stomp the whole set up to pieces in a hilarious reference to Godzilla.

photoThis fascinatingly strange and beautiful friendship faces threats in the form of the imposing Cobra Bubbles (Ving Rhames), a "Men in Black"-type Black social worker who gives Nani 3 days to prove her suitability to be Lilo's guardian, otherwise the sisters will be separated with the young one to be sent to foster care.

Later, Mr. Bubbles will prove to be more than he seems and not just a heavy, in a pleasant surprise.

Another difficulty simultaneously arises when Stitch must evade pursuers from the Galactic Federation whose Grand Councilwoman (Zoe Caldwell) dispatches both creator Jumba and a one-eyed, three-footed sidekick and deluded Earth expert named Pleakley (Kevin McDonald) to capture 626 and metaphorically throw away the key, for the runaway experiment could be too disruptive, so it is believed, to his terrestrial hide-out which the Federation views as a protected wildlife preserve for the mosquito with humans only of use for being part of that insect's food chain!

In the midst of the sturm and drang, including Nani's comically desperate job-hunting jaunts, Lilo and her older sibling find solace in the daily life of their island home with Nani in particular enjoying the courtship of the local hunk, a lovable athlete and acrobatic, fire-eating and juggling nightclub performer named David Kawena (Jason Scott Lee). Here the unusual quartet of the two sisters, Stitch and David experience a literally refreshing interlude of surfboarding so dynamically animated that the sequence very closely simulates the feel of that thrilling sport in a very memorable moment.

How the dilemmas of the plot get resolved in the requisite happy ending comes after many laugh-out-loud, poignantly touching and exciting escapades that include some wild and crazy chase sequences and scenes that equally explore the appealing theme expressed in the Hawaiian term "ohana" or family, meaning "nobody gets left behind or forgotten". This also means that character relationships get developed to an unusual degree for an animated film as does the accurate portrayal of the Kauai environment, the Hawaiian cultural background and the overall ethnic diversity of the island. Alan Silvestri's excellent score helps a lot too for it extensively references Hawaiian musical styles and vocals and seamlessly pauses for appropriate use of Elvis songs to create the perfect atmosphere.

'Lilo and Stitch' the movie's mostly traditional cel animation with minimal CGI starships and outer-space SPFX, dazzles with its gorgeous watercolor style rendering of the backgrounds, paying homage to the Disney classics of the 1940s, the last time that painterly technique got employed. The character design works brilliantly, balancing cartoon humor with plenty of expressiveness to generate a wide range of emotional responses while Stitch's quick, eccentric movements give the picture some comic syncopation contrasting effectively with the sturdy grace of Nani and Lilo---at long last, female protagonists with normal, full-bodied figures. What a joy to behold amidst the surfeit of sylphs in the entertainment industry!

The picture adroitly mixes wackiness and sentimentality, the latter never feeling cloying or heavy-handed, with Stitch's gradual domestication evolving naturally without entirely robbing him of his chaotic charisma. The wonderful things about Lilo and Stitch---its dimensionality with all the characters realistically containing good and bad qualities; its colorful and fascinating Hawaiian milieu and major players; its lovely visuals; its fine music---makes this charming movie ideal entertainment for the whole family with so much richness there that adults will actually get more out of it than kids. Be that as it may,

Lilo and Stitch deserves to be loved by everybody---the funny bits will leave you in stitches!

© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu