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Disney Animated Features
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Release Date: 21 June 2002

Lilo & Stitch is a comedy in the vein of The Emperor's New Groove, just not as much so. It goes a little lighter on the laughs and incorporates some excellent character development, action, and heart.

There is a significant science fiction element to this film, which seems to be becoming more common in Disney's animated features. Atlantis: The Lost Empire was heavy into Jules Verne-type novelties, and Treasure Planet will be set in space in the 24th century. I believe Lilo & Stitch is the first animated Disney film to include space aliens.

And there are a lot of space aliens. The film opens in the council chamber of an interstellar confederation, where a mad scientist is put on trial for genetic experimentation. The result of his experiments is a little hellion named Experiment 626. It was designed to know nothing but destruction and chaos, causing the council to exile the creation to an asteroid.

But the Experiment is super-strong, intelligent, and agile, and it escapes into hyperspace. It crash lands in Hawaii, where it attempts to look like a dog. A young Hawaiian girl, Lilo, adopts the "puppy," naming it Stitch, even as its creator is hunting it down, trying to capture it.

Lilo, you see, is a misfit. Six years old, she seems to think on a different wavelength from her peers; she loves Elvis and feeds peanut butter sandwiches to a fish. Lilo is being raised by her sister Nani, after their parents died in a car accident, and even Nani is frustrated by Lilo's antics. Not helping matters is the large, imposing social worker Cobra Bubbles, who will be forced to take Lilo away if Nani can't prove that she's providing a good home. But the destructive and chaotic Stitch throws a wrench into the whole works.

Can Lilo successfully teach Stitch about ohana, the Hawaiian concept of family taught to her by her father? Will Lilo and Nani remain together? Will there be a happy ending? Is this a Disney film?

The plot seems complicated, but it works very well on screen. It's simple and easy to follow, even for kids. The characters are strongly defined and very believable, yet funny in their own way.

Daveigh Chase, a prolific young actress, voices Lilo with aplomb. Lilo's actions and dialog feel just right, and a lot of credit goes to the voice actress. Tia Carrere also hits the right notes as Nani, at the end of her rope yet still tender -- the only one who understands her sister. Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction's Marsellus Wallace) voices Cobra Bubbles, a character who looks more than a little bit like Rhames himself. The part seems written for him, and he nicely balances Mr. Bubbles' tough exterior with the interior that drove him to become a social worker.

Rounding out the main cast are Disney stalwart David Odgen Stiers as Stitch's creator, Jumba; Kids in the Hall alumnus Kevin McDonald as the other alien sent to capture Stitch, Earth expert Pleakly; and Jason Scott Lee as David, a good friend to Nani and Lilo, although he'd like to be more when it comes to Nani.

The music again takes a back seat -- few characters breaking into song and dance numbers here. However, the music is not totally in the background. There are (apparently) more Elvis songs in this movie than in any of his own. They are used in several different ways, from accompanying a montage sequence to being played by Lilo on a record player (using Stitch as the speaker!). Nani also sings "Aloha Oe" to Lilo at one point. So although there are no original songs (just background music) the songs that are here never seem out of place.

Awards may be hard to come by for this movie. The traditional Disney categories of Best Music and Best Song aren't going to work for Lilo & Stitch, and the competition from Ice Age, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Hey Arnold! The Movie, The Powerpuff Girls, Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, Pokemon: The 4th Movie, and Disney's own Treasure Planet will be stiff for the Best Animated Feature Film award.

All in all, Lilo & Stitch is funny and touching, with excellent characters and beautiful animation. It captures Hawaiian culture in a way that seems to me, as an outsider, to be very realistic, and the voice work is typically excellent. Disney has more animated competition from other studios now than ever before, but this film proves that they continue to hold their own.

Information for the Disney Animated Features series of nodes comes from the IMDb (www.imdb.com), Frank's Disney Page (http://www.fpx.de/fp/Disney/), and the dark recesses of my own memory.

22 June 2002: Saw the movie and completely re-wrote the writeup.

11 February 2003: Oscar nominations came out today, and Lilo & Stitch is on the list for Best Animated Feature, along with Treasure Planet. Stiff competition from the anime Spirited Away may result in both Disney films losing out. Lilo & Stitch received several Annie nominations, but only one win, for Daveigh Chase as the voice of Lilo.

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