In terms of their hand-drawn animation unit (which has been overshadowed
in recent years by the computer-animated "Toy Story" series and "Monsters,
Inc."), "Lilo & Stitch" is Disney's most effortlessly charming and
satisfying creation since 1999's "Tarzan." Sharp-witted, heartwarming
without sinking into maudlin territory, and featuring two winningly
developed and voiced main characters, the film is an ideal motion
picture that children and adults can enjoy equally.
As the story begins on the distant planet of Tura, a small, rascally,
blue-haired creature named Stitch (voiced by Chris Sanders) has been
created illegally by scientist Jumba (David Ogden Stiers). Threatened
into exile, Stitch narrowly escapes in a spacecraft and crashes it
in Hawaii. Mistaken for a dog and taken to an animal shelter, he is
adopted by the lonely and misunderstood Lilo (Daveigh Chase), who
is being taken care of by her older sister, Nani (Tia Carrere), after
the death of their parents. Since none of the other children like
to play with her, Lilo strikes up a friendship with the ornery Stitch,
whose antics begin to cause problems for Lilo and Nani when a family
services officer named Mr. Bubbles (Ving Rhames) begins snooping around.
Geared with an offbeat and likable collection of Elvis Presley tunes
underscoring some of the action, "Lilo & Stitch" is Disney's most
focused animated feature in several years. The characters--namely
Lilo, Stitch, and Nani--transcend the usual limitations of being cartoon
drawing and take on genuine, true-to-life personalities that we identify with.
The heart of the picture are the two key relationships that lend the
story its emotional weight. The special bond between Lilo and Stitch
is genuinely endearing, as they are both loners who desperately want
and need a friend, and only find that in each other. The pangs of
childhood are honestly felt, and thankfully not sugarcoated, in a
durable screenplay from directors Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois.
Likewise, the sibling rapport between Lilo and Nani, as Nani has a
difficult time being both a sister and a mother to young Lilo, is
lovingly effective. Daveigh Chase (2001's "Donnie Darko"), as the
voice of Lilo, is a standout, giving her role added nuances and depth
that otherwise might not have shone through in the animation.
More uneven is the peculiar animation style chosen. While the characters
are beautifully drawn and many of the shots are akin to marveling
at rainbows, the backdrops have been given a washed-out, finger-painting
look that does not always mesh well with the foreground action. Surely,
this was a creative choice by the filmmakers, but it only occasionally
pays off in the finished product.
The less-than-stellar visuals do little to no harm in a movie as accessibly
entertaining as "Lilo & Stitch" is. Stitch, who starts off as the
comic relief before growing more serious character shades, will delight
children and amuse grown-ups, while everyone will be able to relate
to Lilo and Nani's powerful family bond. Despite the lack of a memorable
villain, the picture is enjoyable from start to finish and has a breezy
80-minute running time that is nearly over before you realize it has
begun. "Lilo & Stitch" is a sparkling animated film that Disney has
every right to be proud of.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman