Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders | 82 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English & Hawaiian | U* / PG
From the heart of Disney’s most recent poor period, Lilo & Stitch is possibly the only film that comes out of that era with any affection. Certainly, it spawned several sequels and a relatively-long-running TV series. By the standards of the films that surround it, it’s a good’un; in the grand scope of all Disney films, however, I didn’t care for it that much.
The story begins in deep space, where a self-proclaimed evil scientist has created a six-armed little monster, who we will later come to call Stitch. The scientist is sentenced to imprisonment, the monster to some kind of exile, but it escapes and makes for Earth. There we meet Lilo (Daveigh Chase), a rambunctious little girl who’s shunned by her peers and is cared for by her older sister, Nani (Tia Carrere), after their parents died. After a Secret Service-y child protection officer (Ving Rhames) gives Nani just three days to prove she’s capable of caring for Lilo, she decides getting a dog would help. Unfortunately, the ‘dog’ Lilo picks is actually Stitch. Mayhem ensues, life lessons about family are learnt, everything ends happily.
The story is something and nothing. Despite strong and relatively mature thematic notes, it doesn’t quite break free of the family-movie trappings to achieve the kind of insight or age-group transcendence that, say, Pixar movies routinely manage. For kids, though, especially ones who are feeling like misunderstood outsiders, there might be a lot to take from it. The zany antics of the heroes might also work for them in a way they didn’t for me — the ‘craziness’ comes across as a series of vignettes to bide time until the climax, and I didn’t find it massively engaging either. This is also the stage at which Disney had decided musicals were a Bad Idea, so there’s only a couple of non-diegetic songs to keep things ticking over, and… well, your mileage may vary.
On the bright side, the animation is nicely done. Well, the characters are nothing to particularly write home about — they have all of Disney’s usual slickness without being particularly remarkable. Aside from the fact that it makes all Hawaiian women look exactly the same, anyway; and bonus points for giving Nani a more realistic body-type, rather than the impossibly-stick-thin way women are often rendered in animation. The real star, however, are the backgrounds, which were watercolour-painted for the first time since Dumbo, over 60 years earlier. In some respects it’s a minor, literally background touch that might be missed by many a viewer, but it gives a subtly different feel. It’s a little more classical, which sits nicely against the very modern zany-aliens storyline.
Lilo & Stitch is a long way from the worst of Disney’s ’00s output; indeed, in places it’s even quite good, and I can see why a lot of kids would get something out of it. Not one that’s especially worth bothering with as an adult, though.
* The version rated U has a re-animated bit showing Lilo hiding behind a pizza box instead of inside a dryer. The one I watched on Amazon Prime includes the dryer bit, but as that’s never been classified by the BBFC I guess this is technically unrated (or a 12, which is supposedly what the original would’ve received). ^