Sunday, March 8, 2015

LILO & STITCH (2002)

RELEASE DATE: Friday 21st June 2002

The Walt Disney Animation Department of the early 2000s was in a state of uncertainty, especially in terms of hand-drawn animation. Fantasia 2000, The Emperor's New Groove and Atlantis had all under-performed at the box office. Disney was in need of a hit. Lilo and Stitch, while still failing to meet the ticket numbers of the Disney Renaissance films, created a small upward trend in the box office takings. (It proved very short-lived, but more on that later.)

Largely created by Chris Sanders (who also voices Stitch) and his team at the Florida branch of Disney animation (the second film to be completely made there, after Mulan) Lilo and Stitch broke a lot of new ground. The location of the film would be Hawaii, which had never been used as an animated setting before. The film would blend space-opera sci-fi with everyday broken family woes. At the core of the story would be a lonely and somewhat dysfunctional little girl who befriends an alien criminal who is on-the-run from the authorities who want him terminated. It is one of the most outlandish concepts Disney had ever worked with, but audiences reacted extremely well to this very quirky tale.

In a very clever piece of marketing that both introduced the character of Stitch while also cementing his place in the Disney halls of fame, the trailers to the movie had the little blue alien interrupting existing Disney classics and causing havoc.

By basing their operations on the opposite end of the country to the "Disney Machine," Sanders and his relatively small team were awarded a sense of freedom not felt on other projects. It allowed a very odd, quirky sense of humour to permeate the story, unlike anything seen before in the company's history. Even to this day, Lilo & Stitch stands out as one of the strangest and funniest entries in the Walt Disney canon.

The story begins somewhere in deep space, where mad scientist Dr. Jumba (voiced by Disney regular David Ogden Stiers, aka Cogsworth, aka Ratcliffe, aka Wiggins, aka Archdeacon, aka Mr. Harcourt) is on trial for performing illegal genetic experimentation to create a new life form for the sole purpose of destruction. Jumba is imprisoned and his experiment, simply called "626," is sent to be destroyed.

Experiment 626 however, is highly intelligent and much stronger than his small stature would indicate. He commits a daring escape from the compound, stealing a police car and jumping to light speed. The Grand Councilwoman tracks his movements to a small watery planet known as Earth. With only one person knowing how Experiment 626 works, the Grand Councilwoman has no choice but to send Jumba to retrieve the creature. A one-eyed Earth expert, Agent Pleakley, is sent to keep an eye on the criminal.

Meanwhile, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in the quiet and peaceful country of Hawaii, a little girl named Lilo is running late for her dancing lesson, because she got distracted by feeding her pet fish Pudge and taking photographs of overweight tourists. A fight breaks out in the dance hall when one of the girls calls her crazy.

Young Lilo has trouble making friends. None of the other girls want to play with her so she goes home and listens to Elvis Presley records. Her older sister and guardian Nani comes home to find the front door nailed shut.

Just at this moment a social worked named Mr. Cobra Bubbles arrives. He is the one they call when things go wrong. Nani is the legal guardian for her little sister, but Bubbles tells her that if she doesn't improve the living situation within three days, Lilo will be taken away.

Just as Lilo is wishing upon a star for an angel to be sent to her from Heaven, who should crash-land in the Hawaiian wilderness but Experiment 626, poised and ready for destruction! Unfortunately he is soon hit by a truck and taken to the local dog pound.

The next day Nani takes Lilo to the pound to get a new dog. Hearing the disguised Experiment 626 say "hi," Lilo immediately decides to take him home. And thus the dog training begins as 626 pretends to be a puppy so as not to be caught by Dr. Jumba.

That night at the restaurant where Nani works, Experiment 626 (who Lilo has called "Stitch") causes a scene and as a consequence Nani loses her job while her friend David watches on sadly.

In order to turn Stitch into a model citizen, Lilo tells him to act like Elvis Presley. Unfortunately all of her attempts end in disaster. Her puppy is just too wild and destructive.

When all seems hopeless, David thinks of a solution to bring a smile back to everyone's face: a trip out on to the waves. Stitch is nervous about the water at first, but soon comes to love surfing!

Just as things are looking good, an incident in the water convinces Mr. Bubbles that the time has come to remove Lilo from her current situation. With a tear in her eye, Nani sings a farewell song to her little sister.

Meanwhile, Stitch is having an identity crisis. He wants to find his family. Taking a hint from the ugly duckling, Stitch finds a place in the middle of the woods and calls out "I'm lost," hoping that his long-lost family will come to collect him. He waits all night.

Jumba and Pleakley's mission to capture Experiment 626 has been a disaster. The Grand Councilwoman fires them for incompetence and sends her right-hand man Captain Gantu to complete the task. After being fired, Jumba suddenly realises he can do things his way! He smashes his way into Lilo's house.

Unfortunately Nani is not home, since David just gave her a tip-off about a new job. By the time she returns, the house is destroyed and Mr. Bubbles has Lilo in his car, ready to take her away.

Lilo manages to escape just in time to be captured by Captain Gantu. As the ship blasts off into the upper atmosphere Stitch convinces Jumba, Pleakley and Nani to go on a rescue mission to get Lilo back!

After a daring rescue, the Grand Councilwoman arrives on Earth and, seeing that Lilo is the official owner of Stitch (since she bought him at the pound) agrees that Stitch can live out his sentence in exile on Earth as part of this family. Jumba and Pleakley are marooned on Earth as well, mainly because the Grand Councilwoman just doesn't like them. The little broken family has now become a much larger, much stranger family. But with "Ohana" as their motto, nobody gets left behind or forgotten.

IRVYNE: Oh my goodness, this film is wonderful! I am a huge fan of quirky oddball humour, and Lilo and Stitch is chock-full of it! It blows my mind how BRAVE this film is, in that is tackles characters, locations, situations and plots that had never been seen before in an animated feature. It is set in Hawaii. It explores the relationship between sisters. It mixes sci-fi aliens with a very real broken family situation, social workers and all. While there are moments of heart-breaking sadness, the film is also laugh-out-loud hilarious. It doesn't LOOK like any previous Disney movies, and it certainly doesn't FEEL like them either. Lilo and Stitch stands completely alone, so it's fantastic that - for almost the entire movie - it succeeds brilliantly!

I love how demented and imperfect little Lilo is! When we first meet her, she beats up her only friends, nails herself in her home so she can be left "alone to die," then reads a book called Practical Voodoo because "my friends need to be punished."

Her design could almost be out of Charles Schultz's "Peanuts" cartoons with her round head and enormous mouth. And yet she is capable of displaying such a huge range of emotion, it's really a master stroke of animation for the artists who brought this damaged little girl to life.

Stitch is another great character. He is at his best when he is acting on his destructive instincts. Lilo and Stitch find that they actually have quite a lot in common. They're both destructive and misunderstood, but they really just want to belong to a family.

My only complaint with this film is that it does get quite schmaltzy towards the end. The first half of the film has such a wicked edge to its humour, but in the second half it becomes a bit sappy. But hey, it's a Disney film, what do you expect?

I just can't praise the story and character work enough. It's so original, so off-the-wall, and so crazily entertaining.

With the example of Dumbo being used as a film that was made quickly and cheaply, the creators of Lilo and Stitch took it a step further and went back to water-coloured paintings as backgrounds. This style of art had not been seen in Disney animation since Dumbo back in 1941! To my mind, it is a beautiful-looking film that has a very "storybook" feel to it. Even though it is simple and mostly quite still, I think it's a much nicer-looking film than Atlantis.

The character designs are quite un-Disneyish. They are modelled after director Chris Sanders's specific art style. (Ever wondered why Toothless from "How To Train Your Dragon" looks like something out of Lilo and Stitch? That film was directed by Chris Sanders as well!)

All of this adds up to a design that is - like the story - a bit odd, a bit quirky but very nice to look at.

I'm not sure whose idea it was to have Elvis Presley songs form most of the soundtrack, but it was inspired! Five Elvis songs are used throughout the film. Two Hawaiian style songs, "He Mele No Lilo" and "Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride" are sung by Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu and the Kamehameha School Childrens' Chorus, and add a nice local flavour to the film. 

Alan Silvestri (the "Back To The Future" guy!) wrote the score.

While Elvis songs are always great and their inclusion is quirky and funny, the film can't really claim them as their own. The two Hawaiian songs are nice, but not all-time Disney classics. Overall, the music is good without being great.

Lilo and Stitch is a timeless classic which has a huge level of love and artistry put into every frame. It's surprising, funny, moving and incredibly odd. I love it!

WENDY: This is such a quotable film!

MALEFICENT: It's all so cute! Even Captain Gantu, the big giant scary whale guy, is cute! It's funny all the way through. Everything is very comical. I love Elvis too, so that helps.

IRVYNE: You don't think it's a bit schmaltzy and sentimental at the end?

MALEFICENT: It is, but I don't mind that. I like how the Grand Councilwoman softens at the end.

WENDY: She doesn't soften though. She tells Stitch at the start to prove there's something in him that's good, and he manages to do it by the time she reaches Earth.

MALEFICENT: I love Cobra Bubbles. He's funny. He's like the Men In Black.

IRVYNE: There's so many completely atypical characters in this movie. Have you seen how Disney portrays Lilo in the theme parks though? They don't employ actual children to be characters, so that leaves them with this! *shudder* So freaking creepy.


MALEFICENT: Lilo herself is a crazy little girl! I love how she takes photos of fat tourists!

IRVYNE: How different is it, that within the first couple of minutes, the little hero character is punching and biting her friends? She's really damaged goods, but you can see that she's got a heart of gold underneath her disturbing exterior.

WENDY: The other girls are so mean though. They won't even try to be friends!

PASCAL: They're so nasty! They're like the Barbie Clique.

WENDY: It's the first time I've noticed the mirroring of the line "Does this look infected to you?" Both Lilo and Stitch have bitten people.

MERRYWEATHER: They're kindred spirits.

IRVYNE: Every time I watch this, apart from laughing myself silly at the zaniness of it all, my heart just breaks for the little girl.

PASCAL: She still gets in trouble for doing the wrong thing. It's not like she gets away with being naughty. She has to face the consequences, and she almost gets taken away from her home. But there's a reason she's like that.

MERRYWEATHER: It's interesting how this movie deals with a completely different family structure. Lilo and Nani are orphans and sisters, and they have to fend for themselves.

MALEFICENT: I love that the centre of the story is based in a sister relationship. It's very different from the norm.


IRVYNE: I think that's what's so refreshing about it. Imagine for a moment that you're a kid from a difficult broken home who always sees these perfect family units in the movies. You could look at Lilo and Stitch and say, "OK, well this family's broken. But they can still make it work. They'll be okay." That's a pretty powerful message.

MERRYWEATHER: And another important message is not to get your puppies from puppy-farms. Get them from the pound!

IRVYNE: Just avoid the six-legged ones!

MALEFICENT: I love how destructive Stitch is! One of my favourite scenes is when he builds an entire model of San Francisco, just so he can destroy the whole thing! Fantastic! It makes me laugh so much!

IRVYNE: It's interesting that the film doesn't have a "villain" character. Even Captain Gantu, who is the main antagonist towards the end, isn't kidnapping people to be evil, he's just doing his job.

MERRYWEATHER: I love finding all the hidden Mulan references!

WENDY: And the random book titles make me laugh. "Oyster Farming: Is It For You?"

IRVYNE: Speaking of random, there's also Elvis Presley!

SHENZI: Well, why not?

WENDY: It's universal; everyone loves Elvis!

IRVYNE: You know, I think Lilo & Stitch has been forgotten a bit over the course of Disney history, but it really deserves to be rewatched. It's so great! It did quite well at the box office, but I still don't think it gets the love it deserves. It's definitely towards the top of my list of favourite Disneys.

1 comment:

  1. Chris Sanders made a truly unique Disney film with Lilo & Stitch, and I still love it. It's just sad that instead of doing anything that would help support the declining art of hand-drawn animation that I'm supposed to assume he still cares about, he's essentially been betraying that art form to work for DreamWorks Animation: the studio that's out to kill off hand-drawn animation with all it's CG films (Chris' own movies now being among them), and the studio that's to blame for it's decline in the first place, along with being the ones responsible for turning Disney away from it. He's pretty much betraying everything that he did with Lilo & Stitch, and that's just sad.