Lilo and Stitch



US 2002 : Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois : 85 mins

Lilo and Stitch will enrapture young girls, entertain many young boys, and keep most adults more than amused. It’s one of the better animated features of the last few years: a couple of notches above Monsters Inc. but a cut below The Iron Giant, combining elements of both those films’ plots while adding in plenty of original and unlikely elements: not least some welcome nods in the direction of Japan’s current animation master, Hiyao Miyazaki (of Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke fame.)

The opening scenes are pure Miyazaki – and they’re so dazzling it comes as a genuine shock when the titles start and we realise we’ve only been watching a pre-credits sequence. Turo is a bizarre alien planet, powered by surreal futuristic technology, where no two inhabitants seem to look remotely alike. They range from the tiny to the gargantuan – and include an especially amusing, panther-faced critter briefly glimpsed at a spaceship’s controls.

Mad scientist Jumba (voice: David Ogden Stiers) is on trial for conducting an unlawful genetic experiment – the prime exhibit for the prosecution is the fruit of his dabbling: a feisty, parently indestructible gremlin known as Species 626 (Chris Sanders). Jumba is imprisoned, and 626 is sent to exile on a desert asteroid – but manages to escape en route, jaunting through hyperspace to Earth where he crash-landing in a sleepy corner of Hawaii. The liberated Jumba follows in hot pursuit, reluctantly accompanied by Earth-expert Pleakley (Kevin McDonald).

The intelligent, resourceful 626 manages to pass himself as a dog and is adopted by an intelligent, resourceful young girl, Lilo (Daveigh Chase), an orphan who lives at home with her older sister, harassed caf-worker Nani (Tia Carrere). Now renamed Stitch, 626’s destructive antics cause problems for the sisters, whose chaotic lifestyle has already attracted the unwelcome attention of imposing social-worker Cobra Bubbles (Ving Rhames). The irrepressible, Elvis-loving Lilo (whose name rhymes with ‘kilo’, not ‘Milo’) must domesticate Stitch if she’s to have any chance of avoiding being taken into care – but Jumba and Pleakley are closing in on their prey.

As with nearly all Disney cartoons, Lilo and Stitch essentially boils down to some fairly standard, sugary lessons about the importance of family and seeing the potential for good in everyone. But even though their story is basically familiar and predictable, writer-directors Sanders and DeBlois manage to make even the most sentimental developments entertaining with their close attention to details of character and environment. It ’s the tiny touches and subtle running jokes (most of them at the expense of Hawaii ’s gormless tourists) that make the difference. And there are more than enough poignant and/or funny moments to outweigh the occasional quiet spots (such as a couple of superfluous non-Elvis songs) and some mid-section woolliness.

Despite the clear Miyazaki influence in sequences involving the Turo aliens (not to mention Stitch’s far-eastern-sounding ‘voice’), Lilo‘s animation is refreshingly old-school – entirely hand-drawn, with slightly fuzzy, watercoloured backgrounds perfect for the Hawaii and Turo locations. The only real flaw with the film, in fact, is the frustratingly limited exposure granted to the myriad Turo-nian species after that eye-popping pre-credits sequence. But Lilo & Stitch has done sufficiently well at the box-office to make a sequel inevitable – and we’ll hopefully see a lot more of panther-face and company next time around.

27th September, 2002
(seen 26th, Warner Village, Newcastle)

by Neil Young
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