It's taken awhile for me to catch this film, which came out about a year ago. Disney's traditional animation division has been turning out mainly average productions for nearly a decade now. Most of their big-budget failures were done in LA.. but this flick was greenlit with a small budget and done without the looming eye of execs in Orlando, Florida. What we get is a free-for-all from director, writer and voice of Stitch Chris Sanders' imagination.
The story is simple: an alien scientist Dr. Jumba (David Ogden Stiers, THE MAJESTIC) creates the ultimate destruction machine, Stitch, who is exiled from his home planet and sentenced to live on an asteroid. He escapes and ends up on Earth where, to avoid capture by Dr. Jumba and agent Pleakley (Kevin McDonald, TV's KIDS IN THE HALL), he poses as a dog and is adopted by Lilo (Daveigh Chase, SPIRITED AWAY) and her older sister Nani (Tia Carrere, WAYNE'S WORLD), who is trying to raise her little sister after their parents' death. Both Lilo and Stitch are perfect cases for anger management therapy and create havoc in Nani's life, spurring social worker Cobra Bubbles (Ving Rhames, PULP FICTION) to consider sending Lilo to a foster home.
The film is cute and funny, quickly winning me over. I liked Lilo and Stitch a lot because they seemed like real kids. Often in animated films the protagonist kid is a shy unwanted child who's pretty much a saint, but Lilo is a sassy brat who even hits another girl. I identified with her more because I understood where she was coming from and why she did what she did. She's not bad; she's just angry, wounded and confused. Young Chase gives a great voice performance, supported well by Carrere and Rhames. I also felt the film had a freedom to tell a story that wasn't bound by conventions and used its Hawaiian setting in a realistic way, not governed by cliché.
LILO & STITCH is proof that when artists are allowed the freedom to bring their visions to the screen without the approval of a focus group then we the audience get a more original, compelling story that doesn't talk down to us. I hope Disney takes note from this success and moves in this direction. If it weren't for Hayao Miyazaki's SPIRITED AWAY, this film would have won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997) (****)Previous Post
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) (****)