When researching for this blog post, I ran across a compilation with all the different teaser trailers on YouTube. They’re all parodies for a bunch of the Disney Renaissance movies, even bringing in all the original voice actors for some of the characters that showed up. One of the commenters suggested that Stitch is the Deadpool of the Disney Animation cannon. Yeah, that’s kind of true. Needless to say, this is a weird movie. In case you’re curious, here’s that teaser compilation.
Released in 2002, Lilo & Stitch is a science-fiction comedy drama. That makes this not only the second science fiction movie for Disney’s animation canon, but also the second in a row. The next movie, Treasure Planet, is also science fiction. Not sure what made Disney decide to do so much science fiction all the sudden.
Of the three, Lilo & Stitch had the lowest budget ($80 million), yet it performed the best by far, earning $273 million worldwide. It was also received the best by the critics. It earned an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7.3/10. Lilo & Stitch was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Film at the Academy Awards, but lost to Spirited Away. I can’t really argue with that choice – Spirited Away is phenomenal.
The movie spawned an entire franchise around it. There were two straight to video sequels – Stitch! The Movie and Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch. Shortly after the second sequel came a TV series that lasted 3 seasons, which ended with a TV movie. There’s also a Japanese anime that lasted for three years, a Chinese follow up to that anime that started in May of this year, and three video games. Not bad for a post-renaissance Disney movie.
I’ve seen this movie once before, at the height of my trying to grow up too fast phase. I’m not entirely sure where I saw it, but I think it was when I helped run this kid’s weekend in 2003, and they decided to play this movie in the gym as the kids were arriving. Whatever the case, I tuned out most of the movie and tried not to think much of it, even if deep down inside I might have recognized that there were some good qualities to the movie. I’ve forgotten almost everything about it since, save for the basic plot and the general style of comedy. Now that I’m well past that phase of trying to grow up too fast, I can actually look at this movie honestly.
There are two main plots going on in this movie. The first is the science fiction plot. An alien scientist is put on trial for creating Experiment 626, a nearly indestructible creature hell-bent on causing chaos and destruction. Experiment 626, later renamed Stitch by Lilo, escapes captivity and steals a smaller police ship, causing no small amount of damage on his way out. He crash lands on the islands of Hawaii, and a small team of aliens are sent after him to either capture or destroy the experiment.
The other plot follows Lilo and her older sister, Nani. After their parents died in a car crash, Nani is Lilo’s legal guardian. Their relationship is strained due to Nani’s stress and Lilo’s social awkwardness. Lilo’s starting to get frustrated by the fact that she doesn’t have any friends, and sometimes takes it out on Nani. They’re facing the possibility of being separated by Child Support Services, and that doesn’t help things between them. This plot serves as the heart of the movie, and it’s very well done. There are times when Lilo and Nani are upset with each other, but they clearly want to stay together. They clearly love each other. The best scenes are when they’re either having fun, or they’re being quiet together, scared for their future.
Shortly after Stitch is run over by a truck and sent to the pound, Nani takes Lilo to the pound to adopt a pet. She chooses Stitch, and that’s how these two plots intersect. Stitch is troublesome from the start, tearing apart things in Lilo’s room and acting all hyper. At times he gets a bit obnoxious. At times Stitch ruins so much of Nani’s plans that one must wonder why the sisters put up with him. In that sense, Stitch is the weakest part of this movie. That said, it’s fun watching him slowly learn to calm down. It’s nice when he learns to do more than just destroy things, but to even calm down and create things. Eventually, he’s the one who convinces the social worker to let Nani and Lilo stay together. That moment really sells the movie’s themes that I’ll go into more detail on later.
I’m not sure what else to say about the story. The drama works very well. The comedy is a bit more hit and miss. There are times when Stitch’s actions are funny, and same goes to people’s reactions to the strange alien, but there are other times when he’s just weird. Everyone being scared of Stitch for the first half of the movie is a bit repetitive. It feels like if they either toned Stitch down a bit, or focused on him a little less, this would be a better movie. And by no means am I saying Stitch is bad. He’s still funny at times, and his battle strategies are kind of brilliant for a nearly indestructible being. When he starts calming down, he’s kind of cute. It just takes a little while to get there.
At a time when Disney was making a lot of expensive animated movies, like Dinosaur, Tarzan and Atlantis: the Lost Empire, the studio decided to work on a few smaller budget movies, inspired by Dumbo’s success from way back. The pitch came from a member of the animation team, who first created Stitch for an unsuccessful children’s book pitch. The story required a remote location, so they originally planned the movie to take place in Kansas. They changed the location to Hawaii partly because Disney hadn’t made an animated movie on a tropical island before, and they felt it served the story better. After seeing the movie, I agree with that.
Through most of the movie’s pre-production, the team remained small and isolated from othe producers. Considering how much of a mess The Emperor’s New Groove is because of the producers overreaching, that probably helped Lilo & Stitch in the long run. As the animation team visited Hawaii, they learned about a concept called ‘ohana, a very culturally important word for Hawaiians. It refers to extended family, whether you’re related or not. In writer Dean Deblois’s words,
“No matter where we went, our tour guide seemed to know somebody. He was really the one who explained to us the Hawaiian concept of ʻohana, a sense of family that extends far beyond your immediate relatives. That idea so influenced the story that it became the foundation theme, the thing that causes Stitch to evolve despite what he was created to do, which is destroy.”
At the time, an animated movie focusing on the relationship between two sisters was very rare, but ‘ohana influenced the team to focus a lot more on that aspect of Lilo & Stitch than originally planned. Hear that Frozen? You didn’t do it first. And like I said earlier, the sisterly relationship is the best part of this movie.
I’m pleasantly surprised by this one. I expected it to be just ok, but I really enjoyed it. Lilo & Stitch isn’t perfect by any means, and it’s not as good as the best of the Disney Renaissance movies, but it’s worth a look. The drama is expertly written, and as bizarre as it sounds, the science fiction plot doesn’t interfere with it too much. The comedy aspect is probably a lot funnier for kids than adults, but it’s never annoying. Sometimes it may still make you smile even if you’re not close to laughing. So yeah, if you’re interested in a family drama about two sisters down on their luck that somehow mixes in a crazy science fiction plot, you should check this out.
The next 7 movies are ones I’ve never seen before, and from what I’ve heard, there’s a good reason for most of them. First up there’s Treasure Planet, which is basically Treasure Island in space. Then there’s Brother Bear, the first Disney Animated movie ever to earn less than 50% at both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. After that, there’s Home On The Range. There is no movie in Disney’s animation canon I’m dreading more than Home On The Range.