I saw Lilo and Stitch when it first came out in theatres in 2002. It was released the summer between sixth and seventh grade. I clearly remember going to the theatre with my friend on one of those unbearably hot days when all you can do is escape into a cool, dark theatre and wait it out. What else do I clearly remember? Hating the movie.
I wish I could tell you why I didn’t enjoy it. Over the years, the parts that I remember were solely Stitch ruining everything. I completely forgot the redemptive side of the story. Plus I’m not usually one for sci-fi or aliens unless Will Smith is saving the planet (again and again).
So once again, I’m here before you, eating my words. Lilo and Stitch is one of the animated movies I was dreading watching. In my defense, Pinocchio was one of the others I was dreading, and I was still right on that one. I guess my 12 year old self couldn’t appreciate the wit and humor found in Lilo. I’m already plotting when I can use Cobra Bubbles’ (Best.Name.Ever) line, “Thus far, you have been adrift in the sheltered harbor of my patience.” Love it. I also love that there are more Elvis songs in this Disney movie than there were in any of his own movies. I do love Elvis and Hawaii in the same movie. I also now have an even deeper desire to go to Hawaii. No surprise there.
I watched Lilo and Stitch twice this week. That’s how much I now love it. I watched it first with my dear friend, Kelsie. She pinpointed what makes this movie so great: thorough characterization. Each character is completely unique and enjoyable. They are believable as real people, which makes their crazy story believable as well. As the audience, you’re rooting for Nani and Lilo to stay together. And while you’re frustrated at Stitch, you still don’t want any harm to come to him. Lilo is probably the one person who could change Stitch. She’s able to relate to him, to get him to see himself through her eyes. The irony is that while he’s programmed to destroy, he isn’t trying to destroy anything when he does any real damage to her life.
Although I do have to say, the story of The Ugly Duckling that Lilo shares is drastically different from the one I remember. Or that anyone else remembers, for that matter. If they had just called it something else, like Little Duckling, or Lost Duckling, or the Duckling Who Didn’t Know his Home, it wouldn’t have bothered me. But calling it the The Ugly Duckling and not having it be that story was just distracting.
Part of what made Dumbo so enjoyable was the beautifully painted watercolor backgrounds. The animators of Lilo and Stitch specifically used the same style of backgrounds in a different setting to relay that simple, beautiful feeling. It works. The backgrounds are beautiful but not distracting. Hawaii is well-known for being stunningly gorgeous; having Hawaii as a setting could easily distract the viewer from the plot. But the elegant watercolors allow the audience to enjoy animated Hawaii without losing focus of the story. It also lent a certain timelessness to the film, which nicely balanced out the modern setting.
Another refreshing aspect of this movie was the realistic look of the characters. They may be animated, but they don’t look like they’re ready to be turned into Barbie dolls. Their noses are imperfect, their stomachs not six-packs. They look like real people. A recurring theme in the movie is the sun-burned tourist whose ice cream keeps falling off his cone (I mean, really, you’d think he’d wizen up and use a bowl!). Lilo may look normal, but she doesn’t feel normal. She questions everything and stays true to herself, even though her interests are different than other girls her age. Because of the loss of her parents (of course, it is a Disney movie. Missing parents are kind of a theme), part of her was forced to grow up and deal with her emotions before normal 6 year olds would have to. She’s in this odd place of being six years old with the burden most people don’t have to deal with until much later in life. We see both sides of her. When she demands dessert after not eating her sweet potatoes, we see the six year old. But when she asks Stitch what happened to his parents and follows her question with, “I know that's why you wreck things, and push me.” Her psycho-analysis of Stitch, while adorable, is also sad. She’s projecting her own feelings on him: she pushes people because of her anger over her parents’ death.
And of course I have to love any movie that mentions a collie. Lilo says Stitch was a collie before he got hit by a truck. I’m hoping that along with her Elvis obsession, she also loves Lassie. How else would she be familiar with collies?!
The special features were so-so. The informative ones on Hawaii were interesting, but not spectacular. The most important information I learned about the movie I read on IMDb. Apparently, the original chase scene between Stitch and co. and Gantu’s spacecraft (in which Lilo is trapped) involved Stitch using an airplane to chase Gantu’s spacecraft, in which many buildings were damaged. Lilo and Stitch was in production when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred. While the chase scene was already fully animated, the production crew scrapped it and had Stitch on a spacecraft instead, and the chase took place over mostly natural landscapes with few structures. Good call, Disney.
Lilo and Stitch has all the ingredients for a terrific Disney movie. It’s funny, has many great messages delivered by well-developed and interesting characters set against a beautiful backdrop of natural beauty. It is a terrific movie, and I love it, and you should go watch it. Right now. Go.