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With: Tia Carrere, Daveigh Chase, Jason Scott Lee, Ving Rhames
Written by: Dean Deblois, Chris Sanders
Directed by: Dean Deblois, Chris Sanders
MPAA Rating: PG for mild sci-fi action
Running Time: 85
Date: 06/16/2002

Lilo & Stitch (2002)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Alien Occasion

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Disney's latest animated feature Lilo & Stitch might be more geared toward animation buffs than towards tykes on summer vacation. Its beautifully hand-drawn animation resonates with pop history, with visual echoes to Dr. Suess, Chuck Jones and others.

Coupled with a breathtaking look at life in Hawaii, Lilo & Stich certainly merits a look. Unfortunately, the story's holes and conventions grow ever wider as the film progresses, and it finishes up as a lesser Disney effort.

Lilo of the title (pronounced "Lee-lo") is a small, odd little girl (voiced by Daveigh Chase) who doesn't quite fit in with the other little girls around. She shows up late to her dance class because it was her day to feed the fish their peanut butter sandwiches -- only they were out of peanut butter, and the dance teacher certainly didn't expect Lilo to feed the fish tuna sandwiches, could she?

Later, when the other girls play with their perfect Barbie-like dolls, Lilo whips out her hand-made (and slightly botched) Frankenstein-like doll, scaring her would-be playmates away.

Her older sister and sole guardian, Nani (voiced by Tia Carrere) has the job of raising Lilo single-handedly while trying to hold onto that ever-elusive job. Despite the fact that she's raised a pretty smart little tyke and that she's not on drugs or selling her body for money, a tough social worker (voiced by Ving Rhames) comes around, threatening to take Lilo away. (For some reason, he's the one they call when the problem is really bad.)

To help make Lilo happy, Nani decides to get her a pet. True to her misfit nature, she latches onto a blue creature she names Stitch. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to anyone, Stitch is a genetically engineered and recently escaped creature (with unlimited destructive powers -- just like an earth puppy!) from another planet. Two odd-looking aliens have been dispatched to retrieve him. As is tradition in Disney movies, everything boils down to a lengthy chase.

Lilo & Stitch works best in these early, funny, clever scenes that use the Hawaii backdrop to brilliant effect -- absorbing its warm, lazy rhythms. The funniest scene has Lilo waking Nani up with her latest discovery -- that Stitch is a human record player. The movie's other laughs (all in the first half-hour) ring as both kid and adult-friendly.

Thankfully, directors Dean Debois and Chris Sanders have chosen to dump the usual lite-rock, radio-friendly schmaltz usually cranked out by Elton John or Tim Rice (or Bryan Adams, whose bloodless songs sunk the recent Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron) in favor of a vintage rock score by Elvis Presley and others, as well as Hawaiian pop songs. Though no one can stop the inevitable, horrible boy band cover song during the end credits.

By dumping the bad music, Lilo & Stitch happily carries on the more amusing, lightweight Disney cartoons like the recent underrated The Emperor's New Groove, designed for fun and laughs, rather than somber, preachy treacle like The Lion King.

Despite running out of gas and getting slightly bogged down with its obligatory message, Lilo & Stitch provides a happy summer distraction. Though if it's received anything like Emperor, it's liable to fade away rather quickly.

DVD Details: In 2009, Disney released one of their super-deluxe re-issues on two discs with lots of extras: deleted scenes, music videos, games, featurettes, a hula lesson, trailers, an audio commentary track with directors Dean Deblois and Chris Sanders and a two-hour documentary.

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