At first glance you may think Lilo and Stitch is a science fiction film, after all Stitch is a genetic experiment created by an alien scientist, the 10 minute long cold open is set in space, and half of the films characters are extraterrestrial. But make no mistake, Lilo and Stitch is about family. After Stitch crash lands in Hawai’i, he hides as a dog in the care of Lilo and her sister/guardian Nani. While Stitch deals with his creator Jumba and so-called “Earth Expert” Pleakley, Lilo and Nani must prove to social worker Cobra Bubbles that they can take care of themselves.
The design of this film is impeccable. The backgrounds are all watercolour paintings, which is a technique that hadn’t been used since Dumbo in 1941. This gives Lilo and Stitch a very warm, old-fashioned feel and makes it seem timeless. It contrasts wonderfully with the neon green of the alien blasters, making them seem more alien and otherworldly. All the pictures of Elvis Presley and TV footage of B-Movies are genuine photos and footage that have been digitally inserted while the Hawaiian locations are genuine locations. This kind of dedication is something that I admire, especially in animation where they don’t necessarily need to care how precise they’re being while portraying the Earth. The human characters are also more realistic than in most films. While all the Disney princesses have thin waists and larger chests, Nani is anatomically accurate. She’s also a native Hawaiian voiced by a Hawaiian actress, which is impressive for Disney in 2002. Then there is the soundtrack, which is devoted to the songs of Elvis Presley, and is beautiful as a result.
Each of the characters in Lilo and Stitch is a unique individual and, to me, some of the most memorable in Disney’s ever-growing empire of characters. Jumba and Pleakley bounce off of each other with ease, to wonderful comedic effect. Jumba’s brute strength and determination juxtaposes Pleakley’s strategic anxiety wonderfully.They disguise themselves as humans, but more specifically a husband and wife. Pleakley wearing women’s clothing could easily be played for laughs but it isn’t, in fact Pleakley seems very comfortable. I admire that decision. Nani and Lilo play off each other like genuine siblings, right down to the bickering and making amends. Lilo never feels like a child actor, she just feels like a regular child. Then there’s the world’s best social worker: Cobra Bubbles. Shrouded in mystery, he used to be an FBI agent and he has most definitely killed a man.
Disney is known for hiding references to their films inside other films, and Lilo and Stitch is no exception. There are 2 big ones scattered continuously throughout- the 1998 film Mulan and code A113. Usually you have to go digging for these references, but here they seem to be front and centre which is to be expected when you don’t have many places to hide them. The scenery, it would seem, is just too beautiful to taint. The only place it doesn’t seem to hold up so well is the climactic spaceship chase through the sky and hills of Hawaii. This sequence was originally going to feature a Boeing 747 flying though a city, but had to be re-done 10 months before the film would premiere. This was a direct result of the tragic World Trade Centre attack on September 11th 2001. The subsequent response to this attack really did reach absolutely everywhere from airline regulations to film and television. Hundreds of projects were altered and some were just outright cancelled.
I think Lilo and Stitch is best summarised through its advertising campaign, which inserts Stitch into scenes from previous Disney movies. Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King were the subjects of these “inter-stitch-als” which saw voice actors reprising their roles and new animation. These inserts were followed by a few brief shots from the film set to AC/DCs Back in Black. It was very clear that Lilo and Stitch was something new and slightly chaotic, but it would pay homage to those films that had come before. The Walt Disney Studios’ experimental era has several lost gems, and this film definitely deserves to be found.
Until Next Time…