by D.W. Lundberg

Saturday, February 16, 2013


My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.

Title: Lilo & Stitch (2002)

The Plot: An alien programmed for death and destruction is adopted by two orphaned sisters on the island of Kauai.

The Songs: "He Mele No Lilo," "Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride" (performed by Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu and Kamehameha Schools Children's Chorus); "Blue Hawaii," "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "Stuck On You," "Suspicious Minds," "You're The Devil In Disguise" (performed by Elvis Presley); "Burning Love" (performed by Wynonna); "Can't Help Falling In Love" (performed by The A*Teens)

A Little History: Production on ­Lilo & Stitch cost $80 million - the idea being that, in the wake of several expensive flops for the studio, it would be more economical to produce an animated feature at roughly half their usual budget. (See also Dumbo.) Co-writer/director Chris Sanders originally created Stitch during the mid-80s, for a children's book which was never published. Sanders and co-director Dean DeBlois previously collaborated on the script for Mulan (the poster for which hangs on Nani's bedroom wall). They based the look of Lilo & Stitch on Sanders' own personal artistic style - soft, rounded, with no hard edges or straight lines to any of the characters or set designs - and chose to use water-colored backgrounds as opposed to Disney's traditional gouache animation style. Multiplane camera effects and tone mattes were also kept to a minimum, to give the movie a more old- fashioned look than any of its modern-day predecessors. During the animators' research trip to Hawaii, they learned the concept of 'ohana (defined by their tour guide as "a sense of family that extends far beyond your immediate relatives") and integrated its importance into the plot. Most of the mountain ranges and cityscapes as featured in the film are based on actual Hawaiian locations. Voice actors Tia Carrere (Noni) and Jason Scott Lee (David), both native to the islands, helped rewrite much of the dialogue to reflect proper dialect and slang. Initially, the screenplay climaxed with a Boeing 747 careening throughdowntown Honolulu; this sequence was changed, however, following the attacks on September 11, 2001. Teaser trailers for the film (called "Inter-Stitch-als") parodied previous Disney Classics including Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, set to AC/DC's "Back In Black." Lilo & Stitch opened on June 21, 2002, and eventually grossed $273 million worldwide - one of two Disney titles, along with The Princess And The Frog (2009), to earn back its budget during the 2000s. A direct-to-video sequel, Stitch! The Movie, was released in August 2003, and essentially served as the pilot for Lilo & Stitch: The Series, which ran on the Disney Channel from September 2003 to July 2006.

How It Broke New Ground: The first feature-length animated film set in Hawaii. Also one of a handful of Disney films to be set during the present day (the others being One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Rescuers, Oliver & Company and The Rescuers Down Under).

How It Holds Up Today: Animation with an attitude, and another attempt by Disney - after Dinosaur, The Emperor's New Groove and Atlantis failed to generate much heat at the box office - to cash in on the current pop culture climate. Whatever the ploy, it worked: Lilo & Stitch's $145 million U.S. gross far outshined its predecessors, and no doubt won a victory for smaller budgets and tighter production schedules the world over. (Chris Sanders and Dean DuBlois, by the way, went on to helm How To Train Your Dragon for DreamWorks.) For his part, Stitch (who looks like a cross between a sugar glider and a koala bear) takes a bit of getting used to; he uses poor Lilo as a human shield at one point, almost drowns her at another, and generally upends the lives of everyone he comes into contact with. Even Lilo herself is far from your typical six year old, acting out as she does because of some deep-seated emotional trauma (not since Bambi has the death of a parent affected cartoon characters so grievously). Great pains are made to connect these two as kindred spirits, which is obvious, and the lush Hawaiian landscapes and cleverly-integrated Elvis Presley songs are a welcome addition to the canon. But it's the 'ohana/ family stuff that really sneaks up on you - proof that, despite the movie's rougher edges, Disney still has our best interests at heart.

Grade: B 

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