Wednesday, February 24, 2010

#42: Lilo & Stitch (2002)

Certainly one of Disney's stranger concepts; "Lilo & Stitch" is about the meeting of two very different outcasts. First in the far reaches of space, a crazed scientist has created a madly violent and indestructible little blue monster, experiment 626, later dubbed "Stitch," who manages to escape from the intergalactic powers-that-be. He crash-lands on the Hawaiian islands, where we meet Lilo, a socially awkward girl who is being looked after by her older sister Nani. They don't exactly have the most stable of domestic dwellings, with Nani on thin ice with a pursuant social worker, who will take her sister away if she doesn't straighten up her act. To blend in with its surroundings, and to avoid capture when its creator is sent to Earth to recover it, Stitch obscures his alien features and is adopted by Lilo as a "dog." This new addition to the family only causes it to become fractured further, but along the way Stitch starts to develop some sort of emotion for this family unit he's inadvertently destroying.
Some of the best of these modern Disney films have been the ones that don't wholly "feel" like Disney films. Not every one should have a traditional formula to follow; each one should be an entity within itself, a different experience, a whole new adventure, and "Stitch" is one of the more outlandish of them all. Not only does it take place in extravagant locales like Hawaii and... space, but our two lead characters are very unique and intriguing. While Lilo might appear to be just another social outcast/cute little kid character, her weirdness sort of pushes this archetype even further, with hints of her dabbling in voo doo and other strange things. One could read into this even further that this odd behavior might have stemmed from psychological trauma of the death of her parents, which I thought was an interesting interpretation. Stitch, on the other hand, is a complete maniac, very strange of a Disney lead. But he's not just silly crazy, for the first half of the film he's really mean, destroying things in the house, attacking people, and being an overall asshole. They didn't hold back in making Stitch a complete terror, and is only restrained by himself, since he must keep a low profile to evade capture.
The film is largely comedic, and a lot of the stuff here works splendidly. More grounded you have the dynamic between Lilo & Nani, who have typical sister rivalry, with Lilo's quieter quirkiness and Nani's exasperation in trying to hold their family together. Stitch of course is inherently funny, in his curiosity on common Earth items and customs and violent frustration over them. The film works in that every character is presented in such a sincere fashion, whether they be one of good intentions or intent to destroy everything; their role in the story is made perfectly clear and you can just watch it all unfold. There's a lot of great bits in here with Stitch adapting to his new surroundings, and Lilo & Nani trying to adapt to the real world, but there's still always an undercurrent of drama, as there is a bit of a ticking clock until Lilo is going to be taken away, and of course the theme of 'ohana,' which of course means family. While these serious elements could have easily been shoehorned in and disrupted the flow of the film, they fit in very well, and not only is there a natural progression between Stitch being an insane bastard to him actually caring about these Earth dwellers, but you believe it too. Scenes that by every right should feel manipulative and schmaltzy instead are incredibly powerful, because the characters are so pure and you've enjoyed them throughout the whole movie.
I haven't even got to the look of the film yet! Jeez. First off, "Stitch" is the brainchild of Chris Sanders; he came up with the story, co-wrote the screenplay and co-directed the movie, was heavy in designing the movie, and to top it off voiced Stitch. In an industry where a lot of movies are created by a soulless committee, "Stitch" does feel like a singular vision for the most part. Anyway, the character designs are based on Sanders' drawings, and they're some of the best, if not the best, designs in a Disney film. They're different from any Disney characters in the past, and are just as expressive, if not more so. While they're very planted in space, their actions are very loose and believable. And shocker of shockers, the body proportions on characters is played with, where Lilo, and particularly Nani, look like normal people, as in they don't have toothpick waists (lookin' at YOU, Ariel and Jasmine...). Stitch is also a great design, looking alternatively bizarre and adorable. The other aliens look good too, although some of the minions seem to have been slapped together too quickly, designed to look like raptors, bears, and other animals. But that's really me grasping at straws. This film also utilizes watercolor backgrounds, which hasn't been done by Disney in a while, giving this movie a very distinctive look and making it all-and-all gorgeous looking. Contrasting that, the CG keeps getting better, as I found myself questioning whether the aliens ships were done traditionally or on the computer, but no, it's 3D, but cel-shaded amazingly to look fluid with the rest of the movie. Fantastic.
Verdict? This one is phenomenal, and a true original for Disney. Likable, well-rounded characters, a bizarre story, gorgeous design and a off-the-wall concept, "Stitch" is a perfect example of taking the ball and running with it when it comes to unusual ideas. I'd only wish Disney had taken time and money to create more brilliant and original films like this, rather than create more DVD movies and a TV series of Stitch; since this is their only huge success in the last ten years, you'd better believe they'd squeeze every penny out of it.

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