In terms of their hand-drawn animation unit (which has been overshadowed in recent years by the computer-animated "Toy Story
" series and "Monsters, Inc.
"), "Lilo & Stitch" is Disney's most effortlessly charming and satisfying creation since 1999's "Tarzan
." Sharp-witted, heartwarming without sinking into maudlin territory, and featuring two winningly developed and voiced main characters, the film is an ideal motion picture that children and adults can enjoy equally.
As the story begins on the distant planet of Tura, a small, rascally, blue-haired creature named Stitch (voiced by Chris Sanders) has been created illegally by scientist Jumba (David Ogden Stiers). Threatened into exile, Stitch narrowly escapes in a spacecraft and crashes it in Hawaii. Mistaken for a dog and taken to an animal shelter, he is adopted by the lonely and misunderstood Lilo (Daveigh Chase), who is being taken care of by her older sister, Nani (Tia Carrere), after the death of their parents. Since none of the other children like to play with her, Lilo strikes up a friendship with the ornery Stitch, whose antics begin to cause problems for Lilo and Nani when a family services officer named Mr. Bubbles (Ving Rhames) begins snooping around.
Geared with an offbeat and likable collection of Elvis Presley tunes underscoring some of the action, "Lilo & Stitch" is Disney's most focused animated feature in several years. The charactersnamely Lilo, Stitch, and Nanitranscend the usual limitations of being cartoon drawing and take on genuine, true-to-life personalities that we identify with.
The heart of the picture are the two key relationships that lend the story its emotional weight. The special bond between Lilo and Stitch is genuinely endearing, as they are both loners who desperately want and need a friend, and only find that in each other. The pangs of childhood are honestly felt, and thankfully not sugarcoated, in a durable screenplay from directors Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois. Likewise, the sibling rapport between Lilo and Nani, as Nani has a difficult time being both a sister and a mother to young Lilo, is lovingly effective. Daveigh Chase (2001's "Donnie Darko
"), as the voice of Lilo, is a standout, giving her role added nuances and depth that otherwise might not have shone through in the animation.
More uneven is the peculiar animation style chosen. While the characters are beautifully drawn and many of the shots are akin to marveling at rainbows, the backdrops have been given a washed-out, finger-painting look that does not always mesh well with the foreground action. Surely, this was a creative choice by the filmmakers, but it only occasionally pays off in the finished product.
The less-than-stellar visuals do little to no harm in a movie as accessibly entertaining as "Lilo & Stitch" is. Stitch, who starts off as the comic relief before growing more serious character shades, will delight children and amuse grown-ups, while everyone will be able to relate to Lilo and Nani's powerful family bond. Despite the lack of a memorable villain, the picture is enjoyable from start to finish and has a breezy 80-minute running time that is nearly over before you realize it has begun. "Lilo & Stitch" is a sparkling animated film that Disney has every right to be proud of.
©2002 by Dustin Putman