Project "Six-Two-Six" is deemed too dangerous by the "Grand Council." A hideous genetic creation from the lab of mad-scientist "Jumba," (David Ogden Stiers) project Six-Two-Six is put on board a space ship to be banished to a nice little deserted asteroid, where he can live out the rest of his days. On the way there, project Six-Two-Six takes over the ship, and then escapes using what looks like a space squad car. He eventually crash lands on one of the islands of Hawaii (Kauai?) where a little five-year old orphan girl named "Lilo" (Daviegh Chase) finds him in a dog pound (don't ask) and takes him home as her new pet dog, "Stitch" (Chris Sanders). Of course the Grand Council soon realizes what has happened, and sends agent "Pleakley" (Kevin McDonald) along with the mad-scientist to the island to recapture experiment Six-Two-Six.
And so begins one of the most unusual and creative animated films from the Disney studios. Featuring a completely new style of drawing, and backgrounds that look like watercolor paintings, Disney is taking a bold step in trying something a little different. The artwork seems like a combination of "Winnie-the-Pooh" and Saturday morning cartoons. The dialogue and slapstick comedy is much more reminiscent of Warner Brother's beloved "Loony-Tunes." Except for a handful of well chosen Elvis Presely songs, and some beautiful Hawaiian music, there are none of the musical numbers that one would expect to find in a typical Disney film. (I, for one, didn't miss them.)
We soon find out that Lilo is an orphan, living with her older sister Nani (Tia Carrere) in what could be comfortably called a "dysfunctional" household. Nani is trying hard to make ends meet and be a mother to her young sister, who is having a very difficult time adjusting to life without her mom and dad. The creators of the film do a superb job with the character of Lilo, making you identify with her loneliness and isolation without making it depressing. They also very accurately portray the problems with an older sibling raising a younger, and the friction and fighting that results is typical of what one would find in this sort of arrangement. The subject matter is very mature, but the animators do a fantastic job bringing it home to a level that small children can appreciate.
Nani decides Lilo needs a dog to keep her company, so off to the kennel they go. Lilo just falls in love with Stitch, the "talking dog," and decides to take him for a pet. It is with this most unlikely of characters that Lilo can find someone to confide in, to share her passions with (like Elvis), and to share the pain and sorrow that comes from being without parents.
Stitch was created by the mad-scientist Jumba to be an evil little monster, but in the care of Lilo, he realizes his own aloneness, and his need for love and acceptance. So the evil little alien allows Lilo to take him by the hand, dress him up as Elvis, and go surfing. (Stitch's one weakness in the inability to swim, so for him to go surfing is a surprising concession to the little girl's whims.) His original motive for being "nice" to Lilo was to avoid the agents sent to recapture him, but soon he realizes that Lilo and Nani mean more to him than just sanctuary.
Disney makes a point in all their trailers and commercials to show Stitch as the Rodney Dangerfield of animated characters: he don't get any respect. Other than Lilo, everyone else in the film, including his creator Jumba, is trying to capture and/or kill him. Even Lilo's sister finds several opportunities to take out her frustrations on the mixed-up little alien. At first, it's rather amusing, since Stitch is about the most obnoxious Disney character of all time, but after a while, you start feeling sorry for the little guy, and start hoping that he can find the love and acceptance he's longing for.
I've often wondered why Disney's recent animated films cannot reach the level that Pixar's CGI creations do effortlessly ("Toy Story," "Monsters Inc."). Disney's cartoons seem dull and lifeless compared to the fun and action that Pixar delivers on a regular basis. Well, it seems as if the Disney animators are finally being infected by some of the magic that comes from their computer animation partners. "Lilo & Stitch" demonstrates that there is still some life left in that old art form that Walt made so famous many years ago. But more importantly, this little gem has a lot of heart. You find yourself caring for the orphaned Lilo, you find yourself hoping that Stitch can fin d a place in a family, and you hope that big sister Nani can find a way to keep social worker "Mr. Bubbles" (Ving Rhames) from taking Lilo away to a foster home.
There are some really big themes being tackled in this film, such as unconditional love, the need to belong to a group or community, self sacrifice, and family unity. The animators handles all these extremely well, and you find yourself getting a lesson in philosophy as well as being entertained. Yet the one theme that Disney pushes in all their advertising, and several times during the course of the film, is the oft repeated phrase: "Ohana means family, and family means NO ONE gets left behind." This is a theme one finds emphasized in the recent combat films "Black Hawk Down" and "We Were Soldiers," but isn't something you often find in a animated feature! That one little phrase, "no one gets left behind," has enough philosophical and theological weight to fill a college text book. It means that everyone, no matter what you may think of them, has value, and that there is no such thing an "expendable" person. A better lesson for young children would be difficult to find.
My rating: 10/10.