A Second Look: Lilo & Stitch
In 2002, Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois released Lilo & Stitch, Disney’s 42nd animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. Starring Sanders, Daveigh Chase, Tia Carrere, David Ogden Stiers, Kevin McDonald, Ving Rhames, Kevin Michael Richardson, Zoe Caldwell, Jason Scott Lee, Amy Hill and Susan Hagerty, the film grossed $273.1 million at the box office. Nominated for multiple awards, including the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, the Saturn Award for Best Animated Film, and the Annie Awards for Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Theatrical Feature, Outstanding Character Animation, Outstanding Character Design in an Animated Feature Production, Outstanding Direction in an Animated Feature Production, Outstanding Effects Animation, Outstanding Music in an Animated Feature Production, Outstanding Production Design in an Animated Feature Production, and Outstanding Writing in an Animated Feature Production, it won multiple awards as well including the Annie Award for Outstanding Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production and the Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Voice-Over Role – Age 10 or Under.
When the alien mad scientist Dr. Jumba Jookiba stands trial for an illegally created life form, his creation is taken into custody to be destroyed. Along the way, the creation, Experiment 626, escapes and finds himself on earth, taken in and adopted by Lilo, who thinks he’s a dog. Now, Jumba and the United Galactic Federation’s earth expert Pleakly must track down Experiment 626, who Lilo has named Stitch, and bring him back.
Though a weird concept, Lilo & Stitch is a great film that really defines what it means to be a family. Experiment 626 crashes to earth not long after Lilo’s parents have died meaning that she has to be raised by her older sister Nani. As a result, the two of them are left with a fractured relationship and the fact that the first impression they gave the social worker wasn’t all that great doesn’t help things. At the same time, Stitch is a created experiment with a mad scientist being the closest thing he has to a father or family until he becomes Lilo’s dog. Both Lilo and Stitch learn from each other, the former how difficult it can be to care for someone or something and the latter understands the concept of family through a beautiful scene when Nani is singing to Lilo. Stitch’s understanding of family culminates with the idea of “ohana,” a Hawaiian concept that family means no one is left behind or forgotten. The concept is taken to its furthest reaches when Stitch is able to escape the Galactic Federation taking him and Lilo and he’s able to unite himself, Jumba, Pleakley, and Nani to rescue her. For failing to capture Stitch, Jumba and Pleakley are forced to stay on Earth and they actually turn into quite the family. It demonstrates the film’s core concept that a family doesn’t have to look or be conventional to be a family.
Lilo is even great as a character, with the film making her into an understandable and relatable child character as opposed to an annoying or whiny little girl. She doesn’t have a lot of friends because she’s a bit eccentric and misunderstood. However, the film goes beyond just showing that she’s weird, rather demonstrating that her quirks are what make her who she is. She’s not only obsessed with Elvis Presley’s music, but also enjoys photography which showcases her intense imagination. Couple both of those with her hyperactivity and it’s no wonder that Nani struggles with being her guardian.
Jumba and Pleakley are two pretty great characters are as well, considering that the two are a good duo with Jumba being the straight man to the humor that comes from Pleakely, such as him getting sucked dry by mosquitos and thinking it’s an honor. However, it’s from Jumba where one of the most philosophical lines in the film comes. He’s watching Stitch through binoculars and wondering what happens to his experiment when there’s nothing left to destroy as it would void the necessity of his existence, also thinking what it must feel like to be a creation with no memories to visit in the middle of the night. It’s a bit of a throwaway line in the middle of the film, but it does raise an interesting point as to what makes us who we are and what defines our personalities.
The film has some interesting art as well, with all of the backgrounds being done in watercolor. It’s not a medium that’s done a whole lot in films and since this one is set in Hawaii, it really immerses the viewer into the story
Notably, this film was released in the time following what’s known as the Disney Renaissance, a time when not a whole lot of the company’s films were matching the quality and grandeur of those released during that era. This one did though and is certainly one of the best films to come out of that period.
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