Lilo & Stitch may be the weirdest animated film Disney ever greenlit. Which is why it’s the only Post-Renaissance movie I wouldn’t consider to be underrated. Its instant popularity and success was very mainstream. Earning Walt Disney Animation Studios their first of two Best Animated Feature nominations at the Academy Awards. Although computer animation still loomed in the background, Lilo & Stitch was able to overcome it. The literally experimental idea for Disney’s forty-second feature was as old as 1985. Director Chris Sanders reworked his idea for a failed children’s book starring an alien named Stitch. The story was resurrected when Disney needed a lower budget film to balanced the expensive films of the Renaissance.
Sanders even reused watercolor backgrounds for the first time in decades. Along with his own signature animation style. Lilo & Stitch really came together when Hawaii was chosen as the location. Although Atlantis: The Lost Empire was technically Disney’s first sci-fi project, Lilo & Stitch really takes advantage of it with a contemporary story involving aliens, spaceships, and lasers. It was so different that teasers and promotional material painted Stitch as the black sheep of the Disney family. With Stitch interrupting famous songs from Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King. Followed by characters reacting negatively to him. The irony is that Stitch later became a major icon among hardcore Disney fans…
Lilo and Nani ride a wave with Stitch
Lilo & Stitch is among my all time favorite Disney films. I’m not sure my brother and I saw it in theaters, but I know we’ve loved it ever since. Making Lilo & Stitch our most dedicated franchise at the time. I may have been just 7 years old, but I distinctly remember not knowing how to react to it. Lilo & Stitch was the furthest thing from the typical Disney formula. I think that just made me appreciate it more. Although Lilo & Stitch can feel over-the-top with all the aliens and space travel, it does tell a very human story at the same time. Both worlds complement each other surprisingly well. Lilo & Stitch establishes its world at the very beginning. With the Galactic Federation holding a trial for one Jumba Jookiba. The Galactic Federation is lead by the Grand Councilwoman. A tall grey alien who maintains law in the universe. Jumba is a large pudgy four-eyed mad scientist who illegally created Experiment 626.
626 is a cute & fluffy blue koala-like alien with six limbs, antennas, and back spikes. Stitch is an instant icon with a flawed need to destroy. Making him more relatable to Disney fans seeking something edgier. 626 was designed to be nearly invincible with super strength, and intellect. Stitch can speak, but only in limited snappy phrases supplied by the director himself. 626 is declared an abomination and sentenced to isolation. The giant elephant shark Captain Gantu is the closest thing to a Disney villain. His only goal is seizing the “trog” for the Federation. Voice actor Kevin Michael Richardson’s booming voice was a perfect fit for Gantu. While Disney mainstay David Ogden Stiers brought an ambiguous madness to Jumba. 626 escapes with an awesome red police cruiser heading towards Earth. Stitch’s only weakness is water, but his ship miraculously manages to land on the tiny island of Kauai, Hawaii. So Jumba is paroled to bring back his experiment along with one-eyed alien and Earth mosquito expert Agent Pleakley. Kevin McDonald has just the right naroutic tone for the alien who likes dressing like a woman. Make of that what you will.
Lilo & Stitch officially begins after that 10 minute prologue. We’re then introduced to Hawaiian girl Lilo. Easily the best child Disney ever created. Lilo is weird, hilarious, quotable, and more relatable than most Disney kids who are just there to be cute. Daveigh Chase was born to voice Lilo and boy does she have range (she played Samara in The Ring the very same year). Lilo’s main unusual traits include thinking a fish controls the weather, taking pictures of overweight people, and having a doll that’s stitched together. Although Lilo fights with snobby girl Mertile in her hula class, she still longs to make friends. What makes Lilo & Stitch so relatable is the dynamic between her and big sister Nani. The first animated Disney movie about sisterly love. Nani does her best to raise Lilo after their parents past away. She has job troubles and bickers with Lilo, but she’s still the only one who loves and understands her. They get surprisingly real with their struggle. Including a visit from a social worker who’s just doing his job.
Nani is seriously underappreciated as far as female Disney role models are concerned. Tia Carrere was one of a few Hawaiian cast members. She provided a lot of cultural accuracy along with Jason Scott Lee. He’s also underappreciated as Nani’s dedicated sorta boyfriend surfer David. Even Ving Rhames as social worker Cobra Bubbles has plenty of time to flesh out his character. Things change for Lilo and Nani when the falling star they see turns out to be 626 crash landing on Earth. After being hit by several trucks and somehow mistaken for a dog, he winds up in a kenal. Lilo is taken their to adopt a dog and that’s where the unlikely duo finally meet. Although it’s glaringly obvious that Stitch isn’t a dog, no one second guesses his strange behavior too much. Stitch blends in by removing his more alien features and posing as Lilo’s pet. Lilo & Stitch have a great dynamic where Lilo tries to give him a purpose beyond destroying and Stitch becomes the friend she always wanted. Ohana means family after all.
It’s just a troubled road with many unfortunate incidents to get there. Jumba & Pleakley comically wait in the background before interrupting a beautiful surfing montage. With Lilo likely to be taken away, the sadness increases when Stitch relates to the ugly duckling being lost. With the Federation cutting them off, Jumba destroys Lilo’s house just to get to Stitch. Where they play a game of “Blue punch buggy.” Stitch reveals the truth to Lilo and they’re both captured by Gantu. Stitch escapes, but Nani discovers the truth as well. Leading to a team up between Stitch, Jumba, Pleakley, and Nani in order to rescue Lilo. I cheer every time Stitch has his epic hero moment. Then I applaud when the odd assortment of Hawaiians and aliens become a loving ohana.
Lilo & Stitch went through all sorts of changes in its development. Not quite to the point of the equally good The Emperor’s New Groove, but there are many deleted scenes. The spaceship flying through the mountains climax was originally a hijacked plane flying through buildings for example. It was changed for obvious reasons. Fortunately the limited computer animation was mostly for ships. The curvy stylized look of the characters helped to complement the modern setting. While the creatively designed aliens were very imaginative without feeling too childish. Hence the PG rating. As far as music, Lilo & Stitch made use of catchy Hawaiian beats. Including the upbeat surfing song “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride.” The rest of the music is all Elvis hits. Since Lilo is naturally a big Elvis fan who shares the love with Stitch. Lilo & Stitch shouldn’t work, but I’m so happy it did. “Aloha.”
Lilo feeds Stitch