The SmarK DVD Rant for Lilo & Stitch
One of the things with Disney that’s been bugging me as of late is the misrepresentation of their trailers. For instance, Treasure Planet â€” a retelling of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel â€” was made to look like an extreme sports cartoon in order to attract the X-Games demo. Thankfully I had already decided to check it out beforehand, so it didn’t particularly affect my decision one way or another. However, the one rather tragic case of dumbing down a movie’s essential weirdness for the sake of scaring off the kids is probably Lilo & Stitch, a movie so bizarre and out there that I’m shocked it even got green-lighted. I skipped it during the theatrical run because it looked like a movie about a cutesy alien and a lovable kid in Hawaii, but the reality is that it’s much darker and twisted and filled with black humor than the Elvis soundtrack would suggest. And had I known, I would have checked it out much sooner than I did.
The plot touches on all sorts of rather troubling themes â€” genetic engineering and the moral ramifications, death of parents and loved ones, rejection and loneliness, and the questions of nature v. nurture. At the same time, this is a VERY funny movie with nearly everything played off a gag to soften the blow.
The story, such as it is, involves a self-proclaimed evil genius named Jumba (voiced Russian by the always brilliant David Ogden Stiers) on an alien planet who creates the ultimate super-weapon in the fight for anarchy: Experiment 626, a harmless-looking (but weird) creature shaped vaguely like an evil teddy bear, who utters profanity in alien languages while drooling on his cage. The scientist is jailed for playing god, and the creation is sentenced to be ditched on an asteroid somewhere in the void. This is well and good, but no one stops to think that this creature is designed to survive at all costs and is super-intelligent. And indeed the escape is quite ingenious, turning the booby-traps against his captors before stealing a rather nice getaway vehicle. “Oh no”, one of the cosmic police declares dramatically, “he’s taken the RED ONE!” For some reason that line killed me. Experiment 626 decides to jump into hyperdrive despite the rather insistent (but polite) protests by the ship itself not to do so, and before you know it he’s crashed on Earth.
Meanwhile, on Hawaii, Lilo is one troubled kid. Orphaned by the death of her parents shortly before the movie takes place, she’s living with her older sister and drawing pictures which say things like “Me Alone” to express her emotions while drowning her sorrows in Elvis and being generally weird and unpleasant to her peers. With a badass social worker (Mr. Bubbles, although he has “Cobra” tattooed on his knuckles, as noted by Lilo) trying to take Lilo away to a foster home, the fractured family tries adopting a dog as a way to settle things down. Unfortunately, Lilo decides that the bizarre and anti-social genetic monster (who she calls “Stitch” for no reason other than she’s a weird kid) would make a perfect pet. While she tries to acclimate the monster to life on an island without things to destroy, Dr. Jumba is dispatched (along with a scene-stealing Kevin MacDonald as a bureaucratic sidekick out to preserve the mosquito population of Earth) to bring his creation home for imprisonment. Stitch, being brilliantly self-aware, is fully conscious of his creator tracking him, and decides to use Lilo as a human shield, rightly figuring that the longer he stays with humans, the safer he is. The chess game between them provides some of the funniest bits of the movie, as when Jumba runs down Stitch’s usual MO of finding a major city and turning all the road-signs around while stealing everyone’s left shoes, which leads to Stitch insanely searching the island for a major city and Lilo off-handedly commenting how great it is to live in a place without any major cities. Things build to the inevitable happy conclusion with lessons about tolerance and the importance of family that we can all see coming a mile away, but the off-kilter humor and over-the-top voice acting from the bad guys is so much fun that it never feels overwrought or heavy-handed.
The character and set design of this movie is pretty striking â€” it’s obvious that someone (whether director Chris Sanders or someone else) is drawing from personal experiences to craft Lilo into such a complex character, and Stitch (without vocalizing until the end of the movie) manages to express the feeling of being torn between what you’re programmed to do (destroy and wreak havoc for the sake of it) and what’s expected of you by those who love you (namely, NOT destroying everything). The sets and backgrounds, set in Hawaii, are breathtaking, incorporating a very authentic and majestic feel for the movie. Adding to this are the musical interludes using an actual Hawaiian children’s choir and the intricate reproductions of hula dancing. It’s obvious that a lot of thought and care went into crafting the look and feel of this movie, and it pays off. If you’re not laughing at one of the sight gags, you’re marveling at how well they pulled off the island setting.
That’s not to say it’s a perfect movie, however. There’s too many secondary villains and subplots (like Mr. Bubbles and the dimwitted love interest for Lilo’s older sister Nani) and it leaves the second act in particular feeling bloated and treading water. By the end of the movie, when it’s down to a spaceship chase and a happy ending so unbelievable that you’re almost rolling your eyes, the movie loses a lot of the comedic steam and charm it had been building up. That being said, however, this is a fine effort from a team outside of the usual Disney animators (Chris Sanders has a very distinctive style, as noted on the supplements) and well worth 90 minutes out of your life, with a storyline that will entertain kids as well as give adults inside jokes to laugh at (like Earth being part of the section of space called “Area 51” by the aliens). Definitely give it a try if, like me, you’ve been on the fence about it.
Presented in Disney’s usual oddball aspect ratio of 1.66:1, this is the usual excellent Disney transfer, as their animated movies seem to be crafted for DVD these days. The colors of Hawaii are insanely bright and beautiful, and the transfer is pretty much reference quality with both primary and pastel colors all over the place and all in perfect reproduction. An absolutely perfect job here.
It’s a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, although the movie is mostly dialogue, but in the beginning there’s some really cool surround effects when Stitch escapes into the ventilation shafts of the spaceship. The surrounds pop up now and then, and there’s some pretty thumping bass hovering in the low end for the explosions and musical portions. And the score sounds AWESOME, mixed over all 5 speakers and enveloping you in the experience. Not the best I’ve heard, but more than adequate for the under-12 set.
Sadly, the planned two-disc set was scrapped for financial reasons (i.e., Disney is getting f*cked on Wall Street), so there’s a multitude of stuff we’re likely never going to see. What we DO get is pretty cool, however.
– “The Look of Lilo & Stitch” details the unique drawing style of Chris Sanders and how everyone was shaped like a beanbag chair. Runs about 4:00.
– “Animating the Hula” is actually a really interesting featurette about the people in Hawaii who are still perpetuating and teaching the dance, and shows how the artists used the dancers to create their own cartoon versions. It’s another under-5:00 one.
– “On Location with the Directors” is the meat of the featurettes, with a kind of random-jump approach behind the scenes, showing the director interacting with the various departments, Alan Silvestri scoring the movie, the art department tweaking the look of the characters, and a bunch of other really cool stuff that makes me wish for the two-disc treatment.
– Deleted scenes in incomplete form that were changed for various reasons. Nothing really earth-shattering here.
– Wynnona Judd (who appears to have gained 150 pounds to prepare for covering an Elvis song) has a quickie featurette that says nothing. She’s a hunk of SOMETHING now, all right.
– A short featurette on the children’s choir used, although it’s just a slightly-expanded version of the part of the main featurette.
– An educational tour of the Hawaiian islands and their history. This is all still photos with Lilo & Nani reading from a history book.
– A trivia game for the kids.
– Teaser trailers covering Stitch’s appearances in famous Disney movies, although oddly enough the theatrical trailer is missing.
Overall, a decent sampling of stuff compared to the crap that you usually get on Disney’s single-disc sets. One can only hope that Lion King doesn’t get shafted in October.
The Film: ****
The Video: *****
The Audio: ****1/2
The Extras: ***1/2