LILO & STITCH
***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B-
written and directed by Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois
by Bill Chambers Lilo (exceptionally well-voiced by Daveigh Chase) enjoys arts and crafts--she's in her "Blue Period"--and resents her vain classmates. Her homelife is less than ideal, since she has yet to become accustomed to thinking of her sister, Nani (Tia Carrere), as her dead mother's replacement. The dissent is mutual, and put in a pressure-cooker by child protective services, under whose watchful eye the siblings have fallen. Like a couple on the brink, Lilo and Nani try to patch things up by finding a use for their pet door, but what they bring home from the pound is not common and definitely not housebroken. Bent on destruction, Stitch (Chris Sanders, channelling Howie Mandel's Bobby), a six-limbed Miyazaki koala known on his planet as Experiment 626, escaped intergalactic incarceration and fell to Earth, only to be run over by a big-rig and placed in an animal shelter. The lenience and affection Lilo shows him deprograms Stitch, which in turn stuns his mad-scientist creator.
Lilo & Stitch gets off on the wrong foot with a prologue set in outer space that mimics the opening trial from Superman; Not only a deathly slow sequence, it also lacks a sense of kismet: Fate doesn't draw our titular outcasts together, the animators do. (It still seems a stretch even after Lilo bitchslaps a peer to equate her with a mutation bred for terror--a troublemaking companion she would honestly be better off without.) Stitch's redemption (that is, his desire to change), brought about by a reading of The Ugly Duckling, feels inevitable--skipping the first half of the film is a difficult urge to resist. The continual punishment of Lilo for Stitch's actions is not, after all, demonstration of their sadomasochistic alliance so much as sadism on the part of filmmakers.
It's easy to imagine a scenario in which long-time Disney staffers Sanders and Dean DeBlois, who co-wrote Lilo & Stitch in addition to directing it together (the picture marks their debut at the helm), are eager to use tried-and-true narrative conventions now at their disposal, resulting in the incidental though no less tired or cruel iteration of Drop Dead Fred. Yet these and other lapses in judgment (I'm not convinced the Elvis songs are all of a piece) pale next to the picture's supple design, as well as its gentle climax, a bold, compassionate defiance of E.T. convention.
Lilo & Stitch propagates family clear of the twin clouds of judgment that are Republican values and Judeo-Christian tradition. A character at the end of Lilo & Stitch says, "This is my family. It's small and it's broken, but it's good. Yeah, it's good," and that's when I realized I had just watched the one Disney movie worth a damn in the post-Katzenberg era. (Frankly, it's better than most of the animation from his tenure, too.) It somehow manages to be Disney's latest "girl" flick (sandwiched between two crappy films aimed squarely at boys, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet) without giving us the stencil heroine (white, insecure, lovesick, driven by wanderlust); she in turn inherits a sidekick who isn't a placeholder waiting to be shucked by the incursion of a studly suitor. The preteen age of the heroine makes some of this inevitable, but that is a smart move in and of itself: no more disingenuous post-adolescent stand-in for the target demographic. I really like and respect Lilo & Stitch.
DisneyDVD presents Lilo & Stitch in an unofficial Special Edition. According to press notes, the 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer represents a direct port of a digital source; regardless of the origin, the (THX-approved) image looks incredible. Haloing and other artifacts are a non-issue while colours are extravagant but kept on a short leash. A Dolby Digital 5.1 track (the lone listening option) dazzles throughout, pumping out deep bass reminiscent of The Iron Giant in a third-act capture. Voices and effects swirl around the room uninhibited--I love Disney mixes, for the experience if not the subtlety.
Supplementary material is nowhere near as thick as it gets on those 2-disc sets from the studio, but maybe they'll revisit the title at a later date. Seven trailers (The Jungle Book II, The Country Bears, Sleeping Beauty: Special Edition, and the straight-to-vid sequels Atlantis II: Milo's Return, 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure, Inspector Gadget 2, and Stitch!) and two cloying commercials (for Disney's theme parks and a Disney Channel cartoon called "Kim Possible") precede the main feature. Items accessible under the "Bonus" menu include: "Disney-Pedia: The Islands of Aloha" (live-action mini-docs on each of Hawaii's territories); a multiple-choice "Create Your Own Alien Experiment" game aimed at the juvies; a nigh useless VH-1 spoof ("A Stitch in Time: Follow Stitch Through the Disney Years" (4 mins.)) that simply inserts Stitch into, say, a freeze-frame of Pinocchio, thus cuing the narrator to remark, "And then he was in Pinocchio"--sometimes I wonder if the Disney crackpipe ever dries up; "Hula Lesson" (4 mins.), a brief history of the dance and demonstration conducted by expert Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu; "Young Voices of Hawaii" (3 mins.), a recording session with the Kamehameha Choir; and "'Burning Love' - Behind the Scenes with Wynonna" (1 min.), a featurette containing the baffling observation, courtesy Chris Sanders, that "[Wynonna Judd] is the female Elvis." Capping off this more superfluous page of extras is the video for A Teens unlistenable cover of "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You."
"The Look of Lilo & Stitch" (4 mins.) highlights the Disney team's efforts to remain faithful to Sanders's distinctive concept art for the film. "Animating the Hula" (3 mins.) pulls back the curtain on the reverential execution of the closing dance number, which many suspected of being rotoscoped. (It wasn't.) "On Location with the Directors" (20 mins.) closes out with redundant footage of the Kamehameha Choir but until such time remains an interesting, near-formless tour through the various stages of production, from the pitching of ideas to the dreaded "Sweatbox" screening; one is left with the impression that Lilo & Stitch symbolizes an auteurist departure for the Mouse House. (Best of all, the haughty Don Hahn, a fixture of DisneyDVD's animated releases, is nowhere in sight.) Three deleted scenes--introduced, save the last one, by DeBlois--were indeed wisely removed, in my humble opinion. Four "Inter-Stitch-ials"--those polarizing trailers that found Stitch invading Classic Moments from Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King--round out the DVD. Originally published: December 1, 2002.
STITCH! THE MOVIE
**½/**** Image A Sound A- Extras C
written by Jess Winfield & Roberts Gannaway
directed by Tony Craig and Roberts Gannaway
Stitch! The Movie answers the question of whatever happened to the 625 experiments that preceded/resulted in Stitch (voice of Chris Sanders--all of the original vocal talent returns for this second outing), but I doubt anyone much cared, and the magnitude of the number quickly becomes an albatross for the film's imagineers (directors Tony Craig & Robert Gannaway and screenwriter Jess Winfield), who give up after introducing us to creatures 624 (a sandwich fetishist) and 625 (an electro-charged demon fond of short-circuiting a given location's power supply). Like Lilo & Stitch, however, this direct-to-video franchise prostitution--worthier of a theatrical release than either Return to Never Land or The Jungle Book 2, if that means anything--gains wit as it progresses, with dehydrated forms of the various experiments, harmless to the human race until doused with water (shades of Gremlins), spilling out all at once over Hawaii, each one just missing the ocean by miracles of Rube Goldberg intervention. (I also chuckled at the red-eyed bunny rabbit villain, another refugee from Miyazakiland, having the courtesy to say "one second" to an imprisoned Lilo as he waits for an elevating stack of books to arrive.) The brevity of Stitch! The Movie, which runs a meagre 58 minutes without credits, is due to sacrifices in character, not plot, and that's a shame, since it wasn't exactly the chaos of Lilo & Stitch's narrative that made it so ultimately charming. Here Stitch is starting to sense that, while he has a kindred spirit in Lilo, he is culturally adrift, and to the movie's credit, a moment where Stitch discovers that he and 625 both have the same number of appendages (and that each enjoys eating boogers) is a tight and effective lesson in identity that Disney's Tarzan didn't get right with eighty additional minutes of trying.
The film's second-tier animation looks vivid in its 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen DVD transfer, and the DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are good for a few swish-pans once the outer-space action commences, though the mix can't hold a candle to that of Lilo & Stitch. A clumsy "Experiment Finder Game", "Dr. Hamsterviel's Trivia Challenge for Trivial Earthlings", an "Experiment Gallery" that provides specs for creatures unseen in Stitch! The Movie, and the video for "Aloha E Komo Mai" by Jump 5 (just jump already) round out the DVD's bonus material. The disc's batch of pre-feature trailers (The Lion King Special Edition; Brother Bear; Sleeping Beauty Special Edition; Bionicle - The Movie: The Mask of Light; Finding Nemo; "Lilo & Stitch: The Series") throws the hidden agenda of Stitch! The Movie's cliffhanger finish into sharp relief: this is actually the pilot for a Saturday morning cartoon that will reposition Lilo and Stitch as bounty hunters of the remaining experiments--way to despoil the reputation of a film (Lilo & Stitch) that's pretty lovely in retrospect. Ah, Disney. Originally published: August 24, 2003.
LILO & STITCH 2: STITCH HAS A GLITCH
**/**** Image A- Sound A+ Extras C
screenplay by Anthony Leondis & Michael LaBash & Eddie Guzelian and Alexa Junge
directed by Michael LaBash and Anthony Leondis
Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch (hereafter, Glitch), the second dtv sequel to the endearing Lilo & Stitch, is also the first dud in the would-be trilogy. Sort of an alternative to Stitch! The Movie rather than a linear follow-up to the same (steering viewers towards the Saturday morning cartoon, I guess, to sort out what became of the dehydrated monsters unleashed on Hawaii at the end of the previous film--and making this franchise the animated equivalent of the chronologically jumbled Halloween saga), Glitch belatedly riffs on the only part of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial not pillaged by its predecessors, with Stitch climactically shuffling off this mortal coil in a hyperbaric chamber and Lilo's manifest grief rekindling his proverbial heartlight. On the slipcover of the Glitch DVD is a gracious endorsement from the creators of Lilo & Stitch ("An artistically stunning continuation..."), none of whom were involved in the genesis of this instalment (though Lilo & Stitch writer-director Chris Sanders returns to voice Stitch); indeed, it's obvious this project was not denied the resources to be good. (Consider that Dakota Fanning replaces the comparatively cheaper Daveigh Chase as the voice of Lilo, or that a fresh batch of pricey Elvis Presley tunes graces the soundtrack.) But it's a dilettantish façade of quality: Glitch boils down to an inapplicable rabies allegory as Stitch starts going haywire in increasingly malevolent ways, and although some will appreciate the throwback to the original's focus on orphaned Lilo, this bears out less as a mark of fidelity than as a maudlin departure.
Disney presents Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 audio on a FastPlay-enabled DVD. By now you know what to expect from these Lilo discs, so let me just say that the only nasty surprise from a technical standpoint is the presence of edge haloes; they aren't as severe as those found on Atlantis: Milo's Return, but any type of artificial sharpening applied to 2-D animation is gratuitous. Meanwhile, the DTS track surpasses all expectations, outperforming Lilo & Stitch in spatiality, if not complexity. Extras include: a stylish 5-minute short, The Origin of Stitch - Secret File, in which Stitch discovers that he's a genetic cocktail of various botched experiments (oddly, the Mouse House farmed out this Rings-like interstitial piece to Christian outfit Toonacious Entertainment); Jump 5's pearly-white video for "Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride"; a "Where's Waldo?"-style set-top game, aptly-titled "Where's Pleakley?"; a match the experiment to the task game ("Jumba's Experiment Profiler") strictly for devotees of the TV series, since not a one of these creatures appears in Lilo & Stitch 2; hilariously plastic "Disney Channel Movie Surfer" segments on The Shaggy Dog remake and The Greatest Game Ever Played, which cue up on startup along with a preview for the upcoming Cinderella Platinum Edition; and additional sneak peeks at the Toy Story 10th Anniversary Edition, Leroy & Stitch, Kronk's New Groove, Bambi and the Great Prince of the Forest, My Scene Goes Hollywood: The Movie, and "Kim Possible". Originally published: August 30, 2005.