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The Media Man Reviews: Lilo & Stitch


This is the title card for my Lilo & Stitch review

The 2000's was a rough time for Disney. And that's not an exaggeration. After the Renaissance era ended with Tarzan in 1999, Disney just couldn't seem to find an audience and make a profit afterwards. Sure they did well enough with Dinosaur in 2000 but they still struggled to keep things up with The Emperor's New Groove and Atlantis: The Lost Empire being box office disappointments. They then reached the lowest point of their career when Treasure Planet became the biggest bomb in the company's history, Brother Bear also failed to be a hit despite decent critical reception and Home on the Range was the final straw for Disney that convinced them to quit hand-drawn animated movies and just make CGI ones from now on. And even that didn't do much for they released Chicken Little, a movie that while a hit is often considered one of the worst movies they've made, Meet the Robinsons also bombed and Bolt, while successful, isn't as remembered as other Disney films.


They made that brief return to 2-D with The Princess and the Frog and from then on, their films leapt up in quality again with many movies since then being financial and critical hits and as we saw through the 2010's, Disney became popular all over again. So yeah, the 2000's was a rough time indeed. But there was at least one movie they made that was a hit and as of now, it's still among their most popular franchises. By far the most successful thing Disney ever produced in that decade...was Lilo & Stitch.


Released in 2002, Lilo & Stitch became one of Disney's first modern classics and was by far the only real success they had in the 2000's by grossing $273.1 million worldwide and spawning a highly successful franchise that includes sequels, an animated series, toys, theme park rides at Disney World and it even got its own anime series! No I'm serious. Even to this day, it remains one of Disney's most popular franchises and is among the most popular movies they've made alongside the entire Disney Renaissance, Pinocchio, Frozen, Zootropolis and more. I still remember all the hype going into this film and owning the VHS back in my childhood so this is a movie I can easily say I have a nostalgic connection to, and I'm sure all of your reading this may too.


So is Lilo & Stitch all it's cracked up to be? Or is it an alien experiment gone wrong? Let's find out as we dive into Disney's Lilo & Stitch...


Section 1: The Story


It's the story of a lonely Hawaiian girl named Lilo who is struggling to get by in life due to being ostracized for being different and having no parents to look after her, only her struggling older sister Nani who's practically at her wit's end. But their lives take a drastic turn when a fleeing alien experiment labelled as Experiment 626 crash lands on Earth and winds up becoming part of the family...


The common consensus towards this movie is that it's a movie of two halves: the human half and the alien half and the popular opinion is that the human half is the stronger part of the movie while the alien half is the weaker part due to the human half having all the strong emotions and character writing while the alien half has all the kiddie stuff. I've even seen some reviews lament over the movie not just being focused on Lilo and Nani and wish that were the case. While I do agree that yes, the human half is indeed the stronger half of the movie, I think it wouldn't have been anywhere near as memorable or as cool to watch if it didn't have the aliens in it. Also the aliens were necessary to the story. Take them out and you'd be missing a very large chunk of the movie and it wouldn't work the same way if say, Stitch was an actual dog instead of an alien. The aliens just provided a more unique way of telling this story in my eyes and I feel it wouldn't have much of an identity if you took them out.


Speaking of the story, it's ultimately a tale about a broken family being repaired by an outside force. While it's not the most original plot out there, it is always a compelling narrative that leads to a lot of heart and emotional depth being explored so it's always great to see this kind of story, especially if they pull a twist on it like with the aliens here. I imagine some people might call this "E.T.: The Disney Version" given it's also about a human child bonding with an alien but the big difference here is that Lilo doesn't know Stitch is an alien until the third act of the movie. Anyway, the story for me is very well told and has a good pace to it. No scene feels like it drags or rushes by too quickly and just about ever scene serves a purpose in some way with little filler to be found here. It also manages to truly understand the meaning of "family friendly" with how the human stuff is geared closer to adults and the alien stuff is geared closer to kids. Kids can enjoy the funny, goofy aliens while adults can enjoy the emotional stuff surrounding the human characters so there's something for everybody here.


Whether it juggles its tone well or not is admittedly something I can understand people having an issue with. You see, you have the human half where it's about two sisters struggling to make amends meet due to the loss of their parents and they play it quite seriously too with Nani practically being every over-worked parent that's ever existed (and I bet parents especially relate to her IMMENSELY!) and Lilo being troubled over how she's seen as an outcast for being different. Then we have the alien half where it's mostly Stitch being goofy or gross which might seem at odds with the tone of the human half. These two tones may not always gel well together but I feel the movie juggled them well for the most part. There are times where the alien stuff can be emotional and heartfelt just like the human stuff, especially at the part where Stitch leaves the family for a moment to wait for his own family like in the Ugly Duckling story he likes. And the human stuff can have some comedy of its own to lighten the mood so it's not like all the serious stuff is with the humans and all the kiddie stuff is with the aliens. In fact, the comedy as a whole is quite funny no matter which side it's coming from, thus we get a very entertaining movie no matter how old you are. Altogether, the two halves create a whole in where there's emotional drama, depth and heart with a healthy dose of light-hearted comedy to lighten the mood at times to give us a tone where everybody can enjoy what the movie has to offer. It's what I said earlier about this being the perfect family friendly mix and it's what makes this movie so good as a result.


I also applaud the movie on tackling its subject matter head-on and not sugar-coating any of it just because it's a family friendly movie and kids may be watching. Lilo and Nani's story is pretty weighty emotionally and we can really feel their stress and pain at times with how much they're struggling to get by with the absence of their parents. Can you even imagine being Lilo's age and having to live by with the thought that a social worker might take you away because your older sibling can't provide for you? Or heck, can you even imagine being in Nani's situation where you've had to grow up faster than you expected because of your parents dying and now you have a younger sibling to provide for? That can't be easy and must be physically and mentally taxing no matter who's position you're in. Thus we really root for these girls and it only feels more satisfying and rewarding in the end when Stitch, while initially causing them more trouble, brings the family together in the end and brings some light back into their lives when they needed it most.


Oh and I must also applaud this movie for being more nuanced in its story-telling and having no actual villain. Really think about it, who's the villain here? Nobody. The Grand Councilwoman just wants Stitch back and doesn't indulge in anything evil, Cobra Bubbles is a social worker just doing his job, Jumba and Pleakley are also trying to retrive Stitch but aren't necessarily evil (though Jumba is a littler over enthusiastic shall we say?) and even Captain Gantu is a guy just doing his job too. Pity the sequel and series ruined that by making him a joke and a villain but that's not important. They could've EASILY made any of these characters just straight-up villains but no, they were more creative than that and it added an extra layer of maturity to the picture. If this had been done by any other animation studio, I imagine Cobra Bubbles would've been downright villainous instead of just the social worker doing his job like he is here. That little extra bit of maturity makes Lilo & Stitch feel more nuanced as a result and makes the movie all the stronger in my eyes.


Are there any flaws I find with the movie? Not really. I don't have any real problems with the story or how it's told. Yes the alien stuff might feel more for kids and the whole theme of Ohana might be on the nose with how much the characters preach about it but really, I have nothing to complain about here. I feel like I'd have to resort to nit-picking in order to find anything wrong with the movie.


Lilo & Stitch is a movie with a great story about family and how one little change and bring a broken one back together again and make it whole. With a tone that can please both parents and adults, this is a movie that everyone can enjoy and it's easy to see why this film caught on so well with audiences the world over...


Section 2: The Characters


This is a batch of some of Disney's most beloved characters, and it's easy to see why.


Let's start with the main duo of course, Lilo Pelekai (voiced by Daveigh Chase) and Experiment 626, aka Stitch (voiced by Chris Sanders who was also the director and the man who came up with the idea to begin with). Lilo is an orphaned Hawaiian girl who has a kooky personality and some unusual interests for a girl of her age. As a man with autism, I can admit wholeheartedly that I relate to her quite a lot. Lilo is a nice girl who just wants a friend but because of her strange tastes and quirky nature, she's considered weird by the other children and is shunned as a result. How many times have we dealt with that in our childhoods? The fact she lost her parents at such a young age also doesn't help her self-esteem any and it's so easy to understand why she's so sensitive at times or why she has such a firm belief in family. Lilo is very relatable and sympathetic a protagonist and her oddball nature only serves to make her more interesting and fun to watch, especially as not many Disney protagonists are like her. She really stands out from the crowd and makes this movie as much as Stitch does.


Speaking of Stitch, he's equally as interesting and fun to watch as Lilo as. While he hasn't got the same kind of emotional depth or relatability as Lilo has, I still find him an enjoyable character. He's very strong, very smart and has a destructive nature for Jumba created him to be a weapon of mass destruction but spending time with Lilo causes him to change his ways and defy his programming. Yeah, it sounds like every evil robot turned good story ever told but I think they did it well with Stitch here. He too has his sympathetic moments too for as a monster who was created only to destroy, he doesn't really have anything else and thus feels aimless as a result. How many of us have ever felt like that too? Ultimately it's spending time with the humans he was meant to destroy that causes Stitch to see there's more to life than what he was created for and that maybe he doesn't have to destroy everything he touches after all.


The supporting cast all have their own moments of memorability and times to shine too. There's Nani Pelekai (voiced by Tia Carrere). She's Lilo's older sister and given she's the eldest, she's the one that has to provide for the family now the parents are gone. Nani is the character I think adults will relate to the most for EVERY adult has been where she is right now: stressed as all hell, overworked, fighting tooth and nail to make everything work out in the end while also showing as much love as they can to their family. Nani is so remarkable for how much work she puts in to trying to care for Lilo and run the house and even if she's clearly not ready for all this responsibility, she's trying so hard and it's heart-breaking to watch her fail in her efforts which nearly leads to Lilo being taken away. She's by far the most sympathetic character in the movie alongside Lilo and she plays as much of a part in the film's message on Ohana as her sister does.


There's also Cobra Bubbles (voiced by Ving Rhames). As mentioned earlier, he's the social worker who's assessing the situation with Lilo and Nani and he feels Nani isn't qualified to look after Lilo. In other movie, he would've been the villain and we're supposed to hate him for what he does but because the writing is so good in this film, they don't fall into cliché and make him just a man who's doing his job. True he may look somewhat threatening and has an imposing presence whenever he's onscreen but not once does he ever come off as just some bad guy that needs to be defeated and that just made him a stronger character in my eyes. Also his CIA backstory that's only briefly talked about makes him more fascinating. What was his life like before he became a social worker...?


We have our other alien characters who act as antagonists for the movie, Jumba (voiced by the late David Ogden Stiers) and Pleakley (voiced by Kevin McDonald). Once again, they could've easily just been "the villains" of the movie but they're not really. They're just here to do a job for the Galactic Federation, which is retrieve Stitch and of course, wacky hijinks ensue whenever they get involved. They along with Stitch provide most of the comedy for this movie but they're more than just comic reliefs. Jumba is Stitch's creator so he naturally has a big connection to one of our starring heroes and it makes him a somewhat personal enemy to Stitch too as Jumba's trying to retrieve him and Stitch is trying to avoid him. Pleakley is there to reign him in so he doesn't get out of hand and cause trouble while also trying to educate him on Earth. Given he thinks mosquitos are an endangered species, I don't think he's the best guy to be educating anybody on Earth. XD


And of course, we have Captain Gantu (voiced by the freaking awesome Kevin Michael Richardson). He's the closest thing we have to an actual villain in this movie but again, he's not really evil either. He's just a guy doing his job for the Galactic Federation and trying to retrieve Stitch. It's just he has to be a jerk about it and is perfectly OK with child abduction! Seriously, what did he think the Grand Councilwoman would say if he came back to her with both Lilo & Stitch in tow? I can't imagine she would've been too pleased about it. XD Anyway, Gantu is pretty imposing with his shark-like design and how he's a literal GIANT so he poses a physical threat to our heroes and he's also a skilled pilot which gives Stitch a lot of trouble in the climax. It's too bad that the sequels and the spin-offs had to throw that away and make him a lame joke villain but hey, they got him right for this movie at least.


There's also David (voiced by Jason Scott Lee) and the Grand Councilwoman (voiced by the late Zoe Caldwell). David is a guy who clearly has a crush on Nani and tries to help the family out during their darkest hours but he doesn't do much else aside from that. The Grand Councilwoman is the woman in charge of the Galactic Federation and is THE definition of a no-nonsense boss. She's quite intimidating with her high position of power and how she commands so much respect, even from Gantu despite him towering over her. Once again, they could've very easily just made her the villain of this story but they didn't. She's just a cold, tough leader who can also be fair and is willing to compromise if necessary. I always liked her and I still like her now, she's great.


Oh and there's Mertle Edmunds and her posse of friends. They're just generic bullies with nothing interesting about them. Even the movie itself got bored of them and just wrote them out after the scene where Stitch steals Mertle's bike. While I understand that their presence does add more depth to Lilo's situation and explains that she comes from a friendless background, they could've at least done something more interesting with them than just "bullies". Still, they're THANKFULLY not in it for long so it's very easy to ignore them and pretend they don't exist. XD


Aside from the bullies, the characters are a strong batch that play their roles well and end up being more than they could've been, especially for the characters that could've been straight-up villains but weren't in the end. With strong leads and a fun supporting cast, this is in my eyes a well-handled cast of characters fit for a well-handled movie...


Section 3: The Animation


Disney films from the 2000's may have been hit-and-miss with their stories, but they sure delivered a consistent streak of great animation (save for Chicken Little) that made for some wonderful looking movies. Lilo & Stitch is just yet another example of this.


Yeah, it doesn't take an animation expert to tell you that this is a gorgeous looking movie with some truly wonderful 2-D animation on display. As it's a Chris Sanders directed movie, it has his signature art-style going for it. And needless to say, it looks great executed in that signature Disney style. The character designs all have mostly round edges with no real sharp angles anywhere which gives the humans a more softer, kid-friendly appearance and the aliens a somewhat cuddly appearance, even the more threatening ones like Gantu. Speaking of the aliens, they really went all out in creating these characters. They didn't go for any generic alien designs like what you'd see in other sci-fi movies and a lot of them have a lot of animalistic designs to them such as Gantu's shark-like appearance or some of the Galactic Federation crew resembling mammalian creatures like bears, pigs or even armadillos. Some like the police officers even resemble dinosaurs, or at least some kind of reptile. Some like Jumba and Pleakley and especially the Grand Councilwoman lack any animal basis and go further with the alien look whether it's Jumba's four eyes, Pleakly's lanky three-legged body and one-eye or the Grand Councilwoman with a long goat-like feet, lanky body and three-fingered hands. You do see most of these creative alien designs in the opening prologue to the movie so you don't see a lot of them for much but I still enjoy a lot of the creative designs we got for the aliens here. Even the alien aircraft looks very sci-fi and creative too with many of the ships having a marine theme to them with resemblances to whales or crabs to give them that otherworldly look and during the climax, we have Jumba';s airship which looks like a Boeing 747 with a sci-fi twist. Believe it or not, it actually WAS meant to be an ACTUAL Boeing 747 in the scene but after 9/11 happened, they had to alter it for...obvious reasons.


For the aliens though, Stitch of course is the main one of them all and it's easy to see how he became such a breakout character with his design alone making him very cute and distinctive in appearance thanks to his blue fur, long ears, wide eyes and ability to change appearance by hiding away his antennae, back spikes and one pair of arms he has.


For the humans, this is a movie that takes place primarily in Hawaii so the animators went out of their way to even make the humans match the appearance of actual Hawaiians out there. While the humans don't have as much distinctive or creative designs as the aliens, it's still easy to identify who's who among them especially as they have a more stylized look to suit the film's cartoon-y art-style. You have Lilo who is visually distinctive thanks to her iconic red dress and her being a very young child naturally gives her a cutesy, appealing appearance, Cobra Bubbles where he may just look like a big guy in a suit but he still commands your attention regardless of how generic his design may be and you have Nani with her constantly changing outfit in where most of it consists of crop-tops and shorts that vary in design and colour so she gives us something different to look at any time she's onscreen. Both humans and aliens are also very expressive thanks to the art-style allowing for a wide range of emotions in both facial features and body language. Whatever the scene is, you can ALWAYS tell how or what the characters are feeling. Of course, this helps with the film's emotional aspect, especially during the quiet scenes where they just let you soak in the atmosphere and take in how the characters are feeling.


The backgrounds are lavishly detailed too with a lot of water colouring to bring the colours out and give it this lush, painterly look to the visuals. Chris Sanders stated he went with watercolour backgrounds to make the film look "storybook", which makes sense considering he originally coined this up to be a children's book before it became the movie it is today. The backgrounds especially bring out the beauty of Hawaii and make it look like a nice place to live in or at least visit. I wonder how many kids wanted to go to Hawaii after watching this movie...


The animation especially comes to life and looks its best when it comes to the action and comedy scenes. The comedy is very effective with some great timing, expressions and slapstick humour thrown in with the animators executing them greatly. Even during the action scenes, they sometimes throw in some humour to make them exciting and funny at the same time with the battle between Jumba and Stitch at the Pelekai house as the shining example. They put so much comedy into that scene and it's hilarious to watch. The climax also gives us a tense airship chase between Gantu and our heroes and they really make it one of the highlights of the movie as a result. There's close calls, high-flying action and lasers firing everywhere and it's a blast to watch.


The animation is a masterpiece through and through. It's very pretty to look at, the art-style is appealing, the character animation is fun and creative, the alien designs are memorable, the action scenes are both fun and exciting and the watercolour backgrounds give the film a lovely storybook look that adds to the appealing art style. Disney is famous for producing masterclass animation with their movies and they really hit it on the head with this animation....


Overall


What else can I say? It's Lilo & Stitch. It's a classic and it's STILL a classic now!


The story is very well constructed and brilliantly told, the characters are interesting, fun and surprisingly nuanced for a movie of this kind, the animation is top-notch and it's just an enjoyable watch from beginning to end. While it's still debateable if the movie truly balances its tone well and would've been better off without the aliens, I love this movie and consider it among my all-time favourite Disney movies and also among my all-time favourite animated movies too. This is a movie that can be imitated but never duplicated. Chris Sanders and his team delivered something truly special with this and it's no wonder it became the pop culture hit of the 2000's that it became for Disney. I'd recommend you watch it...but come on, who hasn't watched it at this point? Just watch it again! You owe it to yourself for that! This movie is a truly wonderful Hawaiian Rollercoaster ride that I enjoy always and always...


And that's it for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and I invite you all to share your thoughts in the comments below. Do you like Lilo & Stitch? Do you not like it? I'd love to hear all about it. Join me next week as I'll be covering the career of another Robot Wars contestant. This one I tell you is one that will have you in awe as it "spins to win"...See you then everyone!


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3 Comments


Guest
Apr 14, 2023

Okay, things I learnt, Stitch’s voice actor was the creator of the movie, Emperor’s New Groove was released in 2000.


Given I watched the movie again, I understood the story of Lilo more and yeah, I get Nani’s story, it’s one I almost had to take on a few moments in my life. It’s not easy.

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mrdarkcatify
mrdarkcatify
Apr 12, 2023

Great review of this 21 year old classic mate!


The way you said "E.T.: The Disney Version" is great description of this film, Yeah Kevin Michael Richardson is badass Gantu as much other roles of his. :)


Even if this is was released were company is becoming loss their money, this film holds up greatly of it's age.


Personally, although it's not a request but I would love to see you doing a review of any anime franchise other than Pokemon, Yugoih etc sometime in the future. (If you interesting it.)

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Jacob Coad
Jacob Coad
Apr 07, 2023

Definitely one of Disney's best movies. :D

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