“Lilo and Stitch” is as welcome as a gentle breeze coming through the hibiscus.
It has a cute story, endearing characters, a sensational soundtrack of Elvis classics, and glorious hand-painted animation that shows those smarties hunched over their computers that there are still a few things machines can’t do.
At its heart, it’s just an old-fashioned story of a child and a pet. But this is not the usual movie child and it is definitely not the usual pet.
The movie opens on some far-away planet with all kinds of monstrous-looking creatures. One of them, a scientist, has been experimenting with genetics, and has created an indestructible destruction machine called 626 in the form of a mischievous-looking little blue guy. The scientist is thrown in jail, but the experiment escapes and races off to a planet they refer to as “E-Arth.” So, the scientist and an expert on Earth are sent after him to capture him with a minimum of fuss.
626 lands in Hawaii and disguises himself as a dog. He is adopted by a tiny little girl named Lilo who is grieving the loss of her parents. She names him Stitch and teaches him that even a creature designed to destroy can learn to create.
The story is nothing new, but the Hawaiian location and gorgeous visuals give it a fresh feeling. Instead of the usual wasp-waisted Disney heroines with impossibly big hair, we get attractive but believable-looking Nani, Lilo’s sister, who is struggling to grow up quickly so that she can care for Lilo the way her parents did. And Lilo’s passion for Elvis Presley means that instead of girls looking up at the stars and trilling ballads about their dreams we get a bouncy score of favorites like “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog,” “All Shook Up,” and of course, “Blue Hawaii.” The score also features Elvis hits “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” sung by a chorus of Hawaiian children and “Burning Love” sung by country superstar Wynonna Judd.
Lilo is irresistibly adorable and her relationship with her sister is a believable mixture of affection, resentment, and connection. Both are deeply affected by the loss of their parents and torn between fearing another loss and just wanting to get it over with. Ving Rhames adds just the right note of wry authority to his role as the social worker with a surprising past, and Jason Scott Lee is fine as the friend who would like to be more. There is some very funny dialogue, especially the description of Earth as an endangered species preserve — the endangered species is mosquitos, and humans are just kept around to feed them!
Parents should know that the movie is rated PG for some action and peril that may be too intense for the youngest children. The loss of Lilo’s and Nani’s parents in a car accident is handled quietly and sensitively, but still may be upsetting for some children. They may also be concerned about the idea that a social worker might want to remove Lilo from her sister’s home if he does not think she can take care of her. Female characters, including Nani and the leader of Stitch’s planet, are strong and independent. It is a special pleasure to have a movie set in a part of America that is often forgotten, and the scenery, especially in the sensational surfing scene, is likely to have families thinking about heading in that direction for a future vacation.
Families who see this movie should talk about Lilo’s definition of a family: “No one gets left behind.” Why didn’t the other girls want to play with Lilo? Are there things that Lilo and Nani could have talked about with each other that would have made them feel better? Why didn’t Stitch stay the destructive monster he was designed to be? Did anything surprise you in the scenes at the end that showed what happened to Lilo and Stitch and Nani?