Lilo & Stitch (2002)

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I don’t want to get all melodramatic over here, but I’m pretty sure this is the film that renewed my faith in Disney.  I remember watching it for the first time and thinking, “THIS is what Disney should be.”  To be fair, it’s a bit of a departure from your standard classic Disney fare.  It’s not a musical, relying instead on Elvis Presley songs for its soundtrack.  It also deals with extraterrestrials, with many characters being aliens from other worlds.  Somehow though, Disney managed to use such odd and over-the-top storylines to craft a story that is truly beautiful.

Lilo & Stitch is a two-part story: the first part focuses on Lilo, a young Hawaiian girl who struggles to fit in as she’s brought up by her older sister after her parents’ untimely death; the second focuses on Stitch, an uncontrollable alien created to destroy everything in his path, who evades capture and winds up on Earth.  These two stories seem to have very little connection, and based on this description one would be hard-pressed to figure out how the stories could tie together.

The unifying thread ends up being that both Lilo & Stitch are outcasts searching for their place in the world.  The two bond in a most unlikely way, and while Stitch winds up causing destruction and mayhem throughout Lilo’s world, he ultimately realizes that Lilo and her sister Nani are his family.

My brief summary here falls woefully flat in explaining the brilliant nuances of why I love this movie.  There’s plenty of humor throughout, often absurd and generally enjoyable, but it’s the heart of the characters that stands out to me most of all. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that around this time, Disney films seemed to be missing this key element.  They were good enough, but they didn’t tug at the heartstrings the way the most classic films did.  Lilo & Stitch brings back this sorely missed attribute, focusing not only on the action and humor of the movie, but also on the tender emotions felt by each character:  Stitch wandering in the woods,trying to figure out where he belongs; Lilo tearfully saying, “I remember everyone who leaves” as she looks at a photo of her family; Nani singing to Lilo and comforting her as she accepts the fact that Lilo is going to be taken away from her.  These moments are never so heavy as to bog down the film as a whole, but their inclusion drastically improves the overall feel of the movie.  I can imagine this having been made by a different studio, lacking any real emotion and focusing instead on the humor that can be found in an “alien banished to Earth” story.  It would not have been nearly as magical or memorable.

It’s entirely possible I’m viewing this through rose-colored glasses, choosing to overlook flaws in the film due to the nostalgia I associate with it.  I can’t help it; this movie was one of my personal favorites growing up (even more impressive when one considers that I was 13 when this came out, firmly ensconced in my teen years and believing I was way too cool for most “childish” Disney movies).  I may not treat this with the same level of reverence I reserve for Disney films like The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast (go ahead, insult them. I’ll fight you) but I nevertheless think Lilo & Stitch is one of the finer Disney films to be released in the current century.It feels modern yet timeless, with a wonderful blend of humor and heart that has been sorely lacking from the films’ contemporaries.  I shudder to think what I’m going to have to sit through with the next few upcoming Disney films I’ll be watching, but at least I can comfort myself by knowing that one genuinely good film was released during this period in Disney’s production history.

-Jess

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