Quick: Think of one thing you never thought you’d see in a Disney movie.
If you said Aliens or a lot of violence, your mind and my own think alike. Funny then that the next two Disney Animated movies have both. I don’t know why, but I never thought Disney would go for Aliens, at least back then. Now, well, I guess I’m used to it. Because they’ve done it multiple times (3 movies in the 00s have aliens…) and I guess it’s not “weird” to me anymore.
But back in 2002 when this came out, it was bizarre. Not only to see Aliens as major characters, but to see a good amount of “intergalactic” violence in the first 10 minutes of the movie (seriously, that’s why it was rated PG). I remember sitting in the theater watching this movie during the first few minutes and thinking “ohhhh no. It’s gonna be like Atlantis. This is going to be awful.”
How did I feel about the end of the movie? You’ll just have to read more to find out.
This movie follows a little alien that was created by an evil genius scientist Jumba. Known to the other aliens in the galactic alliance as Experiment 626, he exists for the soul purpose of destruction. After escaping from the spaceship he’s being held captive, he crash-lands on the island of Kuai in Hawaii.
Here he poses as a dog and is adopted by a little girl named Lilo and her older sister/caretaker Nani. They’ve just lost their parents and are under scrutiny by a social worker named Cobra Bubbles, who is going to take Lilo away from Nani unless they can get their act together.
Lilo names her new “dog” stitch, and while Nani sets out to find a new job after being fired from her old one, Lilo sets off to lower the badness level in stitch and teach him to be a model citizen. Things go awry because of stitch, and Cobra Bubbles says he’s coming the next morning to claim Lilo and take her to a better home.
Ah yes, we also have the creator of stitch, Jumba, and an agent Pleakley hunting for the little creature on earth. They cause some trouble trying to get to him, Lilo finds out he’s an alien and accidentally gets captured. Nani forces Stitch to talk and explain everything, and along with Jumba and Pleakley, they go rescue Lilo
(That’s a really shitty plot explanation, but in all honesty I’m getting tired of writing the plots of these movies out. It’s boring. Part of me just wants to tell people to just watch the darn thing.)
This movie is unbelievable. I would call it an underrated masterpiece, but I think it’s popular enough that it doesn’t quite fall under that category. There was a tv show and everything, so obviously kids liked it. But I still don’t think enough people know about this movie, at least in my generation. This is kinda when we were in high school and Disney became “too kiddy.” Whatever. I watched it then, and I watch it now. I’m a Disney fan till I die!
This movie is so different on so many levels, but it manages to have the components that make for a very recognizable Disney movie. At times, it almost feels more Pixar than Disney (A sentiment I will share again with another Disney movie before the revival). Why do I feel this? Well… it makes you cry, it has heart, it’s quirky, it’s funny. You know, all that stuff.
So why is it so different? Well, Aliens for one. We have an entire intergalactic control center, strange looking creatures, and a culture and rules that exist in the world outside our own. I see the Aliens both as a strength and a weakness in this movie. Yes they needed to exist because Stitch IS an alien, and during the majority of the movie they remain in the background, but the beginning and the end are just SO different from the rest of the movie that sometimes it’s distracting. The first 10 minutes is nothing like the rest of the movie. I know that’s kinda the point, but it’s weird.
At the same time, the way they tied the two “worlds” together is a bit ingenious, and hilarious. Earth is known as Area 51 to the Aliens, and it’s a protected wildlife refuge to help grow the numbers of the mosquito, which is apparently an endangered species in the universe. At the end of the movie we find out the social worker Cobra Bubbles was a CIA officer in Roswell, met the grand councilwoman, and was the one to convince them not to attack because of the mosquitos. Because of this strange connection, you can look back on the rest of the movie and go “oh, ok, it isn’t that weird because these are the aliens that have come to earth before.” I dunno. Maybe that’s how I justify it in my head.
The Aliens have the ability to detract from this movie in another way, because of the double story layout of this movie. We have one story of the Aliens trying to extract Stitch from Hawaii, but then we also have the story about Lilo, Nani, David, and Stitch. This could have been so awful. We could have gotten a ton with the aliens and it would have been weird to move back and forth, but Disney knew where to draw the line, and they knew what was really at the heart of this movie. I think that’s why this movie works with the aliens and with the double story. This movie knew what it wanted to accomplish, and it did it well.
So what was its goal? Well, essentially Lilo & Stitch explores the idea of “what is a family.” This is actually a unique goal for a Disney movie to have in mind, and one that we get over and over again in this down period between the Renaissance and the Revival. Family has been mentioned before in disney movies, but not to this depth, and not with this much raw dramatic emotion. This movie is real. it doesn’t paint a perfect family. It paints a broken one. It shows the struggles of real life through its characters. In fact, these are probably the most real (human) characters Disney have ever created.
Let’s take Lilo. First off, I love this kid. I would be friends with this child simply because of how weird, overly dramatic, imaginative, and appreciative of older music she is. On a first watch, that’s what you see her as. She’s a strange child who’s having issues fitting in and wants nothing more than a friend. But then you learn her backstory, and she becomes so much more.
I really wonder if Disney talked with child Psychologists when they made this movie. Lilo’s parents died in a car crash on a rainy night. In the beginning of the movie, Lilo is late to practice because she has to give Pudge the fish a peanut butter sandwich. Why? Because he controls the weather. She has to give Pudge a sandwich because if she doesn’t, something bad might happen again. It’s a ritual that makes me feel like she’s in control of her life and those of people she loves.
Every other action this child does can be brought back to show that this is how she’s coping with her parents’ death. She acts out at the other kids because she doesn’t know how to deal with her anger and depression. They treat her weird because, as Nani points out, “They just don’t know what to say.” Who knows? maybe her obsession with Elvis is also because of her parents. Maybe they loved him. We do see that picture of the family where the dad is playing a guitar.
Lilo is an amazing character.
Her background and her actions and feelings are what gives her the strength to deal with Stitch. it’s been shown that animals can be lifesavers for children who are going through a hard time, and I bet this is what Nani was hoping. And stitch is, just not in the way anyone thought. Because he’s messed up too. But that’s not what Lilo sees when she sees him being bad: she sees someone that needs her help no matter what. And that: that’s the greatest love story this movie has.
Stitch makes us think about the whole idea of nature vs. nurture. He was an experiment: he has no family, he has no friends, and he was created for one purpose: to destroy. But when he can’t do that, what’s left? He thinks he needs to do what he was created for, and so he makes the lives of Lilo and Nani a living hell, until he realizes that there’s more to life than just what someone tells you. That you don’t have to do what someone programmed you to do, and he latches onto the idea of a family through the Ugly Duckling book and the first time he hears “Ohana.” He spends the whole movie discovering what’s so great about a family, thinking he has to leave to find his. But he learns that family doesn’t have to look like you. They don’t have to be blood. They just have to love you and accept you for who you are.
He learns to trust during the movie, and he learns to let go of hate, in the meantime helping Lilo do the same and move on. His loyalty to her is shown, especially at the end of the movie. He’s willing to do anything to protect her because she helped him understand himself.
The other really amazing character in this movie is Nani, Lilo’s older sister. This is the other relationship that really gets explored in this movie, and it’s done well. I think we all forget that while Lilo is dealing with the loss of her parents, so is Nani. She just has the added stress of stepping into a parenting role for her sister, becoming a soul wage-earner, and managing everything. Lilo makes her upset and does things she can’t understand, but to Nani, she’s just trying whatever she can to keep her sister there. She’s the only family she has left, and Nani’s willing to do anything to keep it together. She’s not a parent, she’s a sister. we see her struggle with this, struggle with life, having no time for fun of her own, and struggle to find her place in the world. She’s an amazing character, even if she’s not the focus of the movie.
Our other minor characters in this movie are good as well, and they work to help move the story along or offer support for our main characters. We have David, the boy who has a crush on Nani and is there to remind them all that fun can help relieve stress. We have Jumba and Pleakley, the two aliens that have been charged with extracting “experiment 626.” I will note that these two have a hilarious chemistry, and I love the fact that Jumba is a mad scientist that creates life. I love that they just gloss over the morality of that. What’s up with that?
The animation on this movie is utterly beautiful. I’m not talking about the intergalactic parts, I’m talking about Hawaii, where most of the movie takes place. They used watercolors for backgrounds, which is unique and lends to an atmosphere that’s not seen in a lot of Disney movies. The designs of the human characters are realistic (for once!) but stylized. The Alien designs are fun and not creepy in the least. They’re almost all chimeras of different animals, so they’re recognizable but still unique enough. I love the design of the grand councilwoman.
I only have a few random things to say about this movie that don’t justify full paragraphs:
~ This movie is hilarious. Some of these lines are the best in any Disney movie: “My friends need to be punished.” “Did you ever kill anyone? – We’re getting off subject.”
~This is the first Disney movie set in the present time since The Rescuers Down Under (at least I’m assuming. Although I guess Lion King could have taken place in present time…)
~There are no sung songs in this movie, but we do get some great Hawaiian inspired songs that are in the background. I love them. We also get Elvis. Go Disney.
~Every license plate in this movie is A113. For those of you who like easter eggs.
~Stitch is the best creature this side of Toothless. That’s a fact.
I’m literally sitting here wracking my brain trying to figure out where to put this movie in my rankings. I love this one. It’s just so real and so sweet, but it’s also weird and a bit uneven. I love the sisters. I love Stitch. I love the idea of “Ohana.” I love that Disney explored the idea of family. I just. Ugh. We’ll see where it ends up.
Watch it if you’ve never seen it. You won’t be sorry. And you just might cry when Stitch wanders into the woods and says “I’m lost.” Cause we’ve all felt that before.
I give Lilo and Stitch (2002) a 4.2. Solid
Up Next: Treasure Planet (2003)