Lilo & Stitch

When orphaned Hawaiian girl Lilo (Daveigh Chase) wishes upon a star for a friend, her guilty guardian, older sister Nani (Tia Carrere, "Wayne's World"), takes her the next day to adopt a pet. Meanwhile, escaped Experiment 626, a genetic mutant designed to destroy, is terrorizing cats and dogs at the local pound it was taken to after crash landing and being run over by a truck. These two oddball creatures will come to epitomize 'ohana, the Hawaiian concept of family, in Disney's animated "Lilo & Stitch."

Laura's Review: A-

Certainly the hippest of Disney's animation, "Lilo & Stitch" has more in common with "Edward Scissorhands" than "Snow White." This slightly deranged tale combines elements of Disney's oldest works with Japanese anime, Warner Brother cartoons, Polynesian luaus, social services and Elvis Presley.

Based on an idea by the inspired cowriter/codirector Chris Sanders (who also supplies the voice of Experiment 626/Stitch), "Lilo & Stitch" is further proof that traditional hand drawn cel animation is far from dead. Sanders and his "Mulan" partner Dean DeBlois went so far as to revive the watercolor background, not used in animation since the 1940's, to provide a lushly soft landscape for the mostly Hawaiian set action.

Lilo is an endearingly odd little girl. Arriving late for dance class soaking wet, she explains that her sister forgot to buy peanut butter, which she had to run and buy for Pudge, a wild fish who predicts the weather. Teased by her mean-spirited 'friends,' she responds with a full out physical assault. As Nani despairs over her difficult charge, the two engage in an all out shouting match just in time to be witnessed by Cobra Bubbles (Ving Rhames, "Pulp Fiction"), the new massive, dark suited, intimidating social worker who gives Nani three days to get her act together.

Experiment 626 knows that his creator, Jumba (David Ogden Stiers, "Beauty and the Beast"), and one-eyed earth specialist Pleakley (Kevin McDonald, "The Kids in the Hall") are hot on his trail, so he retracts two of his six legs and his antennae to masquerade as the affectionate pet he spies on a shelter poster. To Nani's horror, the ugly 'dog' is embraced by fellow outsider Lilo and dubbed Stitch. As Stitch's destructive tendencies and his alien pursuers cost Nani her job, then her house, then her sister, Stitch learns about love from the ever loyal Lilo.

While its family values are true and heartfelt, "Lilo & Stitch" is also howling funny and offbeat. We're treated to the locals' eye-view of a tourist luau as Lilo waits in the back for her working waitress sister. Stitch, constantly streaming babble that sounds like a Japanese horror flick (clear stupidheads aside), is fascinated by "Earth vs. the Spider" playing on a store window TV. Later he builds a pseudo San Francisco in Lilo's bedroom - then destroys it in a Godzilla parody in order to feed his genetic needs. A red alien police ship in pursuit of Captain Gantu (Kevin Michael Richardson, "The Family Guy") sounds a warning with a horn that plays "La Cucaracha." Lilo, who sulks to the sounds of The King, promotes Elvis as model citizen to Stitch. In fact, "Lilo & Stitch" uses more Elvis tunes than any movie not starring the King himself.

The animation is terrific, from the colorful and original alien world to the full figured female Hawaiian characters. Surfing scenes feature realistic wave motion, aided by computer generation, as surely the gleaming hardwood floors were, seen during a fluid hula dance scene. Retro touches include a tank top burned tourist who can't quite finish his ice cream cone and the Barbie brats who 'nyah-nyah' the wrong ugly dog. Music is also key. Besides the prominence of Presley, island sounds are provided by the Kamehameka School Choir and Tia Carrere sings a touching Hawaiian lullaby.

From its space politics, where Grand Councilwoman (Zoe Caldwell, "The Purple Rose of Cairo") sentences based on an individual's worth to society, to its themes of broken homes forming wide-reaching families, "Lilo & Stitch" has something for everyone. Don't be a stupidhead - go see this engaging Disney delight.

Robin's Review: B+

A diminutive creature, dubbed Experiment 626, is brought before the Galactic Federation to be exiled for being an abomination. The product of genetic engineering by mad scientist Jumba (voice of David Ogden Stiers), the little guy is super strong, super smart, and super-destructive. The mutant critter escapes in an intergalactic police cruiser and jumps through hyperspace to Earth (specifically, Kauai Hawaii) where a lonely little girl named Lilo (voice of Daveigh Chase) adopts him, thinking the creature, now named Stitch, is a dog. But his mad creator is tasked with recapturing the fugitive and things get interesting in Disney's "Lilo & Stitch."

Lilo and her 19-year old sister Nani (voice of Tia Carrere) were orphaned not long ago when their parents went out one day for a drive and never returned. The two sisters have only each other, but Nani has a hard time holding down a job while raising Lilo, a none-too-easy task. They may not have much more than each other but even that is jeopardized when in intimidating-looking social worker, Cobra Bubbles (voice of Ving Rhames), tells Nina that she has just three days to get her act together or lose Lilo to a foster home. Complicating this is the younger sister's attachment to her new "dog," the destructive Stitch.

"Lolo & Stitch" is a pastiche of stories that the film's creators, Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois (the force behind Disney's "Mulan"), have woven together into an integrated fabric that ties everything together. Orphaned Lilo and Nina, when they are threatened with being separated, learn the importance of 'ohana - the Hawaiian concept of family. Escapee Stitch has never had a family but, through his exposure to little Lilo, he too learns the true meaning that familial love where "no one gets left behind." Cobra Bubbles' appearance at the sisters' front door bodes none too well as the state turns its eyes to Lilo and how she is being raised by Nina. There is also the interstellar hunt to bring Experiment 626 back to the Federation for permanent exile on a deserted asteroid.

With the recent "fad" of using computer-generated imagery (CGI) as a major, if not main, tool in creating animated features, it is kind of comforting (in a retro sense) to see a children's animation come out of Disney utilizing the tried-and-true, old-fashioned hand drawings. The traditional cel animation has a flat, two-dimensional quality that gives a completely different look from the "real" looking CGI. "Lilo & Stitch" benefits from the old-style anime by allowing the viewer to devote his/her attention to the story and characters and not the computer F/X. For the first time in about 60 years, watercolors are used for the background animation, giving the movie a throwback feel of classic Disney films like "Dumbo" and "Snow White."

The vocal talents behind the animated characters are first rate. Daveigh Chase puts an appropriately intelligent spin on Lilo without making the little girl too precocious. Tia Carrere does a solid job voicing the older sister, Nina, overwhelmed with the responsibility of raising her little sis. Ving Rhames is both menacing and amusing as an ex-CIA agent turned social worker. David Ogden Stiers puts an outrageous Russian accent on mad scientist Jumba and with his sidekick, Earth "expert" Pleakely (voice of Kevin McDonald), is out to capture Stitch and break up the struggling little family. Helmer Sanders gives voice to Stitch and, although the little critter doesn't say a lot, has an awful lot of character.

The story, by Sanders and LeBlois, is anything but retro from the opening scenes where Experiment 626 is brought before the collection of alien creatures that constitute the Galactic Federation. This changes gears, quickly, when the attention shifts to Hawaii and the very lonely little outcast, Lilo, a caring young lady who spends her extra money to feed the fish in the ocean. The tale that transpires is one of two worlds colliding in both an amusing and thoughtful way. In a major departure from the usual Randy Newman tunes that have become an almost mandatory musical staple for Disney animated flicks, the makers of "L&S" have opted to populate the musical interludes with none other than the songs of the King - Elvis! This throwback to the roots of rock 'n' roll is familiar, entertaining and befits the retro aspect of the movie. Six original Presley tunes, including "Hound Dog," "Blue Hawaii" and "Suspicious Minds," are complimented with cover versions of a couple of other Elvis songs.

The offbeat sci-fi adventure coupled with a quite touching story of family-lost/family-gained will appeal to a broad audience demographic, though the story is a little mature for the younger tykes to grasp. But, the wild and wacky title character, Stitch, will appeal to the little kids, making this a film for the whole family. Older audiences will have no problem embracing all of the characters and the offbeat humor.