Sometimes a movie pops out of the great machine that doesn’t exactly fit with everything else the machine has made. What’s the usual template for a Disney movie? Singing, dancing, talking animals of some type, dead parent(s), sniggering villain…ok, well Lilo & Stitch hits 2 of those 5, but the lack of singing and dancing is probably the most notable part. Not that there isn’t any dancing at all as both films concentrate quite a bit of time on hula dancing, but there’s none of the usual opulent dance numbers or characters breaking into song at random times for seemingly no reason. Instead we get a tale of a misfit girl, her overwhelmed sister…and aliens. Lots and lots of aliens. No dance routines, no tales of love gained or lost, no random voice overs, no characters explaining how they feel through song. Just aliens and Hawaii. Eleven years after its initial release it still feels very fresh, which I suppose says a lot about the quality of animated movies in recent years.
Lilo & Stitch, for all of its sci-fi trappings and action pieces, is a story about family and how to cope when things don’t go so well. For a 6 year old girl, Lilo’s gone through a lot in her life and it shows in how she acts out at times and desperately craves attention at other times. She’s not just another one-note cipher for the film to hang its plot on like so many other films. All of her reactions feel real and honest. For that matter so do everyone else’s, aside from maybe David, the would-be parmour of Lilo’s older sister and substitute mom, Nani. David does feel a little bit like window dressing rather than a full fledged character, but that’s a very minor blemish on an otherwise sterling package. When Lilo and Nani fight, it feels real. When Lilo locks Nani out of the house using nails in the door, it still feels real if a little unlikely as it’s perfectly fitting for a character like Lilo to do that.
Thankfully Lilo & Stitch is also an exceptionally funny movie, largely due to David Ogden Stiers as the mad scientist pastiche named Jumba, Stitch’s erstwhile father of a sort, and Kids in the Hall alumnus Kevin McDonald as Pleakley, the unfortunate earth expert tasked with keeping Jumba on track when they get sent to earth to recover Stitch. And we haven’t even gotten to Stitch himself, a vaguely controllable ball of small scale wanton destruction who quickly finds that Hawaii is a lousy place to try and destroy anything. There just isn’t much to destroy when you’re not in Honolulu. Lilo’s rather off-kilter personality also figures very prominently, though the film never undercuts the fact that Lilo is a troubled young girl just for a cheap gag. Even the now famous “my doggie found the chainsaw” gag actually has real dramatic weight when the slapstick stops. Most of the movie’s drama comes in the form of a social worker with a very unusual past trying to look out for Lilo’s best interest, even if it means taking her away from Nani.
The animation is also amazingly gorgeous. The production crew utilized watercolor painted backgrounds exclusively for the film and the effect is amazing. Everything pops with an amazing amount of warmth and vibrancy. None of the characters look like they were imported from a different film, and everything moves with amazing fluidity. The surfing and swimming sequences in particular really stand out for their sparkling beauty. The film also utilizes some CGI, mostly for the spaceships, and those to work beautifully and blend in with the hand drawn animation exceptionally well without drawing attention to themselves like in some other productions. The vocal work is also exceptional, though if anyone can find a Disney animated film with bad voice work you have found something very very rare. In addition to a few licensed and well-used Elvis Presley songs (Lilo is a fan), the music is a mixture of your standard background music and some wonderful, original Hawaiian compositions.
I wish I had as many good things to say about Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch, but it’s just plain not as good. It’s not that the story it tells is bad per se, but it feels more like a really special episode of a television show rather than a full scale movie story. Instead of the original’s both expansive and very intimate story of galactic adventures and emotional bonding after tragedy, we get a very small story of Lilo trying to come up with a hula dance and Stitch having a breakdown due to an incident during his creation. It’s not that the writers’ hearts were in the wrong place, but they just didn’t seem to be able to come up an idea for the story that actually feels like a worthy successor to what came before. It’s a facsimile rather than an original product, and it shows. The animation also isn’t nearly as good. It’s not bad, but it’s lacking in the vibrancy of the original, and there is some very poorly integrated CGI that sticks out like a sore thumb.
This release being the Blu-ray set it looks absolutely gorgeous. The image for the Blu-ray disc is stunningly bright and vivid, and the sound is impeccable. There is one major flaw though. All of the bonus features are present only on the DVD discs, not the Blu-ray disc, which contains both movies and nothing else. Why go through the trouble of remastering the whole film and not include the already made bonus materials with the primary disc? The new release also doesn’t have all of the bonus features that the original DVD had, like the deleted scenes, a making of documentary, and some other stuff. Again, why? The only major bonus left on the new release is the commentary track on the original film featuring the director and several of the production staff. It’s a wonderful track, complete with them snarking on the A*Teens Elvis cover that plays over the end credits, but it even mentions the deleted scenes that you can’t actually see on this release. There’s basically no bonus features on Lilo & Stitch 2 other than a very short promo for the Lilo & Stitch television show disguised as a short film. So a very solid rap on the knuckles to Disney for releasing this set without all of the bonus features, but a solid thumbs up for finally getting a Blu-ray out to showcase these films the way they were meant to be seen.