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"LILO & STITCH"
(2002) (voices of Daveigh Chase, Tia Carrere) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Animated Sci-Fi: A young and parentless girl adopts a "dog" from the local pound, completely unaware that it's supposedly a dangerous scientific experiment that's taken refuge on Earth and is now hiding from its creator and those who see it as a menace.
PLOT:
On the planet Turo, slightly mad scientist Jumba Jookiba (voice of DAVID OGDEN STIERS) has created Experiment 626 (voice of CHRIS SANDERS), a small but deceptively dangerous monster whose sole design is to destroy everything with which he comes into contact. Grand Councilwoman (voice of ZOE CALDWELL), Captain Gantu (voice of KEVIN MICHAEL RICHARDSON), and the rest of the Intergalactic Federation are so aghast at the creature that they order it to be exiled on a desolate asteroid.

Unfortunately for them, the resourceful creature manages to escape his prison transport, steal a spacecraft and uncontrollably leap into hyper-drive, thus eluding his pursuers. 626 then ends up headed toward Earth where he lands in Hawaii. Accordingly, The Grand Councilwoman orders her assistant, Pleakley (voice of KEVIN McDONALD) - whose knowledge of Earth is limited to the fact that it's a restoration habitat for mosquitoes and that humans are not to be harmed because they're part of the food chain - to assist Jumba in retrieving 626.

Meanwhile on Earth, another little troublemaker is creating havoc, but this time around it's Lilo (voice of DAVEIGH CHASE) a young outcast who's being raised by her older sister Nani (voice of TIA CARRERE) after the untimely deaths of their parents. Pressured by social worker Cobra Bubbles (voice of VING RHAMES) to prove that Lilo is getting the best care possible, Nani tries to do that, but the little girl continually makes things difficult for her.

After crash-landing on the island and being captured by animal control, 626 realizes he must change his appearance so as to look less menacing, although he still scares the other dogs in the pound. It's there that Lilo adopts and names the extraterrestrial "Stitch." As the creature tries to maintain a low profile and avoid being detected by Pleakley and Jumba, he still manages to hang out with Nani's friend, David (voice of JASON SCOTT LEE), while also creating his own form of havoc.

That eventually endangers Nani's efforts to keep Lilo with her. From that point on and as Captain Gantu is sent in to assist in capturing him, Stitch finds himself feeling as if he has a family for the first time and does what he must to preserve it.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
According to my knowledge of the English language and its slang, a stitch can be a connective thread used to hold fabric together, a medical material used to close open wounds, a kink or pain in one's side, or a mischievous or funny character.

In Disney's "Lilo & Stitch," one half of that title pairing is an extraterrestrial who fits parts of those descriptions, but is otherwise hard to describe, at least visually. Cute but ugly, and at times possessing two extra arms, antennae and blue skin, the little fella - possibly a distant cousin of Gizmo and the other Gremlins -- could be a big hit in the stuffed character department. He certainly becomes that in the heart and mind of the other half of the title, a young Hawaiian outcast who needs his connective and remedial qualities.

Together they make up an animated film that rings of Disney, yet then again doesn't, but surprisingly comes off as rather entertaining and enjoyable to behold. I say surprisingly since the ad campaign for this film didn't leave me particularly desirous to see it. It certainly didn't cause me to expect much from it beyond what looked to be a kid-based cartoon with an apparently annoying space creature and a sappy plot ripped off from "E.T." and/or "The Iron Giant."

The films do share similar plots with a kid befriending an out of this world being, hanging out with him and introducing him to American culture, and then having to deal with others who want to capture and take him away.

As written by Chris Sanders ("Mulan") who co-directs with Dean Deblois (making his debut), the picture also contains various other similar elements (although they obviously differ in specifics) including the fractured family unit (both parents are gone here rather than just one), scenes of the alien doing unique things with everyday items, and a heartwarming turn of events based on the human and non-human bonding.

Despite the similarities, the films are still different enough to stand on their own, and each works rather well in their own light. Even so, it's not very likely that this one will be regarded as a classic like Spielberg's 1982 effort, and Disney bean counters are probably anxious that it doesn't repeat the surprisingly poor box office returns of "The Iron Giant."

Eschewing computer-animated imagery for the more traditional and even old-fashioned looking hand drawn style that's not striving for realism but is nevertheless visually pleasant to behold, the film offers equal parts drama, action and humor. Due to the decent execution of all three elements, the picture should easily please the little ones while thankfully also offering enough material to engage older viewers.

The film's humor is what works best, with various bits being rather amusing when not coming off as quite funny. Whether it's the record player scene showcased in the commercials (where Elvis Pressley's "Hound Dog" plays from the alien's mouth when his claw is placed on the spinning record) or the funny spoof of Godzilla type monster flicks, the film is near constantly entertaining. That, and the creature's mischievous behavior fulfill that part of the stitch definition quotient.

The rest comes from the uplifting moments where the alien inadvertently heals and binds Lilo's fractured family and life. While such material could have been sappy, mawkish and manipulative - and to some viewers it may come off exactly that way - it thankfully didn't reek of such attributes or feel too heavy-handed to yours truly.

Like most other recent animated efforts, this one continues the trend of shying away from the musical numbers that fueled so many of the Mouse House's previous big hits. Beyond Disney cartoon regular David Ogden Stiers ("Atlantis: The Lost Empire," "Beauty and the Beast") and the recognizable voice of Ving Rhames ("Mission: Impossible II," "Out of Sight"), the rest of the vocal talent isn't easy to identify.

That's actually a good thing since it allows the characters to stand on their own without any aural reminders of who's voicing them. While writer/director Chris Sanders doesn't get a great deal of dialogue as the vocally strained Stitch (possibly to the relief of some parents who could have easily grown tired of the cutesy sounds emanating from the alien's mouth), Daveigh Chase ("A.I." "Donnie Darko") and Tia Carrere ("True Lies," the "Wayne's World" films) do fine jobs voicing their orphaned sister characters.

Kevin McDonald ("The Ladies Man," "Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy"), Zoe Caldwell ("The Purple Rose of Cairo") and Jason Scott Lee ("Soldier," "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story") round out the other major characters and all do fine work.

Despite the story similarities to past films, the old-fashioned animation style that might not impress or please those looking for state of the art drawings, and the title character that's decidedly not what you'd imagine when you think of lovable Disney cartoon characters, the film nevertheless manages to exude enough charm and enjoyable fun to earn a recommendation. Nothing great and certainly not a classic, but nevertheless entertaining enough, "Lilo & Stitch" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed June 15, 2002 / Posted June 21, 2002


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