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.