In 10 Words or Less
Sweet animated stories about aliens, family and Elvis
Likes: Hand-drawn animation
Dislikes: Most of Disney's late-'90s/late-'00s output
Hates: Forced DVD purchases, missing extras
Unlike most of Disney's output at the time of the rise of Pixar, I actually did see Lilo & Stitch when it came out, mostly because it didn't look or feel like the other Disney animated films of the time, which were either firmly holding onto the animated musical concept or were attempting (poorly) to beat Pixar at its own CG game. This story of a rambunctious little blue alien and his rambunctious little Hawaiian pal was just not cut from the same cloth, and as a result, it stood out from the pack, making it the only really memorable Disney animated film from the 10 years before John Lasseter took over and turned things around in a big way.
Part of what makes the story of Lilo and Stitch so different is the depth of the plot, as Lilo (Daveigh Chase), the little Hawaiian girl befriends an exiled alien menace, sent to while away his existence on Earth. Living under the care of her sister Nani (Tia Carerre), Lilo is a dark soul, obsessed with death and Elvis, generally being anti-social, following the passing of her parents. Nani struggles to act as a single parent and Lilo is often getting into trouble, which results in a visit from child protective services in the form of the dark-suited Mr. Bubbles (Ving Rhames), who threatens to take Lilo away if she can't take care of her properly.
The film's core theme is family, or ohana in Hawaiian, as the two main characters are both "orphaned" and are both pursued by forces looking to take them away, including a crew of aliens seeking to recapture the runaway Stitch (played by David Ogden Stiers and Kevin McDonald.) This theme makes the film exceedingly touching, if not heart-wrenching at times, as the sadness of their situations can be a bit overwhelming, amplified by the exceeding cuteness and expressive faces of Lilo and Stitch (especially the alien, whose limited communication skills make him all the more adorable and childlike.) At the same time, the more depressing elements make any successes on our heroes' part all the more meaningful.
Though much of the film explores the emotional connections between Lilo and Nani and Lilo and Stitch, there's a healthy amount of action as well, with the aliens' pursuit of Stitch resulting in several chase scenes, including a climactic one that puts a nice capper on the film, tying together the films subplots neatly. The structure is pretty much perfect, moving from excitement to pathos to comedy with the ease of a good action comedy. It also makes terrific use of music and Hawaiian culture to give the film a uniqueness that serves it well, be it Lilo's love of the music of Elvis Presley (which comes into play several times) or the hauntingly beautiful Hawaiian songs and dance portrayed faithfully by the film's creators. There's a lot going on in Lilo and Stitch that might be a bit incongruous, but it all comes together in the end to craft a film likely to entertain everyone in the room.
Now, Disney can definitely be accused of grabbing for cash with its direct-to-video sequels (or even some that make it to theaters, like Cars 2 or the forthcoming non-Pixar Pixar spin-off Planes) but when it comes to Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch there's a lot less to complain about than with other sequels of its ilk. Yes, it barely qualifies as a film, checking in at just 68 minutes, and sure, it doesn't return the original's entire cast (Lilo is now voiced by Dakota Fanning; a decent, if somewhat lackluster understudy) but it's otherwise an enjoyable second go-round, capturing some of the same energy as the original, in a smaller serving size.
This time, following the events of the first film, Stitch is firmly ensconced in the lives of Lilo and Nani, with his creator Jumba and administrator Pleakley involved as well. But after becoming a part of the family, suddenly Stitch is starting to act up, randomly destroying things and even hurting Lilo at one point. The problem lies in the story of Stitch's creation, and Jumba is the only one who can help him, if they can figure out how to fix him. Unfortunately, it's hard for Lilo to get over what she sees as the betrayal of Stitch's behavior.
The plot is far simpler in this sequel, and the scope far smaller, but the level of drama is certainly as high, with a few moments that could possibly scar younger viewers with their intensity. With a compressed amount of time, the flow of the film isn't quite as natural as with the previous movie, and the opportunities for comedic moments are much slimmer, which makes it less of a good time, even if the energy is still high thanks to the manic fits Stitch takes. If anything, this is more of a sequel for older viewers interested in the emotional bond between Lilo and Stitch, than the little ones who enjoyed the cute nature of the characters.
The two Stitch movies arrive in a three-disc set, two DVDs (one for each film) and a Blu-Ray (with both films), which are packed in a standard-width, dual-hubbed Blu-Ray keepcase with an embossed slipcover. (Note that that is three discs in a dual-hubbed case, so the two DVDs are stacked on one hub, a trend with Disney releases.) The Blu-ray features a static menu offering options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the extras (though only on the DVDs, as the Blu-ray offers no bonus content.) Audio options include English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0, and Spanish, French, Portuguese and Russian Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, while subtles are available in English SDH, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian.
Both films are presented with impressive 1080p, AVC-encoded transfers that reproduce the films' beautiful Hawaiian color schemes faithfully, delivering all the vibrant colors without issue. While the second film doesn't look as gorgeous as the first, as the watercolor work on the backgrounds wasn't repeated in the direct-to-video sequel, it's not nearly the drop in quality some other cheapy follow-ups experienced, and a high level of fine detail makes all that work show through. Outlines don't suffer from noticeable pixelation and there are no obvious issues with digital distractions or other problems for that matter. These movies both look terrific.
(It's worth noting that the adult female characters in these films, like Nani and the lifeguard, have a unique body shape not often seen on women in animated films, almost Robert Crumb-like in the depiction of their legs, and they lend themselves to a more naturalistic movement in the animation. It's not really a matter of quality, but it is something interesting about the film visually. )
Like the visuals, the audio dips a bit between films, but even so, neither film disappoints with DTS-HS Master Audio 5.1 tracks, which offer plenty to like, including clear dialogue, engaging music and quality implementation of the surrounds and low-end. The first film though sports a fantastic sound design that really enhances the home theater experience, with lots of work in the side and rear channels to move dialogue and sound effectd around the soundfield and boost the music to help make the most of the score and Elvis-heavy soundtrack. If you've experienced Stitch's Great Escape at Walt Disney World, you have an idea of the immersive experience this Blu-ray offers in terms of the audio.
The extras for the first film start with an audio commentary by directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois and producer Clark Spencer (unbilled in the menu.) They offer plenty of detail about the origins of the film, notes about changes that were made along the way and their thoughts about the film, including stories about the cast, such as how Carerre caught their eye for the role of Nani. It's a very friendly and laid-back commentary, and covers pretty much anything you might want to know about the making of the film.
Hopefully that's as in-depth as you wanted to go in terms of the making of the movie, as the terrific two-hour-plus documentary on the making of the film that was on the Big Wave Edition DVD release is MIA here (perhaps the fact that the lead duo is now plying their trade at Dreamworks Animation has something to do with that.) The thing is though, the entire second disc has been jettisoned, which means you're missing out on not only that unique and very personal look behind the scenes, but also nearly 22-minutes of deleted scenes that were on that disc, some of which had to be reworked due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks (as well as the reality that several of them were simply too intense for a kids movie.) Losing these extras is a major disappointment for any real animation buff.
What's left behind starts with a music video for the kiddie-choir island song "Your Ohana" is made up of clip from the film, and doesn't do much as a song or a visual representation. The music in the film gets a further highlight in a 1:32 look at Wynonna Judd's cover of Elvis' "Burning Love" for the end of the movie, and a 1:03 clip of "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You," as performed by the one-time Abba tribute act the A-Teens. Why it's so short is unclear though.
There's a trio of set-top games under the "Lilo & Stitch's Island of Adventure" banner. Gekko Race, Hamsterviel's Coconut Shell Game and Hamsterviel's Experiment Match Game are straightforward watch-and-pick games, so they will be fun for younger viewers (though the experiment "reward" is a bit confusing.) For more games, check out "Create Your Own Alien Experiment Game," where you answer questions about the movie and do some matching to create new aliens.
"A Stitch in Time - Follow Stitch Through the Disney Years" is a short (3:32) featurette that places Stitch into still scenes from classic Disney films. It's an amusing idea and the imagery is certainly cute, but the very low-budget animation used is so bad for a company like Disney. It would have been fun to see them insert the little monster into some more obscure films or actually animate him into a film or two, a fact proven true by the "Inter-Stitch-als" a quartet of trailers that parody some of the biggest modern Disney animated musicals, including Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, and do it very well.
The film's Hawaiian theme continues into DisneyPedia: Hawaii - The Islands of Aloha . Choose an island and you're treated to video and narration by Lilo and her mom, which fills you in on plenty of Hawaiian trivia and vocabulary. For someone less knowledgeable about Hawaii, it's pretty interesting stuff. There's also a 3:37 featurette on hula dancing, with an expert who consulted on the film explaining and illustrating (with the help of his class) the basics of the art. There's more about the dance in the 3:05 "Animating the Hulu," covering the effort to be authentic and reverential toward the hula tradition, with split-screen comparisons of the animation and reference videos.
Extras for the second film are far more limited, with the biggest being a short titled "The Origins of Stitch" (4:38). It's an odd idea for a short, since the creature's origins have been covered in the first film and are the core of the second film, but here we go again, with Jumba explaining to Stitch how he came to be. The short was made with a limited style of animation (a bit more involved than a motion comic) and it doesn't offer a whole lot to fans of the films.
Beyond that, there's a beach-themed music video (3:17) for "Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride," a cover of a song from the first film by a teen group called Jump5, along with a pair of set-top games and activities, including "Where's Pleakley?" a spot-and-click game, and "Jumba's Experiment Profiler," where you identify other creations from Jumba, based on clues provided. They are a touch more involved than the games for the first film, but only slightly.
The Bottom Line
After watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame and rewatching Lilo and Stitch for the first time since it came out, it's pretty clear the early days of Pixar were not all bad at Disney prime, as creativity still ran rampant at the Mouse House (with a few notable exceptions.) This set is solid and beautiful, yet oddly constructed, thanks to Disney forcing made-for-video sequels onto our shelves with their recent second-tier Blu-ray sets (though thankfully the second film here isn't half bad.) The absence of some key extras is a disappointment though, so hold onto your Big Wave edition DVDs if you upgrade to this two-film collection for the leap in audio/video quality.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.