If any genre of film has gone through a revolution in the past few years, it's animation. Computers have aided animated features in looking even sleeker and more life-like ("Final Fantasy: Spirits Within"), while filmmakers have come up with stories that supply greater wit ("Ice Age", "Shrek") and enough laughs for both kids and adults.
Disney, formerly regarded as the reigning king of animation, has found its grasp begin to crumble over the years. Dreamworks hit hard with "Antz", "Prince of Egypt" and "Shrek", while Fox's zippy "Ice Age" racked up incredible grosses earlier this year. While Disney had a smash hit with Pixar's "Monster's, Inc" last Fall, I don't think they're going to find nearly the same success with their Summer feature, "Lilo and Stitch".
The animated feature revolves around Lilo (Daveigh Chase), a Hawaiian girl who lives with her older sister, Nani (Tia Carrere). The opening takes place on a far-away planet, where scientist Jumba (David Ogden Stiers) has created a top-secret experiment - a little creature (who looks like a stray Pokemon) that's bulletproof, destructive and can think faster than a supercomputer. The galactic counsel doesn't agree with the creation of the creature, sending the creator to jail and deciding to send the creature into space. Things don't go as planned and the creature shoots off towards Earth - it lands in Hawaii and finds that its defenses don't work too well and that it can't get off the island.
The creature wakes up in a dog pound, where he realizes that his creator and another alien are after him. Seeing Lilo (who names him Stitch - I'm still not sure why) and evaluating his situation, he goes home with the girl and her older sister, who aren't sure what kind of "dog" they've picked up. Once they get home, their current trouble (a social worker voiced by Ving Rhames) is doubled by the destructive Stitch.
"Lilo and Stitch" does get across the occasional witty line of dialogue and some funny little expressions from Stitch, but there's a lot that I found fault with in the film. I'm all for family/children's films presenting a message for the audience - "Spy Kids" and "Ice Age" presented audiences with the importance of family without forcing it. However, I've never seen anything like "Lilo and Stitch", which starts to get to a point where every scene seems to end with the characters discussing the importance of a family.
The other main fault of the movie is that there's not enough for the characters to do. Most scenes involve either Stitch being chased or Stitch breaking something, which gets old awfully quickly. The story's uneasy switching back-and-forth between the slapstick comedy of Stitch breaking something new and manipulative drama of the possibility of Lilo being taken away doesn't work particularly well, either. Although it's presented as a comedy in the ads, there's enough melodrama in the film to potentially bore children seeking light entertainment.
Kids who have become accustomed to the flashy computer animation that has built pictures like "Toy Story" and "Shrek" will also be disapointed with "Lilo and Stitch", whose hand-drawn animation is colorful, but also looks flat and lacks much detail. It essentially appears a couple of steps above Saturday morning cartoons, which leads me to wonder why Disney didn't release this as one of their many direct-to-video titles.
I've enjoyed many of the recent animated titles in theaters - I loved "Ice Age", enjoyed "Monsters, Inc." and thought "Shrek" was terrific. Although "Lilo and Stitch" lacks the sleek look of those films, it also misses the most important pieces - compelling characters, good voice-work, sharp humor and at least a fair amount of story. Wait to rent it.