|Lilo and Stitch
by Stephen Notley
Wow, is Disney animation ever a dead dog. You can jab it with jumper cables, make it twitch, but baby, that dog is down for good.
Maybe that's a little harsh, but it's kinda sad to go to Disney's latest, Lilo and Stitch, and almost fall asleep. There was a time when Disney animation meant top of the medium, Academy Award-nominated stuff. Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Alladin... these are high-quality motion pictures, here. Now even the formula is broken.
The advertising for Lilo and Stitich seems to be trying to sell the idea that this is a new Disney, with "attitude". Don't believe it. From the beginning, when we see the alien headquarters crewed by cutesy little armadillo-oids, this is supposed to be soft, mild stuff aimed only at kids.
Well, duh, one might say; this *is* a movie for kids. And, to be fair, really little kids, like pre-5, may coo and giggle. But given the history of Disney films, and animated films lately in general, there's just no excuse for a kids' story to be limp or boring. Children's movies don't have a lower standard for storytelling; it's not like they can just ignore dramatic motivations and character arcs. Well, they can, but they shouldn't, and when they do, as in Lilo and Stitch, you get a movie that hits a fairly low energy and intensity level and just stays there.
The story is basically E.T., except E.T. is Stitch, a gentically engineered space monster, and Elliot is Lilo, a little Hawaian girl. The funny twist is supposed to be that Stitch is programmed for destruction, to destroy whole cities, but he's hiding out as a little girl's weird dog. Which could be funny, except he barely does anything. He crash lands on Earth, finds out there aren't any cities around, and seems to shrug his shoulders and go "Well, might as well hang out and do Elvis impersonations."
There's no grit, no teeth, no sense of menace --even comic menace-- to Stitch. He comes from a long line of nonverbal Disney characters, so he's got plenty of twitch and stare and growly noises, but as a character, he's just not interesting. For all his gentically engineered killing apparatus, his monsterliness seems to mostly involve some very mild bad-dog antics, like ripping pages out of books. He's so cute and obviously harmless and aw-shucks from the beginning, there's just no tension, nowhere for the story to go.
So, instead, we see Lilo's older sister Nani knock heads with a social services agent who wants to take Lilo away. We see a couple of bumbling aliens hang out and sort-of try to capture Stitch. We see Lilo and Stitch doing improv dance numbers. People seem to be rejoicing over the fact that Lilo and Stitch has no musical numbers, but here it feels like there should have been some, but aren't, as when after a long day of plot-critical job-searching, everybody takes five and goes surfing.
Parents looking for something soft and distracting could do worse than
to tranquilize their young'ns with Lilo and Stitch, I suppose. But frankly,
they could do better, like by renting The Iron Giant, say, or Monsters
Inc. Why not just do that instead?