THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Animated films from Walt Disney Pictures always attract attention. The release of a new Disney epic every summer is an expected part of the moviegoing season. And over the years, the studio has perfected a formula. Recent years have seen that formula falter, though. Whereas The Lion King roared to over $300 million, last summer's Atlantis: The Lost Empire didn't even cross the $100 million mark (I thought it was vastly underrated, but that's beside the point). This season, Disney breaks from its formula to give us Lilo & Stitch.

What's different? Well, for starters, this is a wholly original story, not based on any existing fairy tale, fable, or historical event. Second, the animation is looser, funkier, and more playful. Third, the emotional quality evident in all Disney movies is matched here by a raucous sense of humor.

The story begins on a distant planet where a crazed scientist has created something known as "Experiment 626" - a genetically altered being designed with an anarchic spirit. The little thing is blue, with pointy ears, sharp teeth, and four arms, each possessing a nasty set of claws. Experiment 626 is designed to wreak havoc on anything it comes in contact with. Best of all, it is virtually indestructible.

A young Hawaiian girl named Lilo, her sister Nani, and their "dog" Stitch escape their troubles by catching a wave.
Fearing potential consequences, the leaders send the creature into exile, but it escapes and makes its way to Earth instead. It lands on a small Hawaiian island and, upon ending up in a local pound, disguises itself as a dog. Meanwhile, we meet a young girl named Lilo. She is an orphan, cared for by her older sister Nani. A social worker named Mr. Bubbles keeps a close eye on the situation and doesn't like what he sees. Nani is unable to keep reins on the rambunctious, defiant Lilo. When her peers reject her, Lilo decides she needs a pet and adopts 626, which she dubs Stitch. Rather than making life more peaceful, Stitch does nothing but create more problems for the family.

Lilo & Stitch has lots of very funny scenes in which the alien gets into trouble, wrecking everything in his path. At the same time, it draws a somewhat serious parallel between him and the girl. Both are struggling to survive in a world that is not equipped to handle them (and, perhaps, vice versa). The movie has a message about families: your family consists of anyone who supports you, looks out for you, and stands by you. It is a lesson both the titular characters learn by the end.

I laughed a lot at the film. It has an infectiously rowdy sense of humor that sets it apart from the sometimes cutesy comedic elements of other Disney pictures. The fact that one of the characters is patently evil provides for some original moments. Stitch eventually does become lovable, but basically he's still ugly and mean. That's a nice change of pace.

Best of all, the film revels in its comedy but still earns its emotions. Instead of being sentimental or too serious, it takes an edgier approach. Lilo is basically a kid with Oppositional Defiant Disorder; Stitch is, for all intents and purproses, a sociopath. That they discover the meaning of love together - and grow in the process - is an example of the movie's charm. No matter how wild a child (or an alien) might be, every single one of them needs to be cared for. Lilo & Stitch made me laugh like crazy, then left me with a little lump in my throat when it was over. This is the traditional Disney magic wrapped in a wonderfully original and imaginative new package.

( 1/2 out of four)

Lilo & Stitch is rated PG for mild sci-fi action. The running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.

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