Somewhere in the world outside the Magic Kingdom, there are bored people who decide that Disney's new animated comedy Lilo & Stitch is worth a small chunk of their hard-earned. What they discover is a very charming and funny movie, wherein a pug-nosed and pugnacious little Hawaiian girl bearing the boy's name of Lilo (voiced by Daveigh Chase) and her barely adult sister and guardian, Nani (Tia Carrere), accidentally adopt a massively destructive galactic mutant named Experiment 626 (co-director Christopher Michael Sanders), which they assume to be a weird dog, awarding it the unlikely moniker of Stitch. As the sisters' parentless home is threatened by a determined social worker named Cobra Bubbles (Ving Rhames) and Stitch is hunted by his literally four-eyed alien maker, Jumba Jookiba (Disney fave David Ogden Stiers), the audience is treated to copious giggles and insistent messages about the importance of family -- or, in Hawaiian, 'ohana.
Part manic Beavis, part obnoxious Shrek, not at all squishy E.T., and heir apparent to Taz, this Stitch creature is sure to be a hit with fans of pointless devastation (heck, he even looks like a cross between bin Laden and Bush). Happily, the fiendish "dog" is also at the center of a terrific tropical romp, sharing with Lilo a vastly creative territory seemingly untainted by studio megabucks or manipulative schmaltz. In truth, these two characters are simply the latest entries in the jam-packed cinema of outsiders -- she beats the crap out of a token white girl, and he wants to destroy San Francisco -- but their funky misadventures should surprise tech-heads who mistakenly believe that 2-D animation is running out of gas. The movie rolls out grandly.
With co-writer and director Dean DeBlois, Sanders ransacks popular culture to deliver a thoroughly modern fairy tale. Although there are loose associations to The Ugly Duckling (which becomes Stitch's bible), Lilo & Stitch is more concerned with blazing new ground than rehashing the overly familiar. There's genuine pathos to the familial squabbles, yet a scintillating supporting cast keeps the film's tender moments from becoming too moody. Looking like an antler-bedecked Kamino cloner from Star Wars Episode II, Grand Council Woman (Zoe Caldwell) delivers the icy authoritarianism of The Weakest Link's Anne Robinson. The standout is her whipping boy and Jumba's hapless sidekick, Pleakley (Kevin McDonald), basically a one-eyed interstellar dong who enjoys cross-dressing and believes Earth to be a wildlife preserve for mosquitoes.
As if it weren't already weird enough, Lilo & Stitch also wears its Elvis fetish with pride. Inexplicably, Lilo's mad for the King. Presley's songs are littered through the movie to amusing effect, but it's his iconic presence as a "model citizen" that strikes the deepest nerve, with Lilo desperate to find her inner King, a figure to give her hope and set her straight. When the chuckles subside, this slyly packaged show is all about integrity, identity, and community -- the goals of anyone who's all shook up.
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