Lilo & Stitch is one of my favourite Disney movies, one that I think flew under a lot of people’s radars but deserves some special attention. It’s a fun watch that’s got some real jerks to the heartstrings, with its themes of family and inclusion.
Lilo is an orphaned 6 year old girl who is cared for by her older sister, Nani. Nani is struggling to fulfill the sudden role of parent and has social services breathing down her neck with the usual threats (Ving Rhames voices the social worker, although you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking the character bears a striking resemblance to the gangster he played in Pulp Fiction). Nani thinks that some joy and stability will be brought into the family if they adopt a dog, but the mutt they actually come home with is Stitch, not a puppy at all, but an alien genetic experiment who is so out of control he’s been banished to Earth.
Stitch does indeed wreak havoc in their lives, but he’s lovable and adorable and irresistible. So is Lilo, and if you give them a chance, this duo will definitely warm your heart.
The film takes place in Hawaii (on the island of Kauai, which is where Sean and I are today) and so of course it’s beautiful. The animated locations are real Hawaiian spots that I look forward to visiting. It looks so gorgeous because although it’s computer-coloured, it is indeed hand-drawn, and was the first Disney film since Dumbo to use watercolour-painted backgrounds. It was such a lost art that they had to train their artists in the technique, but the result is exactly what you’d want from a tropical paradise. The water scenes are particularly exceptional, and lots of their designs are consciously based on marine life, which keeps the subtle theme running throughout the film. Disney purposely wanted to make a throw-back film that would feel warm and old-fashioned (although it’s one of the rare Disney films that takes place in present day). You can see other shout-outs to bygone Disney traditions too – like some of Stitch’s fellow aliens, who look an awful lot like Piglet, and Tigger.
Lilo & Stitch was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animation but lost to Spirited Away, which is hard to argue. The same little girl who voiced Lilo (Daveigh Chase) also provided the dubbed voice in Spired Away. While Spirited Away is largely considered a modern day masterpiece that just happens to be animated, Lilo & Stitch is hands-down the one I’d rather rewatch, and a big part of that is the successful integration of lots of Hawaiian culture into the film. Although it’s scored by Alan Silvestri, he collaborated with Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu, a veritable hula master. It’s no coincidence that I’ve always treasured the soundtrack. Hula plays an important part in the film. To accurately capture the dance, Disney took their animators to a halau (a hula school) where they studied the techniques. An introductory hula dance is modeled in the film, and I look forward to seeing the real thing live at a luau tonight.