Ranking the Disney Canon – 25: Lilo and Stitch

“This is my family. I found it, all on my own. Is little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good.” – Stitch

Here we are folks. The Top 25. I’ve been saying for a while that we’ve already seen a ton of great Disney films, but now we are approaching the best of the best. The top half of the canon is chock full of absolutely classic films. The list is going to be fantastic. Personally, I can’t wait for the top 15, but we have a bit to go before we get there. Ready to dive in? I certainly am!

Lilo and Stich was released in 2002, in between Atlantis and Treasure Planet. Like those two films, Lilo and Stitch contained science fiction elements. (In fact, all of the Disney Animated films with Science Fiction elements come in the post 1990s era, so far 5 in total, which isn’t very surprising when you actually put thought into it.) Lilo and Stitch is the only one of these films to become wildly popular, with theme park rides (not necessarily good rides, but rides nonetheless), television shows, and tons of merchandise coming from this film, particularly involving our crazy, titular alien Stitch.

The story begins with Jumba Jookiba, a brilliant but misguided alien scientist, being sentenced to prison for creating genetic experiments, in particular his latest creation, Experiment 626. 626 is planned to be deserted on an asteroid, but the clever creatures manages to escape to the Planet Earth. Jumba is let out of prison and is ordered by the head galactic government, The Grand Councilwoman, to recapture Stitch with the help of clumsy Earth expert Agent Pleakley. Stitch lands in Hawaii, but is knocked unconscious by a truck and is taken to the local Dog Pound. There, he is adopted by Lilo, a young girl who recently lost her parents and is now being taken care of by her sister Nani. As Nani fights for the custody of Lilo, Lilo attempts to curve Stich’s aggression and make him in a good “pet.” Meanwhile, Pleakley and Jumba search for Stich, while facing pressure from the powerful and large Captain Gantu.

STRENGTHS

We’ve seen that relationships are important in creating a great Disney film, and with the film being titled Lilo and Stitch, the relationship has to be great in order for the film to work. Luckily, the relationship between Lilo and Stitch is one of the true modern classics. The owner-pet dynamic that Lilo sets up is an interesting one, and the growth between the two characters is extremely noticeable. The care that the two characters have for each other is apparent, especially Lilo’s initial care for Stitch. Lilo’s pure love and Stitch’s desire to destroy creates a perfect contrast and a perfect opportunity for the characters to grow.

Stitch is certainly one of the biggest, if not the biggest, breakout character to come out of the Disney studio in the past 10 years, and there’s good reason for it. While I admit he’s been overplayed with all of the different media he has been in, in this film he is a fantastic character in his purest form. I love Stitch’s antics in this film, and he has a fantastic character arc. His battle against his own nature and the building of his relationship with Lilo is fantastically done and makes for an interesting story. The progression is natural, and his fascination with the aspect of Ohana and the relationships Lilo actually comes unexpectedly but does wonders in giving an emotional core to a character who could have become a stale character fast. The way Stitch’s abilities are built up in particular are a favorite part of the film for me. The opening 5 minutes that details Stitch’s escape from his holding is amazing, and gives us a great sense of the character’s intelligence as well as his brute force and strength.

In order for Stitch to be good, Lilo has to be strong as well. And she is. Lilo has a purity about her that works, yet has the struggles that allow her to feel real at the same time. It’s clear that she needs Stitch as much as he needs her, and that’s great for engaging the audience in her story when Stitch becomes the main attraction. Lilo is cute and huggable, which is exactly what she needs to be. The fact that she is a good character adds so much to the Lilo/Stitch sections of the film.

Lilo and Stitch are not the only good characters in this film. In fact, I am as huge a fan of Jumba and Pleakley as I am for Lilo and Stitch. Jumba has some interesting moments as a scientist who is as interested in observing the actions of his creation as he is in recapturing it. It makes him more than just an obstacle, and really makes him more of a scientist than some other scientist characters I’ve seen. Pleakley, though, is a personal favorite of mine from this movie. His view of Earth and his fascination with the planet is unique and really fun, and he presents some high forms of comedy here. It’s really great that Pleakley and Jumba work very well as their own characters, yet they also play off each other very well. They aren’t a one trick duo.

Finally, I think the Hawaii setting is great for the film, not only for plot convenience, but also for design. The film’s stylization of Hawaii is really neat, and it does so in a way that the aliens never seem out of place within the film. I don’t know if this works in any other American setting. The Hawaiian setting in used to the fullest effect and actually factors into the plot rather than just being there for the beauty of it.

WEAKNESSES

For all the relationship strengths in this film, unfortunately, there is one weaker one: The Nani/Lilo relationship. It eventually becomes good, but it gets off to a rocky start. We’re not given a ton of set up for Lilo, like we are for Stitch’s story, and so their fighting and Lilo messing with Cobra Bubbles at the beginning does not make a lot of sense. It doesn’t seem natural for Lilo to be acting like that around the social worker and her sister, especially since there is no hint of this type of relationship between them for the rest of the film. Yes, I understand that Lilo is frustrated with her lack of friends, but there is still no reason given for her to be acting like this towards a sister whom she clearly cares about and a sister she wouldn’t want to be taken away from. The relationship fixes itself and becomes good as the film progresses, but there is a sense that the film has to play catch-up since the opening section of it is so weak.

The fact that Lilo digs herself into a hole with the social worker to begin with slightly takes away from the eventual blame of Stitch. Stitch should be the full reason that the Cobra mistakes them for a broken family. But instead, Lilo is what gives him that view, and Stitch just contributes to it. In fact, thinking about it, that opening part of Lilo’s story doesn’t do much of anything for the film at all. Sure, it establishes some parts of Lilo’s character, but a calmer sequence could have been just as effective and not brought up the issues that the current sequence has.

There are the ocassional characters I wish had more of presence. Cobra Bubbles just bothers me as a character. It may come from the fact that his final revelation that he saved the world from aliens once, while funny and sort of awesome (I’ve always wished to see the spinoff film of these events.), makes the character he was built up as seem unbelievable. I just don’t see him being dumb enough to see that all of the mistakes that happens between Lilo, Nani, and Stitch be Nani’s fault, especially in the opening sequence, and especially after he met Stitch for the first time. I also wish Gantu was more present in the film. I really like him as a character, but he is barely on-screen. I think there was a lot you could have done with the character within the film.

In fact, I wish that the Space Government had a bit more appearence in the film as well. It didn’t need to be a big sequence, but the film could have use a small scene in the middle of the film back at the HQ with Gantu and the crew. It would have added more of those characters, and a bit of a change of pace for the film.

(Also, Why does everyone have just a low key reaction to the fact that ALIENS EXIST? Everyone is like “Oh, OK, there is a giant Alien walking through here. No problem.”)

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

I’m a huge fan of the sequence in which Jumba attempts to capture Stitch in Lilo’s house. It’s everything the is great about the film in one sequence: The characters, the humor, the sci-fi, and even the emotional beat afterwards.

The best song? Well, I could pick an Elvis song, but I like to highlight original songs unless they don’t exist in the film. In this case, Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride is my choice.

CLOSING COMMENTS

This post is already long enough, so I’ll make this short. Lilo and Stitch is a very entertaining film with a couple of great break out characters and great humor. Even if you’ve felt the Stitch burnout like I have, I don’t think you can deny that this film does a lot right, not just with that character, but throughout the entire film. The top 25 is upon us, and we’re only just beginning.

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2 thoughts on “Ranking the Disney Canon – 25: Lilo and Stitch

  1. A film like Lilo & Stitch truly grew on me since I first saw this movie in theaters, with the ‘series’ and various sequels only adding to that. It has much that I love in these movies: Awesome sci-fi references, great characters, heart mixed with the comedy, and not many Disney films I know are set in Hawaii. As I was born with a bit of a Hawaiian background in my family, my first trip to the islands proved to be one of the biggest moments in my life. Not just surfing along the Hawaiian beaches or the luaus or even snorkeling along the reefs, but the fact it helps me to understand the culture in one of the few adventures I can have outside my state. Which is just how I feel with a film like Lilo & Stitch: An epic adventure from start to finish.

    I will admit, however, that I haven’t kept track on the franchise much following a previous animated series list. But at the time, I did enjoy what the franchise itself could offer. I watched the first film numerous times (Even sung ‘Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride’ with my Chorus group in high school), watched nearly every episode of the ‘Lilo & Stitch’ series, took part in the ride they have in Orlando, and while some of the sequels had a few issues there were plenty of moments I did enjoy from them. So all and all, Lilo & Stitch is a great film to watch for anyone who loves Disney, is a fan of the sci-fi stuff, and seeks a way to feel like their in Hawaii. It’s highly recommended.

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