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Movie Review

At Galactic Federation headquarters on planet Turo, a mad scientist stands trial for performing illegal genetic research. The product of his offense, "Experiment 626," is a vicious, blue, long-eared, four-armed, salivating beast programmed to destroy everything in its path. The scientist goes to jail. His creation gets banished to a deserted asteroid, but escapes in a stolen space ship and treks across the galaxy until his craft crash-lands in Hawaii. This critter is a mean, obnoxious, one-alien wrecking crew. And he’s not prepared to meet his match in Lilo, a plucky, tormented young Elvis fan coping with the loss of her parents. This good-hearted problem child spars regularly with Nani, her big sister who struggles to raise her alone (Lilo tells Nani, "I like you better as a sister than a mom").

Convinced that Lilo needs a friend, Nani takes her to the animal shelter where 626, acting like a sociopathic puppy dog, becomes their new pet. Lilo names him Stitch. Then chaos erupts like a bubbling volcano. Stitch acts out. The interstellar authorities close in. And with an intimidating social worker watching her every move, Nani must prove herself a worthy guardian or risk losing her baby sister. Fortunately, she has the support of a strapping young man named David. But what ultimately restores calm to their tropical paradise—and the universe—is the concept of "ohana," or family.

positive elements: Lilo and Nani live by the pro-family principle of "ohana," which demands that no one be left behind or forgotten. Such caring and self-sacrifice is extended to and eventually embraced by Stitch, despite the fact that he was designed exclusively for destruction ("I never gave him a greater purpose," says his creator, Jumba). The point is that people feeling depressed or recklessly disconnected simply need a place to belong and a sense of family. Lilo uses The Ugly Duckling to help Stitch understand that no matter how unattractive or undesirable someone is, they can always feel safe and accepted at home. Lilo concludes that her family—"little and broken" though it may be—is still good. After jumping a teasing classmate, Lilo apologizes for her hot-tempered response. Her prized possession is a photo of her and Nani with their parents. She encourages Stitch to put his talents to positive use ("You wreck everything you touch. Why not try to make something for a change"). There’s a playful jab directed at overzealous environmentalists when an alien, adamant that mosquitoes be protected as an endangered species, is overwhelmed by the little bloodsuckers. After Nani makes an angry, sarcastic comment devaluing her sister, Lilo’s response as they reconcile reveals the power of careless words taken at face value. Lilo and Nani grow in appreciation of one another, as evidenced by several tender scenes and Nani’s decision to let lonely sis have the dog of her choice. Hawaiians will enjoy seeing their culture���from surfing and luaus to traditional music and sunburned tourists—portrayed with affection. The film also esteems teamwork. Lilo and Stitch team up to thwart a bad guy. And several characters join forces for a daring rescue, and later reunite to rebuild a leveled abode.

spiritual content: Lilo kneels at her bedside to pray for a friend, and asks God to send a nice angel. Her theology is a mixed bag, however, as she also uses a book entitled "Practical Voodoo" to take revenge on kids who teased her. She fills a pickle jar with spoons doctored to represent her classmates and says menacingly, "My friends need to be punished." David’s surfboard sports a yin/yang symbol representative of Eastern religious philosophy.

sexual content: None, but some parents will be disappointed when Lilo informs David that her sister likes his "butt." They may also object to Nani’s tummy-baring outfits that, while fitting for the island culture, could be more modest.

violent content: Lots of action violence. The opening sequence finds Stitch and his foes firing laser guns at each other. That leads to cosmic combat between space ships and threatening moments once the battle reaches earth. An incredibly resilient Stitch gets run down by a truck, burned by rocket engines and blown sky high by several explosions. (Oddly enough, in one scene he nearly drowns.) Lilo responds to cruel words by punching and biting a peer. Lilo is dragged beneath the waves and later kidnapped by a large monster before being rescued. Nani and Lilo’s house is destroyed when aliens do battle inside. Stitch is prone to violent outbursts and all sorts of antisocial behavior, some mildly violent.

crude or profane language: The harshest language is the word "butt."

drug and alcohol content: None.

other negative elements: Parents of young children should be prepared to address the following: A depressed Lilo barricades herself in her room, cranks mournful Elvis tunes and tells Nani, "Leave me alone to die" (it’s played for a chuckle, but more than one young person has sought companionship in music that has only served to aggravate their emotional condition). The strong-willed Lilo refuses to eat her vegetables, yet disrespectfully demands dessert from her sister—and gets it. A black-and-white horror movie featuring a giant marauding spider plays on TV. Nani also refers to her boss as "a vampire [who] wanted me to join his legion of the undead." Young children are cruel to one another. Stitch sticks his tongue up one of his nostrils to extract snot.

conclusion: Last summer I spoke with Disney producer Don Hahn (The Lion King, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Beauty and the Beast) about his studio’s habit of turning its main characters into orphans. He said, "By not having a complete family, it represents a catalyst or a dramatic turning point that forces the character to grow up. . . . It’s that crossroads where we all have to decide if we’re going to mature or remain a kid forever. And the thing that gets that going in many of our stories is the absence of a parent or the death of a parent." He’s right, but it’s an overused device. Once again, audiences’ heartstrings are yanked with gusto when they learn that this poor little Hawaiian girl just recently lost her parents in a fatal car accident. It may serve the story. It may even lift the spirits of a child who has faced similar tragedy and realizes that they, too, can overcome desperate sadness and loss. But I’ve often wondered about the cumulative effect of these films on non-orphaned Disney fans, and whether they fear for Mom and Dad’s safety. Over time, they’re exposed to an inflated mortality rate that could create anxiety in some 5-year-olds, leading the most pragmatic tots to quote AFLAC commercials at the dinner table.

Deceased parents notwithstanding, Lilo & Stitch puts forth pro-family themes with relatively few unpleasant surprises. The film has raised some eyebrows for sporting a PG rating. Not to worry. Unlike Atlantis, there are no fatalities. And unlike other studios’ PG-tagged animated fare (Shrek, The Iron Giant, Titan A.E., The Road to El Dorado, etc.), language, off-color humor and subtle sexual references aren’t problems either. The extra caution is mainly for intense shoot-em-ups in outer space and some potentially frightening moments of peril.

From a technical standpoint, the movie is solid, though unspectacular. No eye-popping "deep canvas" wizardry (Tarzan) or ground-breaking computer animation (Monsters, Inc.). A few scenes integrate 3-D B-movie footage or still photography into a 2-D world, but for the most part Lilo & Stitch relies on a simple watercolor charm and sweet affection for the Hawaiian culture, which is manifest in both the film’s visuals and music. Not to mention that Elvis fans now have a Disney film to call their own. It’s certainly not the best effort the Mouse House has produced in recent memory, but Lilo & Stitch proves generally entertaining as it drives home the message that disenfranchised loners and juvenile delinquents can turn things around when they feel connected to a committed, loving family.


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