Okay this isn’t a John Musker/Ron Clements movie and it came out before the Disney Revival, but since it’s the first Disney movie set in Polynesia with Polynesian characters, I thought it was appropriate to review this before Moana.
In the early 2000’s, Walt Disney Animation Studios was in a rut. With the rise of CG animation with Pixar and DreamWorks, Disney was struggling to keep their oldest and dearest studio relevant. Ultimately, a lot of movies released before the 2010’s turned out to be disappointments at best, bombs at worst, with one major exception: Lilo & Stitch.
With a small budget of only $80 million and earning a healthy $273 million at the box office and glowing reviews from critics, this movie was Disney’s biggest success that decade. As a result, this movie spawned a solid franchise, including a TV series, an anime series, 3 direct-to-video sequels, theme park attractions (some of them still going on today), video games, and an abundance of merchandise. It has also been hailed as one of Disney’s more progressive franchises, featuring a non-white, non-traditional family with realistic, relatable struggles (and possible LGBT representation with Jumba and Pleakley). Because of all this, Lilo & Stitch is extremely popular with millennials, hailing it as their ultimate fave Disney movie and one of Disney’s best.
I remember seeing this movie a couple times as a child but not a lot (I did not own the VHS or DVD). I saw a few episodes of the TV show (when nothing else was on) but I did not see any of the sequels. So, I did not grow up with this film like everyone else did. Therefore, while I certainly do like the movie, I do think nostalgia value factors into the popularity a lot.
I find that, as an adult, I get totally invested in Nani and Lilo’s story, but I can’t really get invested in Stitch’s story or the aliens.
Nani is a stressed out young woman who lost her parents before she was really ready to be on her own, has to deal with her grief while also taking care of her lonely little sister (who may have some psychological problems from losing her parents at such an age, given how she’s eccentric and ostracized and how she NEEDS Nani). She struggles to make ends meet, things seem to get worse from day to day, and there’s a very real threat of losing her sister–the only family she has left–throughout the movie. The presence of a strange new pet only makes things worse. Holy SHIT. With all this going on, it’s really hard for me to want to care about a little blue alien!
It’s also really hard for me to buy the fact that this movie has aliens. I find it hard to believe that anyone would look at Stitch, go “oh that’s just a weird looking dog” and not have any questions (also why would you put a dog you thought was dead in the kennel with other dogs?). And I cannot believe for a moment that Jumba and Pleakley’s disguises would’ve fooled anyone. How do the aliens speak perfect English, and why do they refer to themselves as aliens?
Well, ultimately the aliens are there to make the film more kid friendly. Stitch is there for the kids to sympathize with. Nani is there for the parents to sympathize with. Ergo, this makes Lilo & Stitch a great family film (despite the plotholes); it has the alien comedy and action for the kids and the human drama and tragedy for the adults. Though it makes it a little hard for me to watch on my own. Watching it as an adult without having grown up with it (and not having any kids of my own), I see a movie trying to string two completely different stories together, and I find myself gravitating towards one half but not the other.
So, while I can’t really call Lilo & Stitch my fave, I cannot call it a bad film. It has beautiful animation and music and, again the human side of the story is brilliant. It’s touching, it’s moving, it’s realistic, and it’s done very maturely. You don’t see that a lot in animated family films. And while I don’t really like the alien side of the movie, I do appreciate the themes of finding your family and going beyond your purpose. I guess ultimately if I could just tweak the film a little bit, I’d call it a fave. But as it is, Lilo & Stitch is a movie I greatly appreciate, and does deserve the success it got.