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Lilo & Stitch By Brian Jacks
One of the most imaginative and entertaining films of the past year was Lilo & Stitch. In a bold departure from Disney’s typical fairy-tale-based films, this time the House of Mouse truly turned the castle over to the animators and let them run wild, but audiences were the true beneficiaries. By combing a genuinely original storyline with a unique animation style and a real sense of fun, Disney has succeeded in delivering a shining breakthrough after a series of disappointments.
The film follows the adventures of Stitch (voiced by writer/director Chris Sanders), a genetically engineered, four-armed, small blue destructive creature from the planet Turo who escapes from imprisonment only to find himself stranded on a small Hawaiian island. Designed as the perfect fighting machine, Stitch is considered exceedingly dangerous by the galactic authorities, and two Abbott & Costello-ish aliens are dispatched to bring him back (voiced hilariously by Kids In The Hall’s Kevin MacDonald and David Ogden Stiers). Once on Earth, Stitch is mistaken as a stray dog and is adopted by Lilo, a young girl who has grown lonely and disillusioned following the death of her parents, and who is now relegated to live under her well-meaning but struggling sister Nani (voiced by Tia Carrere). Throw in some Elvis tunes, a towering social worker named Cobra Bubbles (Ving Rhames), a vindictive galactic police captain, black humor, and the occasional joke that flies over the head of children, and Disney has delivered a film that is truly fun for all ages.
Complimenting its madcap plot is Disney Studios’ response to animated films like Ice Age, Shrek, and its own Pixar titles. Lilo & Stitch is presented with breathtaking hand-drawn watercolor backgrounds and simple, uncomplicated but truthful linework for the animations. Characters are rendered with a more cartoonish bubbly touch (similar to Roger Rabbit), which give it a safe but memorable feel that won’t attack the senses. The artistic team, to their credit, spent a considerable amount of time on location in Hawaii to ensure the film has an authentic Polynesian ambiance, and that comes through spectacularly in outdoor settings as well as an outstanding hula sequence.
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Lilo & Stitch is presented on DVD in its original 1.66:1 widescreen anamorphic aspect ratio. Given the significant usage of colors in the film’s palette, Disney has thankfully provided a very fine THX-certified transfer unhindered by edge enhancement or compression artifacts. The film’s brilliant watercolors are delivered in their full vibrant glory, and the animation flows smoothly, giving it a true crystal-clear presentation.
The DVD features a single Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, which, while not especially aggressive, still delivers an enjoyable listening experience with a detailed surround mix. Particularly noteworthy is composer Alan Silverstri's Hawaiian-themed score, which is sprinkled throughout the film, and shoved to the forefront during the movie’s authentically presented hula dances. The music has exceptional clarity, while dialogue is delivered clearly to the center channels. A few scenes are given the true surround treatment, such as a spaceship sequence later in the film.
On the supplemental side, Lilo & Stitch is delivered with a variety of extras, although most are of the PR fluffy kind and won’t be of much interest to adults. The most noteworthy is “On Location With The Directors,” which is actually a tour through the making of the movie, from conceptual stages to composing the music, to inside the sound booths as the cast records their lines. More detailed than one would think, the two directors are very open and provide a nice behind-the-scenes view of what went into the creation of Lilo & Stitch.
Complimenting the Directors segment are three production-related featurettes: “Animating the Hula,” “The Look of Lilo & Stitch,” and “Young Voices of Hawaii.” The first two are what one would expect, with each giving an extra look into the creation of said process. “Hula” sees us on location at a Hawaiian studio as animators watch and record hula dancers for use in animating authentic hula sequences. “Look” gives us a peak at the process used to animate the film, with an emphasis on how the team was tasked to recreate the entire movie in writer/director Chris Taylor’s unique art style. It’s an interesting concept, and is a reminder of how films are often defined by one individual. Most recently, Disney’s Atlantis was animated in Mike Mignola’s form. “Voices” takes a look at children recording the musical soundtrack for the film. Take heed: listening to this segment too many times will result in prolonged humming for the rest of the day.
Production aside, an assortment of smaller featurettes is also included. “A Stitch in Time: Follow Stitch Through the Disney Years” is a whimsical and imaginary look at Stitch through the Disney timeline, supplanting him in classic films that include everything from Sleeping Beauty to Peter Pan. “DisneyPedia: Hawaii - The Islands of Aloha” is a multi-part look at five of Hawaii’s islands, with a short video segment about each one. “Hula Lesson” is just that, a look at the exotic dance form known as the hula, as instructed by a local instructor and his class.
Three deleted scenes with intros are also included, are as the film’s four witty and very clever teasers that ran in theaters. Each sees Stitch invading recent Disney films that include The Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty & The Beast, and The Little Mermaid. Rounding out the extras is a look at Wynonna Judd recording the film’s title Elvis song, an awful music video by fluff band A*Teens, and a short trivia game.
The Movie: A. Disney shows that originality is not completely dead in Hollywood.
The Look: A. A flawless transfer provides an excellent viewing experience
The Sound: B+. While not the most powerful track around, it nicely compliments the video.
The Extras: B. With a special edition rumored to be in the works, most of the supplements included here are the basics. Children will find them more enjoyable than adults.
Overall: A.Lilo & Stitch is a truly enjoyable film, and well worth owning.