As a company, Disney is great at a lot of things, but making fun of itself and its beloved animated properties is usually not one of them. Imagine my surprise when one day I was watching TV, and saw an ad that appeared to be advertising a new release of 'Aladdin', when in the middle a strange blue alien popped up, wrecking Aladdin's attempt to woo Jasmine during "A Whole New World" and even taking Jasmine for a joyride in his spaceship. What was going on here? This wasn't the Disney I knew. This was funny, irreverent, and downright brilliant. In the coming weeks, several more ads would pop up, spoofing other Disney movies, and I knew that I had to see the movie it was really advertising, 'Lilo & Stitch', on opening day.
'Lilo & Stitch' opens in space, where a galactic conference has convened to discuss the illegal genetic experiments of Dr. Jumba Jookiba, which have resulted in Experiment 626. A small blue alien with four arms and antennae, 626 wants nothing but the destruction of everything around him. 626 is sentenced to death, but he escapes and lands in Hawaii, where he is mistaken for a dog and adopted by Lilo, a young orphaned girl living with her older sister. Hunted by the Galactic Federation, 626, now named Stitch, must learn how to be part of a society, and eventually even a family.
Made in the midst of the Pixar revolution, 'Lilo & Stitch' was a real oddity for Disney. Films like 'Dinosaur' were Disney's focus. Hand-drawn animation looked like it was on the way out—permanently. So it was a shock to see 'Lilo & Stitch', done almost completely with traditional animation techniques, and even utilizing watercolor backgrounds to evoke the scenic vistas of Hawaii. The animation style also wasn't the norm for Disney, with the humans having a stockier look. In short, 'Lilo & Stitch' seemed to be at odds with everything Disney was doing at the time.
The film is buoyed by a strong sense of humor, typified in its titular characters. Stitch is an unstoppable death machine, but he's so darned cute and cuddly. The juxtaposition is used to great effect. Just as good is little Lilo, the precocious Hawaiian girl who is doggedly determined to do things her own way. Far from being a Disney princess of any sort, Lilo feels more like an honest to goodness little girl, with a mind of her own and a will to match (not to mention a great love for Elvis Presley). The pair make for a perfect duo for an endless series of hilarious situations. And the film's throughline of the importance of family works, even if the idea of the parent-less Disney heroine is more than a little cliché.
Aside from the forced Disney pop song at the end of the film, 'Lilo & Stitch' feels like a revelation for those who grew up on more traditional Disney fare. It stands as a unique entry in the studio's output that has held in the decade since its release. Its direct to video sequel doesn't fare nearly as well, sadly.
'Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has A Glitch' takes place a few months after the original. Stitch now lives with Lilo, protected by Dr. Jumba and Agent Pleakley. Unfortunately, due to an error in the original process that created Stitch, his molecules are losing stability, causing him to act irrationally and "go bad", even though he desperately wants to remain good. Jumba has to race against time to find a solution, before Stitch goes completely bad, and then dies.
It's clear before you even watch the film that 'Lilo & Stitch 2' is not going to compare to the original. The lame rhyming subtitle, "Stitch Has A Glitch" should be an indicator of the lower quality of this release. Chris Sanders, the writer/director of the first film (and the later writer/director of the similarly themed misunderstood monster story 'How To Train Your Dragon') was not at all involved in the sequel, and his lack of participation is a huge loss.
The humor in the second movie is juvenile, and lacking in the wit that makes the first so distinctive. The characterizations are heavily simplified, to the point where some of the characters feel dumbed down. Also, a lame subplot involving one of Lilo's peers feels silly and has a poor resolution. Even worse is the false sentimentality of the climax, which feels like cheap heartstring tugging. The first film has a truly emotionally involving story that justifies its emotional ending. The second isn't capable of anything nearly as complex or rich.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Disney presents the 'Lilo & Stitch' double feature in a three-disc set, with one Blu-ray that contains both features, and two DVDs with each feature individually and supplements. This comes in a standard size Blu-ray case with two hubs (the two DVDs sit atop each other on an elongated hub), and comes in a slipcase that replicates the cover art underneath.
Both 'Lilo & Stitch' films are presented in 1080p AVC-encoded transfers that do justice to the beautiful hand drawn animation. The colors pop brightly, but not overwhelmingly, and the blacks are deep. Saturation is excellent, as is the color balance, and those gorgeous watercolor backgrounds have a very cinematic look to them. As with the best animation, detail is high, and there are only a few negligible compression issues that are so slight you'll likely miss them.
Both films come with a 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. 'Lilo & Stitch' takes full advantage of this, with a bold and at times aggressive soundstage. The LFE in particular gets a workout at the beginning and end, when the various spaceships race around the screen. Surrounds get plenty of activity as well, even in smaller, more domestic scenes. Dynamic range is excellent, and the whole mix has a strong, cinematic feel. 'Lilo & Stitch 2' suffers from a smaller budget, giving the whole mix a more confined feel, with less active surrounds, but the clarity on it is still very good.
Other than a few trailers and ads, there are no supplements on the Blu-ray. All of the special features are found on the DVDs for each film, both of which come from the previously existing, currently available DVD editions. In the case of the first movie, a second disc was omitted, meaning many excellent special features are not present on this set.
'Lilo & Stitch' remains a refreshing change of pace for the Disney company. It's smart, irreverent, and genuinely emotional. It's direct to video sequel is far more forgettable, but the audio and video on both are excellent, making this a worthy purchase, even if some excellent supplements are missing from the DVD edition. It's not perfect, but it is 'Lilo & Stitch' in high definition, and thus is worth your time. Recommended.