Tuesday, December 06, 2016

A Stitch, Not on Time

Moana is not the only Disney-animated, Pacific-island-set film I recently saw. I'm 14 years behind on this, but I finally got around to watching Lilo & Stitch, the tale of an unruly young girl who befriends an even more unruly alien creature.

Lilo & Stitch is often said to be a bright spot in the midst of an otherwise lackluster period for Disney animation, a notion I'd probably support. Not from personal experience, though, because I haven't seen most of the Disney animated films from that decade. Yet Lilo & Stitch was consistently the only one that people ever seemed surprised that I'd missed.

I can see some of the appeal. The film is a good grafting of several quintessentially Disney elements into a new context. Absent/dead parents abound in Disney classics, for example, but it seems new and distinct to depict a young adult struggling to care for her child sister. Many Disney characters are dealing with poverty, but it's more impactful and current to actually see someone waiting tables to make ends meet and then, when that falls apart, scrambling to find a new job. Lots of Disney protagonists commune with animals and/or the natural world, but the island of Kaua'i is quite different from everything that came before.

Also, in this age of computer animation, this movie is a nice throwback. CG elements are still there (though far less obvious than in, say, Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin, from the decade before), but Lilo & Stitch is, by-and-large, drawn by hand. This is used to great effect in presenting various alien creatures. It's also nice to be able to compare the classic "Disney face" to the characters here, modeled with Pacific Islander features.

All that said, Lilo & Stitch is far from being one of Disney's all-time great films. The characters -- especially the alien ones -- are inconsistently written, spontaneously changing their behavior to advance plot or score a cheap joke. Unfortunately, Stitch himself is perhaps the biggest examples of this; the whole story is about his personality changing, but I feel like we never see any moments that would explain such a change.

I also feel there's a real clash in tones in the movie. On the one hand, you have the relative realism of the Hawaiian island setting, and the characters who live there and face real problems. On the other, you have all the alien material, which at times approaches almost Looney Tunes craziness. To me, "Lilo & Stitch" are a pairing that is often more oil and water than peanut butter and chocolate.

Overall, though, the movie is fairly entertaining, and better than most. I'd give it a B. I'm glad to have finally seen it, but it's not one I'd imagine watching again down the road.

No comments: