Disney cartoons have taken us by the hand on a mad, mad race across the globe and through time. After making such bloodbaths as the French Revolution feel kid-friendly in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and playing pre-Columbian Meso-America for snarky laughs in The Emperor’s New Groove — just to name two — what else is left to be Disneyfied? Hawaii and outer space is the answer given by Lilo & Stitch. But the mouse roars a different tune in this animated feature, one that’s inclusive not just of race and gender, but of family structures that differ from tradition.
Lilo (voice of Deveigh Chase) is a little Hawaiian girl who finds herself always on the outside and always messing up things for her big sister, Nani (voice of Tia Carrere). The two are the remnants of a family that Lilo describes as “small and broken.” But even this family unit is threatened by a social worker who looks like a bodybuilding man in black, Mr. Cobra Bubbles (voice of Ving Rhames). Mr. Bubbles doesn’t believe that Nani is adequately meeting Lilo’s needs, but gives big sis one last chance to prove him wrong.
Enter Stitch. This critter seems to be the result of Disney’s genetic engineer performing an animated gene splice on Frankenstein’s monster, Old Yeller and some kind of wall-crawling insect. Designed to be destructive and indestructible by galactic mad scientist Jumba (voice of David Ogden Stiers), Stitch escapes capture by the galactic counsel with an ironic and adorable clever ruthlessness, then crash lands in Hawaii.
The odd couple of little girl and pint-sized space monster meet in a municipal dog pound where Stitch (retracting two of his six legs) pretends to be a very odd-looking pooch. An underdog herself, Lilo chooses him and, of course, mayhem ensues through to the warmhearted ending.
Lilo & Stitch is consistently amusing. Its animation is novel and seems to be based on broad-featured Hawaiian statuary. But most importantly, the moral of this cartoon is that family — even if it’s small and broken — is where the heart is. And with that, Disney has its heart in the right place.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].