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Thursday, June 20, 2002

Got us in stitches

Movie: Lilo & Stitch

Posted on Thu, Jun 20, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Our Rating: 4.50

Parents annoyed by the aggressively bad behavior of Bart Simpson initially might feel the same way about Lilo, the pint-sized Hawaiian girl at the center of "Lilo & Stitch," an animated comedy from Disney's satellite studio in Orlando.

During a dance rehearsal, Lilo (the voice of Daveigh Chase) pounces on a classmate and bites her. Our anti-heroine later locks big sister Nani (Tia Carrere) out of their home, just in time for the arrival of a tough social worker with the unlikely name of Cobra Bubbles (Ving Rhames). Lilo subsequently gets engros-sed in pseudo-voodoo. "My friends need to be punished," she explains.

So give little Lilo a break. Unlike Bart Simpson, she has a good reason to be troubled: Her mom and dad died in a car accident, and it hasn't exactly been easy, coping with their loss and learning to think of Nani as a new mother.

That's the earthbound side of this funny, very humane little animated charmer from Disney. "Lilo & Stitch" is neither as clever nor as funny as the CGI-made "Monsters, Inc.," but it is a lot more entertaining than last summer's animated "Atlantis."

And the family crowd ought to be appreciative of at least one theme running through the film: Lilo is constantly preaching the importance of ohana, or, as she interprets the Hawaiian concept, "Nobody is forgotten or left behind."

The flip side of dysfunctional family life in this tropical paradise, beautifully rendered by a team of animators led by writers-directors Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois, is the dilemma of one Experiment 626 (Christopher Michael Sanders), a veritable killing machine. The dangerous critter, created on another planet by Jumba (David Ogden Stiers), a demented scientist with a Russian accent, unexpectedly makes a mission to earth. There, he attempts to hide from his pursuers, Jumba and nerdy one-eyed researcher Pleakley (Kevin McDonald), by camping out at an animal shelter.

The dogs at the pound, in one of the funniest sequences, recoil in horror, teeth chattering, from the new resident, a decidedly noncanine visitor with floppy ears, sharp teeth, four arms and amazing powers of propulsion. Of course, Stitch is a pet that only someone like Lilo could embrace, a little lost creature desperately in need of the loving touch of family.

Sure, the happy ending is preordained, but it's fun getting there. Give the creators of "Lilo & Stitch" credit, too, for faithfully evoking the tropical setting: The waves, beach, foliage and sunsets are lovely to watch; and the scenery makes a terrific backdrop for a gentle, funny story, all the more appealing because of its insistence on avoiding the saccharine. Nice Elvis Presley tunes, too.


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