In 2002, when I should have been doing coursework, I was instead throwing popcorn at my friends in the cinema and arguing about whether it was “Lee-low” or “Lie-low” and Stitch (it’s the former, if you didn’t know!). The little blue thing and the Hawaiian girl with the big, flat nose looked pretty cute in the trailer, and I was going through “I heart Elvis Presley” retro phase.
I didn’t know the unusual, modern premise; evil alien doctor, Jumba, is on trial for terrible genetic experiments – perhaps Disney are anti-stem cell? – And experiment 6262 is his most deadly creation yet. It was refreshing to see Disney moving outside their fairytale comfort zone and straying into sci-fi, and it was an opportunity to show the world that they really can make anything look adorable. Even the rotund, four-eyed menace that is Jumba has a cuddly quality about him.
Experiment 626 is exiled to an insignificant little planet called Earth; a neat little joke that reminds us just what a small speck in the universe we are! I’m not sure exactly how he could be mistaken for a dog – yes, he can morph, but he’s still blue! – But he ends up in the pound, which is where he meets our eponymous heroine Lilo . Daveigh Chase, of The Ring and Donnie Darko fame (quite a step from the colourful calamities of Disney films) is the perfect voice for Lilo (although she isn’t Hawaiian.) With her lumpy dolly and vivid imagination, she’s exactly the kind of little girl I’d love to have been friends with; that is to say, she’s a bit of an oddball. Even though the characters only cartoons, it’s hard not to feel moved by her story; orphaned and an outcast among her peers, her 19-year-old sister has been left with the responsibility of raising her which is incredibly difficult for both parties. And their social worker Cobra Bubbles, whose physique is as ridiculous as his name, casts an enormous shadow over their already difficult existence.
It’s his peculiar appearance compared to the other dogs, though, that makes Stitch so perfect for Lilo; they both struggle to fit in (her sister Nani isn’t convinced by his disguise, either, which is reassuring). Lilo attempts to rehabilitate Stitch by modelling him on Elvis Presley, who in her mind is a “Model Citizen.” Unfortunately, the duo interfere with Nani’s attempts to get a job and support Lilo, especially as Jumba and Pleakley follow them in various terrible, but amusing, disguises – they make a very bizarre-looking married couple!
Stitch is only built to destroy but, by becoming part of a family, he is able to change and finds the power of speech to make a speech about family – his strange, alien voice sticks in his throat but it’s still a very emotional scene and the motto of the whole film is really touching: Ohana. “Ohana means family…nobody gets left behind. Or forgotten.” He’s accepted into Lilo and Nani’s family just the way he is and they end up with a very dysfunctional family unit (much like most families these days!). There’s action, a game of cat-and-mouse between Stitch/Pleakley and Jumba, but also the very real threat of Lilo being taken into care that make this the perfect blend of reality and fantasy; it’s engaging and tackles a genuine issue, but it’s intertwined with aliens and intergalactic politics so it doesn’t come too close to home for anyone faced with family issues.
The inclusion of Elvis and the evocation of Hawaiian culture make for a really rich, unusual soundtrack. It’s not the best sing-a-long Disney soundtrack out there, but Lilo lying on her back miming “Heartbreak Hotel” to express her unhappiness always makes me smile. In fact, she’s a good role model; she has her own identity, strong opinions, and relieves aggression by screaming into a pillow. The Hawaiian elements also give the story a beautiful backdrop to play out against, with grass skirts and surfboards (and that sunburned tourist who recurs in various scenes, always dropping his ice cream. One of those lovely little details Disney is so adept at including).
There’s a happily-ever-after (as long as you overlook the sequels and spin-off TV show which, to its credit, at least featured Davey Chase) and an exoticness that make this a heart-warming tale; I bought the DVD with the money from my Saturday job and I’m still partial to dipping into the mixture of aliens, Elvis and hula every now and again!