I avoided Disney animated movies for the past decade (with the notable exception of the Pixar films, which can't be considered "Disney" anyway) ever since being underwhelmed by the rather dull Beauty and the Beast. But after being assured that Lilo & Stitch eschewed the treacly song scores that have been the staple of Disney's recent cartoons (mushy junk by Alan Menken, Tim Rice, Phil Collins, Sting, etc.) in favor of Elvis Presley classics, I decided to check it out.
What a surprise: The story of Lilo & Stitch may very well be the most original idea to come out of Disney. It's a wonder that they even agreed to do it. For how can you sell a family-oriented cartoon about a genetically-engineered space alien who has been programmed to destroy everything in its path, and winds up befriending a little orphaned Hawaiian girl? Lucky for us, the film wound up being a hit, which will hopefully allow the Mauschwitz artists a bit more creative freedom in the future.
The animation is first-rate, the lush watercolor backgrounds are breathtaking, the story is tight, and the characters are refreshingly realistic. Lilo's family situation sounds more like a Lifetime TV movie than a Disney cartoon: raised alone by her older sister Nani, who can't hold down a job and is too wrapped up in her responsibilities to even date the boy she likes, Lilo is a misfit who beats up her fair-weather "friends" and falls instantly in love with the obviously vicious little monster that is Stitch. It's this creature that brings the hilariously nasty humor to the film, as well as a great deal of its humanity.
Lilo & Stitch is actually reminiscent of the similarly-themed animated film The Iron Giant (produced by Warner Bros.) in terms of its depth, thoughtfulness, love, and craft. A scene where Stitch finds himself alone in the rain forest one night and quietly cries "I'm lost!" is literally the most moving thing I have seen in a movie theatre all year. And the Elvis songs work great.