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'Lilo & Stitch'

A girl, her 'dog' and the King: Alien rabble-rouser and spirited heroine give life to Disney cartoon

Friday, June 21, 2002

By Scott Mervis, Weekend Editor, Post-Gazette

You know Hollywood's fascination with anything and everything genetically engineered is rampant when the theme makes it all the way down to a Disney cartoon for kids.

 
    'LILO & STITCH'

RATING: PG for mild sci-fi violence.

STARRING: Voices of Tia Carrere, Daveigh Chase

CRITIC'S CALL:

 
 

Fortunately, "Lilo & Stitch" is a heckuva lot more fun and breezy than "A.I."

The animated adventure, written and co-directed by Chris Sanders (also the voice of Stitch), pairs a feisty and recently orphaned Hawaiian girl with a creature initially mistaken for a very ugly dog. As we learn in the opening scene, Stitch was engineered on an alien planet by a rogue scientist and programmed to destroy anything in its path.

The creator fears that his being's behavior in an alien society could include "backing up sewers, reversing street signs and stealing everyone's left shoe." That's the best-case scenario. When he escapes to Earth, the chase is on to apprehend him and stop the madness.

Meanwhile, if any girl in the world were meant to be Stitch's Pokemon master, it would be Lilo (voice of Daveigh Chase), who will clarify for her 19-year-old sister and guardian, Nani (Tia Carrere), that, about that incident with the girl at school, "first I hit her, then I bit her."

Lilo is a pit bull in a hula skirt, but a tender one with a charming penchant for the King. Her idea of escape is to close the door and blast "Heartbreak Hotel" on her record player.

Adopting Stitch from the animal shelter is about the worst thing Lilo and Nani can do in their efforts to convince Cobra Bubbles (deep-voiced Ving Rhames), a social worker right out of "Men in Black," that they can make do on their own.

Fast, funny and loaded with charm, "Lilo & Stitch" is unlike anything we've seen on the screen before, with the possible exception of "The Iron Giant." In the age of computer animation, Disney treats this state-of-the-art subject with a classic stroke -- its first use of watercolor backgrounds in six decades (very Gauguin), plus plenty of Elvis.

Again, Disney presents characters trying to fix up a broken home, and while there's some spirited fighting between the sisters and with the destructive Stitch, it's done with a delicate touch and a strong message about "Ohana," the bonds of family. The loss of the parents is handled with Nani simply saying, "It was raining. They went for a drive."

For a cartoon, the characters are exceptionally well rounded. Lilo is way more troublesome than the typical Disney heroine, Stitch keeps us on edge at all times (he actually has an "A.I." moment in the woods after identifying with "The Ugly Duckling") and even the social worker and the scientist hold back some of their cards.

It's no "Peter Pan." And yet, it's still a sweet one for kids of all ages.

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