Tempering cosmic horror with a hang-loose Hawaiian ethos, Disney’s latest animated film, Lilo & Stitch (in general release), has a creature of dubious consumer appeal in Stitch, an extraterrestrial killing machine that escapes galactic exile and falls to earth, where it masquerades as a dog to get adopted by spitfire orphan girl Lilo. The pint-sized menace has the Tasmanian Devil’s destructive powers and something of Ren’s short-fused temper; another possible influence, given the island setting and propensity for chaos, is the crazy little “Go Hawaiian” chap of fruit-punch fame.
A prisoner to its own savagery, unloved by all but Lilo, Stitch slowly grasps the meaning of family—or ohana, as they say in Hawaii, and as the script (by directors Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois) ceaselessly reiterates. Better than this arduous, not entirely convincing lesson is the first half’s devil-may-care plotting and daffy sci-fi. Latter-day Lucas fans hungering for more interstellar C-SPAN will find it here, as senators of wildly varied shapes and sizes decide the fate of Stitch, a/k/a “Experiment 626.” After the genetically engineered monstrosity reaches Earth, the planet is spared annihilation due to its endangered status as a mosquito-breeding ground. (The one-eyed, triple-footed eco-watchdog apparently derives the whole of his Terran knowledge from a single View-Master disk.) And in a nod to the back-of-the-head photographic endeavors of the boy in Yi Yi, Lilo snaps pictures solely of fat pale tourists on the beach—”Aren’t they beautiful?” she asks, post-postcolonially.
Some nice textural touches liven Lilo‘s look: Watercolor washes echo the illustrations in the copy of The Ugly Duckling that becomes Stitch’s talisman; a ’50s big-bug flick plays in a store-window television; Lilo totes a photo of Elvis, her hero. But mostly the film is just hectic and homiletic: two parts exhausting Men in Black mayhem to one part family values.