The thing about animated features is, even if the little details are new, the basic plot structure is cast in stone and rarely does any movie dare to violate it. Lilo and Stitch is no different in this regard.
The plot involves an intergalactic federation sentencing a self-prclaimed evil genius to life imprisonment for having genetically engineered a new species with superhuman strength and a penchant for mischief.
The creature is sentenced to exile, but escapes to earth and lands in Hawaii. Out there, it gets adopted by a little girl named Lilo who thinks it’s a cute breed of dog and names it Stitch. Lilo’s parents died when she was young, and her sister Nani has her hands full trying to take care of her. The social service worker (the curiously named Cobra Bubbles) in charge of her case thinks it would be better if Lilo were to be put in a foster home. “It is clear to me that you need Lilo more than Lilo needs you,” he tells Nani at one point. With Stitch’s destructive tendencies adding to the confusion, nothing seems to be going right for this little broken family. And then you have Stitch’s intergalactic pursuers, including the scientist who created it.
Now, you know, for instance, that the little girl’s love will transform the dangerous alien into a cuddly little thing. You know that some of the officious characters will have a change of heart at critical junctures. You know that for a short while, the girl will lose her patience with the alien, only to be reconciled with it during the final conflict. Like I said, it’s all cast in stone. so the enjoyment usually comes from the little things.
In this case, the little things are reasonably good. The relationship between the sisters works well. (“I love you more as a sister than as a mom,” Lilo tells Nani.) There’s a supporting character, David, who has a thing for Nani, and the movie, while developing their relationship in the same cliche-worn manner that every movie of this type does, at least has the grace to underplay it. The dialogue is usually intelligent and edgy, and not too sappy. The scientist character makes good use of his accent – it’s corny, but I love it. And there’s a toad with a non-speaking part that, for some unknown reason, had me in splits.
But the particular little thing that made this movie so much more enjoyable for me was a surprise reference to The King. In an attempt to reform the foul beat, Lilo gives Stitch a role model: Elvis Presley. I was so surprised by that reference that I pretty much fell off my chair.
The plot, despite all the intergalactic nonsense, is typical Disney. And the whole family-is-important spiel isn’t anything new either. Sure, it’s reasonably funny, but then most of these animated features are. Even the pop culture references, while delightful, are usually predictable.
But what movie would think of making the girl teach the alien to be an Elvis impersonator? There’s a touch of Douglas Adams in that idea, and for an intergalactic comedy, that’s high praise.