Disney has long been reviled for its propensity towards making sickly sweet, touchy feely, too nice films. At last though, Disney is ready to cast off their nice guy cartoon image and foray into the land of abusive, murderous monsters that physically assault and harass little children. That monster is Stitch, star of the latest Disney animated feature, Lilo & Stitch.
Lilo & Stitch is the story of a genetically engineered super-alien created to destroy and devastate anything and everything he comes in contact with. Imprisoned for his evil, he escapes and heads to earth. Crash landing on a small Hawaiian Island, Stitch encounters a little girl named Lilo, and disguises himself as a dog, to insinuate himself into her life. Using her as a human shield to protect himself from his pursuers, Stitch begins to rethink his policies of wanton destruction. Lilo meanwhile, struggles with feelings of loneliness and abandonment after the death of her parents’ leaves her sister as her only guardian. With child services hot on their case Lilo and her broken family have to get their lives in order or she’ll be taken away.
Doesn’t exactly sound like a fun kiddie flick does it? But it is, in a somewhat sick and sadistic manner. Basically, Stitch is the alien equivalent of an abusive drunken husband in his relationship with Lilo. It really hit home with me, when cute little Lilo, on her way to bed says to Stitch “I know why you push me down.” Throw Stitch in a wife-beater t-shirt and give Lilo a black eye or two and the picture is complete. Audiences will be at a loss to understand why anyone would keep such a dangerous and mean spirited puppy and kids will likely be disturbed by such a dysfunctional and physically dangerous relationship.
Still, we’re supposed to think all of Stitch’s destructive hijink’s are “cute”. Oh isn’t it funny when he tries to drown Lilo! Oh look how cute he is when he’s shoving her around! Ugh. Ok, honestly, he is quite funny, but in retrospect I almost feel guilty for all the laughter this abomination elicited from me. Really, what was Disney thinking? This little monster lands on earth, RAVAGES and DESTROYS the life of an innocent little girl and we’re supposed to think that’s fun? Stitch is gross, cruel, and basically evil. But Disney throws in the usual last minute change of heart, so everything is ok… isn’t it?
I almost feel bad attacking a movie that gave me so many moments of genuine laughter, but the thing is just disturbingly wrong headed. What’s more the animation itself is even rather poor. Often fuzzy and badly drawn, whoever animated Lilo & Stitch seems to have a real problem drawing energy. Laser bolts look like water shot out of a super soaker, and fire looks all blobby and gooey, like some ill-conceived Nickelodeon product. Even the humans themselves are inconsistent, varying in animation quality from the extremely well drawn and sharply defined musculature of the belly shirt wearing big sister of Lilo, to a big bosomed life guard whose legs seem to bypass her stomach and run straight up to her chest.
Some might say this is where Disney needs to go. Less corporate, more out there, less traditional. I’m all for it. But if doing that means unleashing the heart of all evil upon mostly innocent children and marketing physical abuse as a good thing… you can count me out. Sure, I had fun watching it… but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel guilty about it.
So, in spite of this, why did I have such a good time watching Lilo & Stitch? It’s funny. Flat out, gut busting funny. Stitch’s irreverent behavior, destructive though it is, is also highly entertaining. Yes, his relationship with the emotionally disturbed, but still painfully sweet Lilo, is dysfunctional and bad intentioned. But if you can just pretend this is an anvil dropping Bug Bunny cartoon and ignore the animators attempt to add in an element of reality, then the movie’s clearly bad natured sickness is easy enough to ignore. The message is totally wrong for the kids, the ending is ridiculous and too easily sweet, but Lilo & Stitch will at least make you laugh. Best of all, it’s a break from the cgi fest that seems to have invaded every aspect of American movie making. Maybe a few laughs created by poorly hand-drawn fun is just the best we can expect from Disney.