- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

Some years the summer movie season seems to have worn out its welcome before summer actually begins. "Lilo & Stitch," a delightful new animated comedy from the Disney studio, arrives in conjunction with the real summer and reminds one that a little patience can prove exceptionally rewarding.
"Lilo," the freshest family movie to turn up in recent months, boasts a playful charm and gusto. But it may be stuck with an uphill struggle to rally the public because the market has been saturated early with "Spider-Man," "Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones," "Spirit" and "Scooby-Doo."
Nevertheless, "Lilo" is a self-evident beaut and cries out to be discovered and cherished. It has far snappier entertainment than all the early hits of the season.
"Lilo & Stitch" appears to be teasing Steven Spielberg, past and present. On one hand, it's the wittiest variation on Mr. Spielberg's "E.T." to emerge in 20 years. On the other, it's kind of competing with his latest film, the science-fiction crime thriller "Minority Report," which also opens today.
Elements that would appear incongruous achieve a heady comic harmony as "Lilo" runs its merry course. Advanced but wackily blundering extraterrestrials intrude with consistent hilarity on argumentative but endearing humans in a Hawaiian setting. The soundtrack revives Elvis Presley standards, augmented by Hawaiian chants and lullabies entrusted to a children's choir.
A watercolor palette also is revived with beguiling results. It flatters a range of subjects, from the distant, apocryphal planet Turo to the towns and beaches of Kauai, not to mention a range of moods, from the screwball to the beatific.
Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois, who supervised story development on "Mulan," share writing and directing credits on "Lilo & Stitch." The film celebrates the friendship formed between an orphaned moppet and the exiled extraterrestrial she calls Stitch while mistaking it for an abandoned pooch. To mistake Stitch for a canine would be difficult, in part because it has the real animals at the pound uniformly terrified but Lilo has a lot on her mind and an intense need for a pet to call her own.
Simultaneously, Stitch is an amazing critter who needs a hideout.
Simulating the appropriate breed, Stitch tucks in its superfluous legs and attempts to pass. When fuming, Stitch can bite its hind legs and curl into a ringer for a bowling ball. A three-part handful, Stitch is disruptive puppy, toddler and alien.
This masquerade dog is actually the invention of a mad Turoan scientist named Jumba (voiced by David Ogden Stiers) who got carried away while experimenting with a genetically engineered ultimate weapon. In the lab, the creature was known as Test Tube 626.
Aggressive and slippery, 626 absconds with a miniature spaceship and crash-lands on Kauai. Pudgy, four-eyed Jumba is ordered to hasten to Earth on a mission of retrieval with a one-eyed, worm-shaped navel-gazer called Pleakley. (Kevin McDonald supplies his piping voice.)
Pleakley regards the planet as a wildlife preserve for a beloved species, the mosquito. Loath to deny Pleakley a rapturous close encounter with this life-form, the animators cover him with mosquitoes in one sequence. They find him delectable, and he can't hold a grudge.
Lilo lives with a struggling older sister, Nani (Tia Carrere), who works as a waitress. Her lovable, steadfast boyfriend, David (Jason Scott Lee), amusingly drawn to resemble Keanu Reeves, works as a torch dancer at the same restaurant. A hulking but not unsympathetic social worker named Cobra Bubbles (Ving Rhames) pays a visit at a particularly chaotic time and warns Nani that she may have to surrender Lilo to foster parents.
Parents may find themselves needing to reassure little ones who get alarmed at certain junctures in the movie, especially when Lilo is abducted briefly by aliens to intensify the finale.
Stitch is certainly a fantastic miracle worker, or instigator. The last thing Lilo and Nani seem to need is a loose cannon from outer space but the exotic, troublemaking contraption eventually does prove susceptible to a lonely child's affection.
Mr. Sanders doubles as the evolving voice of Stitch. As humorists, he and Mr. Deblois are admirably quick off the mark and then conscientious about following through on gags and distinctive character traits.
Some of their brainstorms are brilliantly nutty for example, a pair of encounters between Stitch and a frog and Stitch's way of suddenly disappearing. The scene that establishes Lilo's fondness for Presley recordings is a disarming triumph. So is the moment that discloses Mr. Bubbles' curious first name.


****
TITLE: "Lilo & Stitch"
PG (Some ominous episodes; fleeting comic vulgarity)
Credits: Sanders and Dean Deblois. Art direction by Ric Sluiter. Production design by Paul Felix. Supervising animators: Andreas Deja Alex Kupershmidt, Stephane Sainte Foi, Byron Howard, Bolhem Bouchiba and Ruben A. Aquino. Editing by Darren Holmes. Original score by Alan Silvestri
RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STAR

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