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Lilo and Stitch

(2002) *** Pg
85 min. Walt Disney. Directors: Christopher Sanders, Dean Deblois. Cast: Daveigh Chase, Christopher Sanders, Tia Carrere, David Ogden Stiers, Kevin McDonald.

Bill Watterson's immortal Calvin and Hobbes comic strip seemed to validate the suspect term "instant classic," though Watterson (unlike the Disney corporation) was not the type to capitalize on the perception with runaway merchandising. Now, Disney has unofficially reinvented Calvin and Hobbes (to which the rights are presumably unavailable for this sort of thing) with its latest animated entry Lilo and Stitch.

The analogue is imperfect, but the fast-paced Lilo and Stitch approximates the cachet of the strip in its pairing of human child and irreverent, secretive animal, its "Spaceman Spiff" galactic diversions, and its often subversive humor underscored by an essential, nostalgic sweetness. On its surface, of course, Lilo and Stitch resembles E.T.; here again is a broken-home child (the orphan Lilo) bestowed with a troublesome alien (who she dubs Stitch). Stitch, we learn in the opening moments, is a genetically engineered freak created as a destructive weapon (he's prone to odd behavior like biting his own feet, curling up, and rolling away). Once locked up, Stitch promptly escapes, only to crash-land in Lilo's Hawaiian neighborhood. Lilo runs the very real risk of being plucked from her home by child-protective services agent Cobra Bubbles (a suspicious man in black voiced by Ving Rhames). To the sister attempting to raise her, Lilo is as much a handful as Stitch turns out to be, but the possibility of redemption comes through loud and clear in the film's oft-repeated message: "Family means no one gets left behind."

Writer-director Chris Sanders (who also voices Stitch) and co-director Dean Deblois layer the basic formulaic plot structure with unconventional elements. The pace has the drive of the recent Warner Brothers-inspired Disney films (like Aladdin and The Emperor's New Groove), though the humor is more often smile-worthy than out-and-out funny. The film has an appropriate visual style that—once past the caricatured Buck Rogers prologue—settles into a pastel-infused children's book look, complete with watercolor backgrounds designed to underscore the film's "Ugly Duckling" motif. It's a pastiche, but a smooth one, abetted by Alan Silvestri's score in the key of Williams, self-consciously cute Elvis-tune interludes, and a sharp voice cast including David Ogden Stiers, Kids in the Hall vet Kevin McDonald, Tia Carrere, Jason Scott Lee, and adorable Daveigh Chase as Lilo..

With its bratty pair of anti-heroes and colorful animation, Lilo and Stitch is a worthy, precocious summer confection.

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