All stitched up

Lilo and Stitch
Animated; features the voices of David Ogden Stiers, Tia Carrera and Zoe Caldwell. Rated PG.
Rated 3.0 Who would have expected Disney would make a Bugs Bunny/Warner Bros.-style Looney Tune after all these years? It has with Lilo & Stitch, and animation fans should be glad.

The film comes after a lot of spilled ink examining how Disney animated features have fallen on hard times. The studio has produced a series of under-performing animated features—Atlantis: The Lost Empire, The Emperor’s New Groove, Return to Neverland—in an age when the CGI Shreks and Monsters Inc. of the world seem to mint money. Well, here’s the dirty little secret: Disney hasn’t made a fun, lively, inventive and engaging animated film for a long time.

Stitch ends the rut. It’s a tale of the manically destructive alien Stitch, looking like a koala bear, crashing to Earth and upending the life of Lilo, a young Hawaiian girl with a chaotic streak of her own. This comes the same week a social worker is deciding whether to remove Lilo from her sister’s home after the death of their parents—not the usual enchanted background of Disney films gone by.

Directors Dean Deblois and Chris Sanders have shaken the starch from Disney’s animated machine and injected a dose of subversive humor and entertainment zeal. Every time there’s a choice between pap convention and having Stitch upend the dinner table, the creators gleefully rush headlong into destruction, not unlike a onetime wascally wabbit.

What saves Stitch from pandering to the bratty instincts of 10-year-olds and grating the sensibilities of anyone older is how carefully the creators interweave mania and the real meaning of family in an era when the institution seems so ripe for fracture.

The animation isn’t top notch (it was done at Disney’s Florida operation, which specializes in TV animation), but it is lush and explosive enough to guide you right to the heart of the story. In short, it does exactly what it’s supposed to do.