Disney gets its groove back

Disney’s Lilo & Stitch tickles the eyes and enages the heart

Another reason some folks prefer vinyl to MP3s: You can play a record with your claw.

Another reason some folks prefer vinyl to MP3s: You can play a record with your claw.

Rated 4.0

For those of you thinking the traditional animated films being churned out by Disney are getting a little lackadaisical in their writing and visuals, Lilo & Stitch just might restore some of your faith in the media giant.

After the very weak Atlantis cartoon last year, this film represents a triumphant return to form. It’s a real treat. Good-looking, sweet and just a little bizarre, this represents a delightful departure for the studio.

The alien character of Stitch, a little blue bundle of teeth and ears, is hands down one of the best original characters to come out of the Disney animation factory in years. Equal parts cute and treacherous, I predict many a stuffed animal being sold this coming Christmas.

The story, reminiscent of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial without ripping that film off, has Stitch, the product of alien scientific experiments, escaping permanent exile and landing on Earth. He befriends Lilo, a young Hawaiian girl searching for a companion, living with her big sister (voice of Tia Carrere) due to the death of their parents.

I loved the personalities of the characters in this film, especially those of Lilo and Stitch, as charming a movie pair as there has been at the cinema this year. The relationships in this movie feel real and not “cartoony.”

It’s a great thing when a work of animation can tickle your eyes, but also engage you emotionally in its characterizations. I was reminded of the charming interaction of Buzz and Woody in Toy Story. This is one of those movies that is pretty much guaranteed to put a smile on your face, even if you are a grumpy bastard like me.

Adults will not be put to sleep by this one. The humor is decidedly intelligent, and judging by the laughs I was hearing from patrons of all ages at the screening I attended, universal.

One nice touch is the presence of Ving Rhames as the voice of Mr. Bubbles, a mysterious social worker who looks not unlike a cartoon rendition of his Marsellus Wallace character from Pulp Fiction.

Fans of Kids in the Hall will recognize the voice of Kevin McDonald as a one-eyed alien trying to wrangle Stitch and take him back to his planet. Jason Scott Lee (who played Bruce Lee in The Last Dragon) lends his voice to the character of David, a surfer and fire dancer who has a tendency to burn himself and parts of the venue he dances in.

It’s nice to see a film like this that doesn’t underestimate the power of a child’s intelligence. I assure you, there are 8- to 11-year-olds out there who think Scooby-Doo sucks, but laugh at Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This one will appeal to those children who like their films with a little depth and don’t appreciate it when a movie insults their pre-adolescent minds. It’s such a cool thing to see young kids digging on subversive, witty humor.

The look of this film features startling bright colors and strong animation. A sequence where Stitch attempts to rescue Lilo from a spaceship is breathtaking stuff, some of the more solid animation I’ve seen in years. With movies like Shrek, Toy Story and Jimmy Neutron achieving brilliance through CGI, it’s nice to be reminded that some old-school animation (with some help from the blessed computer) can still be so entertaining.

To put it all in perspective, I would call this Disney’s best traditional animated work since 1996’s magnificent The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I’m hoping for The Continued Adventures of Lilo & Stitch, because these characters are certainly worth revisiting.