Movie 42: Lilo and Stitch

lilo and stitch posterThere probably is not a movie I am more personally divided on in the Disney Canon than Lilo and Stitch.  About half I LOVE and the other half not as much… I guess you could say I love the Lilo but not as crazy about the Stitch.

The Production-

As much as I enjoy the big epic Disney movies like Frozen I also love the smaller, more intimate pictures like Lilo and Stitch.

In fact, after 3 or 4 commercial disappointments they decided to embrace the Dumbo strategy.  Back in the late 1930s Disney had 2 financial ambitious failures in Fantasia and Pinocchio.   Bambi was also full of delays and expenses.  Walt decided to pull a few animators and make a simple, easy to draw but likable film and they came up with Dumbo.

Dumbo had watercolor backgrounds instead of the layers like Bambi and the characters were relatively simple and appealing.  The strategy worked and Dumbo was a big hit.

Lilo and Stitch followed this strategy all the way down to the stunning watercolor backgrounds.

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Looking for an easy to execute idea Disney turned inward and animator Chris Sanders pitched a book he had drawn in the 80s about a girl who adopts the world’s meanest alien.


The animators liked the idea and decided on Kaua’i Hawaii as the setting because of the spirit of family, its visibility from space, culture, music  and it had never been done before in an animated film.

They do a great job not just showing the lush paradise of Hawaii but also the poverty and harder sides.  It feels like a place people actually live.

small town hawaii
I love this small town Hawaii feel. It nails how it actually looks

The adult actors are all lesser known (more cost cutting) except for Ving Rhames as Cobra Bubbles.  Many of the cast like Tia Carrere and Jason Scott Lee who play Nani and David are Hawaiian.

Another cost cutting measure was using traditional Hawaiian songs and Elvis numbers which made the soundtrack easy to put together and had minimal recording.  I guess because I love Hawaiian music and Elvis I LOVE the soundtrack!

There’s a personal reason I respond to the Hawaiian setting and culture in the film.  In 2007 I was starting to come out of a very dark period.  There was a time when I felt I had lost the ability to feel happiness.  Then I made big changes in my life in early 2007 but hadn’t made the tough decision to quit my job.

That summer my girlfriends and I went to Hawaii and had the most amazing trip.  It was an awakening for me.  I realized I could be happy.  That life was beautiful and lush. I called my Dad the night before we were leaving and cried my eyes out.  The idea of leaving such happiness made me so sad.  I realized I needed to quit my job and create a happy life for myself.

rachel in hawaii

I guess you could say the ohana spirit moved me and made me a better person.

I’ve been back three times since then and each time I leave feeling renewed and happy.  Watching Lilo and Stitch with its  music, surfing,  watercolor mountains, hula and everything else brings back those memories which are always close to my heart (I need to get back!)

The intro really captures the ohana magic

It was also the first Disney classic to be nominated for Best Animated Film at the Oscars but lost out to Spirited Away (who wouldn’t lose to that masterpiece?)

The Story-

So let’s continue on this vein by talking about the things in the story that best show the Hawaii I love.  Lilo and Stitch is about 2 sisters, Lilo and Nani who’s parents have passed on and are forced to try and make their ‘broken family’ work.

These scenes between the two sisters are perfect.  I wouldn’t change them one bit.

Here they are arguing like all sisters do, but I so relate to Nani because I was the older sister carrying for a sister and a brother who were 16 and 18 years younger than me.  I get how she was feeling

And then this scene is perfect too.  This felt like a real sisterly moment.

The prayer at the end of it just breaks my heart and is one of the few prayers in Disney films.  Again wouldn’t change a thing.


I love that Lilo is a weird little girl.  She has a strange doll and doesn’t get along with the other little girls.  She tries to feed sandwiches to fish and is just a strange kid- like all kids!  (especially a kid who has experienced recent trauma).

strange dollI also love this is a Disney movie about a little girl.  That is actually pretty rare.  Most Disney movies are about adolescent girls like Ariel, Belle, Pocahontas etc.  I love that little girls have a little girl in a Disney film they can relate too and feel a little less alone in their strangeness.

Unfortunately there are problems for Nani and a social worker is concerned about her problems keeping a job and the stress of carrying for Lilo.  He’s not a bad guy- just doing his job, but the threat of the ‘ohana’ being taken away is palatable throughout the movie.  Not so much it is depressing but a real fear propelling the story forward.

bubblesNow we get to the part I don’t like…

Nani decides to let Lilo adopt a dog.  At the shelter the find a weird creature who Lilo names Stitch:

stitch2We have seen earilier in the film that Stitch is an alien genetic mutation created by a mad scientist alien for world domination.

aliensI’m sorry but I just don’t like the look of any of the aliens.  Stitch looks like a cockroach, which I guess is appropriate for Hawaii but it was so unpleasant to look at (I hate cockroaches btw!).  And he is so awful.  Everything else in the movie is so sweet and tender having this maniac alien thrown in hurt the tone and I couldn’t wait for him to get off the screen.

stitchThe other aliens are all modeled off of sea creatures and they don’t look much better and are kind of boring.  I kept wanting it to be done with the alien story and get back to the sisters.  This movie should have been simple like The Fox and the Hound but it decided to pay homage to ET.  The problem is ET was kind of cute and aside from frogs and resees pieces he didn’t really hurt anything.  Plus, Elliott’s family is not in crisis like Lilo’s so it feels like too much for Stitch to destroy their house (literally), make Nani loose multiple jobs and more.

I don’t know how you have enough story without the Stitch but maybe just tone him down a little bit or make him a little bit cuter.  Make him something good to the family not another struggle. Hmmm

I did like Lilo teaching Stitch how to dance like Elvis and hula.

hulaThe ending drags a bit and it could have been 10 minutes shorter (or follow the example of Dumbo and make it 62 minutes!).  I don’t want to give everything away but there is some fun action and the spaceships are pretty cool.

We do get a nice moment where even Stitch learns he has found his ‘little and broken family’ (that gets me every time!).

And we get a little Elvis which is tons of fun.

Movie Review/Conclusion

So like I said I have mixed feelings about Lilo and Stitch.  I wish I could excise all the Stitch stuff out and just make it about the sisters.  I loved their relationship.  I loved the Hawaiian culture.  I loved the watercolor look. I loved the music both Hawaiian and Elvis.   I love the focus on families and ohana, and I love that Lilo is a little girl not an adolescent who behaves like a little girl.

I still think Stitch is one of the ugliest animated creatures ever created and the scenes with all the aliens drag.  I found myself itching to get back to the sisters.  It was so much more compelling.  Unfortunately this is a large part of the movie so it is a problem.

It makes giving a grade very difficult .

I guess I’m going to treat it like Bambi.  When Bambi works it works so well but when it doesn’t I’m not invested.  I gave Bambi a B- so

Overall Grade- B-

35 thoughts on “Movie 42: Lilo and Stitch

  1. I remember when I heart about the movie…I thought that Disney had lost it. “Alien experiment ended up in Hawaii”? Really? When I finally saw it years late I was surprised. I consider it the strongest movie of this era. It is unbelievable creative, manages a good portrayal of a native culture which got destroyed by civilisation and shows the bester sister relationship in Disney’s canon. Between Nani and Lilo there are two really interesting characters.

    Stitch is cute enough for my taste (especially the scene with the Ducklings makes me awwwwwwwww every time), and I think they hit the balance between the family team and the adventure.

    And the animation of the dance…freaking amazing.

    1. Totally agree on Nani and Lilo and the culture. That was perfect. I could watch that all day.

      Yeah Stitch is a barrier for me. I wish it was more ET and not so ugly and violent but I suppose everyone has personal tastes in these type of designs. It really does look like a cockroach to me. Just all the alien stuff felt predictable and weak when the sisters stuff was so good.

      The island is so beautifully shown and not just the paradise but a place where people live.

      I think every family feels broken at moments and so related to that in the movie. Makes me bawl my eyes out in a good way.

      But all my Bs are strong films I really like. I’m enjoying this period way more than I thought I would. I agree with you package films are worse period.

    2. I know that I’m WAAAYYYY late on this or whatever, but I want to express my opinion… I think those who are saying Stitch is the worst thing in the movie because of his design and actions are missing the point of his existence. He isn’t suppose to be a gentle living creature like E.T, but rather a little furball of total destruction. It’s stated throughout the whole film that he was programmed and designed to be a monstroustity, which makes he’s transformation from that to a lovable softy who finds the true meaning of “ohana” much more appealing to the audience. Was he a nuisance? Yes, but that was the point! Once again throughout the film Jumba (Stitch’s creator if you couldn’t remember the characters name) states that Stitch can’t change his programming, but yet somehow he does… (Or at least uses it for better causes… Like saving Lilo from Gantu). Yes the sister stuff between Lilo and Nani is important and great, but the whole role of Stitch is just as important. It taught me that even the most messed up and twisted beings could find love and have a change of heart.

      1. Everything you say is true. I guess I feel they went a little overboard on the monster side of him but every time I watch this film I warm up to him more. I’d definitely give this a higher grade now

      1. I’m neutral, so if “liking” was a number line, the positive numbers would be how much I liked it, the negatives would be how much I disliked it, and 0 would be neutral.

        Right now, I feel 0 for it. So I’m neutral. I don’t dislike it, but I don’t like it either.

      2. Got it. Thats what neutral normally means. It just seemed like from your comment you were more on the dislike side. No matter. I’m glad you like some things about it.

  2. In the end the stuff I like, I love so the stuff I don’t like just knocks it down a bit to B- grade. Bambi is the same way.

  3. Great review once again. I don’t know though, I would probably give this one, ah what the heck, an A-. Much like Treasure Planet, I gave this one maybe around a B- or lower 10 years ago. I actually liked this better than The Emperor’s New Groove to tell you the truth (again, was vice versa 10 years ago). So, I’m guessing you live in Hawaii nowadays then, eh?

    1. I wish I lived in Hawaii but want to have a home there someday on North Shore, Oahu. I’ve actually been scheming on taking a trip for Thanksgiving. We will see! I live in Utah believe it or not.
      I liked it better than previously too but I still don’t like the design of Stitch and am always anxious to get back to the sisters. That is so good. I’ve actually been thinking about purchasing it on blu-ray because I really enjoyed watching it. Just wish the alien stuff was more ET and less Gremlins.

      1. Well, your opinion is your opinion. I just thought I’d express how I feel about the film nowadays, you know? Honestly, I don’t mind the design of Stitch, but I guess everyone has different tastes, right?

      2. Of course. How boring would life be if we thought the exact same thing about everything? 🙂

    1. Nope. I live in Draper about 30 minutes from Salt Lake but I love Hawaii, particularly North Shore, Oahu. It kind of saved my life. Aloha!

    1. Well, I mentioned it in the review but 2007 was an intense year for me. I was very unhappy in my job and I went to Hawaii for the first time in that summer. I felt lighness and peace I hadn’t felt in a long time. I felt happy and it had been about 3 years since I had been truly happy. I came home, quit my job and 3 months later I started my other blog because I was finally smiling again. I was the happiest unemployed person you’ll ever meet.

      1. That’s awesome! Well, if it makes you feel any better, I hope to live in Orlando, Florida and work at Disney World sooner or later. My family and I have been there 11 times now. We have friends who live there (and one of whom works at Disney World). Honestly, I feel the same way about Orlando as you likely do about Oahu, Hawaii. Every time I go down there, I feel a sense of peace and happiness too. Well, I hope you get to live in Hawaii some day then.

      2. I love reading your blog (only found it a few months back,but I’m slowly going through the whole site) and I find it a pleasure how you’re not scared to show your vulnerable side of you straight out in your reviews. It makes reading a review much less a review and more like a personal opinion of a friend, which I much prefer. Also, as an Orthodox Jew, I really appreciate how much you let your religion and values affect your viewpoint, which unfortunately there is so little of in general society, and so much more so, Hollywood culture.

  4. My brother is not what I’d call a Disney fan, but every time the opportunity comes up to slide in ‘Lilo and Stitch’ he cannot turn down the chance. When I was much younger I wasn’t certain what to feel about the film as it was dealing with very adult, very emotionally heavy themes that I initially thought were out of place in a Disney film. Now that I’m older I certainly appreciate the film a whole lot more for those things being there. While it is a familiar story, that being the ‘Ugly Duckling’ sort, I think it tells it well enough that I didn’t mind, even though Dumbo did tell that same story better.

    Personally, I’d even say its a little better than I last thought; the animation and watercolour style is beautiful, the relationship between the two sisters is the best that we’ve seen in Disney thus far (yes, even beating Elsa and Anna IMO), the emotional stuff and parts about ohana work really well, and for the most part the alien stuff works out well enough. I don’t think Stitch has a negative side-effect on the film because while he starts out as a menace he does soften up and prove his worth in the climax. He’s sort of like Frankenstein’s Monster, a dangerous character that wants to be good. In some ways he is as necessary component to the film as the sisterly relationship is. When Lilo gets taken by Gantu, Stitch realizes that he must her because he’s actually found a purpose for why he was created. At least, that’s what I took from it.

    1. Yeah it’s a movie that has grown on me. The more I see it more I like it. I still dont like the design of Stitch but I’m beginning to be able to ignore that. Still wish they had toned down all the destruction he causes just a little bit too but it’s good

      1. The scary thing is, in the deleted scenes, Stitch causes even more damage; he throws Lilo’s pet fish, Pudge to suffocate on land, smiles with glee and then the poor fish gets eaten up by a seagull, leaving Lilo distraught. As you can imagine, I was disgusted by that scene and all the more relieved Stitch was the way he is in the movie itself. I guess they could have toned down his nastier moments, but they aren’t enough to ruin the film for me.

      2. Not ruin it. Like I said the more I watch the more I warm up to it. I think when Stitch destroys the house with Nani out of work and Lilo being taken away that was a lot of bad to happen to my characters. But I love Nani and Lilo so much, love Hawaii, love the watercolors. It’s a very good movie and I’d probably give it a higher score now because each time I see it I like it more

  5. Today was the first time I watched this movie, for my Disney Canon marathon and… wow, I hated it. It’s one of the worst Disney movies out there, in my opinion. From the start I couldn’t stand Lilo. She’s weird for weirdness sake. I mean, come on kid, stop making your sister’s life so difficult! I understand that’s a normal thing between sisters but Lilo goes waaaaay over the line. She’s about to be taken away and it’s like she doesn’t care, she keeps doing completely STUPID stuff for no reason.

    And yeah, I wasn’t very fond of Stitch either (though I didn’t think he looked ugly as a cockroach – I thought he was cute). The fact that he’s smart, can talk/think/understand everything and still be so chaotic even after starting to care about Lilo is frustrating. Yeah, yeah, it’s “in his program” but instead of being a movie about redemption, it’s a movie about… a lot of chaotic stuff happening with the last 10 minutes having a rushed redemption. And then suddenly humans are just accepting aliens as if it’s nothing. First the surfer (don’t remember the guy’s name, don’t care) and then the social worker was… CIA? Just because… well, just so that he would accept the alien rules or whatever because they ran out of time and had to wrap that up quickly.

    Ugh. I’m so frustrated because I always heard this was a great 2000s Disney movie and I really, really wanted to like it! 🙁

    Oh well…

    1. Sorry you disliked it so much but thanks for sharing your views! It’s one that has grown on me; although I do love Lilo. I think many little girls would behave the way she did. Kids are often very self interested and do lots of inappropriate and stupid stuff. I thought it had such heart it won me over.

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