Musical biopics have become so common these days that a director has to do something special to make his or her film stand out from the crowd. For example, the recent Elton John biopic Rocketman elevated it’s rags to rock n’ roll riches story with flights of fancy that enhanced each musical performance. In comparison Respect and Bohemian Rhapsody were saddled with clunky scripts that did nothing to bring any freshness to their subject matters of Aretha Franklin and Freddie Mercury respectively.
Fortunately the new movie Elvis has the style and panache of director Baz Luhrmann behind it which makes the film captivating even while acknowledging its more pedestrian elements.
Luhrmann tackles a lot in his retelling of the King of Rock and Roll’s life going from his time as a boy reveling at Black spirituals to his death in 1977. He also employs an unreliable narrator for the piece with Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager, leading the piece played by Tom Hanks.
This is definitely one of Hanks’ slimiest roles and perhaps I have him too type-cast but I never quite bought Hanks in the role. It’s not a dealbreaker or anything but it felt like more of a caricature of a performance than a compelling character.
Austin Butler as Elvis is another story. He is absolutely captivating as the larger than life figure in pop culture. I wish the movie had taken the Walk the Line approach and focused on a small part of Elvis’ life but Butler is up for everything he is asked to do (which is a lot).
Elvis’ family has come out in support of the film and I can see why. It must have been an emotional experience to have seen your loved one portrayed with such grit and energy. If Butler isn’t up for an Oscar it will be a real shame as I found him to use the cliché to be a tour de force on screen.
For the most part the editing and flairs in direction Luhrmann uses to spice up the chain of events work especially when Elvis is on stage moving those hips (the movie comments a lot on women and how social morals stop us from experiencing pleasure so often. Elvis got that until he was required to be ”New Elvis” which he then rebelled from). Sometimes when Luhrmann used modern hip-hop music (as he is prone to do) it was distracting but over-all his style worked for me in the film and gave me something to pay attention to when the narrative was more by-the-numbers musical biopic.
A lot of time is spent on Elvis’ 68 Comeback Christmas Special where he featured the protest song “If I Can Dream.” I honestly think they could have ended the movie there and it would have been a triumphant and exciting end to the story but they go for the whole life approach and it’s mostly compelling.
There will be some who will complain Elvis is too basic but I disagree. I think Luhrmann brings a lot of personality to the production and Butler is outstanding in the lead. It’s worth seeing the film for those 2 reasons alone. One might say I couldn’t help falling in love with this film… (I couldn’t resist LOL).
There 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?)
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).
I 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.
Now 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:
We have seen earilier in the film that Stitch is an alien genetic mutation created by a mad scientist alien for world domination.
I’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.
The 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.
The 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.
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