DVD Review: Lilo & Stitch -- 2- Disc Big Wave Edition (2002)

Catching a Wave on DVD

Previously Available

Since Dr. Spock never wrote a book on how to raise an unruly alien, it's up to mischievous Hawaiian half-pint troublemaker Lilo (voiced by Daveigh Chase) to come up with her own set of rules when she brings her new blue “dog” home from the local animal shelter.

Unaware that the pet she names Stitch is in fact Experiment 626-- the illegal, extraterrestrial product of mad scientist Dr. Jumpa Jookiba (David Ogden Stiers) -- who escaped execution after crash landing in his space pod to Earth, Lilo decides that the best way to train the newest member of her tiny family is to encourage them to emulate her idol, Elvis Presley.

In the brand new lush two-disc Big Wave Edition set for the Oscar-nominated feature film, Lilo & Stitch—which boasts a 125 minute all encompassing documentary on the making of the feature on disc two—we’re once again treated to one of Walt Disney Studios' most bizarre yet creative tales about an unlikely friendship.

The film centers on the two titular outcasts including the havoc-wreaking, antisocial mostly sour but ultimately Disney certified sweet Stitch and the adorable Lilo who is just one misstep away from being removed from the custody of her overwhelmed, hard-working big sister Nani (Tia Carrere).

Just the sixth offering from the studio to be set in present day (following Oliver and Company)-- as the DVD set’s fascinating documentary reveals, the film employed the same collaborators who’d contributed greatly to the action-packed and girl-power work Mulan (co-writers and directors Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois. Likewise, it was essentially inspired as the cinematic answer posed during a Roy Disney hosted retreat that asked the animation staff what could become the Dumbo of their generation.

Using a breathtaking but artistically challenging to approach involving water colors to capture the light, ambiance and magic of Hawaii (studied firsthand by the animators upon visiting the island of Kaua’i with cameras and sketchbooks in hand), Lilo & Stitch actually had its origins as far back as the early 80s when it was initially conceived as a failed children's book.

While the film begins on uneven footing in its ominous outer-space opening which may frighten the youngest viewers (that in fact prompted me to skip ahead to chapter six when watching it with a toddler the second time around), eventually the tried and true Disney morals of family, loyalty, and friendship persevere despite its unorthodox and dark-tinged plot that wouldn't feel out of place in the oeuvre of Tim Burton or perhaps the early and sometimes admittedly twisted shenanigans in which Pinocchio found himself in the Walt Disney classic.

In his 2002 review published following the film’s release, America’s most beloved critic and scholar Roger Ebert correctly marveled in dismay that Scooby-Doo-- the “wretched” film in which he “deplored… as a blight on the nation's theaters,” grossed $54 million during its opening weekend. And furthermore, while revealing his disappointment with that statistic, he shared his belief that subsequently “if there is justice in the world, ‘Lilo & Stitch’ will gross $200 million,” before he eventually succumbed in relenting that “there is not justice” and instead “a herd instinct” as he feared that Scooby-Doo would continue to win out.

However, despite Scooby-Doo’s theatrical success (which was usurped by Minority Report) that eventually guaranteed Scooby-Doo a sequel, there is no legacy involving that work whereas there is one for Lilo & Stitch as it raked in over twenty nominations and eight wins from critical circles and industry organizations (including that Animated Feature Oscar nomination which found it losing out to Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away).

Moreover, as reported by Wikipedia-- to date the film “has been the only Walt Disney Feature Animation/Walt Disney Animation Studios production released during the 2000s to meet with critical approval and make its cost back during its original theatrical run,” not to mention the four direct-to-video sequels and two season spanning television spin-off series that followed.

Refreshingly, it also breaks what has become tradition for the studio by featuring a girl who isn't unrealistically shaped in Disney Princess fashion not to mention being one of the few animated films produced by this or any other studio that prominently feature characters that are not Caucasian. Although, this being said, I must admit that both upon my initial viewing on the big screen seven years ago and even today, I still am a bit mixed on some of the seemingly unflattering and overly “broad” ethnic animation of the characters of Nani and Ving Rhames’ Men in Black meets Pulp Fiction child custody worker character in particular.

Despite this, overall, I feel it's a step in the right direction for the studio to pave the way for hopefully subsequent animation efforts of others that follow by embracing diversity and contemporary storytelling. And additionally—while the outer-space sci-fi bookend seems a bit out of sync with the rest—I adore the imaginative touches seasoned throughout such as the ageless and hip compositions of Elvis Presley and more importantly the return to watercolor animation.

It's the sheer and unparalleled beauty of this film (echoed recently through some of the scenic “on the road” sequences employed in Bolt) that make this well-deserved two disc special edition treatment of Lilo & Stitch all the more welcome in a world where-- despite the incredible breakthroughs in the field of animation, 3-D, and CGI—we’re used to a certain video-game like look. Thus, it's extremely important to find our animation palette cleansed once again by just how gorgeous an effect can be reached by placing a paintbrush on paper.

Disney enthusiasts and especially those interested in the creative process will want to be sure to explore the second disc’s in-depth documentary that contains candid footage of the film from the story development and earliest sketches (along with interviews from those involved) that elevate Lilo & Stitch into Disney vault territory by letting us into the inter-workings of the filmmaking process as evidenced in other recent releases such as WALL-E and Mary Poppins.

Thus, this addition makes the two-disc Big Wave set equal for adults the plethora of kid-friendly games, music videos, and mini-extras including a “DisneyPedia” tour of the Hawaiian islands on the first disc. Released in the same week as Disney’s Bolt—this new release of Lilo & Stitch also gives fans the opportunity to get a free collectible Bolt plush dog with the purchase of both films (set to expire on 6/30/09 or until supplies last). And while luckily this "dog" will prove to be more house-trained than Lilo's, it probably wouldn't hurt to play him some Elvis Presley now and again.