Ranking Disney: #32 – Lilo & Stitch (2002)

Lilo & Stitch — this was really the only Disney movie I’d seen, post-2000, and I saw it at that age where I was “too mature” for Disney movies. I thought I outgrew that stuff. It came out when I was 13, and at that time, I was graduating to stuff like The Godfather and Pulp Fiction and stuff. So to me, Disney movies were childish stuff. I remember my sister liked this movie a lot. And I would look down on it. And that attitude sort of stayed with me over the years. Until I watched it this time, of course.

I had it in my mind that this wasn’t a particularly good movie. But when I watched it — I was surprised at how much parts of the film legitimately touched me, and made me feel something for the characters. But overall, there are parts of it that just feel way too unnecessary and overdone, and that kind of taints the overall film for me. I really wanted to rank this higher, but I just couldn’t. I like it a lot, but, when I look at it as an overall film, it always ends up here.

The film begins at the Galactic Federation headquarters on Planet Turo. Doctor Jumba Jookiba is on trial for illegal genetic experimentation. He pleads not guilty, saying his experiments are theoretical. They prove that he created something – Stitch. Or, as the doc calls it – Experiment 626.

He’s bulletproof, fireproof, can think faster than a supercomputer, can see in the dark, move objects three thousand times his size. Oh, and his only instinct is to kill everything. So, you know, no biggie.

The council, or whatever it is, wants to destroy it, thinking it’s a monster, but gives it a chance to save itself by saying it understands what’s going on. It responds by saying something in some alien language that is apparently wildly inappropriate. They send the doc to prison and banish Stitch on an asteroid. Naturally he gets free and pilots a ship out of there. And where does he end up? Earth, of course. And Hawaii. Because why the fuck not?

The Grand Councilwoman wants to destroy the planet, but Agent Pleakley (the stereotypical science nerd agent) tells her that Earth is a wildlife preserve, being used to repopulate the dwindling mosquito population. They can’t even destroy Hawaii. So they go to the doc and tell him that they’ll let him go free if he can recapture Stitch.

Then we move to Hawaii, where Lilo, an eccentric six (ish) year old, and her sister Nani live together after their parents died in a car crash. It’s difficult for them. Nani has to work hard to support the two of them, and Lilo keeps getting in trouble and ostracized because of her… uniqueness. She prays for a friend who won’t run away from her.

Stitch then crash lands on the island and is hit by a truck. This really shouldn’t affect him, but I think they mention something about water not being good for his molecular structure. Maybe it’s like his kryptonite. So they think he’s a dog and take him to the shelter. (Oh, it’s that he can’t swim. He’s too heavy for water. That’s it. He’ll drown if he falls in.)

Nani takes Lilo to the shelter to get a dog. Stitch, who is being chased by the doc and Pleakley, pretends to be a dog so they take him home. Stitch can’t stand having to hold down his instincts, but sees the doc and Pleakley are following him, so he continues doing so.

Stitch has no greater purpose than to destroy, and now there’s nothing to destroy, and he has no memories to fall back on. There’s a great moment where he finds a book of fairy tales and sees the one about the ugly duckling, lost and alone, but then finding a family and a place to belong.

Nani ends up losing her job because of Stitch, and also ends up not getting any of the ones she applies for after that because of him. But then they go surfing with David, who is Nani’s love interest, so everything is all right.

While they surf, Stitch sees the three of them together and starts to see what it’s like to have a family.

Then, after the doc and Pleakley try to grab Stitch as he, Nani and Lilo go surfing, it almost causes Lilo to drown. This is seen by Bubbles, a social worker (who is clearly former CIA), who doesn’t think Nani is providing the proper environment for Lilo to grow up in. It’s a running thing that he keeps popping up right at moments that make it seem like Nani is unfit to care for Lilo. He says he’s coming to take Lilo in the morning, even though he feels bad about it, knowing that she’s trying to do the right thing.

Stitch sees this and believes it’s his fault. He decides to leave so as not to cause any further trouble. He meets the doc in the forest, who tells him he was built to destroy and can never have a family.

The next morning, David tells Nani he found her a job. She runs off to go interview for it, leaving Lilo alone in the house. Naturally, as soon as they leave, Stitch and the doc arrive, the doc with his space gun, and shoot up the place. The house is destroyed. Lilo also calls Bubbles and says that aliens are attacking the house.

Bubbles arrives and takes Lilo away. Lilo runs into the forest as he argues with Nani. There, she finds Stitch, who reveals his alien form to her. She says he ruined everything and tells him to go away. Just then, Captain Gantu arrives, having been sent to make up for doc and Plakeley’s stupidity, and captures Stitch. He also manages to capture Lilo as well.

He puts them inside a glass capsule and takes off for space. Only Stitch manages to get out. Nani tells him to tell her where Lilo is, and just as he’s about to explain, the doc and Plakeley captures him. They tell her they were only there for Stitch and say they can’t get Lilo back.

Stitch then, in one of the most touching moments of the film, tells Nani, “Ohana.” Which is a running line throughout the film. It means “family. And family means no one gets left behind. Or forgotten.” He gets the doc to agree to help him. They set off to go rescue Lilo.

Then there’s a chase sequence, and it ends with a showdown between Gantu and Stitch. Stitch rescues Lilo and even arrests Gantu. But then the grand councilwoman arrives and arrests Stitch. But after seeing him say goodbye to Lilo and Nani, he asks who they are. And he says, “This is my family,” she feels bad, since the law is absolute. And Lilo produces the paper that says she bought Stitch from the animal shelter, which means them taking Stitch would technically constitute stealing. She then lets Stitch remain with Lilo and Nani, and even put them under protection by the United Galactic Federation.

It’s also revealed that Bubbles was former CIA, and met the councilwoman at Roswell in ’73 (get it?), and saved the world by convincing them mosquitos were an endangered species (a running gag throughout the film).

The film ends with everyone (Bubbles, the doc, Plakeley Stitch, David, Lilo and Nani) rebuilding their house (it’s almost exactly like the end of The Patriot. Find me someone else who made that comparison), and a montage of Stitch being part of the family.

I’m so torn about this film. The parts with Lilo and Nani are really engaging and touching, but the whole Stitch being an alien thing – I was able to go with it, but some of the alien stuff was a bit too much for me. So while I really like the film, and it is really touching at points, overall, I can’t love it as much as I want to, because I’m just not on board with the whole alien thing. And that third act action sequence is way too much for me.

So, while this could have been a great film, to me, it’s simply just a very good film.

– – – – –

Official Disney Number: #42

Run Time: 85 minutes

Release Date: June 21, 2002

Budget: $80 million

Box Office: $145.8 million domestically, $273.1 million worldwide

– – – – –


Nothing original. They’re all Elvis songs. Well, I guess there are two “Hawaiian” songs, written by Alan Silvestri and performed by a Hawaiian singer, but — fuck it, we’ll list them: “Ha Mele No Lilo” and “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride,” both performed by Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu. The first is mostly a mashup of two traditional Hawaiian songs, and the second doesn’t really have lyrics, hence why I didn’t feel like including them.

– – – – –

Voice Cast:

Daveigh Chase, as Lilo
Chris Sanders, as Stitch
Tia Carrere, as Nani
David Ogden Stiers, as Jumba
Kevin McDonald, as Pleakley
Ving Rhames, as Cobra Bubbles
Zoe Caldwell, as Grand Councilwoman
Jason Scott Lee, as David Kawena

Kevin Michael Richardson, as Captain Gantu

– – – – –


  • This film was nominated for Best Animated Feature (along with Treasure Planet, to boot). It lost to Spirited Away.
  • It’s one of the few Disney films to take place in the present day (in which it was made). The only ones are this, One Hundred and One DalmatiansThe Rescuers, The Rescuers Down Under, Oliver & Company and Bolt.
  • The film came about when Michael Eisner decided they should try a smaller, less-expensive film. It was inspired by Dumbo, which was a pretty cheap film, made during Pinocchio and Fantasia, which were not. They also used watercolor backgrounds here, the first time they’ve done that since Dumbo.
  • Chris Sanders created Stitch in 1985, trying to turn it into a children’s book. Originally it was going to take place in Kansas, to keep him isolated and unable to destroy anything.
  • I remember knowing this one from years back. I wonder if it still stands. This is the only film with a Playboy Playmate (Tia Carrere) in it. Or rather — it’s the only Disney film with someone who posed nude for Playboy as a voice. That may have changed since then (I’m not looking it up), but I thought it was an awesome piece of trivia.
  • Apparently in other iterations of the film and script, Stitch was a gang leader, Jumba was like Robert Ryan in The Wild Bunch, a former outlaw now turned sheriff. Test audiences didn’t like that so much. Also, in the climax, Stitch was originally going to fly a 747 through downtown Honolulu. That didn’t mesh in a post-9/11 world. (It’s still pretty similar, the finished product.)
  • There are a couple of hidden Mickey Mouse images in the film. I never catch these. One is on Jumba’s platform at the beginning, and another is on the wall in Lilo’s room. And apparently that shot of Stitch licking the glass has the saliva in the shape of the “D” in the Disney logo.
  • Apparently only this and Princess and the Frog are the only two post-2000 Disney films to both make their money back in theaters and be critically acclaimed.
  • Apparently they modeled Cobra after Marcellus Wallace. Cute, Disney. Real cute.

– – – – –

Disney Motifs:

1. Gives “When You Wish Upon a Star” a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?

2. Just like Tarzan:

3. Oh look, negative coloring:

4. Oh no, it’s Them!

5. Check out the name of the wok:

6. I don’t know why, but I loved this gag. “I wanna buy him! … can you lend me ten dollars?”

7. Oh look — a Pixar reference:

8. I’m telling you — it’s always funny — animals waving goodbye/hello:


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