I want to be ‘Stitch’ when I grow up

StitchI’m not a huge modern-era Disney fan. Little Mermaid was fun; everything else since I could pretty much take or leave. Didn’t even bother with Mulan and Atlantis; although Emperor’s New Groove was a blast.
But and Stich… this one’s a classic.
I first encountered Stitch in one of the many mini-preview “inter-Stitch-als” that Disney released on the Web in the leadup to the release — starting way back about six months ago. It was a takeoff on Beauty and the Beast, which Stitch crawls out on a chandelier to observe Beauty and her Beast dancing gracefully through the ballroom — and then proceeds to come crashing down in the middle of the dance floor, nearly squashing the pair.
Beauty dusts herself off, raises her nose and sniffs, “I’ll be in my room — Get your own movie,” walking off stage — and Stitch, muttering something incompressible in his own odd language, then gives an unmistakable wolf-whistle as the fair lady passes out of sight.
I was hooked. I liked this little guy’s style.
And it only got better. Watching the Interstitchals that followed, and the full length preview that eventually came after them, gave tantalizing glimpses of a film that combined beautiful handpainted animation with a central character who embodied fun in a way that I hadn’t seen in a Disney flick — or any other — in ages; if ever.
So when I finally saw the film last weekend, I expected to have a good time. I expected to laugh; I expected to revel in Stitch’s blithe disregard for all civilized norms of behavior and his sheer perverse joy in wreaking havoc on the world around him.
What I didn’t expect was to be touched. The goddamn thing actually brought tears to my eyes.
Because in Lilo and Stich, writer/directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois have created characters and story that mines deep veins of human emotion and need — for belonging, for family, for a sense of self and of place in the world.
These are not new or original themes to find in an animated feature by any means. But Lilo and Stich does something few ‘kids’ films attempt: it tackles deep and intense emotional issues headon, without sugarcoating them with the now-common postmodern wink-and-a-nudge that excuses the audience from any actual need to feel for the characters. And so it delivers the fun and mischief that the trailers promised — but it demands that you come along on a rocky ride through dark emotional territory along the way.
And in doing so, it ascends to the level of animated masterpiece the likes of which hasn’t been seen since — well, since Bambi.
I saw one review of the film which said that criticized it for being too derivative of ‘E.T.” I don’t recall the reviewer’s name, but this totally misses the boat. Stitch is not E.T. —- he’s Frankenstein for kids.
But he’s more than just the pathos and loneliness of the Frankenstein monster shrunk down into an odd-looking six-armed blue doglike package. Stitch lights up the screen with his utter delight in destruction and mischief. He is in this way, a direct descendent of that classic of ‘toons, Bugs Bunny. But part of Stitch’s charm is that unlike Bugs — who causes trouble in a generally honorable way, but does so with full moral knowledge of his actions — Stitch is a true innocent. He truly has no concept of right and wrong; he just knows that smashing stuff and wreaking havoc is fun.
And that combination — the abandoned loneliness and monsterous innocence of Frankenstein blended with the joyful mischief of Bugs — is what makes Stitch the most compelling animated character I’ve seen in years. Maybe ever.
Go see the movie, and let the little fellow introduce himself.
You might cry — but you won’t regret it.