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Disney surprised all the critics with the release of ‘Lilo & Stitch’ last year. Expecting to review another lacklustre emotionless ‘cartoon’, they were confronted with Disney’s most fun and new idea to date.

Lilo & Stitch
After the relative U.S. box office failure of Disney’s most recent animated movie ‘Treasure Planet’, the bosses at Disney animation must be wishing they could come up with another idea as good as Lilo & Stitch sometime very soon. After some very clever and memorable teaser trailers (included on the DVD you may be glad to know) as well as some subtle but popular marketing and promotion, Lilo & Stitch went on to become a surprise smash hit back in June. I didn’t actually go and see this in the cinema, firstly because I knew it would be out on region 1 DVD before its run had finished here in the U.K. cinemas, and secondly to be honest I didn’t think it would be that good. But now after watching the film, I am proven wrong and I wish I had gone because Lilo & Stitch is Disney family entertainment at its best.

The premise is this - ‘Stitch’ (a.k.a experiment 626) is a strange and highly dangerous alien creature that was created as the result of genetic experimentation by a mad alien scientist to create the perfect weapon. Once discovered, stitch is banished to a rock planet after a galactic trial deems him a menace to society. Stitch however has other plans and escapes en-route, proceeds to steal a police spaceship and after being fired upon accidentally crash lands on... yep, you guessed it, Earth (or Hawaii to be more precise). What follows are the meeting of Stitch and Lilo, a young Hawaiian girl having not only problems with her friends, but at home as well, and the transformation of Stitch from aggressive alien to best friend.

All the main characters are voiced superbly; the sub-characters are just as entertaining, including the scientist who created Stitch and his one eyed sidekick both sent to re-capture the troublesome alien after his escape in some classic Marx brothers style moments.  Another stand out character is that of ‘Bubble’ dressed like a ‘man in black’ but actually a social worker brilliantly voiced by Ving Rhames who you older readers may remember as ‘Marsellus Wallace’ in Pulp Fiction.

The journey through the story is fun and entertaining, as is the simple and highly effective animation used to very clever effect.  The jokes are great and the use of some Elvis classics even better.  In true Disney style the action packed climax is great, the end is heart warming, and once finished will leave a great big smile on your face like it did mine.

Lilo & Stitch
Those of you readers who are not familiar with or aware of how good Disney’s new transfers are, let me tell you: they are simply outstanding.  Even the remasters of older Disney classics such as ‘Peter Pan’ or ‘Mary Poppins’ make the movies look almost brand new. I viewed the film on a Sony 32” Flatscreen Wega and, just like the other more recent Disney DVDs, the film came alive. The non-complexity of the animation goes back to Disney’s roots (this is discussed briefly on the DVDs extras) and looks simply great.  Presented in anamorphic widescreen there are no compression artefacts or blemishes as this is a direct digital transfer. This also means no visible edge enhancement (however, edge enhancement is more and more becoming an argument for personal opinion). It is surprising to think the picture looks this good even with all the extras. The current Lilo & Stitch is a one-disc affair and Disney have successfully managed to squeeze it all on without compromising sound or picture quality.

I have been collecting all the new edition Disney Classics, Platinums and Collectors Editions since they became available and have become used to their less than impressive 5.1 surround mixes. However, the more recent films not only have a great transfer, but improved sound as well. The front 3 channels as with most Disney are used at all times for main dialogue and stereo sound effects, Alan Silvestri’s score is simple but effective and is heard whenever it needs to be. The rear channels are usually made good use of with ambient effects such as the sound of the seashore behind you and the occasional wind breeze, as well as the more aggressive sounds like huge crashing waves and complex laser fire in space. Speaking of aggression, if you have an active subwoofer you may want to turn it down a bit otherwise every time a spaceship fires up its engines and takes off your house may shake apart! Lilo & Stitch along with Atlantis and Tarzan are the most interactive 5.1 mixes from Disney I have heard, and so far I would say they are the only Disney films worth cranking your amp/receiver up for.

Lilo & Stitch has a nice array of extras considering it’s only a single disc.

DisneyPedia: Hawaii - The islands of Aloha is an interactive tour of the various Hawaiian Islands, voiced and narrated by actors from the film. Select a picture of one of the islands to hear lots of facts about it as well as some nicely shot film footage of the beautiful Hawaiian scenery including erupting volcanoes and some surfers in action on the waves. Educational and cleverly done, in the usual Disney way. Create your own Alien Experiment game is the usual Disney DVD game voiced by the same mad scientist from the film. This is a memory game answering questions based on what happened in the film. Definitely one for kids.

Lilo & Stitch
The DVD contains 7 featurettes that are all relatively similar, each shedding small amounts of light on certain aspects of the filmmaking process.  The first of these ‘A Stitch in Time - Follow Stitch through the Disney Years’ (3min31sec) Is an amusing ‘Mickey take’ (excuse the pun) about Stitch attempting in the past unsuccessfully to join in many other Disney films like ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Lady and the Tramp’. No animation, but some fun stills of Stitch in some well-known scenes. The next featurette is a short lesson with a ‘Hula Master’ about the origins of the famous Hawaiian dance.  Interviews with the teacher and shots of real Hula dancers in a dance studio. The ‘young voices of Hawaii’ running for 2min45sec, includes interviews with producers about the Hawaiian children who sung some of the songs in the film and some recording footage. “Burning Love” - Behind the scenes with Wynonna (1min31sec) is a very short talk with the female singer ‘Wynonna’ who sings the final song featured in the film (an Elvis cover version). The look of Lilo & Stitch (4min7sec) is featurette number 5 about designing the look of the film. Interesting interviews with the animators, producers and directors including some early sketches and design pictures. Animating the Hula (3min6sec) discusses making the Hula dance look authentic on film. Some nice comparisons with the real Hula dancers and the animated hula dancers showing just how authentic it did look. ‘On location with the directors’ (19min4sec) is a much more substantial featurette shot mostly on camcorders. This looks at the design of storyboards, recording the voices and animation reviews, as well as some of the computer graphics used. It also features a nice segment on Alan Silvestri recording the score. Some repetition does occur from some of the shorter featurettes in this longer ‘making of’.

“I can’t help falling in love with you” is the music video of the song performed by the A-Teens with some clips from the film.  It is so short at about a minute that i’m not so sure it was worth including but good if you are a fan of the A-Teens. There are 3 deleted scenes included on the DVD, each with a short introduction by the writer/director about why each scene was cut. They are all a mix of work in progress and final animation. Nothing really of any major importance here:

[*]Stitches Trial: An alternative introduction with shots of Stitch wreaking havoc on other planets.
[*]Gantu Challenges: Extra scene in the trail chambers including sub-character ‘Captain Gantu’.
[*]Bedtime Stories: A scene showing some alternative dialogue between Lilo and her sister.

As I mentioned earlier, the theatrical teaser trailers are thankfully included on the disc. These are the now famous ‘interstitchvals’ the teaser trailers for Lilo & Stitch in which Stitch interrupts important scenes from other Disney films. There are 4 ‘interrupted’ films; Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. All are good fun and worth multiple viewings.

The DVD-ROM section includes access to the official Lilo & Stitch website and exclusive online DVD content, plus additional online extras.

Lilo & Stitch
Lilo & Stitch is Disney family entertainment on top form. While clearly aimed at younger children, there are few adults who would fail to have at least one laugh out loud moment. The film is great and DVDs can get a lot worse than this one. That said, there is a lot more Disney could have done with this. At first I considered holding back on this purchase for the rumoured 2-disc collectors edition which was ‘in the works’, but then ‘wasn’t’, and now ‘might be’. Missing from this DVD is any type of audio commentary, DTS sound (which Disney has included on the last three big releases) and a whole lot more that could have been done with behind the scenes footage. Just take a look at the flawless ‘Atlantis Collectors Edition’ and you’ll see what I mean. After a year of Disney disappointments and various current rumours saying there will be no more 2 disc collectors editions from the mouse house, the company has a lot to live up to in 2003. However Lilo & Stitch was, and still is, a beacon of light in an otherwise cloudy Disney future. Unless you want to wait until mid next year for a supposed 2-Disc edition that might not even happen, I would highly recommend picking this up now.