Few companies throughout the history of the world have been so shameless in their pursuit of the almighty dollar as the Walt Disney Company. After breaking the mold in 1934, Disney has never shied away from creative marketing and release strategies to wring every last dollar out of its most beloved pieces of intellectual property. Each week, we’ll look at the House of Mouse’s various sequels, prequels, spin-offs and various misadventures relegated from the silver screen to the small screen. Is there any artistic merit to be found? Or was each film mostly conceived as an excuse to print more money? Join me as we search for the answers from the wonderful world of Di$ney.
Why does this exist?
Apologies to everyone who’s been unable to sleep for the last seven days due to the breakdown in reviewing Tarzan II last week. For what it’s worth, I was pleasantly surprised by it and would put it at or near the top of the films throughout this series so far.
I get the impression that the head honchos at Disney didn’t care whether Lilo & Stitch was successful or not. Michael Eisner, Disney’s CEO at the time, wanted to scale back production, and the team that worked on the film was cut short compared to other recent Disney films. Hand-drawn animation had mostly been phased out by 2002 and would be put on an indefinite hiatus after flops like Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. But Lilo & Stitch defied expectations and tripled its budget. Sure, the total gross may not be impressive when compared to Disney’s more famous works, but considering the atmosphere for animation at the time, it’s one of the company’s more interesting feats. Plus, the film had a baked-in merchandise machine that the other two films didn’t, with two cuddly characters in Lilo and Stitch, along with their various alien pals.
What’s going on here?
Stitch 2 picks up some time after the events of the original film, when the aliens Stitch, Jumba and Wendy have all settled into life with the humans. Lilo and Stitch enjoy an idyllic friendship and seem to have found a steady rhythm with Nani, Lilo’s older sister. Maybe this is something I missed out on by seeing the original only in bits and pieces but never in one sitting, but nobody seems to question why Lilo’s “dog” talks and looks like no other dog that has ever existed and why one of her two “visiting relatives” have one eye, green skin and suckers for fingers. And I’m OK with that! Disney had bigger fish to fry with its sequel, and all of those ideas would have been derailed with a wacky attempt to cover up their identities.
Instead, the filmmakers (Michael LaBash and Tony Leondis) expand on the themes of the original film, like finding the good in flawed people. Stitch begins acting unusual, destroying things and scaring Lilo’s friends. Apparently, Stitch’s batteries are running low, which makes sense because I also tend to involuntarily lash out when my batteries are running low. Lilo does her best to determine a way to fix Stitch, all while training to win her hula-dancing contest — which her mother won when she was younger. You wouldn’t think that a direct-to-video sequel would touch upon the complex idea of living up to other people’s expectations for us, but Stitch 2 manages to do all of this with a surprisingly deft touch, which feels like a natural extension of the original film’s ideas. That the film does all of this in 70 minutes (about 60 if you take out the credits) makes the storytelling decisions even more crucial.
How much of the original is preserved?
The one bit that stands out to me most when someone mentions the original film is the quote of Lilo declaring that ” ‘Ohana’ means ‘family,’ family means nobody gets left behind.” Nobody reiterates the line verbatim here, but the sentiment can be felt throughout. The hula contest is an effective way to bring Lilo and Nani’s parents back to the forefront in a meaningful way. And Stitch’s problems stem back to a debate about what it takes to be a good person (or alien). Meanwhile, the subplots with the aliens and Nani’s boyfriend are thankfully inconsequential and simply exist to provide some goofy slapstick.
Aesthetically speaking, Stitch Has a Glitch looks great, with the same watercolor look as the original film. And yes, for some reason, there’s still plenty of Elvis music.
Does this ruin the original film?
I’ve never seen the other two Lilo & Stitch sequels; both bookended the Disney Channel TV show, so they’re ineligible for this column. But from what I’ve read, they focus much more on alien shenanigans and forget the themes of the original film, which falls in line with numerous films we’ve covered. Strangely, there were bits of Stitch Has a Glitch that I felt like I had seen before, which feels like high praise for the film. After all, if the studio can get their audience to confuse a direct-to-video sequel with a theatrically released film, they’ve done their job right.
- Next Time: Oh yeah, it’s all coming together – for Kronk’s New Groove.