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|Kevin Krock, editor|
I remember a discussion I had with a couple of other MousePlanet staff members after the Lilo & Stitch premiere last year. One of them said, That was a pretty good movie. I hope they don't make some cheesy sequel and ruin the whole thing. I replied, Unfortunately, I think a sequel is inevitable, if not already in the works. That statement was then immediately followed by my jest, In fact, I'll bet Disney is planning on making 625 sequels! You know because Stitch was the 626th experiment and all. Somewhere around the end of that sentence, we all realized the true gravity of my comment and just stared at each other for a second while we absorbed the rather distinct possibilities.
It was then only a short time after that fateful discussion on the Hollywood freeway when rumors of a Lilo and Stitch television series, introduced by a direct-to-video movie sequel, began to surface. Details about the whole deal remained surprisingly sketchy until fairly recently, when it was finally announced that Stitch! The Movie was going to introduce the premise for the animated television series.
If you are a long-time reader, you probably know that I tend to be wary of Disney's latest and greatest direct-to-video sequels. Suffice it to say that decent direct-to-video titles are few and far between, but even the relatively good ones never seem to have the same life, look, or feel of the originals. Then again, most Disney direct-to-video releases are really meant to capitalize on a younger viewer's recognition of popular characters more than to satisfy a parent's desire for a sequel with high-quality animation and music, a solid story, bonus material, and so on.
Based on the scant amount of information available a couple of months ago and the direct television series tie-in, Stitch! The Movie certainly appeared to be heading down the path of utter disappointment, much like other infamous direct-to-video titles like Cinderella 2 and Tarzan and Jane. Even the previews on other Disney DVDs did not really discount my concerns, so when I put the disc in my player, I braced myself.
After skipping through most of the typical promotional trailers, I came across the trailer for the television series, which looked like a pretty typical Saturday morning cartoon. It was not looking good for the feature presentation. Yet, I pressed onward, and I must say that I am glad that I did. After a few scenes, my concerns about the character animation, watercolor backgrounds, and computer animation were mostly disproved, and the story, while clearly designed to introduce the series, is at least consistent with the feel of the original.
The character animation is more fluid than I anticipated, but it still has an occasional jumpy or stuttered action here and there that you would not see in a theatrical animated movie. Also, the character designs do not appear to be significantly altered in an effort to simplify and speed animation. The characters also exhibit a decent degree of shading, shadows, and environmental reflectivity, which is a lot more than you will usually see on budget animation projects.
There are also quite a few computer animation shots that, while not quite up to par with Disney Feature Animation, blend relatively well and do not stick out as much as I expected. Finally, the backgrounds look like real watercolor paintings and stay true to the original film's color palate and design. All in all, I was pleased to see the attention to the animation and style.
To help maintain the continuity of the original film, virtually all of the key character voice actors returned, including:
In addition to the old cast, two new characters join the band. Rob Paulsen (Pinky and the Brain and Animaniacs) voices Experiment 625, who has all the powers of Stitch but only enjoys making sandwiches, and Jeff Bennett (Johnny Bravo) voices Dr. Jacques von Hamsterviel, an angry, insulting mad scientist hamster who speaks like John Cleese's rude French castle guard from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
However, voices and animation are not much without a story, and for a direct lead-in to a television series, this one is better than I expected. It opens with Dr. Hamsterviel hiring Gantu to go to Earth and recover Jumba's remaining experiments. When Jumba catches wind of Gantu's quest, he hides the experiments and is captured and imprisoned by Dr. Hamsterviel. On Earth, Lilo, Stitch, and Pleakley set out to rescue Jumba. And along the way, a couple of the dehydrated, golf ball size experiments are activated and reveal their individual powers.
After chasing down Dr. Hamsterviel, Lilo and the gang attempt to recapture the experiments and release Jumba. Not surprisingly, as this really is the whole reason for this movie, the experiment container is broken open somewhere above Hawaii and releases the remaining 623 experiments over the islands. I think you can see where the series will continue from this point.
Fortunately, the road to this inevitable ending is relatively enjoyable for the whole family and for fans of Lilo & Stitch. While it is not quite as good as the original, Stitch! still maintains a similar feel and style to the original, and best of all, it is totally devoid of cliché flashbacks or kludged-together pieces of available television series segments.
The one key aspect of the original movie that I missed the most in Stitch!, though, is the use of music. There is one Elvis song early in the direct-to-video movie, and then the rest of the movie features a rather typical musical score. Gone are the wonderful, catchy Hawaiian-inspired songs and keenly placed Elvis songs, which added the extra punch to the original that I enjoyed so much. While definitely disappointing, their absence does not completely disrupt the overall feel of the movie, but it would have been nice to have a new song or two to punch this release up a bit.
As is typical with most Disney direct-to-video titles, there are not many bonus items, and the ones that are present are pretty basic and targeted at younger viewers. The trivia challenge is only mildly interesting, and once you finish the game, it just ends without fanfare. Additionally, if the voice of Dr. Hamsterviel annoys you, then you can just forget this game. The Experiment Finder game is also rather hum drum, and once you know the location of the experiments, you will never need to search for them again. Even my 4-and-a-half-year-old has grown tired of these games within days of first playing them. As for the other two items, a music video and an Experiment gallery, they are self-explanatory and only of minor interest.
The Video, Audio and Interface
As with most of Disney's DTVs, the video and audio transfers are nicely done and will play well on any home theater system. The anamorphic widescreen video is clean and bright, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is dynamic with plenty of directionality and surround effects. The disc also includes a DTS 5.1 soundtrack for those with the appropriate hardware, and there are also two language tracks. As for the user interface, it features a nicely animated main menu screen, and just about all of the menus in the interface feature some musical accompaniment. None of these features are particular standouts relative to other Disney DTV titles, but they are all the things that I look for and expect in current DVD releases.
The Final Evaluation
While I was initially a bit concerned about how this disc was going to turn out, I think enough things came together to make it a respectable follow-up to the original. It falls short of the original with respect to key ingredients like music and other little touches, but the animation, story, and voice cast of Stitch! The Movie should be enough to satisfy fans. The video and audio transfers on the disc are right on target and should present the movie nicely on any DVD system. However, because of the lack of bonus material and the rather inevitable ending, this disc probably has more entertainment value for younger viewers than their parents. It is worth a rental for older fans, but an outright purchase is a bit harder to justify unless you will be repeatedly watching it or playing it for your children. In the latter case, keep your eyes peeled for a good price ($15 to $17) at a discount store to get your best value.
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