Lilo & Stitch
"Iron Giant with training wheels"
Dir. Dean Deblois and Chris Sanders; writ. Chris Sanders; feat. (voices) Daveigh Chase, Tia Carrere, Jason Scott Lee, Kevin McDonald, Ving Rhames, David Ogden Stiers (PG)
It doesn't seem fair to hold Lilo & Stitch up to the standard of the most swell, traditionally animated film in recent memory, The Iron Giant, but the similarities in their plots make comparisons unavoidable: Both films involve an Earth child discovering a visitor from outer space; both visitors are charming but capable of producing mayhem, and their presence must be hidden from authority figures; both stories center on a damaged family unit, in which the new arrival fills a void. In Stitch, this visitor is a genetically-engineered critter, created by a mad scientist on another world and programmed to destroy. While fleeing its captors, Stitch is taken in by Lilo, a Hawaiian girl who's something of a troublemaker herself.

While Iron Giant was always cautious not to tug too hard on the audience's heartstrings, Lilo plays the "broken family" card more heavily, balancing extra-terrestrial adventure with a subplot in which Lilo is on the verge of being removed from the care of her older sister, who is raising her after their parents' death. You can hear Disney execs sitting around a conference table, insisting that this one would make more money than the financially disappointing Giant if it were a little less clever and a little more sweet; but fortunately the tale never crosses the line into serious sap.

Stitch is an enormously entertaining little character, and the film is best when it focuses on him; the sci-fi adventure escape sequence at the start is a blast, and a Godzilla parody later on is hysterical, especially because the creature's native tongue sounds a lot like Japanese. Some in the audience (older viewers and boys, one presumes) will wish for more moments like these, but there are enough of them to make Lilo a couple of notches above the average recent Disney flick. — John DeFore

"Scooby-Dooby doo doo"
Dir. Raja Gosnell; writ. James Gunn; feat. Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah
Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini, Rowan Atkinson (PG)
All I got out of this frightfully fake flake of a movie was the munchies. Utterly rank with ghastly gimmickry — from farting contests to short skirts, conspicuous cleavage, and a concert with Sugar Ray — the flick is flaccid even by pre-teen standards. A dog disguised in full grandma regalia (teetering precariously in pastel pumps) is always good for a few cheap, child-size laughs, but the movie doesn't excite much beyond that. A typically transparent 30-minute plot from the enduring cartoon franchise spreads painfully thin over an hour and a half. Even so, the storyline is somewhat sophisticated for the grammar-school set — spring break on Spooky Island is more of a Girls Gone Wild shoot than an elementary excursion. (And the thing might have been better set outside of springtime, anyway. Already unfashionably anachronistic, Mystery Inc. appears uncomfortable in their respective ascot, knee-high vinyl boots, and bulky, woolen turtleneck.)

There are some poorly executed pot jokes about the Doobster's best pal, Shaggy (Lillard), but the only useful enlightenment comes from Shaggy's dreamgirl, Maryjane (again, uninspired stash humor) — a scantily clad, vacation vixen who scarfs down Scooby snacks like there's no next episode — when she explains that she knows the snacks are dog biscuits, but they're vegetarian, and she just loves them. (Oh, so thaaat's what those things are.)

Otherwise, we all know the story: The mystery is solved by those "meddling kids," and the team keeps on truckin'. There is one glaring glitch: On the show, the invariably innocuous phantom predators are explained away with masks and motives; but on the big screen, the destructive supernatural phenomena remains undisclosed. I need a few more of Scooby's "special" snacks to swallow this one down. — Wendi Kimura



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