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Lilo & Stitch

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At the end of a hard day, Lilo, a friendless orphan girl from Hawaii, makes a desperate wish for a guardian angel, preferably the nicest one available. Cut to a malevolent-looking, if diminutive, alien emerging from the wreckage of a spaceship. That's the most concise example of the impressive balancing act that goes on in Lilo & Stitch. Disney's latest traditionally animated feature gets to have its sentiment and keep its teeth, almost literally. Co-directors Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois keep repeating a gag that somehow never grows old: Mistaken for a dog, adopted by Lilo (voiced by Donnie Darko's Daveigh Chase), and renamed Stitch, the alien begins to fulfill his biological destiny as an indestructible genetic experiment programmed to destroy civilization wherever he might encounter it. But his efforts, when not ignored, are mistaken for mere mischief-making, instead of the first steps toward world conquest that he so clearly imagines them to be. He could hardly ask for a less likely partner in global domination than his new owner. Hyper-imaginative, socially awkward, and nursing an Elvis fixation, Lilo does the best she can under the guardianship of her older sister (Tia Carrere), but the latchkey existence has clearly begun to wear her thin. The movie's willingness to take this concern seriously acts as an anchor. Even with so much of its running time taken up with expertly executed cartoon humor—worthy, like that of The Emperor's New Groove, of Disney's old Warner Bros. competitors—Lilo & Stitch keeps circling back to its characters' emotions, making Stitch's inevitable retreat from his destructive agenda feel like a natural development rather than a plot contrivance. With its sharp wit and its portrayal of how broken families sometimes fit back together, Lilo would make a fine summer double feature alongside About A Boy, another film that stays funny while dancing around a tiny abyss.