In Lilo & Stitch, a mad scientist in some far-off galaxy creates "Number 626" through genetic tampering. Along with being an "abomination" according to the alien tribunal, the cute-and-cuddly blue monster is actually incredibly dangerous -- quick, strong, smart, and lacking any real desires save destruction of large cities. 626 escapes in an exciting space battle and, after making the jump to lightspeed, crashes his ship on one of the Hawaiian islands. Unable to cross water because of his density, 626 is stuck. Meanwhile, the alien authorities decide not to destroy Earth to kill 626 because, as a pesky alien bureaucrat points out, Earth is home to an endangered species protected by the galactic federation: mosquitos. Instead, the aliens send the mad scientist and the bureaucrat to track 626 down and capture it. In order to escape his hunters, 626 poses as a dog and is adopted by the lonely but quirky Lilo, a little girl who names him Stitch. Lilo's parents are dead, and she is being raised by her older sister Nani, who is having difficulty handling the responsibilities of working to support them and simultaneously raising the feisty Lilo. With the ultra-destructive Stitch in the picture, who Lilo loves, everything falls apart, and the social worker is about to take Lilo away when both Stitch and Lilo are captured by alien forces. Stitch breaks out then goes to save Lilo, wreaking plenty of havoc in the process. In the end, galactic authorities prepare to take Stitch away, but Lilo comes forward and presents her license from the dog pound -- she annouces that she bought Stitch for 2 dollars, and that if the galactic authorities take Stitch away, it would be stealing. Always ones to obey rules, the kind-hearted galactic leader agrees that Stitch should stay there, and places Stitch and his "family" under the protection of the space federation. Everyone lives happily ever after.
First of all, one of the key jokes in the film -- that the aliens have been bamboozled into believing that Earth is a wildlife refuge for mosquitos and that humans are important as mosquitos food supply -- lampoons the excesses of environmentalism. One for Lion King, zero for Pocahantas.
But Lilo & Stitch also goes in some new directions, pitting the safety of the entire galaxy from a dangerous genetic experiment run amok against a two-dollar contract. In the end, the two-dollar contract wins out. Of course, this is played for the cute ending it is. But it also represents a view that individual ownership should, at least in some circumstances, trump collective security. It's not really a view I much agree with -- Stitch had done what must have been thousands of dollars in property damage to the island, and was an even greater danger if he ever got off the island, and allowing Lilo to endanger countless people and their property by "holding out" seems to accord just too much weight to private ownership. Private ownership is important, yes, but that should not be the end of the inquiry; inasmuch as a free-ranging Stitch endangered others' equally legitimate property ownership, seizure with compensation to Lilo seems a much fairer balancing of everyone's interests. (Although talk of the hyper-intelligent Stitch's price and value smacks of slavery). So there you have it -- by ending the story with Lilo's assertion of a property right over Stitch, Disney is doing its part to create a generation of children with a one-sided conception of property.
We also get a glimpse of Disney's position on genetic experimentation (and presumably cloning, stem-cell research, and the like). Stitch is the project of a genetic experiment. Echoing modern opponents of genetic experimentation, the alien tribunal calls Stitch an "abomination" because he was the product of a lab, and imprisons him (though he escapes). As the audience comes to identify with the irrepressable hijinks of Lilo and Stitch, the alien pronouncements against genetic tampering seem more and more unreasonable; we're pulling for the four-armed blue rascal. In Lilo & Stitch, we see that far from disaster, genetic tampering can result in creatures with cool powers.
So, to wrap up the messages of Lilo & Stitch: environmentalism is silly, property rights are absolute and never conflict, and genetic experimentation is cool. I might not agree with the entirety of the Lilo & Stitch plank, but at least Disney took a stand and kept it interesting. It was, after all, a comedy.
My bizarre musings notwithstanding, I thought Lilo & Stitch was an excellent movie -- always funny yet at times strangely touching. Though Disney cut some corners with the animation, Lilo & Stitch is definitely a welcome addition to the canon after some of the studio's recent fare.