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and Dean DeBlois

He eats his boogers. She takes pictures of fat people on the beach. He wants to destroy the universe. She wants to be “left alone to die.” Featuring the two most emotionally troubled heroes in the long history of the House That Walt Built, the refreshingly twisted Lilo & Stitch raises a curious question: Just when did Disney decide to get edgy with its cartoons? Perhaps it was when archrival DreamWorks took a prickly (and highly profitable) Shrek-shot at the reigning King of Toontown and gave Mouseville’s Michael Eisner ample reason to worry about his squishy product. Whatever the case, Lilo & Stitch, about a friendless, parentless Hawaiian girl who befriends a mayhem-minded, id-raging alien, never resorts to hokey heart-tugging or wallet-busting FX during its 85 minutes. Instead, this subtle charmer uses old-school animation and a consistently offbeat comic sense to explore familial dysfunction and social isolation. The hand-drawn flick also features a drooling, mooning Ty-D-Bowl-blue gremlin who croons Elvis songs, but trust me: This luau-colored crowd-pleaser blends its disparate elements very, very well. Saucer-eyed Lilo (voiced by Daveigh Chase) lives with struggling older sis Nani (Tia Carrere), who, when she isn’t losing another job, is fending off the threats of hit-man-as-social-worker Cobra Bubbles (Ving Rhames), who wants to put Lilo in a foster home. Considered a freak by her peers (Lilo claims to know a fish “who controls the weather”), the lonely latch-key kid spends most of the time lip-synching “Heartbreak Hotel” and clutching a tattered snapshot of her long-gone mother and father. But Lilo’s prayers for an equally maladjusted playpal are answered when all-floppy-ears Stitch—genetically engineered to “destroy everything he touches”—escapes from planet Turo and crash-lands his star cruiser in paradise. Working on a relatively tight budget of $80 million, writers-directors Chris Sanders (who gives voice to phlegmy Stitch) and Dean DeBlois don’t have the luxury of computer-crafting lushly layered backdrops (see Tarzan) or yowza action sequences (see Atlantis). Instead, they focus on a good story, great dialogue, and multidimensional characters, all elements absent in much of Disney’s recent cartoon product. Of course, the movie is also chock-full of goofy gags, with Kid in the Hall Kevin McDonald providing the best moments as cyclopean “Earth enthusiast” Pleakley, a squiddy-looking wimp who is sent to the Aloha State to bring back the missing Stitch. But where the filmmakers truly thrive is in tweaking family-fare tradition with their rude, crude star. Seconds before Stitch—who never stops acting like an otherworldly Bluto Blutarsky—beats the heck outta the baddies in a volcano-and-spaceships finale, he warbles, “I’m so cute and fluffy!”—and then snorts up another loogie and proceeds to pummel. And, in the will-he-stay-or-go? denouement, Stitch grunts of his makeshift human family, “It’s little, and it’s broken, but it’s still good.” To the filmmakers’ credit, the big line from the little snot-snacker doesn’t feel cheesy and cheap. It just feels right. —Sean Daly