There's an important distinction to be made between "family entertainment" and "children's entertainment". Both typically carry a U certificate, but only one has much chance of keeping the grown-up as happy as the kid they've taken to the cinema.
So which is Lilo&Stitch? The plot and concept suggest the former: an evil alien genius creates a genetically-manufactured killing machine, which is "bulletproof, fireproof, and can think faster than a supercomputer. His only instinct... To destroy everything he touches." This monster - - Stitch (enthusiastically voiced by director Chris Sanders) - - escapes from a high-security space prison and hurtles down to Hawaii. There he disguises himself as the cute pet of an orphaned, Elvis-obsessed girl named Lilo, who's about to be separated from her overworked older sister Nani by a looming, social services thug.
Yet, despite all this evil-alien/dysfunctional-family business, Lilo&Stitch is actually Disney's least `mature' offering for several years. Stitch's hunters - - his silly-accented creator, Jumba Jookiba and clumsy, inept `Earth expert' Pleakley - - are little more than comedy-sidekick stereotypes from another planet, and there's little of the clever-clever, subversive humour that we've come to expect from 'toon movies of late. Lilo's Elvis fixation, meanwhile, is merely an excuse to liven up the soundtrack with some of The King's greats (and to have Stitch perform the odd impersonation), and there's the obligatory moral attached, as a now-tamed, English-speaking Stitch comes to appreciate the heart-warming value of "ohana", the Hawaiian word for "family".
So why did Lilo&Stitch become a major hit in the States? Because US sprogs lapped it up, and it's hard to see Brit whippersnappers doing anything but following suit. That said, not all of its success can be attributed to a lack of discernment on the part of the moppets. For starters, Stitch is a wonderful little creation (when he isn't wearing an Elvis wig or strumming a guitar). Part-koala, part-bat, part-insect, part-manga-inspired demon-thing, he strikes the right balance of cute and sinister - cute when he's resignedly doing his "puppy" impression for Lilo, who amusingly squirts him with water whenever he misbehaves; sinister when he's skittering around her house at night, shooting menacing glances at the suspicious Nani. It looks great, too, recalling the spritzy style of Disney circa 1950 while animation enthusiasts will be interested to know that this is the first Disney movie to use original, watercolour backgrounds in six decades. This works a treat given the exotic, Pacific island setting, for there's a warmth and lushness to the action that few CG-tweaked 'toons possess. But that's about it for us adults. Everything else about Lilo&Stitch is, rightly or wrongly, very much "children's entertainment".