Last year, I fell down a bit of a Lilo & Stitch rabbit hole when it came time to do this list. I first researched the animated series known as Lilo & Stitch: The Series and its Christmas special “Topper: Experiment 025.” I ended up reading about the expanded lore the universe established in 2002’s Lilo & Stitch and that was how I found out that there was an anime based on the series. That lead to my post last year about the anime’s Christmas special, in the process basically forgetting about the episode I originally had intended on talking about.
Well, this year I’m here to right that which is wrong. Not that I regret doing that post or anything, but this is the one I intended to run with. Following the success of the movie, Lilo & Stitch became a brand Disney felt it could not ignore. As it had done with film properties before, Disney turned to television. An animated series was commissioned and it arrived quite quickly to airwaves beginning in 2003 as part of the current block of Disney programming. This was essentially the waning days of the once treasured Disney Afternoon and I don’t think that branding was even in use at the time. Considering I was off to college and would not even see the film the show was based on for quite some time, I completely missed out on this show. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it is a thing.
Like many Disney Afternoon shows that preceded it, Lilo & Stitch got to take a stab at the old Christmas special thing. From what I understand, this show followed a format where a new experiment was unveiled basically every episode. As you may recall from the film, Stitch is experiment number 626 implying that there are 625 additional experiments out there for the show to explore. Interestingly, had the show run long enough to highlight all 625 experiments it still wouldn’t have as many episodes as The Simpsons currently boasts. Anyways, the show ran for two seasons spanning 67 episodes which is a rather solid run. There was a tie-in film as well, simply called Stitch!, and as far as I know the other Lilo & Stitch sequels adopted the show as canon as well. There’s a pretty large chunk of media based on this franchise I’ve never really touched, despite my liking the original film quite a bit, so maybe this will get me interested in all of that. Or, maybe it won’t.
This episode is all about Stitch’s first Christmas on Earth. Following the events of the film, the aliens Jumba (David Ogden Stiers) and Pleakley (Kevin McDonald) have moved in with the sisters Nani (Tia Carrere) and Lilo (Daveigh Chase) as well as the main attraction himself, Stitch (Chris Sanders). Captain Gantu (Kevin Michael Richardson) is still out there making life harder for Stitch and he’s got some pals as well: the seemingly always hungry Experiment 625 (Rob Paulsen) and the nefarious rival of Jumba, Dr. Hamsterviel (not present in this episode).
When the episode begins, Stitch and Lilo are eating breakfast while Lilo gives Stitch the info on Christmas. She instructs him to sneak off with her and as they tiptoe through the house they attract the attention of Nani. Nani instructs Lilo not to go looking for Christmas presents and she agrees to do so, but that’s a lie. She leads Stitch to the attic and tells him it’s Nani’s job as the older sister to buy the presents, and her job as the younger sister to find them. Nani has hidden them in the same spot as last year, in a chest in the attic (how predictable), and Lilo shows them to Stitch. She also informs him she’s hoping for a shrunken head this year as a gift, and adds that she tried to make one herself but her friend wasn’t cooperative. It’s nice to see Lilo still has a bit of darkness to her. Stitch wants to dig right into the presents, but Lilo stops him and says he can never open a Christmas present before Christmas. She may be a little naughty by snooping, but Lilo has a code she lives by.
Lilo then leads Stitch to the living room to soak in some of that Christmas magic via the tree. There they find Pleakley has decorated the tree with what he thinks are traditional spherical objects. Rather than actual ornaments, the tree is covered in balls and clocks and things like that. Lilo points out that he’s a bit confused, but Pleakley isn’t dissuaded and rather adamant about his holiday knowledge. He then informs them he was about to place the perfect topper on the tree, the three-holed orb, which to us earthlings is known as a bowling ball. When Pleakley places the bowling ball on the tree it collapses. Since this is Hawaii, I’m going to assume they go with artificial trees, but any Hawaiians reading this correct me if I’m wrong.
Lilo is dismayed that the tree is ruined and Nani comes running in to survey the damage. She mentions this is the third one this year and informs Lilo she can’t afford a fourth. Lilo wants her to fix it right now, but she’s got to get to work. Lilo despairs momentarily about not having a tree for Christmas, but she gets over it rather quickly and informs Stitch if he wants to learn more about Christmas they need to go to the most festive place around: the mall.
Elsewhere, 625 is enjoying a sandwich while wearing a festive Santa hat when Gantu comes in. Gantu has apparently received a major reduction in size between shows as he’s now just merely large as opposed to colossal. He has another experiment orb labeled 025 and he intends to give it to Hamsterviel. In staying with the spirit of the season, 625 encourages him to gift it to their unseen boss and Gantu surprisingly goes along with the suggestion.
At the mall, Lilo is showing Stitch around which includes a trip to see Santa. Stitch hops on his lap and whispers into his ear and Santa recoils in horror informing Stitch he is truly naughty. Stitch then snatches his beard and tries to wish everyone a traditional Hawaiian holiday greeting, mele kalikimaka, but butchers the words. Lilo is also angry with him for swiping Santa’s beard and so is Santa.
Stitch then notices something at the gift wrapping table. A woman is wrapping what is undoubtedly the capsule for experiment 025. Stitch races over to snatch the gift, which only makes Lilo angrier. She scolds him for going after presents that aren’t his, but when Stitch rips it open he just finds a toy inside. He starts grabbing all of the other presents and then bolts leaving Lilo to clean up after him. She explains it’s his first Christmas and he’s a bit excited. She departs and then Gantu shows up dressed as Santa to claim the gift he had wrapped. The woman informs him there was an accident, and when he inquires further he finds out it was a destructive blue dog that caused the problem. He then makes a festive holiday threat towards Stitch about making him a part of Christmas past.
Stitch then goes on a montage. He is so determined to get that experiment capsule that he sports a Santa hat and steals all of the presents on the island. The montage is set to a barely recognizable rock n’ roll version of “Jingle Bells” and is sprinkled with some humorous moments. All the while, Lilo is giving chase and unable to catch up with Stitch who is always one step ahead.
She eventually winds up back at her home where Stitch has locked himself in the attic. Jumba is angry with Stitch for not sharing any of the presents he’s acquired, but he’s having no luck getting through the attic door. Lilo informs him there’s another way, and as the two disappear off camera Stitch peers out of the hatch to check for them. Jumba’s hands then appear behind him to grab him and the door slams shut leaving us to imagine how the confrontation is going as the camera shakes and a big commotion is overheard. Jumba eventually falls out of the attic, but before he did he somehow got Stitch into a capsule. Lilo scolds him once more, but is then taken aback by how full the attic is with presents.
Things are moved back into the living room where Pleakley has taken it upon himself to be the family’s new Christmas tree. He’s basically background noise as Lilo and Jumba try to figure out what is up with Stitch. The capsule he’s been locked in is completely sound proof so they can’t hear his protests as Jumba wonders if maybe his bad programming is returning. They take things to Jumba’s lab where he’s able to use some scanner to read Stitch’s thoughts. They’re mostly food-related and there’s also an image of a toilet bowl and we get a mild pee joke. Jumba then finds the image of Stitch seeing the experiment orb being placed in the gift and Lilo realizes why he was taking all of the presents. Before they can do anything about it though, a loud noise comes from the house and we see the roof has a huge hole blown through it. Gantu’s ship is shown flying away with a comically large sack of gifts on it as he belts out a “Ho ho ho.”
With the presents stolen, Lilo and Stitch head out after Gantu leaving Pleakley and Jumba to repair the damage to the house. Jumba actually gets the whole roof framed before he and Pleakley decide they need to fix Pleakley’s tree costume by going to the mall. Well, Pleakley makes that declaration and Jumba is mostly just along for the ride. I hope they remembered to put a tarp over the house in case it rains.
Lilo and Stitch arrive at Gantu’s spaceship lair where 625 is presently trying to enjoy a nice Christmas nap. He comes outside in order to quiet them down and is oblivious to their presence. There’s some slapstick involved as Stitch gets squished by the ship’s ramp. Eventually, they gain access and 625 doesn’t even put up a fight. Stitch wraps him up in Christmas lights while Lilo looks for the gift, but it’s gone. 625 then informs them that Gantu took the sack of presents back to the mall.
For the second time this episode, our setting shifts to the mall where Pleakley and Jumba roam in elf costumes that do little to hide their alien heritage. They soon see Gantu once again dressed as Santa. It seems Gantu doesn’t know which gift is the one he had wrapped and he needs the help of the gift wrapper in figuring it out. She finds it immediately and hands it back to him. Jumba and Pleakley call 625’s spaceship and inform Lilo what’s happened, adding they initially mistook him for Santa, but it’s really Gantu!
Lilo and Stitch arrive at the mall and find Pleakley and Jumba in a stand-off with Gantu. They’re not very good at this though and Gantu simply spins and fires at the pair. Since this is a Disney television show, his weapon is nonlethal and just contains a big net. Stitch goes after him stealing the gift, which he tosses to Lilo, before the two tangle. Nani is also there as she was looking to buy Lilo her shrunken head when she sees Gantu and Stitch go flying past her in Santa’s sleigh. They crash, and Lilo tosses a duffel bag with the experiment orb gift inside it to Stitch and tells him to go. Stitch races up a giant Christmas tree and Gantu gives chase by climbing it. He’s bombarded with ornaments, but eventually he reaches Stitch and the two end up falling from the tree.
Gantu dusts himself off, and with Stitch no where to be seen, he retrieves his gift and prepares to step on Lilo. He pauses in mid stomp when she accuses him of ruining Christmas. He seems actually hurt by this, and Lilo ends up discovering this all happened because Gantu was trying to give someone a Christmas gift. Lilo then feels bad as she realizes Christmas is about giving presents, not receiving them as Stitch returns to her side just in time for a hug.
A little girl takes notice of Gantu and his Santa costume and asks if he has a present for her. He says no, but her eyes well up with tears which gets to Gantu. He then hands over the gift intended for Hamsterviel and the girl opens it to find the experiment orb inside. Jumba takes it from her remarking that he remembers this one. Experiment 025 was intended to be a beacon for an alien armada and he seems to suggest it’s hardly destructive. Lilo takes the orb and places it in a fountain, as apparently water is needed to bring the experiment out. And from it emerges a little being that resembles a star. Lilo dubs him Topper (she’s really forced the other little girl out of the picture) and says she knows a great spot for him.
Topper then takes his place atop Pleakley, who has a much improved Christmas tree costume. He glows brightly pleasing everyone around them. Gantu has also found a higher purpose as kids have lined up beside him thinking he’s Santa. As each one approaches he gives them one of the gifts Stitch had taken earlier. Lilo informs us that Ohana is the best gift of all, and Stitch tries to wish everyone mele kalikimaka, but he messes it up again. We then see in space that Topper’s beacon effect is working well as a bunch of spaceships hover in Earth’s orbit. One voice wonders what the beacon is for, while another informs him it doesn’t matter because they have fruit cake down there.
And that ends this one. In trying to teach Stitch about Christmas, Lilo comes to understand the holiday better herself. It’s about the giving, folks. All the while, the aliens around her also learn about the holiday and even the villainous Gantu finds it infectious, though he wants to play it off as if it’s annoyingly infectious. It’s rather fast paced and even though it features a plot contrivance I usually find anxiety inducing, I wasn’t particularly bothered by the dynamic of Stitch acting in good faith and the others not understanding him. Though, I also found that whole ordeal confusing since Stitch revealed he could talk just fine in the movie. I guess it’s just more convenient and more entertaining to basically return him to an almost mute character who just makes funny noises. Likewise, someone must have decided that Gantu needed to be smaller in order to work in this show as he’s no where near as big as he was in the film.
I did not expect this show to resemble the visuals from the film other than in basic character designs. And it does not. Though I still expected it to look better than this. This show is very flat and the character models really lack texture. There’s an early scene of Jumba wearing a big purple coat that has almost no shading of any kind on it and it’s really ugly looking. The backgrounds are drab too and lack the lushness of the feature. Again, I wasn’t expecting feature quality animation, but this is below the standards of other Disney Afternoon shows.
What surprised me though, in a good way, was that Disney was able to return the excellent voice cast of the film basically in its entirety. Maybe there are some secondary characters who have new voices that aren’t in this episode, but all of the characters here have their respective voice intact. It’s a rarity to pull off such a feat, but it helps that Disney didn’t go with a big time celebrity cast for the film to begin with. Tia Carrere was probably the biggest “name” from that film, but she had basically transitioned to television anyways at this stage in her career. Rob Paulsen was also added and he provides several voices in this one which only adds to the show’s quality in the sound department.
This episode could have taken things in a more melancholy direction given that Lilo and Nani both lost their parents some time ago. This could have been framed as their first Christmas without them, but the show decided to keep things light and funny. Pleakley was the most entertaining part of the show for me. He’s become an archetype Disney fans should be familiar with as it’s similar to what Scuttle from The Little Mermaid represents or Owl from Winnie the Pooh. He’s a know-it-all that really knows nothing, and his misunderstanding of the holidays are fodder for a few jokes (like a good visual gag early on with eggnog). There’s nothing particularly ambitious about the Christmas lesson to be taught here, and Lilo figuring it out isn’t quite convincing, but at least there’s some groundwork laid by pointing out that she does posses a code of sorts in her approach to gifts. It would have been a harder sell if she was a ravenous present monster like Stitch. I suppose this one is fine, and if you just want more of these very likable characters because you enjoyed the film then there’s something here to enjoy.
If you want to watch this episode of Lilo & Stitch: The Series then I have good news as it just got a lot easier. With the launch of Disney+ in November this episode, as well as the entire series, became easy to stream though it will cost you seven bucks a month to do so. This one wasn’t put out on DVD, so streaming is your only option. I wouldn’t sign up for Disney+ just to watch this show, but I am a subscriber for many other reasons so obviously I think it’s worth it. Since my kids enjoy the film, I’ll likely watch this with them too this year since we can as I’ll be on the hunt for every Christmas special on that network.