In fairness to Leroy & Stitch, it's probably less perverse than I think it is. I have not seen one second of Lilo & Stitch: The Series, which fills the narrative gap between 2003's Stitch! The Movie, and this feature-length series finale (and ultimately, between this and the 2002 theatrical Lilo & Stitch, but there's no reason we have to do that grand movie the disservice of bringing it into the conversation), and it is very possible, if not likely, that over the course of 67 episodes, the characters were developed and changed in ways that felt very natural at the time and made the end-point that Leroy & Stitch represents feel like a perfect or inevitable farewell to the franchise. But not having witnessed that evolution firsthand, all I can really ask the little blue alien at the center of the story is: who the fuck are you, and where the fuck is Stitch?

The adventure this time 'round picks up after Lilo (Daveigh Chase) and Stitch (Chris Sanders) have successfully captured the last of the 624 genetic experiments created by reformed mad scientist Jumba (David Ogden Stiers, in what is, as of this writing, the last of his many voice performances for Disney), accidentally released in the previous movie and not-so-secret pilot episode Stitch! Their rewards are handsome: Lilo is made the Galactic Alliance's ambassador to the people of Earth, Jumba is cleared of all charges and given back his mad science laboratory, his assistant Pleakley (Kevin McDonald) is made chair of Earth Studies at Galactic Alliance Community College, and Stitch is made commander of the new ship-of-the-line BRB-9000. It's exciting for everybody but Lilo, who is desperately sad that her 'ohana - the series' totemic word for a family in which nobody gets left behind or forgotten - is thus splitting up, and for myself, who watched this opening sequence with the cocked head and confused look of an inquisitive dog.

Here's the thing - the issue that basically ruined Leroy & Stitch for me in its entirety, though there are other problems with it, and things it does well: the entirety of the drama hinges on the sad thought that Lilo and Stitch might not be together any longer, because Stitch is too excited to be out in the galaxy tooling around in his BRB ("Big Red Battleship", a phrase that is genuinely funny to me as delivered in Sanders's shrill Stitch voice), and not being stuck on crappy little Earth. Like I said, maybe L&S: The Series explores that. Maybe the hunt for the other experiments slowly but steadily changed something in Stitch's mind. All I know is that the last time the character was around for me to see him, he and Lilo were as close as close could be, and given the overarching theme of the series and the first (best) movie in particular, where friendship is more lasting and stronger than anything else, the idea that Stitch's lack of investment in his relationship with Lilo could be profound enough to drive a narrative feels like outright character assassination. It should come as no surprise to any viewer over eight that Leroy & Stitch ends by reuniting the friends and restoring the 'ohana, but that's not my point at all. It's that Stitch is acting in a hugely unsympathetic and unlikable way that is of no benefit at all to the rest of the movie.

The rest of the movie finds the evil rodent-like mad scientist Dr. Hämsterviel (Jeff Bennett), escaped from prison, forcing Jumba to create a new genetic experiment, basically Stitch's evil clone (conveniently colored red just to make it even clearer), named "Leroy" by Hämsterviel. This is to be the first step in the mad doctor's new quest to sow chaos and destruction across the universe, but especially on Earth, with Leroy rounding up the experiments that Lilo so painstakingly found safe homes for, in order to exterminate them. In due course, the dispersed friends come back together - having first survived a run-in with a black hole - to defeat the evil alien monster and restore order to the galaxy, and learn important lessons about the nature of friendship and family.

But mostly to restore to the galaxy, and that's another thing that bothers me about this movie: Lilo & Stitch is a domestic comedy with sci-fi trappings; that's pretty much what Stitch! and Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch are, as well. Leroy & Stitch, though, is a sci-fi adventure first, and a domestic narrative second, or at least that's how it feels during the protracted laser battle scenes and the very weird "Technobabble will save us from the black hole!" scene that gave me the damnedest flashbacks to the strange wormhole sequence from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I am probably overstating this, but the emphasis on genre here is quite unwelcome, and unnecessary. Lilo & Stitch is a series whose charm, in no small part, involved the transposition of science fiction tropes into the peaceable, watercolor paradise of Hawai'i, but what we have here is a straight-up science fiction comedy that includes some scenes on Hawai'i, and Elvis songs on the soundtrack. It's less idiosyncratic and weird and personalised: just because these particular scenes of aliens fighting also includes the strange little Muppet-shaped girl Lilo, does not meaningfully change how akin they are to every other scene of aliens fighting in every other cartoon where it happens.

It's not exactly fair to call it a betrayal of the characters, or anything overblown like that: it's just not a very good showcase for them, and what has been my experience throughout these many Lilo & Stitch spin-offs is the stories are at their very best when they're excuses to hang out with the characters more than they are actual fully-fledged dramatic conflicts that take us away from those same characters in their awfully appealing state of repose. Stitch! was able, more or less, to tap into this same energy, and it's the main reason that I found it to be, if not remotely as enjoyable as the first movie, at least somewhere vaguely in the vicinity of the same place emotionally. Stitch Has a Glitch didn't really tap into this at all, and it's a big part of why that film mostly sucked (Leroy & Stitch is, by all means, a better film than that one; if only because Daveigh Chase feels like such a more natural fit for Lilo than Dakota Fanning. That being said, Chase's voice had grown fuller and deeper over the years, and it's the tiniest bit distracting).

There's a lot of clutter in Leroy & Stitch, but if you can dig out from underneath the trite genre theatrics - and I'm not saying that's a simple task, you understand - it's still at heart a sweet little tale of friends recognising the value of friendship, and doing it in a way whose endpoint is infinitely less artificial than the nonsensical E.T. rip-off that closed out Stitch Has a Glitch. Although the path getting to that endpoint has a lot of inauthentic character moments and strained humor for the sake of it. Anyway, a Lilo & Stitch picture that ends warmly has done its duty, though I suppose only by the skin of its teeth.

I'll confess to having no real use for the thing even so, if only because it's so damnably inessential: Stitch! extended the narrative in a relatively sensible way, and Stitch Has a Glitch at least had the courage of its gonzo heightened stakes. Leroy & Stitch feels like padding, a grand finale that needs to invent all of its conflicts out of whole cloth rather than complete the circle of the previous movies, because that had largely been done already. It's simply not a compelling conflict: not only because it's hard not to imagine that things will work out exactly as they do, but because the characters act in such unconvincing ways to get us there in the first place.

I have little, indeed nothing to say about the animation, save that it is better than Stitch! and not as good as Stitch Has a Glitch, owing to some unmistakable cheapness that limits the framerate more than I'd gotten used to as the DisneyToon features have improved (of course, that's at least partially because it's not DisneyToon Studios that made it; by virtue of being a continuation of the cartoon, and premiering on the Disney Channel shortly before its DVD bow, this was actually made by plain ol' Walt Disney Television Animation). Characters have a tendency to drift off model, mostly by virtue of something that's really, uncomfortably off with their eyes, like they were painted on the wrong perspective lines or they were digitally added to the cels later, or something.

This doesn't impact the characters whose eyes are solid-color orbs, which is thankfully a large percentage of the cast, but when it crops up, it's terrifying; the impression is that the characters are staring at nothing except the infinitude of their own madness.

Anyway, Leroy & Stitch ends up being profoundly harmless, which is good enough to meet its needs, I presume; it falls short of the one goal I had for it, which was to give me a last chance to hang out with the characters I enjoyed from before, but it would be arrogance to assume that the film cared about my goals to begin with. Nobody said it had to be more than minutely entertaining, and that is precisely how entertaining it ends up being. Not the best way to bid farewell to a franchise, but nor is it truly unpleasant. Just limp.