Time sure goes by fast for Disney fans. It’s the 20th anniversary of Lilo & Stitch! It seems like only yesterday Disney put out their 42nd feature film, introducing the world to the blue alien “Experiment 626” and the concept of Ohana. Stitch, as Experiment 626’s human friend Lilo Pelekai calls him after adopting him as a dog, has been genetically engineered to cause chaos. (Isn’t that what lots of puppies do, though?) Through the sweet story centered on found family as well as some pretty frenetic action, Stitch ultimately chooses to stay with Lilo and her sister, making the narrative a beautiful nod to larger groups, or wider nets of loving friends and blood relations. Lilo and Stitch was met with positive reviews by critics, and enthusiasm from Disney fans, and was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2003 Oscars. It had the misfortune to be up against one of Hayao Miyazaki’s best, Spirited Away, which walked away with the award.
The film was directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, which is 8 years before DeBlois brought us the first in the wonderful How to Train Your Dragon series as both screenwriter and director. He went on to direct HTTYD 2 and 3, both of which are glorious, and in their way also celebrate found family. I interviewed Dean about HTTYD2:
Lilo and Stitch was developed by Michael Eisner, inspired by 1941’s Dumbo, which was famously less expensive than the studio’s first 2 films. The original story was based on a children’s book pitch that Sanders had in the mid-80s, featuring the character of Stitch. It was decided early on to center the action in Hawaii, the look and feel of which went on to color the entire film. DeBlois had co-written Mulan with Sanders, so he invited him on to co-write and direct Lilo and Stitch.
It was on a research trip to Kauai that DeBlois and Sanders learned about Ohana. DeBlois said the tour guide seemed to know someone everywhere they went. That guide went on to explain the idea of family that extends way beyond blood, encompassing close friends and neighbors who support and love each other unconditionally, as is the case in many parts of the Hawaiian islands. The voices of Nani, Lilo’s beleaguered and responsible big sister, and David Kawena, Lilo’s boyfriend, are played by Tia Carrera and Jason Scott Lee, actors who both grew up in Hawaii.
Sanders supplied the voice for Stitch, who was animated under the supervision of Alex Kupershmidt. Kupershmidt also had a hand in the design and animation of Khan and General Li in Mulan, and the Hyenas in The Lion King. He also worked on technical animation for Zootopia, Moana, and Raya and the Last Dragon.
It was the great animator Andreas Deja who was the supervising animator for Lilo, which, he once told me, was quite a departure for him. He’s often more connected to villainous or dramatic characters like Scar, Jafar, and Gaston, but he also lended his expertise as supervising animator of Roger Rabbit. Lilo was by far the calmest, sweetest character he’d ever worked on.
Here is an interview I did with Andreas:
The backgrounds in Lilo and Stitch were done in watercolor, a technique that hadn’t been used in decades, but one that created a look that was both detailed and drenched in color, perfect for evoking the sharp light and richness of color specific to Hawaii. It was also another a throwback to 1941′ Dumbo, which used watercolor for its backgrounds. You can see the specificity and richness in this limited edition based on an original background created by Lilo and Stitch background and concept artist William Silvers:
I spoke to Silvers about the deleted scenes he worked on that were cut from the original film. Originally in the 3rd act Stitch flew a Boing 747 jet through Honolulu, but after the September 11th attacks, the filmmakers decided to change that scene to have Stitch fly a spaceship through the mountains of Kauai. These changes postponed the release of the film by 7 months. You can read about Bill Silvers, his career, and his experience HERE. We carry limited editions from Lilo and Stitch by Bill Silvers, and you can find them all HERE.
A Lilo and Stitch live action film in the works, with Chris Sanders reportedly lending his voice to Stitch once again.
There are some wonderful images available by Disney Fine Artists available to all you Lilo & Stitch art fans. The art of Lilo & Stitch really blends the beauty and color of Hawaii with the strong character design for which Disney artists are celebrated. You can find all our Lilo and Stitch art HERE.
If you’re a huge fan of Lilo and Stitch, you’ll love watching this interview celebrating the 20th anniversary featuring Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders: