Vault Disney

Vault Disney #42 – Lilo & Stitch

Original Release: June 21, 2002

Runtime: 85 Minutes

Directed By: Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois

Notable Actors: Chris Sanders, Daveigh Chase, Tia Carrere, David Ogden Stiers, Kevin McDonald and Ving Rhames

Throughout Disney history, you’ll find that certain films end up making much larger waves than others. Films in this category include Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, The Lion King and Frozen. Our next film is one of these. It was huge! I recall the massive hype machine that was this film and upon my first, and until now only, viewing of the film, I remembered thinking “That’s it? That’s the film that everyone’s going crazy for?” I was a bit underwhelmed by it all. But over 10 years have passed and I’m a different kind of viewer now. I’m here to tell you that I was wrong back then. Lilo and Stitch is not only a fantastic family film, it might also be one of the most important films in the Disney canon.

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I seriously don’t understand how YOU don’t understand that this hat completes the whole ensemble.

The production of Lilo and Stitch was actually largely inspired by a much earlier film, Dumbo, which was the first Disney film with the idea of doing a smaller budget film to take a break from the huge budget animated films that came before it. Chris Sanders, who at the time was actually one of the head storyboard artists at Disney Feature Animation, was asked to pitch an idea. He’d actually imagined Stitch back in 1985 when he’d pitched him as a character in a children’s book. The book was sadly never picked up. His original story dealt with a location far from a city and so the film originally placed the tale in Kansas. Oh boy am I glad they changed it to the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. Sanders actually went on to say: “Animation has been set so much in ancient, medieval Europe – so many fairy tales find their roots there, that to place it in Hawaii was kind of a big leap. But that choice went to color the entire movie, and rewrite the story for us.”

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All ugly things must be exterminated!

The term ‘ohana is greatly referenced in the film and actually came into the film by way of the research trip to Kaua’i that the animation team took. The tour guide, who knew at least one person everywhere they went, told them that these people in all these places were like an extended family. He then went on to explain to them the concept of ‘ohana, and before long it was shaping the very soul of the film. In writing the film, the two actors who played Nani and David, both of whom were raised in Hawaii, helped to get the lines just right so that they sounded appropriate to the culture.

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This was also the first Disney film in a long time that had water colored backgrounds, leading to its strikingly beautiful scenery. All of the creatures from space and even their ships were designed to be similar to marine life, taking on the look of whales, sharks and crabs. In the final production, the film was meant to have a sequence where stitch hijacks an airplane in order to go after the space ship and save Lilo, but in the wake of the September 11th attacks, this was changed so that Stitch would instead pilot another spaceship, in order to avoid any unnecessary controversy.

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These aren’t the aliens you’re looking for.

What truly makes Lilo and Stitch so amazing actually has very little to do with Stitch. We’ll talk about him in a minute but what we really need to focus on here is the relationship between Lilo and her sister Nani. Here we see two family members who love each other and want so badly to do right by each other but with their family dynamic being what it is, this is easier said than done. Let me go on the record as saying that this is, hands down, the most complex, real relationship in ANY Disney film thus far.

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Alright Stitch, tell us what you did this Summer.

They feel like people I know. Lilo reminds me of children who are a little bit different and see the world in a light that others don’t. Nani’s struggles remind me of people in my life and even family members. These don’t feel like cartoons, they feel like real, living, breathing humans with real problems. I love watching them try so hard to get the other to understand and the communication barriers that hurt them. Above it all though is this love and commitment to never give up on the other and it is so moving. When Mr. Bubbles declares that he will be taking Lilo in the morning, our hearts hurt for them because we know that Nani is right. No one will ever understand Lilo the way she does. And every time “Ohana means family,” I feel my eyes start to sweat.

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The grumpy cat of the alien world.

This film is brilliant already and then you add in Stitch, this amazingly original and interesting little alien who wants to break and destroy everything, but at the end of the day, it’s because he’s alone and confused. He’s a troubled foster kid and we watch as he slowly tries to put the world together and understand what is important. He’s cute and funny and that’s what keeps the kids laughing but deeper down, we see a story about this lost, lonely boy meeting this lost, misunderstood girl and the two of them teaching each other how to take care of the other. It is so friggin’ beautiful I can barely deal with it all.

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At some point, Stitch was also genetically engineered to be a lovely dancer.

There’s a whole cast of other characters here and their all pretty fantastic as well. I think everyone ought to know that I’ve decided to divorce Li Shang from Mulan, as my new future husband is David from this film, who is conveniently shirtless in EVERY SCENE OF THE MOVIE! Thank you Disney. Thank you.

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Oh hey guys, want to come surf or stare at my body…or something?

Dr. Jookiba and Pleakley are also quite endearing and watching them dress up as humans is hilarious. I especially found myself laughing as Stitch inhales Pleakley’s head, which just looks so ridiculous.

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Speaking of Mulan…

Where Lilo and Stitch really shines is it’s ability to talk about two wonderfully deep female characters and just what family really means. I love the idea that they mention that they are broken, but still good. This isn’t a story about a prince or a princess. There’s no male character getting a ton of screen time while the ladies sit idly by and it’s not the other way around either. These are people we can all relate to. Lilo is one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever watched, not just in animation. She has such a good soul, with such an interesting mind and she constantly surprises us and reminds us that just because we don’t understand her, doesn’t mean she’s bad. Nani is equally interesting and her struggle and desire to take care of everyone and make it work is just fantastic. I saw my own mother in her and that’s saying a lot.

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Surfboard. Surfboard. Ridin on that wood. Ride-Ridin on that wood.

What more can I really say here? Lilo and Stitch is down right fantastic. It’s deep, moving and funny all at the same time. The characters are highly memorable and the animation is top notch. More than that, it’s a diverse film that strays from the norms of Disney to elevate itself to a new level of greatness. We’ve got more sci-fi in store and the next article will be a doozy as I have NEVER seen the film before. Buckle up. This could get interesting.

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And with this final shot I became a mess of tears.

Next Up: Treasure Planet



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NOTE:  Obviously all the photos are courtesy of Disney Entertainment and I would never in a million years claim them as my own.  That being said, all are actually taken with my phone during our viewing in order to capture the moment in a slightly different way than originally intended.

ALSO:  My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney.  Head overHERE and check it out!

12 replies »

  1. Man, now I want to watch this again. I don’t think I’ve seen it since it came out, and I remember being underwhelmed, too. I think maybe it just needs more maturity to appreciate it.

  2. I love Lilo and Stitch and your review of it is absolutely dead on. Frozen is one of my favorite movies, but you can’t deny that Lilo and Stitch did the sister relationship first, perfectly, and in a far more broken way. Not to diminish Anna and Elsa’s real isolation and pain, but with Lilo and Nani you had the age differential and the fact that they didn’t have the privilege of royalty to fall back on. It was more real and aligned with things many people face in our world. Ah now I want to watch it again!

    Thanks for the link to your fiance’s blog! Just followed that, too 🙂

    • I think it will be interesting to watch Frozen after all these films. I’m interested to see if my opinion changes. Thanks for following him. He’s on a bit of a blogging break but he’ll get back to it eventually.

      • Was it initially favorable or unfavorable? I love it because of the depression metaphor with Elsa, but it’s annoying when people claim it’s the first Disney movie to portray strong female characters of familial relationships.

      • It was pretty favorable. I don’t think it’s gods gift to animation BUT it’s a pretty I of movie. Although I like tangled quite a bit more.

  3. Another great film! I loved Mr. Bubbles, he was so unexpected. Everything about this movie feels so real, I agree with you on every point you made in this post.

  4. Loved loved loved what you said about Stitch being a mixed up foster kid, because that’s totally what he was! He just wanted a family. I’ve always liked Nani and Lilo. (And David. Yum.) but wasn’t as enthusiastic about Stitch until I read your post. Haven’t seen this movie in years, but I think I’ll go back and watch it now.

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