Lilo & Stitch is one of the best films ever made; but I guess I have to write a bit more than that. So – Lilo & Stitch came about during the post-Disney renaissance era, when following a number of big hit animated films during the 1990s the studios were told to focus on smaller, less expensive films. Whilst Pixar was on the rise, with more and more CGI animated films reaching blockbuster heights, the Disney animated movies were receiving smaller and smaller success with films like Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire, both of which were liked by viewers, but had little cultural impact. That is, until Lilo & Stitch arrived.
Originally conceived of as an idea for a children’s book in the mid 1980s, Stitch came from the mind of Chris Sanders, one of the head storyboard artists at Disney Feature Animation, who was asked to pitch an idea. Dusting off his concept of an alien that has to befriend a young girl, the project was approved, and production began. Part of the original idea for the film had the story taking place in Kansas, as they knew that they wanted it to take place in a remote, non-urban environment. However, after some back and forth, it was decided that the setting would be changed to Hawaii, a decision that would go on to have a drastic effect upon the entire project.
The small pre-production team, who were largely left to do their own thing by Disney executives, visited Kaua’i in order to research the location and get a feel for how the film would look. Apparently, it was during one of the tours that the team learned about the concept of ‘ohana, something that fans will know is a central theme of the story. With all the pieces now in place, production began, utilising water-coloured backgrounds, and characters based upon Sanders’s own personal style, setting it apart from other Disney projects.
The film tells the story of Experiment 626 (Chris Sanders), an alien creature created by the scientist Jumba (Davd Ogden Stiers), who is brought before the Intergalactic Council to answer for his crimes against science. Jumba is sent to prison, and whilst the Council is transporting 626 to a containment facility, he’s able to escape, take control of the ship, and crashes to Earth, landing in Hawaii.
It’s here that we meet Lilo Pelakai (Daveigh Chase) and her older sister, Nani (Tia Carrere). Lilo and Nani’s parents died the previous year in a car crash, leaving Nani to raise her sister alone as best she can. At the beginning of the film Nani is told by a social worker that Lilo will be taken away unless the home can become more stable. In order to try and help Lilo, who’s clashing with other kids her age, she decides to get her a dog. However, when they arrive at the pound Lilo picks out the strange blue dog that was dropped off the night before, Experiment 626, who she names Stitch.
Whilst Stitch just wants to get away so that he can sow chaos and destruction, he’s forced to stay with the family for protection as Jumba and an Intergalactic Council agent are sent to recapture him. As Stitch uses Lilo for safety he begins to learn more about her and the world, and starts to see that he can find enjoyment in things other than destruction. As a very real friendship begins to form between the two of them, Stitch must decide what kind of life he wants.
In the build-up to the release of the film, trailers were released that featured existing Disney properties, such as The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast that saw Stitch interrupting famous scenes and causing problems for the other characters. A form of viral marketing, these trailers helped to sell the idea that Stitch was a disruptive, chaotic character, and it helped to build excitement for the film. Upon release the film opened with a $35.3 million opening weekend, and despite competing against other family movies like Scooby-Doo, Spider-Man, and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, it managed to make $273.1 million globally, and ended the year as the second highest grossing animated film of 2002.
The film was well received, and a sequel was soon given the go ahead, with Stitch! The Movie released the following year, setting up a television series that would run for 65 episodes across three years. Lilo and Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch, set between the first film and Stitch! The Movie was released in 2005, and an anime based upon the film was released in 2008, tailoring itself to a Japanese audience. There have also been a number of video games based upon the characters that have been released across multiple platforms.
READ MORE: VIFF 2022 – The Documentaries
Whilst Lilo & Stitch was considered something of a gamble, and it was assumed that it was going to have a similar impact to the other Disney films at the time, it went on to become one of the most popular films in Disney’s catalogue, and over the years they’ve produced a huge amount of Stitch merchandise for an ever-increasing fanbase. With so many Disney films having the same kind of stories, and the same kind of animation, Lilo & Stitch stands out amongst its peers as something completely different, a film with a lot of humour and fun, but also a lot of emotion and heart.
Lilo & Stitch was released in the UK on 4th October 2002.