51 Days of Disney (Day 42): Lilo and Stitch

Dr. Jumba Jookiba (David Ogden Stiers) is a disgraced scientist who is on trial for conducting illegal genetic experiments (626 of them in fact) by the Galactic Council. Experiment 626 (Chris Sanders) is “bullet proof, fire proof, and can think faster than super computer. He can see in the dark and move objects 3000 times his size. His only instinct is to destroy everything he touches.” The council banishes 626 to a desert asteroid and Jumba is imprisoned. While being transported to his asteroid by Captain Gantu, 626 escapes and crash lands in Hawai’i. Jumba and Pleakly, an “expert” on the planet, are sent to find him and bring him back in exchange for Jumba’s freedom.

Lilo (Daveigh Chase) is a young girl who is tormented by the other girls her age and lives a dysfunctional life with her older sister Nani (Tia Carrere, Cassandra from Wayne’s World). Cobra Bubbles (Ving Rhames) is the social worker who is tasked with working with Lilo and Nani and tells Nani that she needs to step up her game if she wants Lilo to remain in her care. Nani tries everything she can to give Lilo the best life she can give, but realizing that her effort is not enough, decides to get Lilo a dog to at least give her a friend. They go to the pound and Lilo finds 626, who was run over by a truck when he crashed and is now disguising himself as a dog, adopts him and names him Stitch. Things do not quite work out as well as Nani thought they would with the adoption, as Stitch is a holy terror and ends up costing Nani her job.

David, a friend of Nani’s who has a crush on her, helps her to find a new job while Lilo tries to get Stitch to behave better. Both end up failing at their ventures, which causes Cobra Bubbles to tell Nani that Lilo is going to be given up for foster care. Jumba and Pleakly finally catch up with Stitch and catch him, destroying Lilo and Nani’s house in the process, but the Grand Councilwoman, who has been less than pleased with the progress of Jumba and Pleakly, sent Gantu out to catch 626. He catches Stitch, and Lilo on accident, but Stitch breaks free. It is up to Stitch to rescue Lilo and help bring the family back together.

Lilo and Stitch is all about the concept of “ohana” which literally translates to extended family. The crew found out about this idea when they were in Hawai’i conducting research for the film. Stitch ends up looking for a family because he feels lost in the universe because there is nothing quite like him. Lilo and Nani have a family, but it was broken up in a car crash and they’re looking for something to hold it together.

The story for the film was originally created by Chris Sanders for a pitch for a children’s book in 1985. The pitch was declined, but Sanders kept developing the idea while working at Disney in the story department and eventually got the chance to tell the story he wanted when it was green lit at the studio. Dean DeBlois, a fellow member of the story department and helped Sanders to co-write Mulan, was brought on the project to help Sanders flesh out the story. The project had a very small crew in the preproduction phase and had very little interaction with upper management until the film went into full production. The film was originally going to be set in Kansas, as that setting would be as conducive as Kuwa’i to not having any large cities. The choice was made to change the setting to Hawai’i to help with making the plot stronger and the locations more interesting. The switch also made it so that the Studio could show the impoverished nature of some places of the country in an interesting and relatively safe way.

Lilo and Stitch has Chris Sanders’ hands all over it. The entire movie is in his very distinctive style. Nothing has a straight line or sharp angle and it all looks very soft, including the explosions. It gives everything this soft and friendly look and this carries through the entire film on every item, character, or location. The look of his women, to some extent, is still there but is slightly toned down for the character design of Nani. Sanders usually draws his women with a lot of curves (which makes them look very voluptuous) and they have very bottom heavy or “chunky” legs. Nani has the bottom heavy legs, and one of Chris Sanders’ normal way of drawing girls can be seen in the design of the lifeguard closer to the end of the film. He even has a specific way of drawing animals that can best be described as being reminiscent of the early artistic style of Disney, but with his own bizarre twist. If you want to see more of Chris Sanders’ style to compare to the film, he has a DeviantArt page that can be found here, but watch out as not all of it is safe for work or child friendly. He really likes drawing the ladies.The look of the space ships, and a number of the aliens, have a distinctively marine animal look to them.

Along with the studio adopting his art style for the film, they also allowed him to have watercolor backgrounds in the film. There had not been a Disney film with watercolor backgrounds since Dumbo in 1941 and it is somewhat surprising to me that it took this long for them to adopt the practice again. The watercolors definitely add to the softness of Chris Sanders’ style, but it also makes the film look more like a storybook. In other Disney films, the backgrounds were done in gauche, which allows for brighter and more consistent colors than the somewhat temperamental watercolor medium.

The score for the film was done by Alan Silvestri of Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? fame. The music is fantastic, as most of Silvestri’s scores are, but surprisingly enough doesn’t really implement that much of a Hawai’ian influence into the score. Usually Disney tries to have influences from wherever the film is set in the score for the film, but the modern setting of the story probably made the score take on a more modern sound. The film acutally has two original songs in it, which hasn’t happened since Tarzan. Alan Silvestri and Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu wrote “He Mele no Lilo” and “Hawai’ian Roller Coaster Ride” for the film and both songs are fantastic and definitely make up for the lack of Hawai’ian sounding music in the film. Lilo and Stitch also uses a number of Elvis Presley songs in the film, which makes sense as Elvis became a cultural icon associated with Hawai’i.

One thing that somewhat turned Disney fans off regarding the movie was just how much Stitch was pushed in the parks. The fan favourite attraction, that was somewhat unpopular with parents, ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter was closed and remade with Stitch replacing the genuinely scary alien and the show became a comedy. Stitch’s Great Escape is not terribly popular with the Disney park fans and many clamor to have Alien Encounter return to Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom. At Tokyo Disneyland, The Enchanted Tiki Room: Stitch Presents Aloha e Komo Mai! replaced the Enchanted Tiki Room: Now Playing Get the Fever! in 2008. This attraction is much more well received than Stitch’s Great Escape due to the fact that fans feel like Stitch fits better in an Adventureland Setting rather than a Tomorrowland setting. Hong Kong Disneyland also has Stitch Encounter (which is known as Stitch Live! at Walt Disney Studios Paris at Disneyland Resort Paris) which is a Turtle Talk With Crush style attraction, except with Stitch interacting with guests instead of Crush.

Lilo and Stitch is a fantastic film due to it’s original story and interesting characters. It is actually one of the two films put out by Walt Disney Feature Animation in the 2000’s that was critically successful and managed to make back it’s budget in it’s theatrical run. Unfortunately, this success would not continue.

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