Hawaiin Rollercoaster Ride: Lilo & Stitch at 20
The year is 2002. While the animated films released after Tarzan proved to be small successes, Disney was in need of an actual successful film.
Little did they know that a simple project being made in Florida would be what they needed.
It all started in 1997 when CEO Michael Eisner decided that the animation department should try a different kind of film that was simple but still had the heart that the big films had. It was then when Tom Schumacher approached top story artist, Chris Sanders, to pitch an idea.
What Chris did was remember a character he created in the 1980s that he tried but failed to be made into a children’s book. But he decided that his character, Stitch, could work better in a movie instead.
While Chris and Dean Deblois, who was asked by Tom to work with Chris on this project, had the basic idea, they still needed to come up with a proper and unusual screen narrative.
After coming up with the idea of Stitch being an alien, they decided he should be adopted by a young girl and they had to figure out each other.
At first, they thought of setting the film in Kansas before Chris chose to set it in Hawaii because of how it offered a colorful environment that had a better impact. After their research trip, the Disney artists saw that a theme for the film could be the importance of family.
Something that made the production special was that it had a small team working on the pre-production. There were also very few meetings with the executives until the film entered production. This proved to be a benefit because Chris and Dean wanted the film to be fun to work on.
When Chris Sanders had a lot of the story in his head, he actually made a book that told the story and had a few drawings in it by him. Tom Schumacher decided that the film should have Chris’ drawing style in the film. This meant that the characters and the environment would have a rounded look to them since that is how Chris draws.
Another bold choice for the film was to have the backgrounds painted in watercolor. While this medium was used in the early days of Disney, it hadn’t been used since Dumbo. But Chris was adamant to use watercolor because it would give a picture book look to the film.
After four years of work, Lilo and Stitch was released in the summer of 2002. It would be very well received. Critics praised it for its edginess and charm and how unusual it was.
The movie would also prove to be a blockbuster success. Domestically, it would out-gross the last four animated films.
After 20 years since its release, fans still see the film as a real bright spot during this difficult time at Disney animation. Thus it will continue to be popular with Disney and with the fans.