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20 Weeks of Disney Animation: ‘Lilo & Stitch’

Lilo & Stitch is probably the most popular animated movie that was made by Disney between 2000 and 2005. It was released smack in the middle of three movies which were either science fiction or fantasy, a departure for Disney at the time. This risk paid off, however, and Lilo & Stitch gave Disney one of their most popular protagonists of the era- and a highly marketable franchise to boot that has been utilized across almost every platform including feature films, the direct-to-video sequels, television shows, and park attractions.

Read: 20 Weeks of Disney Animation: ‘Atlantis: The Lost Empire’

Lilo & Stitch is about Experiment 626, later named Stitch. He has been built for destruction by Dr. Jumba Jookiba, who is voiced by Disney voice actor David Odgen Stiers. When 626 is accidentally sent to Earth, he befriends a little girl named Lilo who lives with her older sister. As Jumba tries to track down Stitch, his presence in their lives seems to be only making things worse for their already struggling family.

Though there are several funny moments with Stitch and Jumba with his assistant, one of the more interesting things in the film is the relationship between the two sisters and the social worker. The idea of this broken family is very realistically represented and the possibility of the social worker taking Lilo away is a powerful topic to address in a children’s film.

The movie often reminds us of the theme of “ohana” which means family. Though some people may brush this off as a corny device, I applaud Disney for making an effort to represent how many people in the world live: jumping from job to job, trying to put food on the table and doing whatever they can to take care of the ones they love even if it sometimes isn’t enough. There is still an effort made to keep Lilo & Stitch light and enjoyable for kids, but there is truth under that silliness and humor which comes across effectively and puts this movie a step above some of the other Disney films of this era.

Live-action remake: In 2018, a live-action remake was announced for Lilo & Stitch. Directed by Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), the film is planned to go straight to Disney+, as we revealed in an exclusive in 2020. No casting has been announced as of yet, but Siena Agudong is rumored to play Lilo and Chris Sanders will likely be reprising his role as Stitch.

Lilo & Stitch in the theme parks: The most prominent use of this film in the Disney parks was in Magic Kingdom where there was a ride called Stitch’s Great Escape! After shutting down in 2018, it officially closed in 2020.

Sequels/Spin-offs: Following the success of Lilo & Stitch, Disney knew they needed to do something with the franchise. This success was uncommon during this era of Disney animation as in the years following the Disney Renaissance, few Disney properties did nearly as well with critics and audiences. Lilo & Stitch was an exception. The endearing character of Stitch captured the hearts of audiences everyone and the lesson of “ohana” resonated with so many. Disney knew that they had a winner on their hands which led the company on a mission to churn out Lilo & Stitch content left and right. However, with no long term plan in place across various subdivisions of the company, the Lilo & Stitch franchise is a bit of a muddled mess. Soon after the film, production began on a television series. This, in turn, led to a pilot for the series in the form of Stitch! The Movie, produced by Walt Disney Television Animation. DisneyToon Studios was at the height of its success during this era,  and so they cashed in on the success with Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch. Walt Disney Television Animation returned to the franchise yet again in 2006 with Leroy & Stitch, which functions as a finale film to the series and follows everything before. For more details on Lilo & Stitch 2 and other DisneyToon sequels, check out my 25 Weeks of DisneyToon Sequels.

Lilo & Stitch is available to stream on Disney+.

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