Lilo & Stitch

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Lilo & Stitch movie poster

Lilo & Stitch is the forty-first film in the Disney animated feature canon. It was produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation, written and directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, and released by Walt Disney Pictures and Buena Vista Distribution on June 16, 2002. It is notable as being one of the few animated feature films to use watercolor paintings for its backgrounds. It was also the second of three Disney animated features produced primarily at its animation studio at Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida.



An extra-terrestrial mad scientist, Dr. Jumba Jookiba sets out to create a perfectly destructive creature, and his latest experiment is Number 626 (Stitch): a cute little blue alien with a penchant for wreaking havoc. But on the way to a penal colony, Stitch escapes and crash-lands on Earth. There he meets up with a little girl named Lilo (voiced by Daveigh Chase) who is living with her sister Nani. Lilo is lonely and misunderstood until she finds a new friend in Stitch—who pretends to be her pet dog so that Dr. Jookiba (assisted by cross-dressing Galactic Federation Agent Pleakley), who isn't supposed to reveal himself to Earthlings, can't recapture him. Lilo tries to teach Stitch to behave; Stitch's destructive tendencies cause all sorts of problems at home and put Lilo in jeopardy of being taken away by child care services, and meanwhile there's plenty of bright colors and Elvis music all around.

Parodies and references

The teaser trailers for this film parodied trailers for other recent Disney films such as Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. They began just like the trailers they parodied, until Stitch came in and disrupted the action.

The entire film is full of parodies and references to other films and other visual creations. These references reach their zenith at the very end where snapshots of the future "family" life of Stitch with Lilo and the others are presented, with each of the still pictures being variations of classic images like famous Norman Rockwell illustrations.

The scenes featuring aliens in space are strikingly similar to Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. For example the government in The Phantom Menace is called the Galactic Republic, and the government in Lilo & Stitch is called the Galactic Federation. The Galactic Federation is headquartered on a planet called Turo, which sounds similar to Duro, a Star Wars planet. The architecture, notably a council chamber, is similar to the architecture of Coruscant and the Trade Federation battleships. The word "hyperspace" is even used at one point in the film. The grand councilwoman is similar, in physique and attire, to the Neimoidians of Episode I as well.

Many features are also close to that of the Star Trek universe. In that literary creation the protagonists work for "the Federation", an interstellar and interspecies government which, like the Galactic federation of Lilo and Stich, has an important bureaucratic and legalistic bent. In the two imaginary universes, starship captains are important figures, and can often be antagonists when they turn bad, like captain Gantu.

In the tradition of Star Wars and the alien civilisations of Star Trek, alien writing is in a fictional script (except when Jumba reads in a newspaper when he was arrested). We hear nearly all the aliens speaking the same language as the Hawaiians which is English when the film is released in an English speaking region, French when the film is released in a French speaking region, and so on. The exception is Stich, who speaks a mysterious alien tongue in the beginning of the movie, and in the trailers also. There are fortunately no sub-titles since he is capable of saying horribly vulgar things which offend everybody in polite alien society. Jumba's speech patterns sounds like a very bad Russian accent, similar to Bullwinkle's nemesis Boris Badenov.

Some of the aliens on the Federation spaceship bear amusing resemblances to classic Disney characters, including Piglet and Tigger from the Winnie the Pooh series of films and television programs. Agent Pleakley may have been patterned after the walking brooms from the Fantasia sequence, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."

In the backgrounds of both Lilo and Nani's rooms are references to Disney movies. Lilo has a stuffed Dumbo doll on her art pastel while Nani has a movie poster for Mulan in her room. In addition to this, during the scene where Stitch sees the black and white footage of a spider destroying a city in a shop-window television, the establishing shot includes a restaurant called "Mulan Wok."

Director Chris Sanders voices Stitch.


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Lilo & Stitch hula sequence

The movie was originally intended to take place in rural Kansas, so that Stitch could interact with other characters while still being isolated from wreaking greater havoc. A decision to change the film's setting to the Hawaiian island of Kauai was an important choice in defining the plot more clearly. No other feature-length animated movie had ever taken place on any of the archipelago of Hawaiian Islands before. In Sanders's words, "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."

While the animation team visited Kauai to research the locale, their tourguide explained the meaning of ohana as it applies to extended families. This concept of ohana became an important part of the movie. DeBlois recalls, "No matter where we went, our tour guide seemed to know somebody. He was really the one who explained to us the Hawaiian concept of ohana, a sense of family that extends far beyond your immediate relatives. That idea so influenced the story that it became the foundation theme, the thing that causes Stitch to evolve despite what he was created to do, which is destroy."

The island of Kauai had previously been featured in such films as Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Jurassic Park trilogy. The Disney animators faced the daunting task of meshing the film's plot, which showed the impoverished and dysfunctional life that many Hawaiians and other Westerners lived during the recent economic downturn, with the island's serene beauty.

To give a brighter image to the film, the studio used watercolors to paint the backgrounds. This technique had not been used since Dumbo in 1941. Due to the production schedules, which have continuously tightened since Dumbo, watercolors were risky; one wrong stroke could ruin a piece, and with some 1,200 backgrounds for this movie, there was no time available to waste. Opaque gouache and acrylic paint, the current industry standards, are much more forgiving than watercolor because they let an artist paint over his mistakes. Using watercolors, the Disney artists had to carefully plan a background before they began working on it so as to avoid mistakes. Sanders and the studio's Backgrounds Department searched for easier ways to get the bright look, but finally decided that traditional watercolors were the proper way to go, and had the Orlando crew trained in the technique.

Changes because of September 11th

The original plan for the ending of Lilo & Stitch was completely changed due to the September 11, 2001 attacks. The original ending featured Stitch stealing a 747 then joyriding among the office and hotel towers of Honolulu; the revised ending uses a spaceship racing through clouds and through a tight valley with Dr. Jookiba (the gradually friendlier mad scientist) at the controls while Stitch steals a full tanker truck and joyrides it down the crater of a volcano.

This edited version is set to be included on the upcoming special edition DVD release.

The television series

Disney created a franchise from the Lilo & Stitch film with the Lilo & Stitch television series. Starting in the fall of 2003, the Disney Channel began airing Lilo & Stitch: The Series as a weekly series (following a direct-to-video feature titled Stitch! The Movie). With Stitch being Experiment Number 626, Disney has introduced via the TV series more characters to the Lilo & Stitch franchise. A second direct-to-video feature, titled Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has A Glitch is scheduled to be released in 2005, with Dakota Fanning replacing Daveigh Chase in the role of Lilo.

See also: Alien experiment (Lilo & Stitch)


  • Drawn and Quartered (, from Star Bulletin
  • Lilo & Stitch: Collected Stories From the Film's Creators, 2002. Disney Editions. ISBN 0786853824
    • This book consists of a series of essays by the film's makers, an unusual format for a book in this genre.

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