For the first time in ages, “Lilo & Stitch” is getting the respect it deserves.
Long before Anna ever built a snowman or Elsa learned to let go of one, the 2002 Disney film set the standard for animated stories about sisterhood.
But the success of Frozen and its sequel, ranked among the highest-grossing animated films of all time, has let Lilo & Stitch co-writer and director Chris Sanders down, particularly given the praise the blockbuster franchise has for its focus on received family love.
“To be clear, I think ‘Frozen’ is amazing,” Sanders told the New York Times in an interview marking the film’s 20th anniversary. “But it was a little bit frustrating for me because people were like, ‘Finally, a non-romantic relationship with these two girls,’ and I was like, ‘We did that! It absolutely has happened before.’”
There’s no denying that Lilo & Stitch broke the mold that would allow future Disney films to tell more emotionally grounded stories about strong female characters.
Similar to Frozen, the film revolves around two sisters, Lilo and Nani, whose relationship is broken after the death of their parents, with the latter becoming the title character’s legal guardian. Their life in Hawaii is turned upside down with the arrival of the adorable but chaos-seeking alien Stitch, who helps remind the siblings of the true meaning of family — or ohana — in the film’s most quoted line.
Perhaps most notably, the film is a rare non-romance Disney film starring a female lead.
Sanders and the producers said they carefully crafted the story to reflect real-life issues and portray realistic female bodies, while respecting the culture at the heart of the film by hiring Hawaiian musicians and actors to fill the roles.
“When the film came out, there were a lot of critics talking about it,” said producer Clarkspender. “Those moments that were based in reality in a way that people could see themselves and it didn’t feel like they were cartoon characters.”
“Lilo & Stitch” became one of the studio’s most profitable films of the decade, grossing over $270 million at the worldwide box office on a rather modest budget of $80 million. The feature spawned two more sequels, and a live-action adaptation is also currently in the works.
The comparisons between the film and Frozen have since sparked social media dialogue about Lilo & Stitch’s groundbreaking approach to animated storytelling.
Sanders, who also provided the voice for the koala-like creature, has left his mark on a number of animated franchises since Lilo & Stitch, including directing the originals How To Train Your Dragon and The Croods. movies.