In the late 1990s, Walt Disney Animation saw a number of increasingly expensive projects stumble with increasingly diminished returns. So after the six-year-long production of Mulan, animator Chris Sanders pushed for the studio to diversify the scope of the movies.
“Each film we produced was more complex and more expensive than the film before it,” Sanders tells Polygon. “One of the things I began to advocate was a return to a smaller film. That’s what Lilo & Stitch was. We would pay for our story freedom by controlling our budget.”
Lilo & Stitch, arguably one of the kookiest and off-kilter movies to come out of the tense time period, proved to be the unexpected success Sanders was hoping for — and not just in its theatrical release. The movie spawned three direct-to-video sequels, a successful television series, and multiple theme park attractions. Now Disney’s eying a live-action remake with In the Heights director Jon Chu. Stitch, against all odds, is still everywhere.
In the final installment of Beloved Animated Failures, we take a look at how a movie about a family threatening to splinter apart because of social services, and an alien fugitive crash-landing in Hawaii, managed to become one of Disney’s few enduring modern hits. Similar animated tentpoles like Treasure Planet, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and The Emperor’s New Groove were charming, yet dead on arrival; Lilo & Stitch went on to be as popular as the films born from the Disney Renaissance. The success had a little to do with the cute aliens, a little more to do with the clever marketing campaign, and a lot to do with the freedom the filmmakers had to make things the way they wanted to while operating within the Disney machine.
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