What Is the Movie "Lilo & Stitch" Based On?

by Si Kingston

The Walt Disney film "Lilo & Stitch" was released in the summer of 2002 and became the second film released by the Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida studio. "Lilo & Stitch" was not only widely received by audiences, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature that same year. The film was written and directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, and its story and characters are based on a number of influences.


Michael Eisner, Disney's CEO from 1984 to 2005, decided that it was time to make a lower-budget animation film in the wake of several bigger-budget animated releases. The idea of a less costly animation was inspired by "Dumbo," which was considered an economical production as compared to other more expensive animated films released during the time like "Pinnochio" and "Fantasia." Dumbo would also inspire a key attribute of Stitch.

The Idea

Chris Sanders, who was the head storyboard artist at Disney Feature Animation, was asked to come up with an idea for a more economical animated story. He decided to use a character named "Stitch," which he created as part of an unsuccessful children's book years earlier. Stitch is an experimental creature who is mistaken by Lilo to be a dog. He is non-English speaking, and Sanders intended for him to be completely non-verbal, like Dumbo. But to make the character more interesting, Sanders decided that Stitch would utter sounds and a few lines in the film.


Originally, the story "Lilo & Stitch" was set in rural Kansas. The story's setting was changed to the Hawaiian islands. This setting change became an integral part of the storyline and helped defined the plot -- a little Hawaiian girl who finds stability in an experimental creature. The film would become the first animated film to take place on the Hawaiian islands.


The plot of "Lilo & Stitch" displays themes of family, acceptance and love and captures the true spirit of Hawaiian people. Lilo is being raised by her older sister, instead of a mother and father, whose right to parent is being questioned by a social worker. Lilo's home-life represents not only a non-traditional family but a dysfunctional one as well. But her innocence and gracious spirit shines through and becomes Stitch's blessing. However, under the cover of animation, many of the story's hard-hitting themes weren't even realized by many viewers.