Hand-Drawn Miracle
October 19, 2022 12:32 PM   Subscribe

It almost makes me freak out now, just thinking about how many near misses this thing probably had. Watercolors, Elvis and ohana: an oral history of Lilo & Stitch.
posted by gottabefunky (26 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Anyway, people my age were raised with a lot of influences that aren’t really great.

posted by zamboni at 12:45 PM on October 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

I kept being told by the publicists, “Nobody cares about the watercolors.” I said, “We’re going to teach them what it is.” We went to the Cannes Film Festival to promote it. Clark, Dean, Chris, me. Roy and Patty flew us there on Air Roy, a private 737 they owned. I think we put 500 journalists through a class where they got to learn how to watercolor paint. They all got a kit with exactly the four colors of paint you needed, rock salt, and you had to float your paint on the wet paper. It was amazing.

This is an amazing story about an amazing movie.
posted by mhoye at 12:56 PM on October 19, 2022 [6 favorites]

It's weird - I enjoyed this movie, but I didn't quite realize how good it is, or how much love it's inspired, until this previous thread from 2014 on Lilo & Stitch.

And this collection of art from Lilo & Stitch (via this Art of Character Design thread) is really wonderful.

I love these oral histories - learning about the challenges and joys of creating something special from the people who made it. Thank you so much for posting this, gottabefunky!
posted by kristi at 1:31 PM on October 19, 2022 [6 favorites]

Thank you for posting this!! I loved it, and have passed it on to some friends. Now I want to go home and watch my Lilo & Stitch DVD again.

Given my observations (and experiences) of how Notes From Higher-Ups can really wreck things, I must say that they do mention a really good note from Roy Disney in the article. It's the note about how he liked Stitch when he thought he was a baby, but then, originally Stitch turned out to actually be the adult leader of a whole gang of aliens, and when that was revealed, Roy didn't like him anymore. And that really clarified what they were doing with Stitch and how to change and simplify it, as we see in the finished movie, in ways that make me vigorously nod my head.

So, yes, absolutely the best thing is to be as far from meddling executives as possible! (That story about Michael Eisner not paying any attention during Lion King and then complaining about the stuff he would have understood if he'd been looking, that made me froth at the mouth!) But this one note, it was demonstrably a wise and good one.
posted by theatro at 1:38 PM on October 19, 2022 [6 favorites]

Sanders: At the very, very end, I was sitting at my desk and Tom Schumacher called, and he said, “Chris, if you had an extra minute, what would you do on this film?” I said, “Well, I would do a postscript to the film. I would show their life after the film ends.” He said, “You guys have been so on budget, you have a couple of million dollars left over. Do that ending.” We added those two minutes, and I think it totally changed the film.

That ending absolutely makes the entire movie, which I love anyway (it means so much to me!). The movie is about how Lilo and Nani lost their family & they realized they are one with this weird blue destructive alien. And then they get two more aliens as family members! And sometimes Cobra Bubbles stops by! It's so beautiful and perfect.

I do think this movie is a great example of when you let people just do their thing, you get great results. I mean, not all the time, but there's something to be said for giving people a chance to make something they believe in.
posted by edencosmic at 1:46 PM on October 19, 2022 [9 favorites]

This movie makes me cry every time. It's a beautiful, ridiculous, positive twist on the Ugly Duckling story, where Stitch is hoping that one day he will grow up to be a beautiful swan and find a family of other beautiful swans but actually it's okay, he's a rambunctious fluffy monster and he doesn't need to change, or sprout lovely white feathers. He belongs where he is, among other bizarre, misunderstood critters who love him for who and what he is.

Also the gag where Lilo shows Nani that Stitch can play vinyl records has probably the best comic timing of anything I've ever seen.
posted by qntm at 2:07 PM on October 19, 2022 [9 favorites]

I also cry every time. I cried reading TFA. I stupidly clicked on the "little and broken but still good" clip and then cried some more.

When my little family faces another wave of something hard that seems like this time things will really break, my partner will pat me gently on the head and say "still good. yeah. still good."

Also - I loved learning all that about Tia Carerre! She always seemed amazing, so this was icing on the cake.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 3:11 PM on October 19, 2022 [5 favorites]

This is the article I've always wanted, a truly incredible article, I love this movie so dearly. Such a masterwork -- wish we got to hear Daveigh Chase's part on it though.

I also thought it was really eerie when the Florida studio got shuttered immediately -- as a child, I found it really traumatizing to hear that such a beautiful movie could be made and yet the studio was closed. I still really dislike 3D animation (Moana is a bit better but not by much) and prefer hand-drawn.
posted by yueliang at 3:11 PM on October 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

Love this movie. It is such a delicate, weird thing to emerge from a major animation studio.

I'm also a big fan of Defunctland, the Youtube series that presents documentary deep dives on everything Disney, and this article really snapped into focus why ragging on Michael Eisner is the backbone of the Defunctland series. A dude who cannot sit still for a movie! Asking who major characters are, like he's a dad who's been asleep the whole time!
posted by Countess Elena at 3:30 PM on October 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

Lilo: It's sandwich day. Every Thursday I give Pudge the Fish a peanut butter sandwich. But, today we were out of peanut butter. I asked my sister what to give him and she said a tuna sandwich. I can't give Pudge tuna! Do you know what tuna is? IT'S FISH! If I gave Pudge tuna, I'd be an abomination! I'm late because I had to go to the store and get peanut butter cause all we have is...is...STINKING TUNA!!!!!

Dance teacher: Lilo, why is this so important to you?

Lilo: Pudge controls the weather.

This movie is perfection. I get so worked up when people find out it's my favorite animated movie of all time and they say it's a dumb movie. It's so deep and lovely and sweet.

"It's little and broken but still good. Yeah. Still good." If that doesn't break your heart right open and fill it with golden light, I am sorry for you.
posted by cooker girl at 3:43 PM on October 19, 2022 [13 favorites]

I don't want to go on about how shitty and evil of a company Disney is, except to say that for all the wealth and IP they hold, they can clearly afford the expense of traditional animation but are just entirely unwilling to pay for it. If they weren't IP hoarders and bullies it wouldn't be so bad, but they are, and it's jus ta damn shame a whole artform relegated to the edges out of simple greed.
posted by GoblinHoney at 4:23 PM on October 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

It's so so so good. I was a crazy Disney stan on the Internet back then and people were so obsessed and excited about this film as a "Disney Feature Animation's still got it!" moment. At the time I think there was an increasingly hopeless hope among fans that Disney might not jump on the 3D animation bandwagon, and the artistry and weirdness of this movie really stoked those hopes.
posted by potrzebie at 4:32 PM on October 19, 2022

Really great article, love hearing about the behind-the-scenes and it's great these folks fought so hard to make it as good and ignore typical Disney pitfalls along the way, while also dodging the destructive attention of head office. Imagine the incredible movies we'd be getting now if they didn't shut it all down.
posted by GoblinHoney at 4:53 PM on October 19, 2022

This and Emperor are the best Disney movies.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:42 PM on October 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

I have been resigned to 3D animation being the domain of Western animated movies, as the animation ghetto is a real thing and 3D animated movies make more money because it's more "real". Not even stop-motion escapes this curse. I think things might be slowly changing now that kids' animated shows are becoming far more sophisticated and we're seeing a lot more adult animation that isn't a house-bound sitcom, and we're seeing what countries that don't have the same feelings about 2D animation are able to do when they incorporate 3D animation into their pipeline without trying to do everything in it.

Given my observations (and experiences) of how Notes From Higher-Ups can really wreck things

I find "Notes From Higher-Ups that are obviously correct" fascinating, though not as much as "Notes From Higher-Ups that are correct but they nevertheless wreck the work". (An example of the latter: Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain was infamously a result of a Note From Higher-Ups, who apparently had been stung by the 90s-era criticism of The Smurfette Principle, where animated shows tend to have one female character, whose key personality trait is 'girl'. They conceded the Higher-Ups had a point when they rebooted Animaniacs a couple of years ago - Dot got a personality upgrade, and Brain got an arch-nemesis.)
posted by Merus at 7:29 PM on October 19, 2022

This was a great read. I’m in the creative side of advertising, and almost all of my work has to fit in the constraints of what someone else wants. I’ve had some really good stuff cast aside because someone had their own idea of what they wanted something to look like. After a while you begin to get timid because you don’t want to spend a lot of time and creativity on something just to have someone say, “nah, do something else instead.” I can only imagine how a lot of people that work for Disney feel, knowing that there’s so many people at so many levels higher up in the company and any one of them can look at some great work you’ve done and say, “nah.” And yet these guys got two years to make something without that constant pressure, and something that they enjoyed, something that had more meaning than your typical Disney offering. I love love love to see this.

One thing I really liked about the movie is the portrayal of Lilo & Nani’s struggles. Lilo is a damaged child. She doesn’t want to be bad, but she just doesn’t have great control of herself, much of it due to past trauma. Nani is doing her damnedest to hold her and Lilo and home together, and deals with a lot of problems that just aren’t her making. All the while the state is lurking, ready to take Lilo. This is very heavy fare for a Disney film. But it’s not just children who live in happy, safe homes that like Disney. Most children like watching Disney films, including the ones from broken homes, the ones from poor families, the ones who have emotional outbursts and may not be able to control themselves, and so on. It’s important for children to see portrayals of kids who have some really serious problems just like them, and for the portrayal to be told from a sympathetic point of view. Also importantly is that Lilo isn’t expected to be all better at the end of the film. If you’re broken, it doesn’t mean you’re bad and it doesn’t mean you screwed up. Broken people are still good.
posted by azpenguin at 8:43 PM on October 19, 2022 [9 favorites]

I keep forgetting that this is a Disney movie. I feel a little better about that after learning it's sort of not.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:22 PM on October 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

This came out when I was in animation school and holds a significant place in my memories. We were all training to be classical animators, and I very clearly remember the fear that this exact type of 2D animation would disappear, and the general opinion, “but look at lilo & stitch! They can’t stop making movies like this!”

It’s funny to learn about the way choices came up (like carrere’s influence), because like a lot of good things, lilo & stitch seems “just so.” It all just had to be that way because how else could it be? You’d be wrong to imagine it some other way (e.g. without the watercolour BGs).

I got a stuffed Stitch, I think from Disneyland. It’s the only one of my old stuffed things that I’ve passed down to our toddler. Ohana!
posted by TangoCharlie at 11:43 PM on October 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm crying, reading about all of you crying!

Stories about kids growing up and becoming who they are always unleash my waterworks, and L&S is up there with the best of them.
posted by Ten Cold Hot Dogs at 1:32 AM on October 20, 2022 [4 favorites]

“It was raining, and they went for a drive.“
posted by mhoye at 5:20 AM on October 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

(That line lands like an anvil, with more emotion in it that most movies manage in their entirety.)
posted by mhoye at 9:45 AM on October 20, 2022

This was so very, very wonderful to read. Thank you gottabefunky for sharing.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 10:57 AM on October 20, 2022

When Lilo & Stitch came out I was "too old" to watch Disney movies. I was at that age. I was in high school. But I was working at a movie theater and we'd have a trailer loop going in the concessions area of all the movies coming out or now in theaters. So I saw the Stitch "Lion King" parody several times and I thought it was a clever ad. But I still wasn't going to see it. But since I worked in the theater I saw bits and pieces of all the movies we had as I worked. And I was impressed by the five minutes or so I would see here and there so decided to sit down and watch the full thing. It was so much more than I would have expected. I watched it a couple more times while it was in the theater and since then I've seen it probably a dozen times at this point. It's one of my favorite movies ever now. I never get tired of it.
posted by downtohisturtles at 11:28 AM on October 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Special mention to how a lot of folks have been identifying with Lilo and Stitch as autistic culture -- I really recognize myself a lot in Lilo and relate a lot to her autistic coded traits.
posted by yueliang at 3:19 PM on October 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

Rewatched last week; cried, of course. Yeah. Still good.

they do mention a really good note from Roy Disney in the article.

Absolutely yes: that change makes Stitch alone; and it's Stitch's loneliness ("I'm lost!") and his desire to connect that's the heart of the movie:
Jumba: 6-2-6 was designed to be a monster but now he has nothing to destroy. You see, I never gave him a greater purpose. What must it be like to have nothing… not even memories to visit in the middle of the night?

Lilo: That’s the Ugly Duckling. See? He’s sad because he’s all alone and nobody wants him but on this page, his family hears him crying and they find him. Then the Ugly Duckling is happy because he knows where he belongs.
I feel there's also another incredibly good decision they made which is to not show, or explain, the parents' deaths. We don't get the traditional Disney "and here's how they became orphans" flashback, because that's not important; what is is how that trauma affects Lilo and Nani and their relationship to each other.
Lilo: We’re a broken family, aren’t we?
Nani: No. Maybe, a little. Maybe a lot. I shouldn’t have yelled at you.
Lilo: We’re sisters. It’s our job.
Nani: Yeah, well, from now on…
Lilo: I like you better as a sister than a mom.
Nani: Yeah?
Lilo: And you like me better as a sister than a rabbit, right?
Nani: Oh… Oh, oh, oh, oh. Yes. Yes, I do.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:53 AM on October 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

I went back and watched this tonight because of the oral history. I was working for Disney at the time and a friend of mine actually became the "back-up" voice for Stitch. Very funny watching that guy turn on the voice.... wait digression. Anyway, it felt weirdly misunderstood at the time.

A couple have touched on it, but they really did capture the random flailing fury of a kid dealing with parental loss in a way. I lost my dad when I was just a bit older than Lilo. I was furious without even any of the broken tools an adult might have. One of my mom's former students just got diagnosed with very aggressive cancer and she's helping to care for her two kids. The pre-teen boy, who probably is on the spectrum like me, is raging in a predictably horribly vain way.

So, yeah, they captured that like a peach and it still hits like a bag of hammers while still making a movie that is fun and spritzy.
posted by drewbage1847 at 8:19 PM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

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