Chris Sanders – X-626/Stitch, X-629/Leroy (3rd film)
Daveigh Chase – Lilo Pelekai
David Ogden Stiers – Dr. Jumba Jookiba
Kevin McDonald – Agent Wendy Pleakley
Tia Carrere – Nani Pelekai, Mrs. Edmonds
Jeff Bennett – Dr. Jacques von Hämsterviel
Kevin Michael Richardson – Gantu, Cobra Bubbles, Officer Kahiko
Rob Paulsen – X-625/Reuben
While Sanders took the suggestion to set the story in the human world, he still wanted an isolated setting. He initially figured on Kansas until a glance at a map made him realize just how remote the Hawaiian Islands were. Working on Mulan had taught Sanders and DeBlois that when dealing with a real location in fiction, there were certain cultural considerations that needed to happen being that they were both outsiders. They engaged with as many Hawaiians on the project as they could (including two of the film’s stars, Hawaiian natives Tia Carrere and Jason Scott Lee, who helped with colloquial dialect and slang in the dialogue) to ensure an authenticity was maintained. When the animation team went to do research on the island of Kauai, they learned about the concept of ‘ohana: a term used to describe an extended family that goes beyond blood relation. Taken with the closeness of the community that lived there, ‘ohana soon became an important part of the story and its driving theme.
The film, titled Lilo & Stitch after its two main characters, followed two sisters on their own after their parents’ deaths. The elder Nani Pelekai (Carrere) struggled to make ends meet while also trying to take care of her rambunctious little sister, Lilo (Daveigh Chase). That became even more complicated when Nani let Lilo adopt a dog, which ended up being an alien creature created for destruction by alien mad scientist Dr. Jumba Jookiba (David Ogden Stiers). Jumba and his reluctant partner/keeper, Agent Wendy Pleakley (a so-called Earth “expert”, voiced by Kevin McDonald), attempt to reclaim Experiment 626 (now known as “Stitch”, voiced by Sanders) on orders from the Galactic Federation. However, they only succeed in getting Nani fired and putting her guardianship of Lilo in the crosshairs of social worker Cobra Bubbles (Ving Rhames). When the giant militant Captain Gantu (Kevin Michael Richardson) was sent to succeed where Jumba failed, he ended up capturing Lilo and causing Nani and the aliens to band together to get her back. The Grand Councilwoman (Zoe Caldwell), head of the Federation, came to Earth herself to take Stitch in, but ultimately allowed him to remain with his new ‘ohana as they had managed to inspire a change in Stitch’s programming for the better.
The production design defied every Disney standard at the time. Instead of the house style used in other animated projects, the character and set designs were based on Sanders’ own style through Schumacher’s insistence. Visual supervisor Sue Nichols deconstructed and analyzed his art and provided a breakdown to help the animators replicate it in a book called Surfing the Sanders Style. The backgrounds were to be painted in watercolor—a process not used since 1941’s Dumbo, necessitating the animation staff having to learn the technique—to invoke the look of a storybook. Rather than being made in the California-based Disney studio, the film was animated at Walt Disney Animation Florida located inside Walt Disney World. Originally begun as a theme park attraction with park workers pretending to animate, producer Max Howard soon loaded it up with real animators producing actual work. Sanders felt that the small studio allowed the animators to bond and bring more of a family feel to the film. Additionally, there would be little to no CGI used in the film as the small budget couldn’t accommodate it, nor did Sanders feel his designs would work in 3D. The small budget also meant things like shadows (a lot of the action took place in shade) or elaborate clothing designs (shirt logos, pockets, etc.) had to go. The one bit of CGI they did have was initially of a jet plane on a chase through the city, which was hastily changed to Jumba’s spaceship through the mountains in the wake of September 11.
Lilo & Stitch opened on June 21, 2002 to largely positive reviews, earning $273.1 million at the box office. The marketing campaign was inspired by Stitch’s quirkiness, having Stitch intrude on memorable scenes from The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King. Jodi Benson, Scott Weinger, Paige O’Hara and Nathan Lane all reprised their respective roles to interact with/react to Stitch. These have become known as “Inter-Stitch-als” after the term “interstitial”.
With such a positive reception and box office, Disney moved to continue the franchise with both a sequel and an animated series. The direct-to-video film was called Stitch! The Movie, releasing on August 26, 2003 written by Bobs Gannaway and Jess Winfield and directed by Tony Craig and Gannaway. It saw Gantu hired by Jumba’s former partner, Dr. Jacques von Hämsterviel (Jeff Bennett), to retrieve the rest of Jumba’s experiments. The experiments (mostly called “cousin” by Stitch) all resembled Stitch with variations in size, color or appendages, and each series was designed for a specific purpose: 0-Series was the test batch that included household helpers; 1-Series caused civic disturbances; 2-Series utilized technology and science; 3-Series worked psychologically; 4-Series were militaristic and mostly failures; 5-Series affected the elements and environment; and the 6-Series could cause doomsday on a galactic level. It’s discovered that Jumba has been keeping them in dehydrated form in a container he was hiding, and Gantu took Jumba hostage in exchange for it. Gantu also acquired his own “Stitch” by releasing Experiment 625 (eventually named Reuben, voiced by Rob Paulsen) to torture Jumba; but while 625 had all of Stitch’s abilities (as well as his coloring in his initial first appearance in Disney Adventures magazine), he was also incredibly lazy and sandwich-hungry (hence his name). However, the good guys managed to retrieve Jumba and the experiments and stop Hämsterviel and Gantu. They also found a purpose for the experiment Lilo released earlier, appropriately named “Sparky”, in powering the Kilauea Lighthouse; long dormant due to the expense in powering it. Unfortunately, five more experiments end up revived and loose.
This led directly into Lilo & Stitch: The Series (originally going to be called Stitch! The TV Series after the sequel film), which followed Lilo, Stitch and their ‘ohana as they tracked down escaped experiments before Hämsterviel, Gantu and Reuben could, change them from bad to good, and find them a place where they could truly belong (much as they had with Sparky). Jumba and Pleakley remained with Lilo’s family, with Pleakley often disguising himself in a variety of Earth clothing and wigs (generally of the female variety). As with other Disney cartoons based on their films, a great deal of the voice cast returned to reprise their respective roles. The only exceptions were Cobra Bubbles, who was taken over by Richardson (although Rhames did voice the character in an episode when an experiment took his form); rich popular girl and Lilo’s rival Mertle Edmonds (Liliana Mumy, replacing Miranda Paige Walls); and Nani’s surfer boyfriend David Kawnea (Dee Bradley Baker, replacing Lee). Other characters included Mertle’s entourage of Yuki (Lili Ishida), Elena (Jillian Henry) and Teresa (Kali Whitehurst); Keoni Jameson (Shaun Fleming), Lilo’s crush who had a crush on Pleakley, believing him to be Lilo’s aunt; Victoria (Alyson Stoner), Lilo’s new human best friend; Mrs. Hasagawa (Amy Hill), a kindly but forgetful old lady that ran a fruit stand; Moses Puloki (Kunewa Mook), the hula teacher at Lilo’s school; a sunburned ice cream-eating tourist (Frank Welker), who always dropped his ice cream before he could finish it; and Charles and Mary, a honeymooning couple that always ran afoul of Stitch’s cousins.
Lilo & Stitch: The Series debuted on ABC on September 20, 2003 as part of the ABC Kids programming block, then premiered on Disney Channel on October 12 with episodes also airing on Toon Disney. It was developed by Gannaway and Winfield. Writers for the series included Winfield, Thomas D. Hart, Henry Gilroy, Kevin D. Campbell, Madellaine Paxson, Jim Peronto, Catherine Lieuwen, Brian Swenlin, John Wray, Laura McCreary, Kenneth Koonce, Robert Martin, Chad F. Rogers, Jan Strnad, Heather Lombard, Evan Gore, John Behnke, Rob Humphrey, Dana Landsberg, David Warick, Amy Debartolomeis, Brandon Sawyer and Mark Drop, with Gannaway, Winfield, Paxson, Hart, Gore, Lombard and Campbell serving as story editors at various points. Characters were designed by Greg Guler, Mark Cote, José Zelaya, Virginia Hawes, Ken Boyer and Landsberg, with animation duties handled by Jade Animation, Rough Draft Korea, Starburst Animation, Toon City Animation and Wang Film Productions Company. The title sequence was animated by Hook Up Animation and directed by Ed Wexler. The series’ theme was “Aloha, E Komo Mai”, written by Danny Jacob and Ali. B. Olmo and performed by Jump5 with some interjections from Stitch. The rest of the music was composed by Mike Tavera.
The series ran for two seasons, totaling 65-episodes; the standard for the majority of Disney’s programs to make it eligible for syndication. Episodes were typically named after the prominent experiment featured in its story, with the exception of “Rufus” (more on that in a bit). Some episodes were aired out of production order, meaning that experiments that would debut on screen already appeared on the program and events that had yet to occur were referenced. Lilo also returned to wearing a red Mumu as she did in the film, having worn a green one during the first season. A reduced budget for the second season saw four episodes condensed into two, making them the only episodes with two story segments instead of one complete story. The season also had an incredibly inconsistent release schedule, airing 26 episodes between 2004 and 2006. Following the 2004 Indian Ocean Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami, the episode “Cannonball” was pulled for two months due to the titular experiment causing tsunamis in the story. Additionally, the episode “Ace” was reworked into a clip show as the original plot involved the creation of a controlled tidal wave (that would end up out of control) as a ploy to show Jumba was evil enough to remain a member of the Evil Genius Organization. It was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award and a Motion Picture Sound Editors award.
Inspired by the promotion for the original film, four episodes of the second season featured crossovers with other Disney Television Animation programs. It was the fourth to do so, following Darkwing Duck with appearances by Gizmoduck (Hamilton Camp) from DuckTales (1987); Hercules: The Series with characters from Aladdin; and House of Mouse with a cameo by Pepper Ann. A crossover between Gargoyles and a planned Atlantis: The Lost Empire show was considered, but the latter’s poor box office saw the spin-off scrapped. In the episode “Spats”, the titular characts from The Proud Family come to stay in Jumba and Pleakly’s “Bed and Not Breakfast” (made out of Jumba’s ship) for their family vacation. In “Lax”, the kids from Recess visit the island so that Gretchen Grundler (Ashley Johnson) could use a telescope to investigate a possible new planet (this was one of the only episodes to initially debut on Toon Disney, and marked the final appearance of the Recess characters). “Morpholomew” had the main characters of American Dragon: Jake Long visit the island to investigate the reports of magical creatures (aka, the experiments) running loose. Finally, “Rufus” saw Lilo call on Kim Possible (Christy Carlson Romano) and Ron Stoppable (Will Friedle) from Kim Possible to help her rescue Stitch from the clutches of Kim’s villains Dr. Drakken (John DiMaggio) and Shego (Nicole Sullivan). The episode was so named because Ron’s pet naked mole rat, Rufus (Nancy Cartwright), was mistaken for an experiment during the episode. A bit of an outside crossover occurred when McDonald’s Kids in the Hall castmates Dave Foley, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch guest-starred as members of his family (and a priest) in the episode “Fibber”.
While the show was in production, Disney produced another direct-to-video film in the franchise: Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch has a Glitch, released on August 30, 2005. The film was set chronologically between the theatrical film and Stitch! It dealt with Stitch lashing out due to his molecules not being fully charged before Jumba was arrested. The film was written by Michael LaBash, Tony Leondis, Eddie Guzelian and Alexa Junge, and directed by LaBash and Leondis. Lee returned to voice David for the final time, while Dakota Fanning played Lilo at Chase’s suggestion due to her being too busy with the series. A short, The Origin of Stitch written by LaBash and Guzelian and directed by Mike Disa and Tony Bancroft, was included with the film.
A third direct-to-video film, Leroy & Stitch, was released on June 27, 2006 (after airing on June 23) and served as a conclusion to the main Lilo & Stitch franchise and the animated series. Written by Gannaway and Winfield and directed by Gannaway with Craig, the film was set three years later after all of the experiments had been rounded up. Lilo, Stitch and their ‘ohana were honored by the Galactic Alliance and are offered new positions: Jumba was allowed access to his lab again; Pleakley was made chairman of Earth Studies at Galactic Alliance Community College; Stitch was made captain of the Galactic Armada; and Lilo was named ambassador to Earth and guardian of the experiments. However, Gantu broke Hämsterviel out of prison and they forced Jumba to create an evil duplicate of Stitch: Leroy (Sanders), along with an army of clones of him. Leroy was sent to Earth to capture all of the experiments while Hämsterviel took over the galaxy.
That wasn’t the end of Stitch on television, however. The following year, Disney released a short called Stitch Meets High School Musical, tying into the debut of High School Musical 2. It had Lilo & Stitch characters play a friendly game of basketball before performing a dance number to “We’re All in This Together” from the first film. In 2008, Disney Television International Japan debuted the anime series Stitch!, which saw Stitch (Kōichi Yamadera & Ben Diskin), Jumba (Shōzō Iizuka & Winfield) and Pleakley (Yūji Mitsuya & Ted Biaselli) relocate to the fictional island of Izayoi off the shore of Okinawa, Japan (then into Okinawa itself for the third season) after Lilo (Tomoe Hanba & Gwendoline Yeo/Melissa Fahn) had grown up and gotten her own family. There they befriended a local 10-year-old girl named Yuna Kamihara (Motoko Kumai & Eden Riegel) and became immersed in Japanese culture as they had the Hawaiian one previously. None of the original cast returned to provide the English dubs for their characters, save Rocky McMurray as Experiment-150, aka Clyde. In 2017, an English-language-produced 13-episode Chinese animated series debuted called Stitch & Ai. Similar to the anime, Stitch (Li Zhengxiang & Diskin) ended up abducted by alien criminals who wanted to activate a secret metamorphosis program that would turn Stitch into a giant monster. He ended up getting away and ending up in Huangshan, Anhui, where he befriended Wang Ai Ling (Jiang Sunwei & Erica Mendez). Ai was in danger of being taken away from her sister, Jiejie (Li Yan & Laura Post), by their aunt Daiyu (Yan Lixuan & Post) who felt she belonged with her in the city. Jumba (Cheng Yuzhu & Winfield) and Pleakley (Hu Qian & Lucien Dodge), sent to rescue Stitch by the Galactic Federation, allowed him to remain with Ai and stayed as well.
Aside from Stitch, the breakout character of the franchise was Experiment-624, aka Angel (Tara Strong). She possessed a siren song capable of reverting rehabilitated people and experiments evil and became Stitch’s love interest (and, as a result, was the only experiment not to be called “cousin” by him). She only appeared in 3 episodes of the series—one of them being only a cameo—but it was enough to enamor the audience overseas. She became a recurring character in Stitch! and the only Disney Television Animation character to appear in the games Disney Magic Kingdoms and Disney Getaway Blast. Along with being one of the costumed characters at various Disney Parks, she also has (as of this writing) her own dedicated page on Disney’s store site; arguably getting more merchandise based on her than even Lilo.
Disney’s Lilo & Stitch 2: Hämsterviel Havoc released in 2004 for the Game Boy Advance was a sequel to the 2002 video game. Developed by Climax Studios, Hämsterviel used Angel to make some experiments evil again while capturing Nani and David, and Lilo and Stitch had to recapture the experiments and use their abilities to progress further. While that was the only conventional video game released for the show, there were a number of Flash games published on the Disney website for a time. Beach Treasure was a platformer that had you helping Lilo or Stitch find and recover experiment balls on a beach before time ran out. Cosmic Slugger was a baseball game where the player had to help Stitch hit a target number of home runs and get as many points as possible. Hula Hustle had the player help Stitch learn how to hula by following the on-screen commands, avoiding the ones Hämsterviel tossed in to foul him up. Mission: Experiments on the Loose was a puzzle game that had the player help Stitch reach the exit of a level by clicking groupings of same-colored blocks out of his way. Jumba’s Lab allowed players to create their own experiments by mixing and matching parts. Alien Interception had Stitch looking to blast experiments Hämsterviel freed with a teleportation ray without hitting his friends in the process. Speed Chase saw Stitch racing around the island to collect experiments before Gantu could. Tiki Bowl was a standard themed bowling game.
The Disney Adventures comics were collected in Comic Zone Volume 1: Disney’s Lilo & Stitch, with stories spanning between all the films and the series. While there has been some DVD releases overseas in places like Japan and Czechia, it has experienced a very limited home media release in North America. The episodes “Mr. Stenchy” and “Clip” were included as part of the interactive DVD board game Lilo & Stitch’s Island of Adventures in 2003. “Slushy” and “Poxy” were part of two separate Disney Channel-themed Game Boy Advance Video compilations. “Link” was included as a bonus feature on the Leroy & Stitch DVD. The series was made available for streaming on DisneyNow and DisneyLife, and then became one of the launch titles for the service Disney+ in 2019.
“Richter” (9/30/03) – Lilo & Stitch head underground to find an experiment causing earthquakes that threaten to crack the planet in half.
“Spike” (11/5/04) – Lilo’s hopes to beat Mertle in a trivia contest are dashed when Stitch is stung by an experiment that turns him goofy, while Pleakley starts a therapy group to reform experiments.
“Stitch! The Movie” (8/26/03) – Hämsterviel hires Gantu to retrieve the other 625 experiments from Jumba.