Lilo and Stitch 20th Anniversary: Directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois Reunite (video interview)

Twenty years ago this week, "Lilo & Stitch" hit movie theaters with a powerful, extraterrestrial-like growl. Although the film had a relatively small budget compared to the Disney animated feature films of the time, it was a huge box office success, and the character of Stitch remains synonymous with the Disney brand to this day, filling store shelves around the world.

Cartoon Brew's official online event partner, INBTWN Animation, interviewed the film's two directors, Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, who reminisced about the film's creation, development, production, and enduring legacy.

Click here to read the conversation:

Dating back to the 1980s, Chris Sanders created the initial concept for the character Stitch. DeBlois explains that the initial idea was "a creature of unknown origin, an outcast from a forest community, living in the great forests of the north."

When the two later pitched the idea to Thomas Schumacher, then Disney's president of feature animation, Schumacher gave them their first official memo.

DeBlois, who eventually became the film's second director, recalls, "Chris first said to me, 'I'm very interested to see if we can pull off a story where we start with a villain and make him a hero.' They were already thinking about challenging the established norms of good guys and bad guys in Disney animation. They had both just finished the story section of Mulan and were looking for a change of pace.

"In 'Mulan' there are really large crowds, armies, cities, etc. I really wanted to do a smaller story," Sanders says. 'Something a little more intimate and logistically manageable. ...... I thought, 'Can't we set it somewhere in rural America?'

But, as Sanders continues, "I had been to Hawaii on a trip not too long ago and had a road map of Hawaii on my wall. I just stared at it, (and) slowly a connection was made: ...... He said, "Maybe I can put it in Hawaii. He was hesitant at first, thinking it might be too interesting, but eventually relented and dove headfirst into the idea.

When they visited Hawaii, the core values of what they had developed came to life through Hawaiian culture. [Off the touristy beaten path, you find beautiful small towns and a beautiful sense of big family, where everyone has a cousin or an aunt or an uncle. And the real Hawaii is so charming, down-to-earth, day-to-day, and oddly romantic."

In planning the story, they paid tremendous respect to local customs and made sure to do justice to all aspects of the culture. I have never seen a place where the continuity of culture from person to person is so well preserved. One of the first things Dean and I noticed: ...... If we were going to embark on this journey, we needed to be incredibly open, talk to people, listen, and [engage] with as many people as possible who knew what they were doing."

By the time their pitch got the go-ahead, they already had a blueprint for how they wanted to proceed with the production since "Mulan." As De Broglie recalls, "'Mulan' was actually a pretty miserable experience."

Both "Mulan" and later "Lilo and Stitch" were among the few films animated at Walt Disney Animation Florida, a short-lived studio on the backlot of the Disney-MGM Studios theme park.

"Ultimately, we spent five years (working on "Mulan"), and the Florida part of it was ...... Everything is moving (late) and I just remember those late nights," says DeBlois. [The studio] was right across the street from a theme park, so you could hear the roller coasters and people screaming and laughing, and it was 10:30 at night and they were still storyboarding, and someone was pushing a vacuum cleaner in the hallway."

To avoid a similar situation with "Lilo & Stitch," they said, "No one gets divorced because of this movie. No one gets sick because of this movie. No one is estranged from family or friends because of this movie," DeBlois recalled.

To achieve this, the director duo decided to cut corners in ways that would not be noticeable on screen. They eliminated pockets on jeans and prints on T-shirts. We had to eliminate pockets on jeans, eliminate prints on shirts, and reduce complexity," he recalls.

Ultimately, as a result of scaling back the production, he says, "the whole crew - and I know this because of Facebook and social media - [says] that was my favorite filmmaking experience."

Sanders claims that he never really knew exactly how much the film's budget was, but instead the producers called them into the office and explained what sequences might go over budget.

"Those parameters don't matter," Sanders explains. In fact, in some ways they help."

As an example, he recalls "the scene where Lilo comes out onto the shoreline. That was the introduction of her character and it was the first time we saw her. We proposed a scene where she comes in on the waves and runs down the beach, passing by people doing all kinds of things. [But in the end, instead of showing that kind of animation, we ended up showing a really quick wide shot of her coming onto the beach and all the characters actually freezing. They are not moving, except for one character who is throwing a Frisbee. Then we quickly cut to Lilo's immediate surroundings, and she is running through a lot of legs.

When asked if they would go back and change anything, the two joke about some scenes that unfortunately had to be cut or changed for the film.

In one of the scenes that was cut, Sanders recalls One time ...... one of the girls said, 'I think you have rabies. If you have rabies, the dog catcher will cut your head off.' We had to get rid of the word 'cut off your head.'"

Another change they chuckled about was the sequence where Stitch puts his hand in the blender. In the end, they happily changed the scene to one in which the alien simply removes the lid of the blender. Sanders also recalls that they had to change the scene where Lilo comes out of the tumble dryer. Summing up the experience of making [Lilo and Stitch], DeBlois said. We talk about that movie very fondly, with very clear memories, because that whole filmmaking experience was about working with a small crew that was really excited and passionate about what they were doing. But we also spent weekends playing together, kayaking, going to the Florida Keys, going to the beach, traveling all over the place ...... Everything was like a big adventure...... But mostly it was just fun and free."

"That's reflected in the film. 'The film feels like a big time, I don't know, like you're spending with family. It has that kind of warmth."