Listen, Lilo & Stitch co-director / writer Chris Sanders loves “Let it Go” and all. But when it comes to the fanfare around Frozen‘s central sisterhoodSanders says it bothers him when people celebrate Frozen for breaking down barriers he feels Lilo & Stitch crossed years ago.
“To be clear, I think Frozen‘s great, ”Sanders tells The New York Times as part of a 20th-anniversary retrospective on Lilo & Stitch. “But it was a little bit frustrating for me because people were like,‘ Finally, a nonromantic relationship with these two girls, ’and I thought,‘ We did that! That has absolutely been done before. ‘”Sounds like a thought we’ve had at The AV Club before.
Lilo & Stitch centers around a young Hawaiian girl, Lilo, and her older sister, Nani. The pair, orphaned after their parents died in a car accident, now eke out a life together on the island full of ukulele, surfing, jean shorts, and sisterly bickering. When Lilo meets the effervescent blue alien Stitch one day, the hodge-podge trio quickly become a chosen family.
The film received critical acclaim upon its release, and was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2003 Oscars, a trophy it ultimately lost to Miyazaki’s masterpiece Spirited Away. Lilo & Stitch made way for multiple direct-to-video sequels, spin-offs, and currently has a live-action remake in the works.
Lilo & Stitch co-writers-and-directors Sanders and Dean DeBlois, who previously worked together on 1998’s Mulan, said they wanted to learn from the mistakes they made after creating a young female Chinese character without the input of girls like her.
“One thing we learned from working on Mulan is that when you’re setting a story in a specific place in the real world, there are places you can’t go, ”DeBlois explains. “There are some cultural elements you can’t use because you’re an outsider.”
For Lilo & StitchSanders and DeBlois relied on the help of Hawaiian musicians and locals to make sure everything from the dialects to the set dressing in the film rang true.
“When the film came out, that’s what a lot of critics talked about,” says Clark Spencer. Spencer, who served as a producer on Lilo & Stitch, is now the president of Walt Disney Animation Studios. “Those moments that were based on reality in a way that people could see themselves in, and it didn’t feel like they were cartoon characters.”