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Disney is Making a Live-Action ‘Lilo & Stitch’ Movie

Abomination!? Not quite. Disney’s most successful Post-Renaissance film is a goldmine of universal, relatable themes that make for a promising adaptation.
Lilo And Stitch
Walt Disney Pictures
By  · Published on October 4th, 2018

Wow, Disney is pitching a live-action remake that feels exciting right from the get-go. Per The Hollywood Reporter, Lilo & Stitch will return to screens as a live-action and CGI hybrid project. It joins the long line of adaptations currently in development at the Mouse House, all of which aim to bring their in-house animations to real-life glory.

Set in Hawaii, Lilo & Stitch follows the adventures of the boisterous but friendless Lilo Pelekai. The eccentric child has been raised by her older sister Nani since their parents died in a car accident. As Nani struggles to get her disobedient sister under control, social services regularly threatens to break them up for good.

Eventually, Lilo adopts a “dog” and names him Stitch, unaware that he is an extraterrestrial being engineered to be an agent of chaos. Stitch, really known as Experiment 626 on his homeworld, puts up a charade as Lilo’s pet in order to protect himself from neutralization by goons sent to hunt him down. However, both Lilo and Stitch soon foster genuine bonds with one another by virtue of their shared status as outsiders.

The most prestigious film of Disney’s Post-Renaissance era, Lilo & Stitch is definitely a crown jewel during the studio’s more experimental phase in the early to late 2000s. The film — written and directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon) — was the company’s more successful foray into the sci-fi genre within that time period, particularly after a lackluster box office response to Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

For the time being, THR notes that the Lilo & Stitch remake could either land in theaters or find its way to Disney’s streaming service, which is due to launch in 2019. The producers of the upcoming Aladdin remake — Dan Lin and Jonathan Eirich — are spearheading the new Lilo & Stitch. Relative newcomer Mike Van Waes will pen the project’s screenplay.

Van Waes is a fascinating choice for a Disney property, given that his feature film slate has mainly traversed horror thus far. For instance, he has worked on Not in Kansas — a Wizard of Oz-inspired horror vehicle — and James Wan’s The Crooked Man.

Nevertheless, Wan’s own words about that upcoming installment in The Conjuring franchise could ease possible worries; he (as producer) “would love to push [the film] more down somewhat of that dark fairytale, and more whimsical, subgenre.” Perhaps Van Waes will do a good job with Lilo & Stitch. After all, whimsy certainly has the place in the realm of Disney.

So does a sense of darkness, as previous live-action adaptations from the company have demonstrated. Robert Stromberg’s Maleficent takes the age-old classic of Sleeping Beauty and not only puts a distinctly feminist perspective on it; the movie is unafraid to examine trauma and consequence, for better or for worse. Comparatively, Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book sinks its teeth into the menace of the jungle, creating a vast and immersive landscape that feels adequately adventurous and dangerous for its protagonist Mowgli.

Similarly, Lilo & Stitch already sports the potential for gloom based on its existing narrative alone. Lilo is a lonely child dealing with the trauma of losing her parents. Nani is often at her wit’s end in her attempt to raise her unruly but good-hearted sister right, all the while working hard to ensure that their family unit doesn’t fracture further. Stitch is a literal stranger in a strange land but also wrestles with his own issues of self-actualization as he figures out that he doesn’t need to be a killing machine.

What’s even better is that Lilo & Stitch is buckets of fun on top of all that supposed baggage. The film takes a family-centric story and throws aliens, secret agents, and a healthy amount of Elvis Presley into the mix as a form of levity. Lilo & Stitch is extremely quirky and surprising, as well as traditionally sweet and relatable, too. It’s a modern tale based in timelessness, and any chance of revitalizing it is legitimately heartening.

I already admit to being incredibly optimistic when it comes to Disney’s live-action adaptations. The Glenn Close-led 101 Dalmatians, which was released back in 1996, first opened my eyes to the prospect of these translations. Nearly two decades years later in a post-Maleficent world, Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella turned out to be a beautifully earnest experience coupled with a self-affirming modern-day sensibility. As aforementioned, The Jungle Book dunks audiences headfirst into enthrallment through its textured setting. Even rockier adaptations like Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast are very fun in spite of any autotuned singing.

Still, none of the above-mentioned films sounded totally appealing upon announcement. They had their work cut out for them to prove that they could be just as relevant and transportive today as they are in animated form.

Things feel different with regard to Lilo & Stitch simply because we’re already making stuff just like it. A live-action Lilo & Stitch wouldn’t be too out of place in the current climate of tentpole productions filled with extraterrestrial invasions. If viewers can follow Marvel Studios through ten years of blockbusters only to watch some purple dude snap half its universe into oblivion, a tiny blue koala-like alien learning the social mores of Earth is totally fair game. Lilo and Stitch’s adventures are anchored by universal themes. The project will also be inclusive as it features Hawaiian leads and supporting characters.

Without a doubt, a new take on this profound tale of found families couldn’t come soon enough.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)