Lilo & Stitch
Credit: Lilo and Stitch: Walt Disney

They’re not nearly as edgy as ”The Simpsons”’ itchy & Scratchy, but the stars of Disney’s new PG cartoon feature — Lilo, a Hawaiian problem child, and her pet Stitch, a creature from space who looks like the offspring of a Gremlin and a koala bear — might be very popular if they ever visited Bart and Lisa. According to Disney animation president Thomas Schumacher, mothers at early test screenings ”hated Stitch and hated us” because kids immediately warmed to the renegade alien’s socially unacceptable behavior.

Solution? Don’t change the movie — just warn the parents. If you’ve seen the heavy-metal-scored trailers, you know what havoc Stitch wreaks crashing into classic Disney ‘toons — causing the ballroom chandelier to fall on Belle and the Beast, for instance. In the movie itself, Stitch drools, spits out half-eaten food, and at one point utters alien words ”so wretched,” says codirector DeBlois, ”that several alien delegates observing him vomit and pass out.” If that sounds more like a teen gross-out comedy than a family flick, that’s because Disney execs are worried sick about falling box office grosses for their traditionally animated features: While the CGI ”Monsters, Inc.” grossed an impressive $253 million, last summer’s 2-D ”Atlantis” took in just $84 million.

The Mouse House handed codirectors Sanders and DeBlois the chance to experiment with an original, less conventional story line, provided they keep the budget lower than Disney’s typical $100?150 million investment for summer animated features and work at the studio’s smaller satellite Florida shop. ”We were the stealth bomber of Disney animation projects, under the radar,” says DeBlois. ”We’d go for meetings in California periodically and people would say, ‘Did you get fired or something?’ Most of them were unaware we were even in production.”

Lilo & Stitch
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