The film's story is about two highly eccentric and mischievous individuals: a Hawaiian human girl named Lilo Pelekai who lost her and her older sister's parents in a car accident, and an extraterrestrial creature originally named Experiment 626 who gets adopted by Lilo as her "dog" called "Stitch". Stitch, who is genetically engineered by his creator to cause chaos and destruction, initially uses her to avoid being captured by an intergalactic federation, but the two individuals develop a close bond through ʻohana, a Hawaiian concept of extended family. This bond causes him to reconsider and later defy his intended destructive purpose in order to keep his newfound family together.
The success of the film eventually started a franchise: a direct-to-video sequel, Stitch! The Movie, was released on August 26, 2003. This was followed by a television series, Lilo & Stitch: The Series, which ran from September 20, 2003 to July 29, 2006. A second direct-to-video sequel, Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch, was released on August 30, 2005. A third sequel, a television film titled Leroy & Stitch, was released on June 23, 2006, as the conclusion to the TV series. An anime that succeeded Lilo & Stitch: The Series, Stitch!, ran in Japan from October 8, 2008 to June 19, 2011, with TV specials broadcast in 2012 and 2015. A Chinese animated series succeeding the Stitch! anime, Stitch & Ai, debuted on March 27, 2017. Other animation studios produced the sequel films and series; Stitch! The Movie, Lilo & Stitch: The Series and Leroy & Stitch were produced by Walt Disney Television Animation, Stitch Has a Glitch was produced by DisneyToon Studios, Stitch! was produced by Madhouse for its first two seasons and then Shin-Ei Animation for its third season and two post-series specials, and Stitch & Ai is produced by Anhui Xinhua Media and Panimation Hwakai Media.
Dr. Jumba Jookiba is arrested and put on trial by the Galactic Federation for "illegal genetic experimentation", as evidenced by his creation Experiment 626, a living creature which is capable of creating untold chaos. Jumba is imprisoned while Experiment 626 is sentenced to exile on a desert asteroid. 626 manages to escape in a spaceship and activates the hyperdrive, causing its guidance systems to malfunction and randomly set a course for Earth. The Grand Councilwoman dispatches Jumba and Agent Pleakley, the Council's expert on Earth, to the planet to have 626 captured discreetly. 626 lands on the Hawaiian island of Kauaʻi, only to be knocked unconscious by a passing truck and taken to an animal shelter.
On Kauaʻi, a young woman named Nani has been struggling to take care of her rambunctious younger sister, Lilo. A social worker named Cobra Bubbles expresses increasing concern that Nani has not been able to take adequate care of Lilo. Seeking a change, Nani decides to let Lilo adopt a dog and they go to the animal shelter, where Lilo immediately takes a keen interest in Experiment 626, who is impersonating a dog, in order to escape. Nani is confused and disgusted by 626 and questions Lilo's decision. Lilo names 626 "Stitch" and shows him around the island. As Nani attempts to find a good job, Lilo tries educating Stitch about Elvis Presley, whom she calls a "model citizen". However, Stitch's antics, including foiling Jumba and Pleakley's attempts to capture him, ruin Nani's chances of finding work.
Nani's friend, David, invites Nani and Lilo to take a break and enjoy a day of surfing. While Nani, Lilo and Stitch ride on a huge wave, Jumba makes one final effort to capture Stitch from underwater, causing Nani to wipe out, and Stitch unintentionally pulls Lilo down with him. Although everyone gets safely to shore, Cobra witnesses this unfortunate event, telling Nani that although she means well, Lilo's best interests mean that she has to be placed with a foster family. After seeing how much trouble he has caused, Stitch leaves. Meanwhile, the Councilwoman relieves Jumba and Pleakley of their assignment, freeing Jumba to pursue Stitch using less covert methods.
The next morning, David informs Nani of a job opportunity, which Nani rushes to pursue. Stitch, hiding in the nearby woods, encounters Jumba, who chases Stitch back to Lilo's house. A fight ensues, which ends in Lilo and Nani's house being blown up. Cobra arrives to collect Lilo and take her away. As Nani and Cobra argue, Lilo runs away and encounters Stitch, who reveals his true form just moments before Captain Gantu, who has been given the task of recovering Stitch, captures both of them. Stitch manages to escape before Gantu's ship takes off and is confronted by Nani. Before he can explain everything, Jumba and Pleakley capture Stitch themselves. Nani demands that they help her rescue Lilo, although Jumba insists they only came for Stitch. When Nani breaks down over losing her sister, Stitch reminds Nani about ʻohana, a term for "family" he learned from Lilo, and convinces Jumba to help rescue Lilo. As Jumba, Pleakley and Nani give chase in Jumba's spaceship, Stitch drives a tanker truck full of fuel into a lava flow and uses the exploding tank to launch himself into Gantu's cockpit, where he distracts Gantu before rescuing Lilo.
Back on land, the Grand Councilwoman appears and prepares to take Stitch into custody and retire Gantu, but when Stitch explains that he has found a family in Nani and Lilo, she discovers that he has become a civilized creature; Lilo also shows her the adoption paper, declaring that she owns Stitch and that taking Stitch would be theft. The Councilwoman, before leaving, decrees that Stitch will live a life of exile on Earth and be entrusted into the care of Lilo and Nani, and asks Cobra, who turns out to be a former CIA agent whom she met previously in 1973, to watch over them. Together, they rebuild the house, and Jumba and Pleakley become members of Lilo and Stitch's family as well.Chris Sanders as Experiment 626/Stitch, a blue koala-like illegal genetic experiment with the ability to create untold chaos. Alex Kupershmidt served as the supervising animator for Stitch.
Daveigh Chase as Lilo Pelekai, an eccentric young Hawaiian girl on the island of Kaua'i who adopts Stitch as her pet dog. Andreas Deja served as the supervising animator for Lilo Pelekai.
Tia Carrere as Nani Pelekai, Lilo's stressed-out older sister and Lilo's legal guardian after the death of her and Lilo's parents in a car accident. Stephane Sainte-Foi served as the supervising animator for Nani Pelekai.
David Ogden Stiers as Dr. Jumba Jookiba, a Kwelakwanian mad scientist employed by Galaxy Defense Industries who creates Stitch. Bolhem Bouchiba served as the supervising animator for Dr. Jumba Jookiba.
Kevin McDonald as Agt. Wendell Pleakley, a Plorgonarian Galactic Federation agent who acts as the expert of Earth. Ruben A. Aquino served as the supervising animator for Pleakley.
Ving Rhames as Cobra Bubbles, a former CIA agent once involved in the Roswell UFO incident who is assigned as a social worker for Lilo. Byron Howard served as the supervising animator for Cobra Bubbles.
Kevin Michael Richardson as Captain Gantu, the respected but arrogant Shaelik second-in-command of the Galactic Federation.
Zoe Caldwell as the Grand Councilwoman, the Gray leader of the Galactic Federation.
Jason Scott Lee as David Kawena, Nani's hapless surfer boyfriend. Ruben A. Aquino served as the supervising animator for David.
Miranda Paige Walls as Mertle Edmonds, Lilo's classmate from their hālau hula who despises and derides her.
Amy Hill as Mrs. Hasagawa, an elderly woman who runs a fruit stand.
Susan Hegarty as Rescue Lady, who runs the animal shelter where Lilo adopts Stitch.
Production of Lilo & Stitch began with then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner deciding that, in the wake of a number of high-profile and large-budget Disney animated features during the mid-1990s, the studio might try its hand at a smaller and less expensive film. The idea was inspired by the production of Dumbo, an economically-made 1941 Walt Disney film produced in the wake of the more expensive Pinocchio and Fantasia. Chris Sanders, a head storyboard artist at Disney Feature Animation, was approached to pitch an idea. Sanders had created the character of Stitch in 1985 for an unsuccessful children's book pitch, and developed a treatment for an animated feature featuring the character. The story line required a remote, non-urban location, so the movie was originally intended to take place in Kansas. Sanders's decision to change the film's setting to the Hawaiian island of Kauaʻi was an important choice in defining the plot more clearly. No other animated feature had ever taken place on any of the Hawaiian islands before. In Sanders's words:
Animation has been set so much in ancient, medieval Europe — so many fairy tales find their roots there, that to place it in Hawaiʻi was kind of a big leap. But that choice went to color the entire movie, and rewrite the story for us.
Dean DeBlois, who had co-written Mulan (1998) with Sanders, was brought on to co-write and co-direct Lilo & Stitch, while Disney executive Clark Spencer was assigned to produce. Unlike several previous and concurrent Disney Feature Animation productions, the Lilo & Stitch pre-production team remained relatively small and isolated from upper management until the film went into full production. The character and set designs were based upon Chris Sanders's personal artistic style.
While the animation team visited Kauaʻi to research the locale, their tour guide explained the meaning of ʻohana as it applies to extended families. This concept of ʻohana became an important part of the movie. DeBlois recalls:
No matter where we went, our tour guide seemed to know somebody. He was really the one who explained to us the Hawaiian concept of ʻohana, a sense of family that extends far beyond your immediate relatives. That idea so influenced the story that it became the foundation theme, the thing that causes Stitch to evolve despite what he was created to do, which is destroy.
The island of Kauaʻi had previously been featured in such films as Raiders of the Lost Ark and those from the Jurassic Park trilogy. The Disney animators faced the daunting task of meshing the film's plot, which showed the impoverished and dysfunctional life that many Hawaiians lived during the then-recent economic downturn, with the island's serene beauty. The actors voicing the film's young adults Nani and David, Tia Carrere, a native of Honolulu, and Jason Scott Lee, who was raised in Hawaii, assisted with rewriting the Hawaiian characters' dialogue in the proper colloquial dialect and adding Hawaiian slang.
One innovative and unique aspect of the film was its strong focus on the relationship between two sisters, Lilo and Nani. Making the relationship between sisters into a major plot element is very rare in American animated films.
In a deviation from several decades' worth of Disney features, Sanders and DeBlois chose to use watercolor painted backgrounds for Lilo & Stitch, as opposed to the traditional gouache technique. While watercolors had been used for the early Disney animated shorts, as well as the early Disney features Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Pinocchio (1940), and Dumbo (1941), the technique had been largely abandoned by the mid-1940s in favor of less complicated media such as gouache. Sanders preferred that watercolors be used for Lilo & Stitch to evoke both the bright look of a storybook and the art direction of Dumbo, requiring the background artists to be trained in working with the medium. The character designs were based around Sanders's personal drawing style, eschewing the traditional Disney house style. The film's extraterrestrial elements, such as the spaceships, were designed to resemble marine life, such as whales and crabs.
Teaser trailers for the film parody trailers for other Disney films (three of which Sanders previously worked on) from the Disney Renaissance: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. These are called "Inter-Stitch-als" and are featured on Disney's official site as well as on the film's respective DVD release. The original actors were brought back to reprise their roles and were shocked when asked to act negatively towards Stitch. The trailers also include the AC/DC song track "Back in Black." In the United Kingdom, Lilo & Stitch trailers and TV ads featured a cover of Elvis' song "Suspicious Minds", performed by Gareth Gates, who became famous on the UK TV program Pop Idol. The marketing campaign presented Stitch as the sort of "Disney Family Black Sheep". As a promotional campaign, comics of Lilo & Stitch were run in Disney Adventures prior to the film's release. The comics detailed events leading up to the film for both title characters, including the creation and escape of Stitch. These events were later contradicted by the sequel Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch rendering the comics non-canonical, but is notable to the series as introducing Experiment 625, Reuben, who was made a main character in the subsequent movies and TV series. The comic series has been released as a collective volume titled Comic Zone Volume 1: Lilo & Stitch.
Several major elements of the film changed during production. Originally, Stitch was the leader of an intergalactic gang, and Jumba was one of his former cronies summoned by the Intergalactic Council to capture Stitch. Test audience response to early versions of the film resulted in the change of Stitch and Jumba's relationship to that of creation and creator, respectively. The biggest change came to the film's third act, which had Stitch, Nani, Jumba and Pleakley hijacking a Boeing 747 jet from Lihue Airport and flying it through downtown Honolulu to save Lilo. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, this sequence was revised so that Stitch instead flew a spaceship through the mountains of Kauaʻi. This revision was done primarily by replacing the CGI model of the 747 with that of Jumba's spaceship, with only a few shots in the sequence fully re-animated. Another scene that was deleted was one of Lilo's attempts to make Stitch into a model citizen by notifying tourists on the beach about the tsunami warning sirens, which she knows are being tested that day. The original version of Jumba attacking Stitch in Lilo's home was found to be too violent by test audiences, and was revised to make it more comedic. There was also a scene in which Lilo introduces Stitch to Pudge the fish, which ultimately leads to the fish's death. Lilo then takes Pudge's body to the same graveyard where her parents were buried, and thus Stitch learns the consequences of his actions and gains a better understanding of mortality. A scene was removed where Nani brings Lilo pizza and then Lilo tells herself a bedtime story about a friendly and stinky bear named Toaster. It was replaced with the scene where Lilo and Nani talk about being family because test audiences had mistaken Nani for Lilo's mother. The trial scene originally had Stitch as the defendant, and Jumba is not present. This was changed because of the film directors thought Intergalactic Council had to blame him for creating Stitch.
Lilo & Stitch opened in second place with $35.3 million in its first weekend, less than $500,000 behind the film Minority Report. In its second week it fell to third, again behind the Steven Spielberg film coming in second. The film earned $145.8 million in the United States and Canada, and $127.3 million internationally, totaling $273.1 million globally. Box Office Mojo estimates that the film sold over 53 million tickets during its original run.
Lilo & Stitch received largely positive reception. Rotten Tomatoes reported that the film has an 86% "Certified Fresh" approval rating based on 145 reviews, with an average score of 7.3/10. The site's consensus reads, "Edgier than traditional Disney fare, Lilo and Stitch explores issues of family while providing a fun and charming story." The film has also earned a score of 73 on Metacritic. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4 and wrote "It's one of the most charming feature-length cartoons of recent years—funny, sassy, startling, original and with six songs by Elvis". The film's success spawned a Lilo & Stitch franchise, with three sequel films and three television series.
Peter M. Nichols states that through the character of Nani and her struggles, the film appeals to older children better than such attempts by the studio to do so as The Emperor's New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and Treasure Planet.
Lilo & Stitch was released on VHS and DVD on December 3, 2002. In 2009, a special 2-disc DVD "Big Wave Edition" was released featuring a making-of documentary, more deleted scenes including the original climax with the plane hijacking, a number of behind-the-scenes featurettes, and some games. The film was released on Blu-ray on June 11, 2013 in a 2-Movie Collection with its sequel Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch.
Lilo & Stitch: An Original Walt Disney Records Soundtrack is the soundtrack to Disney's 2002 animated feature Lilo & Stitch. It contains two original songs from the film written by Mark Kealiʻi Hoʻomalu and Alan Silvestri (the film's composer), and performed by Kealiʻi Hoʻomalu and the Kamehameha Schools children's chorus. Also contains five songs by American singer Elvis Presley, and two of his songs re-recorded by American singer Wynonna ("Burning Love"), British singer Gareth Gates ("Suspicious Minds", UK release) and Swedish group A*Teens ("Can't Help Falling in Love"). It was released by Walt Disney Records on June 11, 2002 on Audio CD and Compact Cassette.
On August 26, 2003, Disney released a direct-to-video sequel, Stitch! The Movie, which served as the pilot to a television series titled Lilo & Stitch: The Series. This series ran for 65 episodes between September 20, 2003 and July 29, 2006. The series carried on where the film left off and charted Lilo and Stitch's efforts to capture and rehabilitate Jumba's remaining experiments. This series almost ended with television film Leroy & Stitch, which aired on June 23, 2006.
On August 30, 2005, Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch, another direct-to-video sequel to the film, was released. In this film (set between Lilo & Stitch and Stitch! The Movie), Stitch has a glitch because his molecules were never fully charged (this is contrary to an alternate opening, "Stitch's trial", which was seen on the DVD release of Lilo & Stitch). Lilo wants to win the May Day hula contest like her mother did in the 1970s, but Stitch continues to have outbursts. Lilo gets increasingly mad at Stitch as his glitch causes more problems for her and ruins her chances of winning the competition. She thinks Stitch is not cooperating properly, until she finds out that Stitch is dying.
In March 2008, Disney announced an anime based on the Lilo & Stitch franchise aimed at the Japanese market titled Stitch!. The anime, which began in October 2008, features a Japanese girl named Yuna in place of Lilo, and is set on a fictional island in Okinawa Prefecture instead of Hawaii. This series was produced by Madhouse and later Shin-Ei Animation.
In March 2017, a third animated television series based on the franchise titled Stitch & Ai debuted in China. Like with the Stitch! anime, it features a local girl named Ai instead of Lilo, and is set in the Huangshan mountains. Unlike Stitch! however, this series was originally produced in English in co-operation with American animators and then dubbed into its local language. Stitch & Ai is produced by Anhui Xinhua Media and Panimation Hwakai Media.
There were three official games released to coincide with the film: Disney's Lilo & Stitch: Trouble in Paradise for PlayStation and Microsoft Windows, Disney's Lilo & Stitch for Game Boy Advance, and Disney's Stitch: Experiment 626 for PlayStation 2. Stitch is also a summonable character in Kingdom Hearts II and appears along with his homeworld in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep for the PlayStation Portable. Lilo and Stitch both appear in the Nintendo 3DS game Disney Magical World and its sequel. Stitch is also a playable character in the Disney Infinity series in the second game, Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes, and the series' third and final game, Disney Infinity 3.0. He was also a meet and greet character in Kinect: Disneyland Adventures.