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Lilo & Stitch co-director calls the idea of a Disney live-action remake ‘kind of crazy’

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Dean DeBlois isn’t really interested in any live-action remakes

lilo and stitch dance in front of a fruit cart Image: Walt Disney Animation

If a Disney animated film exists, it’s likely to be on a roster of upcoming live-action remakes ready to gross billions of dollars worldwide. And if the original team behind said animated film is still around and working, history suggests that they’ll likely not be involved at all.

For Lilo & Stitch co-director and writer Dean DeBlois, who also had a hand in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy at DreamWorks, live-action revamps of animated movies never rarely make sense — including the rumored remake of Lilo & Stitch. DeBlois, who sat down with Variety’s Peter Debruge on Thursday for a livestream panel at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, held online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said that the filmmakers making the big-budget remakes are definitely capable and he doesn’t want to discredit their work. It’s the executive decision of the studio, he said, that’s undermining the legacy of the original films, the medium of animation, and Disney’s reputation as an innovating studio.

“I’d rather see something original — especially for a studio that’s such a pioneer of originality, that bugs me. Knowing how well-to-do the studio is, how capable they are of taking risks, and watching them not take risk,” he said. “What bothers me the most is that it seems to suggest the animated version of it is lesser. It is a lesser form than the expensive, glossy live action.”

When it comes to a remake of his own project, DeBlois is even more hesitant. DeBlois co-wrote and co-directed Lilo & Stitch with Chris Sanders, whom he met while working on Mulan. The two became frequent collaborators at Disney, and later at DreamWorks. The two were drawn to “characters who are determined to find acceptance but they’re ill-equipped to ever succeed,” DeBlois said. “Stories of rejection, isolation, and loneliness ... it’s a theme we love to explore because we connect really closely to it in our personal experiences.”

Lilo & Stitch was one of their most personal projects, the director said. The oddball success in Disney’s otherwise bleak early 2000s era tells the story of a destructive alien who befriends a misfit little girl in Hawaii. It’s one of the few films completely made in Disney Animation’s tiny Orlando studio, and DeBlois recalled Sanders trying to make a movie different from any of the other Disney movies at the time. In fact, the entire marketing campaign of Lilo & Stitch centered around Stitch “invading” classic Disney movie moments.

Now, Lilo & Stitch is one of the many Disney animated films set to get a live-action movie, penned by screenwriter Mike Van Waes. To DeBlois, the idea of remaking Lilo & Stitch without the original team involved is disingenuous to the original movie.

“Lilo & Stitch was so quirky, such a singular voice. It was Chris [Sanders]’s sensibility brought to life in such a personal way. It started as a children’s story [he was working on],” DeBlois explained at the panel. “It’s so specific, that the idea of another team coming in to remake it without Chris involved — without any of the team involved — is kind of crazy. It's not a time tested classic. It's not a fairytale. It's not a staple of folklore. It’s as individual as it could be.”

Of course, DeBlois knew why remaking Lilo & Stitch would be so appealing to the studio.

“I also know Stitch is ubiquitous in Disney merchandise and makes a lot of money. He’s got to be up there in the top five of [all of the] merchandise. I can see why they’d want to go back into it. I just ... don’t like it.”