Earlier this year, co-writers/co-directors Chris Sanders, left, and Dean DeBlois, right, joined Jason Scott Lee at Hawaii's opening of Walt Disney Pictures' "Lilo & Stitch" at the Waikiki Twin Theatres. Sanders was the voice of Stitch, and Lee was the voice of David.

Storybook ending

With the success of "Lilo & Stitch,"
2 Disney employees now have
their own production company

'Stitch' DVD shows off isle culture

By Tim Ryan

Lilo & Stitch" partners Chris Sanders and Dean Deblois say they finally feel they're real filmmakers.

The film's success prompted Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group to let the pair -- who spent years working at Disney's animation studio -- to form their own company, Stormcoast Pictures, allowing them to write, direct and produce animated and live-action fare. Sanders is working on an untitled CGI project he will direct, while Deblois will begin writing the live-action family film "The Gumshoe Chronicles," which he will direct.

"Lilo & Stitch" -- which grew out of a 1997 discussion about how to move beyond bringing pre-established legends, folklore or classic novels to screen -- gave Disney its most successful animated film in years. Made for $80 million, the film has grossed nearly $250 million worldwide, and spawned a direct-to-video sequel and TV series, both in the works.

"With the domestic release alone, we're the first film to actually make money since 'The Lion King,'" Deblois said. "It's a really positive message for our mission of trying to open the doors toward more quirky and unique storytelling at Disney."

The Star-Bulletin talked to both about the "Lilo & Stitch" DVD release:

SB: What were your contributions on the "Lilo & Stitch" DVD?

Dean Deblois: During the entire process of making the film, we shot a lot of digital video of the process, and we knew we wanted certain segments to be on the DVD, including the Kamehameha Children's Chorus and the hula lessons with Mark (Ho'omalu). It provides a lot of authenticity for people who have not been to Hawaii and don't know much about the place. Unfortunately, with this broad first-release DVD there's only so much room, so some of these things had to be set aside. The good news is, there will be a Collector's Edition DVD in 2003 that will have a lot of the film stuff we wanted to include.

Chris Sanders: The DVD coming out now is very family-friendly and has a lot of things on it kids will like. The Collectors Edition will be for people really into animation and will have our commentary almost scene by scene.

SB: Why is the DVD so much richer in color than the theatrical version?

CS: We work in a purely digital medium. After the scenes are drawn and painted, they're digitized, and the colors worked up are all digital. The release prints people saw in theaters are printed on film, then printed a second time, then screen-projected, so the film is at the mercy of the individual theater projectors. What you have on DVD is exactly what we saw in the studio. It's lush and vivid.

SB: How has the film changed your lives?

CS: Profoundly. I will always look back on this as what opened the doors for us. Its success will allow us to tell more stories.

DD: I sorta feel like Pinocchio. I'm a real filmmaker now. Any other time I could have walked into an exec's office to pitch a film, and they would have said, 'OK, storyboard guy, go back to your room and keep working on it.' Now I can walk into that office and say there's a film I want to make, and they would treat it as a real project right then and there. It's a great place to be.

SB: How hard was it to pitch the story to Disney executives?

CS: I made the first pitch to Tom Schumacher, who's in charge of feature animation. He liked the story, but because it was subtle and unusual, he thought it would be best to keep it out of sight until it found its legs. So that's what we did. We were secretive for about a year. When we finally brought it out, everyone was enthusiastic because all the things that made it unusual and exciting to us made it unusual and exciting to everyone else.

SB: But "Lilo & Stitch" is different from typical Disney movies, with everyone being mischievous. How did that fit with the animation team?

DD: Well, we were trying to communicate emotionally in a subtle way. The animators hadn't done this before. But from the outset this was never going to be a traditional Disney musical. I mean, the songs didn't convey the emotions of the characters. So the acting had to be raised to a new level.

SB: There's no traditional villain and even the heroes behave badly.

CS: Oh, that was very conscious. We wanted to eliminate the concept of villains and heroes, and focus on the subtleties of human nature. The story has very real themes of separation and loss. We wanted the characters to be more accessible where each has moments of failings and moments of nobility.

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