LaBash and Leondis on Lilo & Stitch 2


Co-writers/co-directors Michael LaBash and Anthony Leondis talked to about Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch at the DVD launch party in Oahu, Hawaii:

Q: How did you get started on the sequel? What made you go for another one?

Anthony Leondis: We were doing storyboards at Feature Animation and we wanted to have a bigger creative input. So I talked to the boss over there at Features and he said, “Well, the best place to get your feet wet and learn is to go do a sequel”. So I said, “Michael, come with me, we work great together.” We worked on “Emperor’s New Groove 2” and we just kind of wrote the treatment to get it off the ground. They liked what we did and they asked us to do Lilo. And we were thrilled because we loved the franchise.

Michael LaBash: We also knew Chris and Dean and I think that boded well for the project because Tony and I and our team all came from Feature Animation, and they usually don’t have that kind of alignment for the sequels. So everything was in the right place and Chris and Dean were really supportive. We were all in the same head about what the movie should be about and shouldn’t be about. In the beginning there were certain limitations with the budget, but within those limitations we really wanted to stay true to the tone of the movie, which was the most important thing, so that it feels like the characters, not just looks like and sounds like them. So the audience feels they’re the same characters they love from the first one.

Leondis: For a while we were thinking of calling our movie “Lilo & Stitch Part 2.” There’s other ways Lilo & Stitch didn’t get the feel of the first movie the way we wanted to, like the television series that was serving a younger audience, which is wonderful. And we really wanted to make a movie like the first one for adults and kids. So we wanted to be really funny, irreverent, touching: just what you got in the first movie.

Q: Do you think a lot of the business has become just about the franchise building, and if so, what do you think the creative implications of that are?

Leondis: We really tried to just stay true to the first movie. We came over understanding they wanted to build a great franchise, and have the other aliens and everything, and we thought the best way to serve what you’re talking about is to do justice to the first movie. It’s hard to talk about because we weren’t really connected to the Lilo & Stitch series.

LaBash: There’s thing you have control over which is most things, and things you do have control over like what you were given to do. But in terms of the franchise, it cuts both ways. It’s great that the franchise is out there, the theory being that it keeps alive the characters. And the downside could be suggested that since not as much time, effort, and maybe talent level were expanded on it, it might weaken the franchise. So it’s hard to say, you can’t just prove it, since there’s still interest in it, but for our part, we have no control over that. We went into it saying we would make it as though it would be a theatrical. For a time, there was consideration it would be a theatrical, but they basically make a lot more money if they don’t have to make film prints for it.

Leondis: They were even talking about maybe turning it into a CGI property, but thankfully they realized that so much of the charm of Lilo & Stitch is the hand-drawn and the watercolor background, that they said, ‘let’s just keep it as it is’.

LaBash: So there is definitely an up and down side to it, and you struggle with it because we would have loved to seen it in the theaters, but again you have to put that aside and just make the best thing that you can make for the budget that you have in the time that you have, and I think that’s what anyone’s struggle is.

Q: Do you think after a while, these sorts of movies will just be aimed at the home-viewer market?

Leondis: Absolutely, and Disney made a very conscious effort when we went to direct and they wanted some people from Features, because they said they want to ‘up’ their product. Disney wasn’t just happy making the sequels they were making and they said, “We want to start making them as good as the features now.” So we used a lot of storyboard artists from Features, our friends, editors, etc. They figured the dvd thing is such a great venue that we should start making these as good as we can.

Q: Why do you think the first film became so successful?

Leondis: I think the irreverence. I think for so long Disney was making these films that were sort of self-conscious and they were getting in a rut where the templates were all the same. And then all of a sudden comes along this character who sticks his butt in the air and was really irreverent and I think people loved that about this franchise.

LaBash: I think it also got out of the hall mirror effect that inevitably happens but when you’re there you realize that people generally have good thoughts and are trying to put original ideas in these movies. But you’re in the same building with the same group of people and the pressures of executives and what they want to see. And even if you don’t consciously try to, there’s just this undertow that starts to make…when you look at from Lion King on, whatever good or bad has been in those films, they inevitably feel like they’re repeating themselves. With Stitch, they felt that Chris and Dean got out of that hall of mirrors and people weren’t sure how that was going to go. For Disney it was something that felt very fresh and yet touched upon the same things people want to get out of Disney movies. They didn’t completely disconnect from the all the heart and emotion and good things, they just did it in a funky way.

Leondis: And they were cool. I don’t remember the last time Disney characters were really just cool. She listened to Elvis, they wore sunglasses…

Q: Do you think this sequel will satisfy the Lilo & Stitch fans?

Leondis: So far it has. It satisfied the biggest fans, which are Michael and myself. We really tried to get the same feel and we just hope it does. We tried our best to make it as close as we could.

LaBash: We wanted to do something that would live up to the first one, and the guys that created that one. Luckily, Chris and Dean were around to keep us in the right ballpark with their thinking.

Leondis: They even helped us sometimes where we would maybe push the character in a direction and the executive would say no, that’s not Lilo, and Chris and Dean would say, “No that is Lilo; that is Stitch! They are getting it.” So they were such a great support to us in this process.

Q: Can you talk about writing a movie for adults and children? With the humor, what’s the balance there?

Leondis: What we’ve kind of been trained to do, is make movies that you would laugh at or you would like, so you just kind of write it so you would like it. We’re fans of the Toy Story movies and Finding Nemo, and there’s a way to think about the movie.

LaBash: You don’t make a differentiation, I don’t think you do. There’s things you’re doing where you go, ‘Okay, it’s cool to have that, because it’s cute but then there’s something else you’re going to laugh at.’ You’re never consciously making an effort.

Leondis: We never dumb down the joke for the kids. That is something we really try not to do, because the first one didn’t do that. If the kids wouldn’t understand what was going on, they would enjoy something else in it. Kids will enjoy things you don’t even know they will enjoy. We all like pratfalls and silly visual gags. That’s all stuff that we like. Our movie is PG which we’re really happy about, because we wanted to push some boundaries.

LaBash: The good and the bad of it was that we had ideas about wanting more of the aliens in there, but the series had that at that point. There was talk about overlapping our story with theirs, but we wanted to make a smaller movie that focused on their relationship and stayed in Hawaii. In a way, that was a good limitation and helped to separate ours. I hope it works.

Q: I know the basic story is based on a Hawaiian legend, but I also notice a lot of similarities in the story to Iron Giant. Is that an influence of yours?

Leondis: We both love the movie; I think it’s a great movie. I think we tried to steer it away from that. In a way, the first Lilo & Stitch is about a killing machine that becomes good, which is exactly the same as Iron Giant. So we have those characters to work with so in ours, we knew we needed him to be naughty again. So we said let’s give him some kind of glitch. And so he goes bad again. But we were conscious to not make it too similar to Iron Giant.

LaBash: Even elements of ET are in the first one, so all you do is keep questioning.

Leondis: Everything’s been done and you’re like, ‘oh crap they did that in that one!’ And ‘oh darn, they did that in that one’. That’s something else we can’t do on the sequels…when we worked at Features if a character didn’t work, we’d say, ‘oh, just get rid of it!’ And in this one, you can’t get rid of anyone (laughs). We can’t just say, ‘oh let’s get rid of Jumba, or we can do without Nani. They are such great characters and we feel lucky.

Q: Lilo & Stitch was the last successful 2D animation movie. The whole Disney format has shifted to CGI.

Leondis: DVD’s now are all becoming CGI too.

Q: Do you think your next project will be CGI?

Leondis: Yes, I’m pretty sure.

Q: Are you excited? Do you think the DVD will do well?

Leondis: We really hope so. Our big hope is that people will see this as an extension of the first movie, for adults and kids. It’s not a kid’s movie. You will not waste your money buying this dvd. (laughs)

Q: Is this the first CG straight to video movie?

Leondis: Yes. And we’re very proud of that too.