Sometimes, you just can't let it go. When Disney's Lilo & Stitch opened in theaters in 2002, it was about ohana — family — as much as it was about the relationship between Lilo Pelekai (voice of Daveigh Chase) and her adopted "dog": Stitch (Chris Sanders), a.k.a. the illegal genetic Experiment 626. At the heart of Lilo & Stitch was the "broken family" of Lilo and her frazzled older sister, Nani (Tia Carrere), Lilo's sole guardian after the death of their parents. In 2013, audiences and critics warmed to Disney's Frozen, about sisterhood and the initially icy bond between sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell).
Reflecting on Lilo & Stitch's 20th anniversary in an interview with The New York Times, co-creator and co-director Chris Sanders recalled feeling "frustrated" at the misconception that Frozen was the first Disney animated film to prioritize the relationship between sisters.
"To be clear, I think Frozen's great," Sanders said. "But it was a little bit frustrating for me because people were like, 'Finally, a nonromantic relationship with these two girls,' and I thought, 'We did that! That has absolutely been done before.'"
Added producer Clark Spender of the fractured familial dynamics in Lilo & Stitch, "When the film came out, that's what a lot of critics talked about. Those moments that were based in reality in a way that people could see themselves in, and it didn't feel like they were cartoon characters."
Unlike Frozen, there was no romantic component to Stitch. While there was a hint of mutual interest between Nani and her surfer friend David (Jason Scott Lee) — her eventual boyfriend in straight-to-video sequels — Lilo & Stitch lacked the kind of romance that defined such Disney animated musicals as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.
Disney had been "slowly picking away at the 'Some day my prince will come' message in the '90s," said Shearon Roberts, editor of the book Recasting the Disney Princess in an Era of New Media and Social Movements. "So Lilo then takes that one step forward by eliminating the male love interest."
Lilo & Stitch and Frozen are available to stream on Disney+. Watch now on Disney+.