Why Lilo & Stitch’s Tia Carrere Believes The 20-Year-Old Disney Film Should Be Considered ‘Ahead Of Its Time’

Nani in Lilo & Stitch
(Image credit: Disney Animation)

Lilo & Stitch crosses a milestone this summer, with the Disney animated film turning two decades old. The 2002 flick remains a big favorite among the studio’s pantheon of many beloved characters still being called back to today; so much so that the fact that it’s 20 years old, just seems wild. The story of an alien who befriends a young Hawaiian girl is one of Disney’s rare timeless tales for many reasons. In celebration of the film, CinemaBlend reflected with the voice of Nani, Tia Carerre, about the film being “ahead of its time.” 

When I spoke to Tia Carrere about Lilo & Stitch's film’s anniversary, we talked about how the movie authentically captured Hawaiian culture with her help. Carrere also shared her thoughts on another aspect of the animated movie that had it stand apart from others. In her words:  

On a number of planes, Lilo & Stitch was ahead of its time and really key in ushering in inclusivity and a reality where [Nani] didn't look like the same body type as Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Because they all look like Barbie dolls, whether they're brunette or blonde.

In Disney’s long history, there’d been many Disney heroines, but there was not much differentiation between body types. From Snow White to Aladdin’s Jasmine, each and every one of them could rock any outfit like a cutout Barbie doll and were incredibly skinny. So when Nani first appeared on screen with curves and wide hips (you know, looking like an actual human woman), many took notice. Carrere continued: 

To see Nani with thighs and cut off shorts, chunky boots and just like a big, strong, healthy Polynesian girl. I've had so many women come up to me and say, ‘You know what? That was so great that Nani looked like us and didn't look like a Disney princess because that always made us feel bad about the way they're built’. We are strong, healthy, and earthy and that should be celebrated and I love that they did that with Lilo & Stitch.

Not only that, but Nani and Lilo are not these cartoony-graceful superhumans; they feel like real people. Nani is always between jobs, tripping her way through trying to raise her younger sister after the sudden death of their parents. And Lilo is a quirky kid who is starved for friends, feeding fish peanut butter sandwiches and experimenting with voodoo. 

Lilo & Stitch was made by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, and its release followed four years after Mulan. We wouldn’t get another Disney princess movie until 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, so this was a time when a lot of experimentation was taking place at the studio, between The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet

The 2002 animated film is a highlight among the studio’s Asian & Pacific Islander characters, now also including Moana and more recently-released movies Raya and the Last Dragon and Turning Red. With May being Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, you can check out the studio’s collection of Asian and Pacific Islander stories with a Disney+ subscription, though you might notice one edit to the Lilo & Stitch on the streaming service.  

Stay tuned for more interviews as we celebrate Lilo & Stitch’s 20-year anniversary here on CinemaBlend, and keep on the lookout for more news on upcoming Disney movies. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.