On the 20th anniversary of Lilo & Stitch, director Chris Sanders talks about depicting a realistic bond between sisters and steering clear of a Prince Charming storyline in the animated movie
LILO & STITCH, Nani, Lilo, 2002, FROZEN, Anna (voice: Kristen Bell), Elsa (voice: Idina Menzel), 2013
Credit: Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection (2)

Lilo & Stitch was ahead of its time.

In honor of its 20th anniversary this week, co-director/writer Chris Sanders (who also voices the titular blue alien) spoke to The New York Times about how the 2002 film came together. In the interview, he and the other filmmakers explained why they steered away from a romance storyline to focus on the relationship between two sisters.

Sanders said that seeing Disney's Frozen earn praise in 2013 for being about the bond between siblings instead of a Prince Charming plot somewhat irked him.

"To be clear, I think Frozen's great. But," said Sanders, "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.' "

He recalled reactions to the movie back in 2002 that highlighted the realistic portrayal of the sibling interactions: "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."

LILO & STITCH, Stitch, Nani, Lilo, 2002 (c) Walt Disney/courtesy Everett Collection.
Credit: Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett Collection

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Lilo & Stitch is about a child named Lilo who is being raised by her older sister Nani after their parents are killed in a car accident. Both grappling with grief, Nani struggles to stay afloat in her newfound role as parental figure, and Lilo feels lonely next to her peers — until she discovers an alien creature that crash-lands near their house and takes him in as their unusual pet.

The movie spawned three direct-to-video sequels and television series, and a live-action reimagining is reportedly in the works.

Meanwhile, Frozen is about two sisters, Elsa and Anna, isolated from each other after their parents' unexpected death. Elsa, the soon-to-be queen of their kingdom, hides that she has magical freezing abilities, causing Anna loneliness until they realize they are stronger together.

The hit movie had a sequel in 2019, and star Kristen Bell (Anna) teased on The View earlier this week that she is down for another Frozen installment. "I like to say with absolute certainty and zero authority," she said, "there will be a Frozen 3. I'm putting it out into the world, because I can't make that decision."