'Lilo & Stitch' creators get the details right
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
To give the movie a real sense of local authenticity and, perhaps, to make the work credible to knowledgeable observers, Disney recruited several people with strong Hawai'i ties to help in the project.
Local products Tia Carrere and Jason Scott Lee give vocal performances (as Nani and David Kawena) with inflections pidgin-true enough for local audiences but suitable for the mass market.
The Disney crew also showed diligence in recruiting kumu hula Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu and the Kamehameha Schools Children's Chorus for the soundtrack.
Ho'omalu, who grew up in 'Aiea and serves as director of the California hula halau Na Mele Hula 'Ohana, worked with acclaimed composer Alan Silvestri on the soundtrack's only two original pieces, "Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride" and "He Mele No Lilo" both of which feature the Hawaiian language.
Ho'omalu performs both songs with the Kamehameha Schools Children's Chorus, directed by Lynell Bright.
Bright says the idea of having Hawaiian voices on the soundtrack started with Hula Halau O Kamuela's Kumewa Mook, who had been in contact with Disney representatives.
Mook recruited Ho'omalu, who in turn suggested that the Kamehameha chorus get involved.
Disney first contacted the chorus in 2000 with the intent of recording only one track. After more than a year of false starts and reschedulings, the chorus recorded both songs at Audio Resources in Honolulu.
"Some of the children have been in studios before, but this was different," Bright said. "It was really exciting. They showed us the animation so the children would get to see what they were singing for.
"The people at Disney said they loved 'Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride,' even though they couldn't sing along with the Hawaiian words," Bright said. "I think that's great. With these songs, the exposure to the Hawaiian language will be worldwide."
Bright said she was impressed with the way Disney people treated her charges. While Disney could only accommodate 40 chorus members for the recording, it held a special screening for the entire chorus last month.
"They wanted them to be the first to see it," Bright said.
While the film's creative roots can be traced to writer/director Chris Sanders' imagination he originally conceived the Stitch character 17 years ago it wasn't until Sanders visited Hawai'i a couple of years ago that the project found its form in earnest.
Originally, the story was going to be set in rural Kansas, but after visiting the Islands, Sanders decided that the relatively isolated, visually captivating backdrop of Kaua'i was better suited to tell the story of the lonely girl and the fugitive alien experiment she befriends.
Together with co-writer/director Dean DeBlois, Sanders recast the story around the Hawaiian concept of 'ohana.
Once his Hawai'i-based pitch was accepted, Sanders and DeBlois joined art director Ric Sluiter, background supervisor Bob Stanton, animator Andreas Deja and other Disney representatives for a two-week crash course in island living.
The troop spent most of their visit on Kaua'i where they visited Hanalei, Hanapepe, the Na Pali Coast, Princeville and Ke'e Beach. They hiked the mountains and frolicked in the ocean.
All the while, the creative team took close note of the physical environment, recording the subtleties of color and light against land and seascapes.
To capture Kaua'i's luminous visual qualities, Sluiter and the art team tweaked an old watercolor style used by Disney in movies such as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" but abandoned in the 1940s.
"They really got things right," said Malia Jones, a Hawai'i surfer and model enlisted by Disney as a consultant and informal publicist. "They really studied Hawai'i, and it shows in the movie."
Jones and fellow surfer Kelly Slater were asked for their stamps of approval on the animated surfing sequences.
"The animators studied a lot of surfing films to try and get the movements right," Jones said. "By the time I saw them, they were almost done. They asked me what I thought, and I thought that they had captured the feeling and the movement really well."
As it turned out, Jones also has been valuable in drawing attention to the film. She's talked about "Lilo & Stitch" on ESPN and "The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn."
"I enjoy talking about it," she says. "The movie doesn't make Hawai'i out to be all grass huts and hula girls. There isn't all that tacky stuff you see in some films about Hawai'i.
"They got it," she said. "You can hardly see Hawai'i on a globe because it's so tiny, but it's also unique and special.
"When you watch this film, you think 'How bizarre, but at the same time, how real.'"
Following special screenings in Los Angeles Sunday and Honolulu on Tuesday, "Lilo & Stitch" opens in theaters nationwide tomorrow.