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Lilo & Stitch 2 Was Supposed to Go to Theaters – So Why Didn’t It?

The sequel to Disney’s Lilo & Stitch ended up on video rather than big screens, and the reasons why speak to the movie marketplace in the early 2000s.

Lilo & Stitch proved a surprise hit for Disney upon its release in 2002. It did so in part by taking a hard departure from the studio’s typical formula of positive affirmation and fairy-tale tropes, embracing the iconoclasm of its animation rival Warners to impressive effect. It became the Disney movie for people who didn’t like Disney movies, joining the likes of The Nightmare Before Christmas.

That made it ripe for a sequel, and it led to a direct-to-video follow-up entitled Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch, but like a number of the studio’s quickie efforts, it did far less well and has been relegated to definitive also-ran status. The tragedy of it is that it could have been bigger but was relegated to DVDs instead of theaters.

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Stitch Has a Glitch picks up shortly after the first movie ends with Stitch happily living with Lilo and her family. He soon begins experiencing nightmares and emotional swings, creating disruption and endangering Lilo’s desire to win a hula competition like her late mother did many years ago. As it turns out, Stitch’s previous programming is attempting to reassert itself, turning him back into a mindless agent of destruction.

His alien friend Doctor Jumba develops a fusion chamber to “reset” him and restore his kind and supportive persona, but it’s slow going and — after scratching Lilo during one of his fits — Stitch attempts to flee the planet rather than hurt her again. His ship crashes into the side of a mountain, and Lilo finds him, badly injured. She takes him to Doctor Jumba’s chamber, and at first, it seems to be too late. Stitch dies, and Lilo and her family weep for their loss, only to find him restored by Lilo’s love. With the glitch now resolved, the family resumes their happy life.

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Disney had established an effective business model for direct-to-video sequels in the early 1990s, following the success of its feature film Aladdin. DisneyToon Studios — a smaller Australia-based animated house under the larger Disney banner — was tasked with developing a TV show for the hit movie. It started with a three-part pilot that worked well as a stand-alone movie. It was repackaged for the then-thriving home video market and became 1994’s Aladdin II: The Return of Jafar.

The model worked, and Disney promptly began producing a series of quickie direct-to-video sequels to many of their classic films. The low budgets made them profitable, but brand quality eventually took a hit, as the hastily produced follow-ups were invariably pale shadows of their vaunted predecessors. That was the case when Stitch Has a Glitch arrived. Like Aladdin, it sprang from a TV series, though its connection is less clear. Lilo & Stitch: The Series had been airing on the Disney Channel since 2003, and like Aladdin, its pilot had gone straight to video to kick the series off. Stitch Has a Glitch was presumably produced as a swift way to keep the franchise moving forward.

The practice eventually wore thin as profits slowed and the sequels’ cut-rate status increasingly tarnished the company’s image, focusing on sequels primarily going to theaters recently. Ralph Breaks the Internet — a 2018 sequel to Disney’s 2012 hit Wreck-It Ralph — was released on the big screen, with an attendant boost in budget and script development, and 2019’s Frozen II grossed over $1.4 billion worldwide, leaving behind the model that produced Stitch Has a Glitch for good.

A native Californian, Robert Vaux has spent over 20 years as a professional film and television critic: working for such outlets as Collider, Mania.com and The Sci-Fi Movie Page. His favorite superhero is Nightcrawler and his lucky numbers are 4, 9, 14, 16, 36, and 40.

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