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The Lilo & Stitch Scene That Changed Because Of 9/11

Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, a number of films had to change up production plans out of respect for the world-changing tragedy. One issue with Tobey Maguire's initial "Spider-Man" outing was that a trailer for the film, which saw Spidey catch a helicopter between the World Trade Center buildings, needed to be withdrawn completely. "Zoolander," which was released weeks after the event, had the iconic buildings digitally removed from skylines, and "Men in Black II" replaced its final-act location with the Statue of Liberty. Another notable film that needed changes was Disney's animated "Lilo & Stitch," which needed significant tweaks for its third act, even after the project was done and dusted.

While the final product saw Stitch man a giant red and blue spaceship to outmaneuver his captors, the original cut saw Experiment 626 highjack an airliner with Lilo and weave the aircraft through a cityscape. Given the events at the time, Disney understandably reworked the entire sequence by not only swapping an airplane for a spaceship but also swapping skyscrapers for Hawaiian hills and mountains. 

While it undoubtedly put pressure on the animators to make such a dramatic change to the film, it was a respectful one that didn't impact the film in the grand scheme of things. It was by no means an easy feat, though. Animator Chris Sanders revealed what hoops had to be leapt through to ensure the film was altered but stayed intact narratively.

Lilo & Snitch's head animator recalled the stress of making big final-act changes

The changes might go unnoticed for those unaware of the behind-the-scenes debacle that unfolded for the film, but Chris Sanders recalled both the realization of an issue that needed to be dealt with and the recovery from it. "Lilo & Stitch" was already considered somewhat of an underdog at Disney. But somehow, the film was tied up in a neat bow before an event that no one could've expected. A completed film that was set to have a jet skimming off buildings in its finale was heading for release just shy of a year after the events of September 11. 

"It was done. It was finished," Sanders told Polygon in 2021. "And my heart just sank." Eventually, calls up the ladder going as far as Roy Disney led to the decision of changing things up and the plane being swapped for a spaceship that Stitch's hunters, Jumbo and Pleakley, had landed on Earth in. Sanders explained, "It's one of the reasons that the spaceship has very 747 looking engines on it." After fixing the issues, the film has gone on to be, like its central characters, a beloved misfit entry in the best Disney animated movies ever.

Learn more about the untold truth of "Lilo & Stitch."