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Disney dude: Dean DeBlois, the out codirector of Lilo & Stitch, talks about making a cartoon supporting alternative families, including extraterrestrials who do drag. (film).

You've heard the rumor: Everyone in Disney's feature animation department is really gay, right? "It's kind of hard for me to tell in California," says Dean DeBlois, the openly gay half of the two-director team for Disney's latest animated feature, Lilo & Stitch. "I'm from a pretty small town in Canada, so when I moved here I just thought a lot of the people in the entertainment industry were kind of expressive and flamboyant."

DeBlois's own expressiveness comes chiefly from the end of a pencil. More precisely, the ends of the many pencils and paintbrushes belonging to the crew of 300 artists and technicians who worked under his and codirector Chris Sanders's supervision on Lilo & Stitch. The film, which DeBlois and Sanders also wrote and storyboarded, is a sort of E.T.-meets-Gremlins with healthy doses of both mayhem and sentiment. The story is simple: A lonely little Hawaiian girl named Lilo befriends a cuddly delinquent alien, Stitch, who's on the run from a gaggle of other funhouse extraterrestrials.

"We wanted to go back to films like Dumbo and Bambi that seemed to have these really clean, simple, but moving stories," DeBlois says. Moving stories typically with dead or absent parents--another Disney tradition Lilo upholds. DeBlois fesses up with a sigh. "Of the conventions that we were able to get rid of," he says, "that was the one that stuck."

Still, the film is Disney's most engaging and original cartoon in years--and on a much tighter budget than most of the studio's animated features. "We knew that we had less money to spend on technological marvels [like computer-enhanced effects], so we just did away with them," DeBlois says. Instead, the team opted for luminous watercolor backgrounds, smile-inducing montages set to Elvis Presley hits, and a devilish sense of humor. "We try to put in stuff that makes us laugh and not just stuff that we hope will get a smile from a 5-year-old," he notes, then laughs: "Granted, we channel a lot of juvenile behavior in our daily activities."

Adding to the fun was the voice casting of comic actor Kevin McDonald as a three-legged, one-eyed alien scientist named Pleakley, who ends up scooting around Kauai disguised as a woman. "It just made sense for an ex-Kids in the Hall member to play the woman," DeBlois recalls. "So Pleakley develops a fascination for wigs."

While calling a cartoon alien in a wig "drag" might be reaching, it's not a stretch to note that the central theme of Lilo & Stitch is the formation of a nontraditional family. Instead of two moms or two dads, Lilo winds up with her older sister, an adopted extraterrestrial, an ex-CIA social worker (voiced by Ving Rhymes), and several alien uncles.

"We hope that what everybody takes away from it is that a family is what you make it, not necessarily what you're born into," says DeBlois, who's 32 and just now dating a guy he seems quite happy with (his last word on that subject is, "I'm very optimistic"). "We just wanted to be able to say, 'It doesn't matter if you have one parent or no parents or if your family is a group of friends. So long as you're willing to uphold the same virtues and protect it and nurture it, it's as much of a valid family as anyone else's."

Like Lilo's chosen family, the Disney family is quite eclectic, allowing such diverse duos as Sanders and DeBlois to coparent their own animation feature some 2,500 miles from Hollywood, at Disney's Orlando, Fla., animation studio. And was there any straight guy-gay guy rivalry in their collaboration? DeBlois laughs. "Not really. I don't think I appear outwardly gay, because when we moved to Florida [from Los Angeles], they knew that one of us was gay, but they assumed it was Chris. He was all worked-out and fashionably dressed, and I hobbled in there looking like a redneck."

DeBlois kept his sexuality to himself while growing up in suburban Aylmer, Quebec, and while studying character animation at Sheridan College, near Toronto. He started dating while at his first postcollege gig--at Don Bluth's animation studio in Ireland. Then he came to California. "When I arrived, I'd take a stroll down Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood and just see everybody was out in the open and holding hands and everything was OK. So I really felt like, This is not a judgmental environment. It's so common that nobody raises an eyebrow. I just didn't worry about it."

And does he worry about the future of hand-drawn animation after the huge success of computer-generated films like Shrek and Monsters, Inc.? Not at all. "With 2-D animation we're able to accomplish something that 3-D doesn't really do yet, which is get that pure charm of an illustration up on screen," he says. "That, for example, is what the watercolor does. You can see the painter's hand up there."
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Article Details
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Author:Steele, Bruce C.
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 9, 2002
Words:821
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