Chris Sanders is an animation character designer and director who got his start working on Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies for television. Sanders then moved to Disney, where he worked as a storyboard artist, production designer, and character designer on films such as 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, 1994’s The Lion King, and 1998’s Mulan. He would move into directing after that. After being laid off by Disney in 2006, he moved on to Dreamworks and would continue directing there. In honor of today’s release of The Croods (which he co-directed with Kirk De Micco), I’ll be looking back at his other two directorial efforts, the Oscar-nominated Lilo and Stitch and the Oscar-nominated How To Train Your Dragon.
Co-directed by Sanders and Dean DeBlois, 2002’s Lilo and Stitch centers on a young Hawaiian girl who adopts an unusual pet that turns out to be a notorious extra-terrestrial fugitive on the run from the law. Featuring the voices of Daveigh Chase, Chris Sanders, Tia Carrere, David Ogden Stiers, Kevin McDonald, Ving Rhames, Kevin Michael Richardson, Zoe Caldwell, and Jason Scott Lee, this critically acclaimed film grossed $145 million domestically on an $80 million budget. The film was first pitched by Sanders after then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner suggested that the studio try to make smaller-budgeted films. Sanders had originally set his story in Kansas, but then switched it to Hawaii, and then brought in Dean DeBlois (who had co-written Mulan with him) to co-write and co-direct with him. Hawaiian natives Carrere and Scott Lee also assisted in rewriting the dialogue for the Hawaiian characters. The film would go on to receive a few Best Animated Feature award nominations, including the Saturn Award as well as the Academy Award (it lost to Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away).
Co-directed by Sanders and Dean DeBlois, 2010’s How To Train Your Dragon centers on a Viking teenager who aspires to follow his tribe’s tradition of becoming a dragon slayer. When finally capturing his first dragon, he finds that he no longer has the desire to kill it and befriends it instead. Featuring the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, David Tenant, and Ashley Jensen, this critically-acclaimed film grossed $217 million domestically on a $165 million budget. The film was based on a book series by Cressida Cowell, who gave her blessing to the changes that were made for the film. John Powell’s terrific score would be his first solo score for Dreamworks (he co-composed scores to five other Dreamworks films) and it resulted in his first Oscar nod for Best Original Score. The film would also receive several Best Animated Feature nods, including the Golden Globe and the Academy Award (it lost to Lee Unkrich’s Toy Story 3).