MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Most of them were born a decade or two after Elvis Presley died. But the kids watching Disney’s new “Lilo & Stitch” at a screening in Memphis got a chuckle when the small blue space alien Stitch did an Elvis impersonation in a white jumpsuit.
And that made the folks from Graceland happy, too.
“We’re going to have millions of young kids discovering Elvis and asking their parents if they’ve ever heard of this guy,” said Jack Soden, president of Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.
It’s a big year for Graceland, the center of a multimillion-dollar business owned by Elvis’ sole heir, Lisa Marie Presley. Aug. 16 is the 25th anniversary of Presley’s death in 1977 at the Memphis mansion, and he is already getting new attention.
This week, RCA Records released a version of his 1968 “A Little Less Conversation” to radio and commercial outlets. “Elvis vs. JXL — a Little Less Conversation,” remixed into a techno groove by Junkie XL, has already hit No. 1 in Britain.
Also this week, RCA/BMG Heritage released a four-CD box set, “Elvis: Today, Tomorrow & Forever,” with 100 previously unreleased tracks, mostly alternate takes of lesser-known material. And an album of Elvis’ 30 No. 1 hits is due out in September.
As for “Lilo & Stitch,” it was not planned to coincide with the Elvis anniversary. Disney came to Graceland more than two years ago with the idea of including Elvis music in the movie.
“Then they began weaving Elvis more and more into the movie and it became a multi-tier series of permissions and licenses, and of course we were getting more excited by the minute,” Soden said.
Presley’s music runs throughout the animated movie. Lilo is a lonely young girl in Hawaii who consoles herself with Elvis records that belonged to her deceased parents. She has no friends until she adopts Stitch, the mischievous alien she thinks is a dog.
The movie opened Friday, and there was an invitation-only show the night before in Memphis, followed by an elaborate luau at Graceland put on by Disney.
Hula dancers, Hawaiian torches and banquet tables with thatched roofs greeted the more than 600 guests, who included business associates of Graceland and Disney and their families.
“The day we decided to use Elvis music in the movie we didn’t think we would be here celebrating at Graceland,” said Dean DeBlois, co-writer and director of the film.
Eight Elvis songs are in the movie, and making Lilo an Elvis fan helped round out her character, DeBlois said.
“It would make her a little different from other girls her age today who are listening to the latest pop bands,” he said. “We have one scene where Lilo is alone. She’s lonely and feeling kind of sorry for herself so we picked ’Heartbreak Hotel’ for that one.”
Presley made three movies in Hawaii and staged two of his best-known concerts there: a benefit for the USS Arizona in 1961 and “Aloha From Hawaii” in 1973.
DeBlois and his partner, Chris Sanders, got a private tour of Graceland. One long hallway is lined with Presley’s gold and platinum records.
“I turned one time and I was right at ’Blue Hawaii.’ I couldn’t believe it,” Sanders said. “I walked a couple of feet and there was ’Rock-A-Hula.”’