Big Island girl to play Lilo in upcoming live-action adaptation of Disney’s ‘Lilo & Stitch’

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Maia Kealoha of Kona will play Lilo in the live-action adaptation of Disney’s 2002 animated film “Lilo & Stitch.” Screenshots from social media and the web.

During his introduction of 5-year-old Maia Kealoha, Edgar Ombac, the emcee of the November 2022 Little Miss Kona Coffee competition, said: “When she grows up, she would like to be none other than a star.”

The little girl from Kona with a love for dance didn’t have to wait that long.

At the pageant, Maia claimed the Mini Miss Kona Coffee crown. Now, just a little more than four months later, the up-and-coming Big Island actress is well on her way to stardom. She secured her first role — and it’s a big one.

Multiple media outlets, entertainment blogs and social media accounts report that Maia will play Lilo in the live-action adaptation of Disney’s 2002 animated film “Lilo & Stitch.”

“This is AMAZING news!” Ombac exclaimed in a comment via Facebook Messenger today. “So proud of that girl! Kona represent!”


Few details have been disclosed since Knight Edge Media first announced the news Friday, so little is known about the acting newcomer other than she has appeared in several Little Miss Kona Coffee competitions. Her Instagram page is private, but says she is “managed by my parents @alifewebuilt.” That handle belongs to the Instagram account of her mother, Brittney Kealoha, which also is private.

Screen Rant said Disney declined to comment about the casting news. Former entertainment writer for The Honolulu Advertiser Wayne Harada said in his blog that more details likely will be revealed once Disney rolls out a public relations campaign for its newest discovery.

Screenshot from an Instagram post by the Little Miss Kona Coffee Scholarship Program featuring Mini Miss Kona Coffee Maia Kealoha.

Attempts by Big Island Now to reach Brittney Kealoha, the casting agency and officials with the Little Miss Kona Coffee Scholarship Program for comment went unanswered.

Social media lit up after the announcement.

Hundreds of people across multiple platforms offered their congratulations to Maia and her family.


“Congratulations to you!” exclaimed Eleanor Crisostomo in a reply to a March 9 Instagram post of a photo of Maia “doing her sweet Tahitian” from the Little Miss Kona Coffee program. “So proud to have a Native Hawaiian in the industry. Here’s to a successful career!!”

‘Sumi Takeishi replied to a Hawai‘i News Now post that she loves the fact Maia is from the Big Island and a Mini Miss Kona Coffee: “How fitting.” Lei Hacoba of Hilo added in reply to the same post: “You are going to be amazing!”

The open casting call for several roles that went out last November, including Lilo, sought a “precious Native Hawaiian girl” of about 6 to 8 years old “who loves hula, surfing and wildlife, with a special affinity for all things ‘gross.'” Everyone seemed to agree Maia will be the perfect Lilo.

“They did good picking this lil ku‘uipo,” said RoseMarie R. Sanchez in a reply to the Hawai‘i News Now post, using the Hawaiian word for “sweetheart,” “she’s perfect.”

“She’s perfect [and] such a cutie,” added Pulelehua Wana‘aookalahou in another reply. “So proud of her and can’t wait to watch this!!”


“She’s so cute!!!,” commented Kelly Thomas on a Reel News Hawai‘i post on Facebook. “This is how I see Lilo in my mind!”

“She’s the perfect description for Lilo,” commented Jessica Rosenberg on a Reel News Hawai‘i post. “I follow her and her mama on [Instagram].”

Rach Camacho Kamakau of Waikōloa, who said in another reply that her daughter was also in the running for the part, is glad Disney picked someone from the Big Island to portray Lilo, adding: “have fun little one your family’s world is about to change.”

During the pageant, Maia shone brightly as she confidently recited her platform before the large audience: “My platform is encouraging kids … to get active. Reducing screen time is important to me because too much screen time can hurt your eyes, make you blink. Instead of being on your screen, you can ride your bike. You can go for a walk. I … stay off my screen by dancing Tahitian, catching big waves with my dad.”

The crowd cheered loudly, as the pint-sized girl walked in a gown across the stage, showing off her big personality. One person in the crowd said: “She’s got it.”

Watch the 2022 Little Miss Kona Coffee competition, during which Maia Kealoha of Kona competes for the Mini Miss Kona Coffee crown. She appears around the 21-minute mark, dancing Tahitian at 58 minutes and reciting her platform at 1 hour, 35 1/2 minutes. YouTube video posted by Mary Anne Ibanez.

Maia joins previously announced cast member Zach Galifianakis who will play the alien Pleakley. No other cast members have been announced yet. Auli’i Cravalho, who voiced the lead role in Disney’s “Moana” and is also from Hawai‘i, spoke to Disney about playing Lilo’s older sister Nani, according to Knight Edge Media, but didn’t sign on because of commitments to “Mean Girls The Musical: The Movie.” Chris Sanders also could return to voice Stitch.

A casting call went out March 29 to find a little girl to play the role of Lilo’s red-headed bully Mertle. For more information on how to audition, email [email protected].

The day before, Reel News Hawai‘i posted that a casting call also dropped for extras in the movie — everything from beachgoers, lifeguards, luau attendants, CIA/FBI agents and more. For more information, click here.

Harada said in his blog that filming for the movie was supposed to start in February but has been delayed. Knight Edge Media reported that the schedule has been pushed back because of the extensive visual effects for all of the alien creatures. The live-action adaptation will be a major release on Disney+, the Disney online streaming app.

The movie is being directed by Dean Fleischer Camp and was scripted by Chris Kekaniokalani Bright of O‘ahu, who also has “Moana” credits. Bright is the grandson of the late Ronald K. Bright, known as “Mr. B,” a well-known English and Drama teacher for more than 40 years on O‘ahu who directed more than 100 musicals and plays before he retired in the early 1990s.

  • Screenshot of a scene from the 2002 Disney animated movie “Lilo & Stitch.”
  • Screenshot of a scene from the 2002 Disney animated movie “Lilo & Stitch.”
  • Screenshot of a scene from the 2002 Disney animated movie “Lilo & Stitch.”
  • Screenshot of a scene from the 2002 Disney animated movie “Lilo & Stitch.”
  • Screenshot of a scene from the 2002 Disney animated movie “Lilo & Stitch.”

The original animated “Lilo & Stitch” follows the relationship between Lilo, a lonely young Hawaiian girl, and an alien she names Stitch, who was engineered for destruction. Lilo adopts Stitch, who she thinks is a dog, completely unaware he’s taken refuge on Earth, hiding from his creator and The Galactic Federation, which sees him as a menace.

It was followed up by a TV series of the same name from 2003 to 2006.

The new movie, which IMDB has slated for a 2024 release despite most outlets reporting no release date has been set, is the latest Disney animated film to be updated to live-action, following others including “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Jungle Book,” “Aladdin,” “Dumbo,” “101 Dalmatians” and “Mulan.”

Did You Know?

With the 60th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival just a week away in Hilo, here’s a fun fact: the closing scene of “Lilo & Stitch” features Lilo, Stitch and others dancing on the actual Merrie Monarch stage.

Screenshot of a scene from the 2002 Disney animated movie “Lilo & Stitch.”

In that scene, according to IMDB’s “Lilo & Stitch” trivia page, there are two portraits hanging on either side of the stage. To the left is George Na‘ope and to the right Helene Hale, both of whom were instrumental in the festival’s beginnings.

Na‘ope, or “Uncle George,” was a member of the committee that worked to create the festival, with the first hosted in 1964. Hale was the Hawai‘i County Chairwoman in 1963, who sowed the seeds for the festival in an effort to give the Big Island an economic boost. Na‘ope was also Hale’s promoter of activities.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at [email protected]
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