A Welcome addition to the Disney Ohana
Originally Released: 2002
It is easy to get lost in the surface-level entertainment that is offered by Lilo & Stitch. The 42nd offering from Walt Disney Animation Studios has a unique, colorful, and welcoming art style that is fun to look at. The Hawaii location really adds to the inviting atmosphere. Musically, the movie features some of the best hits from the King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley, it contains several fun songs performed by a talented Hawaiian children’s choir, and Stich plays the ukulele to great effect. Stitch himself is very funny and steals most of the scenes in which he is involved. Yes, on the surface, Lilo & Stitch provides great entertainment to kids and adults.
However, like all really good films, there are deeper themes found in Lilo & Stitch, and these themes are what to me makes this film the cream of the Disney canon crop in the 2000’s decade, and worthy to be mentioned alongside the other Disney greats. Directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois were able to create in the characters Lilo, Stitch, and Lilo’s sister Nani something that we all should be able to relate to, regardless of our age or gender or social situation (incidentally, this directing duo is also behind my favorite Dreamworks animated features How to Train Your Dragon and How to Train Your Dragon 2 – two more wonderful films that really “get it” from a human message standpoint).
At the forefront of these deeper themes is the concept of ohana. “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind, or forgotten,” says Lilo. It seems pretty straightforward, but how easily this can be forgotten in the daily turmoil and stress that we encounter with our families, friends, and others. The film makes it clear that “family” isn’t necessarily confined to strictly blood relatives, but that it can reach wider than your immediate family members.
I once had a friend criticize this film and its message by saying he was upset that the film attempted to rewrite the definition of “family” to also include things like your pet dog, and that the film was really an underhanded attack on the traditional family. I suppose I can see his point if I REALLY stretch, but I think he missed the concept and the real message the directors were trying to get across. To me, in order to really understand the concept, all it takes is to swap the word “family” with “neighbor.” I can then ask a familiar question: “And who is my neighbor?” Whether it be Stitch, Lilo, or a random stranger who was beaten and left for dead (please watch the link, it is worth your time), no one deserves to be alone, left behind, or forgotten. It doesn’t matter if you want to call them “family” or “neighbor” or “stranger” – what matters is that they still deserve our love and attention, even when it is hard or inconvenient to do so.
Beyond that most obvious message of ohana are the smaller touches surrounding the main characters. Who among us has never felt like Stitch at one point or another: alone and friendless, misunderstood, or seeking our true purpose? Or maybe we can relate more to Nani, trying to cope with life’s challenges while at the same time having no clue how to help a naughty or rambunctious child/family member whose “badness level” is almost filled to the brim. Or do we maybe feel more like Lilo, when we try to help with things, but our efforts either go unnoticed or seem to make things worse? To me, amount of relatable situations in Lilo & Stitch – from both an adult and child’s perspective – only adds to its value as a great film.
To summarize, Lilo & Stitch works for me on all levels and always leaves me in a better mood after I watch it. I can credit that to the surface-level factors as well as it deeper thematic message. Lilo & Stitch earns its place on my list of highly recommended Disney animation.