Animated Movies, Disney, Reviews

Disney Canon Countdown 42: ‘Lilo and Stitch’

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One of the strangest things about Disney animated classics is how few children star in their films. You would think a company with toys and amusement parks would make films with children in them. However, most Disney films are about adolescents. It is for this reason that Lilo and Stitch is a unique entry in the Disney Canon. It is not only about a little girl, but a very special little girl.

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Lilo and Stitch is about a little Hawaiian girl named Lilo who, like most Disney characters, is an orphan. Her sister Nani is trying desperately to keep her family together and has become a substitute mother for Lilo rather than a sibling. She is watched over by a social worker named Cobra Bubbles who is very concerned with her wishy-washy employment.

Then, one day, Lilo mistakes an alien named Stitch for a dog at a shelter. Stitch has been designed by his creator as ‘Experiment 626,’ a weapon of mass-chaos and destruction. When Stitch escapes to earth, Dr. Jumba, Stitch’s creator, and Agent Pleakley are sent to find and return him.

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Thus, we get two storylines in the film: first, Lilo and Nani dealing with Stitch and their other problems and, second, the agents searching for Stitch.

One of the best things about Lilo and Stitch is Lilo. It is not only refreshing to see a little girl in a Disney movie, but a unique little girl. She’s not the kind of typical Hollywood adorable mop-top you might see in a sitcom. She bites a girl at the beginning of the film. She feeds peanut butter sandwiches to fish. She takes pictures of fat people at the beach. She has strange looking dolls. All of this makes her an unusual and endearing character.

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Nani is also a wonderful Disney character. She is warm and trying so hard to save her family. We have to remember that she has not only lost her parents but now has this crushing burden of caring for Lilo. The movie doesn’t gloss over these challenges and we see a complete relationship between the two girls. They fight, hug, laugh, and rip their hair out over each other’s antics.

However, no matter what happens, there is always the message of ohana. Lilo and Nani’s parents instilled in their girls the message of ohana: “ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” This message gives the movie such heart, especially as things get worse for the girls.

The Hawaiian culture infused in the film helps add to the spirit of ohana. Alan Silvestri gives us a lovely score with songs like ‘Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride.’ The Elvis songs are a bit random, but a lot of fun. I also love the watercolor style they incorporate, which hadn’t been used by Disney since the days of Dumbo.

Unfortunately, there are some flaws with Lilo and Stitch. When I first saw it, I must own that I did not care for the design of Stitch. I have always felt he looked too much like a cockroach. He’s grown on me over the years, but I kind of wish they took the ET route and made him a little bit cuter.

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Also, I feel the film can sometimes be a bit of a downer. I know we need to make things difficult for Lilo and Nani, but I don’t think we needed to see Nani lose multiple jobs and the house get burned down. There’s a point where I start to feel a little depressed at how badly this movie treats its lead characters. I mean, this is still a Disney movie, right?

But the more I have watched this film, the more those objections become tolerable and my love for it grows. It has unique characters and such heart, which are the most important attributes in my book for a Disney animated film. Also, anyone who knows me, knows I’m a bit of a sucker for anything Hawaiian, so Lilo and Stitch is right up my alley!

What do you think of Lilo and Stitch? Is it a favorite of yours or one of the forgettable Post-Renaissance entries? Put in the comments section below. 

Also to listen to the Rotoscopers podcast on Lilo and Stitch click here.

Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden

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About Rachel Wagner

Rachel is a rottentomatoes approved film critic and podcaster. She loves all things animation and does a monthly podcast on classic Disney films and on obscure animation at Rachel's Reviews. She also is the founder and lead host of The Hallmarkies Podcast. She grew up with mainstream classics like The Little Mermaid and The Simpsons but also loves indie and anime fare like Song of the Sea and Your Name. Most important to her is discussing all kinds of film and TV shows with her friends and all of you. Follow Rachel on twitter at @rachel_reviews and on her blog rachelsreviews.net