After Disney’s Renaissance era had ended, the studio has tried moving onto creating original ideas (and clearly having a rocky opening through the good like The Emperor’s New Groove and the bad like Dinosaur) but something that was ever as ingenious as what has been left behind in Lilo & Stitch is still something of a rarity for most animation studios today. If I were ever asked to list down which of Disney’s offerings since the 2000’s have stood out amidst the bunch, Lilo & Stitch is another one of the first that would be coming to mind. I had fond memories of watching Lilo & Stitch when I was much younger and maybe a growing sense of nostalgia had come back to me, but after years of not having seen it – something snapped into my head that only convinced me what it was I loved about it then and what I love about it now.
The basic idea of Lilo & Stitch is a simple one, a girl who is isolated by her many peers adopts an alien, thinking she is a dog. She names this alien “Stitch,” but at the same time Stitch has a past before having come to our home: he was actually the result of an illegal experiment from an alien race that has also come to our home in order to search for the convict. From the sound of this alone, there’s a literal metaphor that comes about which makes Lilo & Stitch‘s own ambitions all the more admirable: comfort between alienated souls as they come together. Lilo is a rambunctious young girl who is distanced from even her own friends. Stitch is an alien who was not seen as “normal” even where he comes from. A figurative alien finds comfort with a literal alien.
What I’ve always loved about watching Disney films is seeing how they hold more cultures within the spotlight in all of their animated features – now giving Hawaii their tie to shine. Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois have patched together something truly exotic and pure from start to finish within Lilo & Stitch, whether it be from the animation or the music, but there’s something else that also makes something special here. There was something beautiful at least to be found within its figures for family dynamics as our protagonists are a part of a broken family, only to be mended as a result of something that appears to be abnormal. Watching everything mend together not only made a beautiful tapestry but also something delightfully fun.
By spirit, Lilo & Stitch is a fun film especially when it shows it wants to pay its own homage to the classic science fiction B-movies of the 50’s (it’s abundantly clear from how it features The Spider in one scene), but at the same time we also have something all the more heartfelt especially when we come down to the importance of families sticking together. One of the most notable lines, “O’hana means family, family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten” sets in motion how even what appears abnormal can be what might be a missing link that a broken family might have been looking for the whole time. Yet how is it that Sanders and DeBlois blend a sci-fi B-movie homage together with something poignant about the importance of family? The climactic chase sequence made everything clear.
It’s only fitting that something like Lilo & Stitch had come around for children because even if one hadn’t loved it then, one can look back at what it presents and soon enough its lessons will come to strike one out of nowhere. I remember watching Lilo & Stitch a lot when I was a child, and today even I still recognize times in which my own parents can never find themselves coming to terms with one another regarding what is best for me and my younger brother (who are also distanced from each other). Oftentimes they repeat that they may be set to disappear and we need to take care of our own selves, just as Lilo and Nani do so in here. Here I am, reminiscing over my own self again, and all because of a Disney film of all things. Lilo, Nani, and Stitch altogether form a dysfunctional family, but their love for each other isn’t any different from any other family that we would ever see around ourselves. Maybe I’m not prepared enough to head out because all of these links are still to be found somewhere – I don’t know where to look just yet.
Perhaps nostalgia can be one factor towards one’s love of a film like Lilo & Stitch but quite frankly I thought for a while my enjoyment of the film had died down as I got older, only to have been proven wrong from a revisit that showed something much more poignant in the end. And the best part of it all, it never overstays its own welcome. Always charming where it needs to be, at the same time more culturally aware (not just in how it employs Hawaii in the background but what role it helps in playing in the film’s favour) – Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois’s Lilo & Stitch represents the very best sort of family film: one that’ll appear fun only to hit oneself with something all the more resonant with what lessons it provides for viewers of all sorts. I knew I loved Lilo & Stitch as a child, looking now it was easy to understand why it still holds that value.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Disney.
Directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
Screenplay by Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois
Produced by Clark Spencer
Starring Daveigh Chase, Chris Sanders, Tia Carrere, David Ogden Stiers, Kevin McDonald, Ving Rhames, Kevin Michael Richardson, Zoe Caldwell, Jason Scott Lee
Release Year: 2002
Running Time: 85 minutes