Prepare for another throwback… it’s another rrramble retrospective!
This time, our writers are revisiting the Lilo & Stitch movie – which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year (we’re shocked too – it seems like only yesterday that a significant bunch of us were having queer awakenings over Nani).
Does this animated classic still hit us in the feels, or should it have stayed in the noughties (along with low-rise jeans and frosted tips)? Let’s see what our writers have to say about it…
It’s the movie that launched a thousand Pinterest tattoos: Lilo & Stitch.
Truly, there are few films in existence that can be so intensely written into my memory like Lilo & Stitch – to the point that I probably didn’t need to watch it again to share my thoughts about it – but I’m never going to pass up an opportunity to relive a childhood favourite either.
Right off the bat, it’s worth mentioning that I was one of the kids in school that had perfected my Stitch impression. You know that kid; the slightly odd one at the back, constantly seeking validation through their ability to make people laugh, interrupting class with a hilarious rendition of a tiny blue alien and his attitude problems– years later they find out they have undiagnosed ADHD? Yeah, that was me… and I was annoying. Stitch, at the time of his initial introduction to the Disney franchise, was perhaps the greatest weapon in my arsenal of ways to get detention.
I haven’t done my Stitch impression in years, but low and behold, I can still recite most of the little guys lines from heart as I watch the movie. Ohana means family, and all of that. With age perhaps comes a little wisdom though, and one thing I have always found enjoyable about certain Disney movies (not all, but that’s a different review) is their ability to contain a completely different message depending on the stage of life you’re at when you consume it.
When I was a child, watching this movie on a Friday night after a long school week, it was about friendship and family (and perhaps that childhood desire for a dog that all people are born with). In my first year of university, I remember realising that there’s more nuance to it than my kid brain could process; that perhaps Lilo & Stitch is more about learning to accept oneself and others despite flaws, as Lilo and Nani eventually accept Stitch even if he is still a trouble maker, and how Lilo and Nani accept each other for exactly what they are. Sisters trying to fit into other roles after a tragedy.
Rewatching it in my twenties, I think Lilo & Stitch contains all of those things and more.
This film is a reminder to forgive yourself once in a while. Nani realises this much too late and almost loses her sister, caught up in proving herself a worthy guardian which she forgets she already is. Lilo, too, who is clearly still dealing with the emotional fallout of losing parents, transforms from a potentially self-loathing child who misbehaves as a coping mechanism, to a someone who still has the odd moment of trouble-making but is less petty with her rival, and unconditionally loving of an alien.
Stitch, most of all, forgives himself for all his perceived wrongness. That coloured crayon drawing we all remember, the badness level. By the end, Stitch has realised that while there are alien bounty hunters referring to him as an abomination, he is also cute and fluffy in the eyes of his new family. And that perhaps you can only be defined by yourself, and not what others impress upon you.
Of course, I can also say that I am a person who inherently seeks meaning in most forms of media I consume, and for those who don’t? It is genuinely just a brilliant movie. The gags are strong (I laugh every time Pleakley opens his mouth), the Elvis heavy soundtrack is a joy to experience (and do housework to), and the characters are surprisingly well developed for a children’s movie.
Lilo & Stitch has a very special place in my heart, for its morals and for how enjoyable it is. I’d highly recommend giving it a re-watch if it’s been some time since you saw it, or, if you have never had the pleasure, perhaps make some time for a cute and fluffy blue guy in your life.
While I saw a few Disney films when I was growing up, I definitely wasn’t living in a Disney house, and not a lot of its output was that significant to me. As an adult, when I consider Disney’s traditional animations (not so much Pixar), I usually think of a fixation on romantic plots, princesses and wasp-waisted Barbie bodies – the last of which is perhaps questionable in children’s media when you consider issues such as body image.
So when I came to Lilo & Stitch (which I didn’t really remember) in 2022, I was so pleasantly surprised. I knew the premise was different to what I have described remembering Disney to be, but this film really upended my expectations of pre-Frozen-era Disney. It’s populated in the most part by kids who really are animated to look and act like kids, which I think is nice to see given the slew of more idealised princess and hero characters in Disney’s animated history. Lilo is charmingly written and voiced as a troubled and quirky little girl experiencing difficulty and loss in her family, and the dynamic between her and Nani, her sister who struggles to raise her alone, is really well done. Family instability and loneliness is explored in Lilo & Stitch through their struggles to stay afloat and not be separated by social services, which seems really quite dark for a film about a little blue alien? However, it is considered in terms that kids can understand and process, I think. I found the parallels between Lilo and Stitch quite moving, as both characters are at times lonely and misunderstood because they struggle to control their behaviour – it encourages you to feel empathy towards the broader concept of children ‘acting out’ because they have difficult things happening in their lives.
On a more superficial level, this movie is fun, colourful and has plenty of sci-fi action going on. I also enjoyed the slight Elvis theme to the soundtrack as Lilo is an Elvis fan – this felt offbeat for a Disney movie, but suited Lilo’s misfit character well.
One thing about the movie that does not stand up well today, however, is that the voice of Lilo – Daveigh Chase – is not Hawiian, whereas her character is. This seems wrong of Disney given that the film relies on Hawiian culture heavily for world-building. Chase does a great job, and as a child actor can’t be seen as accountable for this, but it seems like a failure of representation on Disney’s part. I feel like comparisons with the more recent Disney movie Moana are inevitable – here, Disney chose Hawaiin actress Auliʻi Cravalho for the lead in a story that draws heavily from Polynesian history and culture.
All in all, I think that Lilo & Stitch is a really sweet, fun movie that packs some unexpectedly heavy emotional punches. While the writing, animation and premise remain strong today, it’s just a shame that Disney’s casting decision feels dated.
You can watch Lilo & Stitch on Disney+