Ohana stands for family: Lilo & Stitch

Ok, so: Disney.
I know, I can see you rolling your eyes. Like: WTF? An effin’ Disney movie? I don’t mean to contradict in principle, there is a lot critical stuff to be said about Disney as a corporation and the social politics involved in some of their movies. But there I just said wrote it: in some. Because there’s a good handful of Disney features that are hilariously awesome for just ignoring a lot of conventions that Disney usually stands for. The Emperor’s new Groove is one that comes to my mind, and you might argue for Up as well. Speaking of the former – I totally have to do a villain_esse rundown on this blog in the future, top ten style or something.

Lilo and Stitch is one of those Disney movies that are nowhere near as famous as say “Lion King” or “Arielle – the little mermaid”, but curiously enough spawned three sequels and its own TV show and is hugely popular in Japan where you find Stitch-merchandise every-fucking-where and literally everything you could think of and more. Surprisingly the sequels are rather good, although I’m not a fan of the rabbit-villain that is introduced in the second movie and who plays an important role in the other films and the series as well. But much of the charm and fun of the original movie is preserved there.

But let us finally cut to what we wanted to talk about in the first place. Lilo and Stitch was released to theatres in 2002 and was met with lots of positive reviews, additionally being one of only two animation features by Disney in the 2000s that made its costs back during its theatrical run.

Ohana means family.
Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.

So, why the love? Oh, where to start?

copyright: Disney

Nobody gets left behind.
There is a central message to the movie and it’s pretty clearly stated several times throughout the film. And it’s a beautiful message worth reiterating at every chance you get: We are all part of families, they may not be based on blood-relations or romantic relationships, but on friendship, on genuinely caring for each other. Family is what you say it is, and if it involves three aliens from three different planets, two Hawaiian sisters, a black social worker and some surfer dude, then it is perfectly fine. This can be your family and you can love it, so be always aware of the responsibility you bear: Care. Even if it means to be self-critical, to leave your comfort-zone, to engage in heated arguments or dropping everything in your hands to run to the rescue – care. This is the greatest gift you can give to any other person.
(Every time one of my plants seems to die and loses all its leaves I murmur: “Ohana, nobody gets left behind!” and try desperately to save its life. Yeah, laugh at me.)

There is no real villain in Lilo and Stitch.
Yes there is Gantu who sets out to bring Jumba and Pleakley back, but it is really just his mission that he is so engrossed in. There is Jumba himself who turns out to be less of a mad scientist and more of an adorable uncle-type-of-guy. There is the Grand Councilwoman who shows little empathy but kicks ass nevertheless. Considering all these characters and all that happens it ultimately turns out that there is nobody who wants to do evil for the sake of evil or for inferior motives – they just act the way they act, because they think it totally makes sense within their set of rules, motivations and values. And boy, is that a plus. Sure, I do believe that there are evil dumbsters out there, but they are rare and in between and much of what goes wrong in society comes from misconceptions, lack of communication and a dearth of willingness to understand each other. And that is the source of all confusion in Lilo and Stitch, which not only makes it more realistic but also rewarding on the level of leaving no character behind in terms of sympathy.

copyright: Disney, via mouseplanet.com

There are two female leads.
Of course all marketing centered on Stitch and what and abomination he is, and it is a movie about him, granted, but one major focus, if not the major focus of the movie is on the relationship of Lilo and her older sister Nani. And both of them are awesomely drawn (pun, pun, heehee) and round characters. They have insecurities, they are sometimes lazy, they are quirky, they have problems, they love each other and occasionally hate each other etc. Wonderful! It helps that with most of the characters in Lilo and Stitch we are leaving the all-white-all-thin-all-standard-attractive territory that Disney films usually cover. Their Hawaiian appearance in combination with rounder, plumper body types serves as such an incredible boost for identification that it almost hurts my heart because of its amazingness.
They are furthermore all family there is, portraying a relationship that is so mind-bogglingly rare in any sort of movie. Two sisters? Everyone else dead? The older one basically being a single mom? Most of the time unemployed? OMG, fantastic. Because yes, I know a lot of people with siblings and grandparents and both their parents, but I also know people who live in families that deviate far from that supposed standard. And, probably needless to mention, it is usually the latter version that encounters a lot more problems. So yay for taking that step.

Oh good, my dog found the chainsaw!

They break down tons of gender conventions.
Nani is the breadwinner, both are headstrong. Lilo is not listening to any Hannah Montana ultimo-crap, mind you, but a huge fan of Elvis (and just how awesome is the whole soundtrack of the movie?). Then we have David, the cute but shy surfer guy, and it’s not exactly Nani going after him, but he has to ask her out about a hundred times until she finally begrudgedly agrees to go out with him.
Then we have Pleakley and Jumba the odd alien couple. Not only does Pleakley enjoy to go all transvestite on us and dress up as a woman in every possible circumstance, but it turns out (though never explicitly stated) that he and Jumba, who are both clearly characterized as male, are kind of a couple as in a husband-husband sort of relationship. Which is pretty forward for any Disney movie.
And not only do we have a female president of the whole wide Universe who awesomely evokes Judi Dench feelings with her “performance”, but we also have Cobra Bubbles, who looks like some badass-Men-in-Black-parody club bouncer, but actually is a social worker in child welfare and genuinely and emotionally cares about the situation of Nani and Lilo.

Stitch’s journey to the inner lands.
Yeah, what does that even mean? Besides being about self-knit-families the movie is about Stitch finding himself as well. And what could be cheesy and stupid is actually rather poignant and well-handled. He was created to be a certain way and act a certain way and ultimately realizes that he does not have to be like that. That to be a certain way is always his choice. Influenced – certainly, but it is still up to you to incorporate or reject your influences, to reflect critically upon yourself and your actions. And what is so fantastically well handled in Lilo and Stitch is that the movie does not fall into the trap of externalizing this journey and conflict by taking one villain that makes Stitch do what he doesn’t want to and get rid of the problem by killing this villain off, but by being honest. You are always able to question yourself and act according to what you feel is right. Even if it means that you first have to find out what right could actually mean.

copyright: Disney

Besides all the content-love I have, I also adore the score, the drawing style (yay, watercolors!) and was very fond of the little trailers that were produced to promote the movie involving some of the more recent Disney features (Find them here, here, here and here).

Should I also mention critical points? Yes, of course, I just don’t really have any complaints. You could argue that the usage of “Hawaiian culture” is only ornamental, but then again, there obviously has been some thorough research and ultimately all preservation of traditions could be seen as ornamental. What makes the “culture” much more of a believable “culture” in this movie is the combination of both traditional elements mixed with the everday lives that they lead – and that usually in our times hardly move beyond ornamental use of traditional practices.
What could be conceived of as a nasty stereotype – the white overweight tourist, is of course a stereotype, although I’d argue it’s not a nasty one. It is obviously a critique of a lifestyle of consumption, but nicely done, I don’t get the feeling that Lilo is trying to make fun of pale, bald, big white tourists, but that she is fascinated by something she doesn’t really understand. And honestly, I don’t really understand it either.

There is not a lot more to say, if you haven’t seen it, go watch it! Now!

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