Lilo & Stitch was one of those films that I had heard a lot about, but had never gotten around to seeing. I knew the basic plot of the story and could remember the characters and their relationships to each other. (Yes, I know – there are lots of other things that one would think that I could occupy my brain with, but for some reason, remembering names and family relationships is something that I am good at.) I knew that the film had several sequels and I admit that I am unfamiliar with those. Finally watching this film did not inspire me to watch the sequels, although I still might eventually. This was not because of the quality of the film, but rather because I felt that the story was complete. Watching Lilo and Stitch go on further adventures together would be fun, but not necessary at the moment.
So when browsing for films to watch that would be “fun, light-hearted, not-too-long, and uncomplicated”, I jumped on this one. If one plotted my watching of Disney films on a graph, the early 2000s would have been a low point, and I felt that I ought to check it off the list. I had also heard good things about it.
I was not disappointed, although I have to admit that for an adult, it was not entirely light-hearted. It was terrifying to think of how Lilo and her sister are orphaned and struggling to survive alone; how vulnerable they are; how much they have to lose if they are separated. Lilo already shows signs of acting out and I can’t imagine for a moment that she would have a good experience in a foster care situation. Nani, her teenaged sister and guardian, is struggling to find sustainable employment with few skills and while being a single parent. (I hope that she is done high school.) While many other adults in the town sympathize with her, they nonetheless see a teenager. As an adult, part of me thinks that giving up Lilo would be a positive thing, albeit not for Lilo’s sake, but for Nani’s.
In other words, were it not for the alien Stitch and the subplot about capturing him, this would have been a melodramatic story about two sisters dealing with the foster care system and poverty. Without Stitch, the story (as well as the actual characters) would not have survived as they did.
The fun, upbeat pacing of this film masks its dark nature, especially for children. I think this is a good thing – it keeps older audiences interested while softening reality for youngsters. No, most children who lose their parents do not get a space alien in their lives, but it does teach important lessons about family – namely, that family is about caring for each other and that members join our families in varying ways. (Landing from outer space is not usually one of them, as far as I know…) It is not about the size of one’s family – it’s about loving and sacrificing for each other.
What really sells this film is its humour, even in the face of adversity, and the physical comedy. It manages to make horrible situations (destruction of property, fires, etc.) into something to laugh at. After all, in such cases, there really isn’t anything else that one can do.
As indicated above, I don’t have any inclination to watch the rest of the Lilo & Stitch franchise because of this film, although I think I would be entertained by them if the opportunity arose. I am glad that I finally got around to watching this film so that I can actually say that I have seen it, rather than simply having read the Wikipedia synopsis. It was also a very enjoyable evening!