Lilo, Stitch and Family Loss


People are often confused why the Disney movie Lilo & Stitch means so much to me. To most people it’s just a movie and more than that it’s just a “kids movie.” Why I talk about it so much or bring it up in conversation or why I have the art all over my room. Even more so, why I have Lilo tattooed on my leg (based on this piece of concept art from one of my all time favorite Disney artists, Chris Sanders).

The Walt Disney Animation Studios film was released in U.S. theaters June of 2002. I saw it that month with my grandmother and brother in the tiny, rundown cinema not too far from our home. We walked. It was nearly four miles. I was ten-years-old, my brother eleven. My grandmother couldn’t drive and my grandfather who could had just passed away.

Now of course, this wasn’t a week with my grandmother over summer vacation. I lived with my grandparents, both of them. Until my grandfather died earlier that year. I was with them
nearly all of my life. Or at least from 1993, the year after I was born.

I remember the movie almost made me cry. I found myself so intensely relating to this young girl and inability to fit in with the other kids. Her constant errors in society, her overly creative spirit. But more than that I related to her loss. Her loss of family and need for a friend. As well as her incredibly dark way of being.

lilo gif 2
Lilo & Stitch (2002) ©Walt Disney Animation Studios

If you aren’t familiar with Lilo & Stitch it is centered on a six-year-old girl in Hawaii, living with her older sister Nani. After the death of their parents Nani has had to take on custody of Lilo. Lilo of course is an odd one who doesn’t realize the trouble she causes for Nani, though her sister loves her regardless. Lilo craves a friend, someone as strange as her that might bring their family back together. She finds this in Stitch. “Our family is little and broken, but you can be a part of it.

At one-year-old I lost my mother. After that I lost most of my family. The whole thing came unraveled. It became little and broken.

Lilo & Stitch hit home for me. Quoting Lilo with, “Ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” to “It’s okay if you want to leave. I’ll remember you though, I remember everyone that leaves.” They’re quotes that stuck with me.

lilo gif 1
Lilo & Stitch (2002) ©Walt Disney Animation Studios

The film held a lingering sadness over the fun and spunky story of a young girl finding an alien friend. It was about two sisters struggling with loss and wanting to belong. A lot of people miss that. They just see the blue alien and think “wow how cute!” But these feelings they were showing were feelings I had all my life, and to see them depicted in an animated Disney movie was something I just couldn’t get over.

Lilo wants to be strong. She wants to act like she doesn’t care. But she does. She says it’s okay for you to go, because she’s used to people leaving, not because she wants you to. After facing such loss many people fall into that way of being. It’s far too easy to let someone go than try to hold on when you can’t.

Lilo & Stitch (2002) ©Walt Disney Animation Studios
Lilo & Stitch (2002) ©Walt Disney Animation Studios

Also, the finalized Lilo & Stitch film is a lot lighter than it had been intended. In the original film their had been a sequence in which Lilo introduces Stitch to her fish friend, Pudge who she believes controls the weather. He proceeds to smack the fish from her hands, ending in its death. She then screams “Pudge was part of our family! You don’t let your family die! You don’t ever!” [The Untimely Death of Pudge the Fish].

It was obviously cut for its dark tone, including her interaction with her parents’ graves (like in the concept art below). It never made it beyond animatic storyboards.

concept art by Chris Sanders, Lilo & Stitch (2002) ©Walt Disney Animation Studios

That is why I chose the image for the tattoo that I did. Lilo was essentially me growing up. She was quirky and odd, had a dysfunctional family. It is also an image of her with Pudge which was important. After hearing Lilo’s story we learn that she visits Pudge because “he controls the weather” which she wants to stay nice because her mother and father died in a car crash during a rainstorm. She wants to make sure that never happens again.

So, for me this image represents holding onto family so that nothing bad will happen again. That is why this film means so much to me. Not because it’s cute and funny, though it is both of those things…but because I finally found a movie I could heavily relate to. I finally felt like I wasn’t so different.

Until next time!

damian alexander

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