Why Stitch is My Hero

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

'Ohana means family. Family means nobody left behind, or forgotten.

It's easy to live by the spirit of 'ohana when times are good. Making sure nobody gets left behind isn't so tough when everybody can keep up with the same pace. And why would you forget someone when they're still there? And I think we all know life isn't always like that. If you live long enough, you'll struggle at times. People get sick. Accidents happen. Jobs and homes are lost. Life can be hard.

Lilo and Stitch was the first Disney film I saw that showed me characters I could relate to, who wrestled with real-life problems, who seemed like people I'd known. Nani was working hard to care and provide for Lilo, and frequently stumbling, with potentially disasterous results. Lilo meant well, but couldn't help being an unruly and somewhat cantankerous little girl (and was actually drawn like a real girl -- hooray!). Both Lilo and Nani were struggling to overcome the devastating loss of their parents, and neither wanted to be separated from the other, though they knew the department of social services might tear them apart in a matter of days. And as an added bonus, the Hawaii Lilo and Stitch lived in was very much like the Hawaii I'd known from my many visits to my grandparents' home on Maui, not the strange, exotic idyllic Hawaii of so many other representations. The Hawaii I knew had choice waves and luaus, but also supermarkets and cranky customers.

Enter Stitch, an unruly and extremely cantankerous little alien. While the film has plenty of humorous hijinks and sci-fi comedy action, the heart of the film is Stitch's search for a family. This search, much like Lilo and Nani's day-to-day life, is messy and often dangerous. But ultimately, Stitch speaks the words which form the heart of the film: "This is my family. I found it, all on my own. Is little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good." Stitch, Lilo, and Nani ultimately make each other whole.

Frequently, the Stitch we see portrayed in the Parks is the troublemaking, mischevious character from early in the film. (Trust me, you don't want to get me going about Stitch's Great Escape, or the irritating wake-up call recording.) It's convenient for marketing to have a chaotic character for many purposes. Stitch almost seems to be the new Donald Duck, now that Donald more frequently keeps his obnoxious, disruptive side under cover (and in fact Donald had taken over the disruptive role when Mickey Mouse himself had to become better-behaved as a company mascot). But the Stitch I love is the one searching for a family, and discovering that little and broken can still be good.

When times are hard, it's not the fairy tale endings that I hold onto. I've never thought once about my foot gliding into a glass slipper, or being woken by someone's charming kiss. But I know how it feels to find my family. And it is good.