Lilo and Stitch
Home, Family and the Question of Belonging
Text by Jane Batkin
Disney’s visions of home and family have always been damaged, with lost, adrift orphans striving to find their way in the world. The message that resonates often hints of the need to conform to the collective; fit in and you will be fine, because home is always waiting. The 2002 Feature, Lilo and Stitch, however, offers a more unanswered and unsettled vision of home, one that is about transience and unbelonging rather than security and safety. Yet the themes that serve to unbalance and provoke us, also say something so poignant about home to us. Nani, Lilo and Stitch echo: “Ohana means family. Family means no one gets let behind… or forgotten”, but what do the themes of home and belonging really mean in Lilo and Stitch?
Disney’s universe offers fractured worlds and representations of lost individuals, from those fleeing for their lives (Snow White, Bambi), to those imprisoned (Cinderella, Rapunzel), to those disabled temporarily or permanently (Ariel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame). Disney adopted and adapted European folk tales, understanding the need for dark conflict within a narrative, but tailoring this for a U-rated audience. Their Westernised stories begin with an individual yearning for family / belonging or romantic love, and end with fulfilment of the same. Displacement of the hero or heroine is important, but essentially, they belong in some way; they merely need to learn how to traverse obstacles in order to fit in (for example, Pinocchio, Simba). Traditionally, Disney films platform a moral lesson to be learned before fulfilment takes place, such as learning to be responsible and less selfish (or, in the case of Penny in The Rescuers, more willing to listen to good advice). In other words, the needs of the individual do not outweigh the need to conform; society and belonging remain all important in the Disney universe. This view has altered with more recent features such as Frozen and Moana, which position the journey of the princess and her needs and wants at the centre of the narrative, and the males more on the periphery than they were previously. Home, however, remains a prevalent theme. In Frozen, Anna is anchored by the village and family “home”, whilst there is no question of Moana not belonging, as she undertakes a quest at sea to save her village. Family remains the linchpin that holds everything together.