I remember when my friend, a mom and a Disney expert, told me that she hated the Disney millennial movie classic Lilo and Stitch.
When Lilo and Stitch was released in 2002, the Mouse House was in the red after having suffered several high budget flops like Dinosaur and Brother Bear. Disney needed a hit. Lilo and Stitch was no Lion King money maker but the story about a rambunctious little alien named Stitch who befriended a little Earth girl named Lilo made enough money to save Disney Feature Animation studios.
Most millennials have fond memories of Lilo and Stitch. The movie, however, doesn’t hold up that well when rewatched as an adult.
Especially if you’re a parent.
“I hated Stitch particularly,” my friend said, “He’s supposed to be this adorable puppy figure wrecking the house but the stakes are too high. I couldn’t laugh at any of his antics. I just wanted Nani and Lilo to kill the little thing and then slow-roast him with a nice garlic sesame sauce.”
I knew what my friend meant when she said that the “stakes were too high.” No parent watching Lilo and Stitch can fully enjoy the story. Watching Stitch destroy Nani and Lilo’s home as Nani tries desperately to convince the Child Protective Services (CPS) case worker that she is a competent guardian for Lilo is absolutely triggering.
Here’s the deal: Lilo and Stitch is a movie about an impoverished mother-figure trying desperately to keep CPS from putting her child in foster care.
Technically Nani, the mother-figure in Lilo and Stitch, is actually Lilo’s big sister. Nani and Lilo’s parents are dead and Nani has guardianship, but she also suffers from all the institutional oppression that single moms face in American society. There is no low-cost daycare available, so when Nani has to work as a waitress she brings Lilo with her to sit at one of the back tables. Nani has no car and the necessity of her working means Lilo is alone a lot of the time. Lilo also clearly has a lot of unresolved trauma from the death of her parents. She gets into fights at school. She destroys property, runs away, and openly disobeys Nani to a dangerous extent (Lilo at one point nails the door of the house shut while a pot boils away on the stove.)
Nani and Lilo’s situation has drawn the attention of Child Protective Services.
And here I have to put my foot down. Come on Disney! Give us evil stepmoms! Give us octopus-tentacle witches! Give us dragons and poisoned apples and princesses locked in towers.
But don’t fucking give us Child Protective Services! Seriously! Nothing, and I mean absolutely NOTHING triggers a parent like hearing those three letters: CPS.
Every parent, no matter how loving, still lives in fear of CPS. We tremble at the thought of having our kids taken away from us suddenly and with no reason. We bite our nails every time we find out that our child went to school with dirty clothes or when our toddler falls off the couch and screams. Did he bump his head? Does he need to go to the hospital?
And will the hospital call CPS?
Anyway, in Lilo and Stitch Nani is busy trying to keep her little sister out of the system when Stitch, a maniacal space alien, crash lands on Earth in Hawaii. Lilo loves Stitch, thinking he’s some sort of weird dog, but Stitch destroys Lilo and Nani’s house. He tears the place to shambles right when Nani is trying to convince an imposing case worker called “Cobra” that Lilo has a safe home environment.
This is nerve-wracking enough, but the danger is compounded by the fact that both Nani and Lilo are indigenous Hawaiians. The long horrifying history of indigenous children being taken away by the US government and placed in abusive boarding schools (where many indigenous children died) looms in the background.
Back in 2002 the reception towards Lilo and Stitch was generally positive. People were aware that the animation was a bit more low-budget than the glamour we were used to with The Little Mermaid and Aladdin but the movement was nice and fluid and the characters were endearing enough. Viewers also liked how Nani and Lilo were drawn with more realistic body shapes as compared to the 90s wasp-waisted Disney princesses.
In the end, however, I agree with my friend. Once Disney introduced the constant looming threat of CPS taking away Lilo, the movie ceased to be fun. At least for parents.
And Stitch absolutely should have ended up slow-roasted over a flame whilst dipped in garlic sesame sauce.