Contributed by Rob N., who blogs at evilbobdayjob.tripod.com.
In the eternal struggle of boys against girls, the only hope for survival of intelligent life is for girls to win.
We’re talking lasers, aliens, boogers, gobs of earwax flicked off in restaurants, dogfights in space ships, a monster designed as a weapon to destroy worlds, plus shapely dancing girls. Lilo and Stitch has all the elements to win back boys and manly men who would normally avoid everything Disney. Sure, Stitch is cute and fluffy, but he’s also equipped with fangs, claws, spines, nightvision, nicks in his ears from past battles, tongue able to reach inside his own nose. He’s bulletproof, fireproof, lifts objects 3000 times his size and survives getting run over by two trucks. He also knows alien language so vulgar, it causes a robot to puke bolts in the trial scene.
Enjoy it while it lasts, guys, because the rest of the movie is about violent men who fail and women who pick up the pieces.
Lilo and Sith
Exhibit A in the case of violent males who fail: Dr. Jumba Jookiba, greatest scientist in the universe reduced to a common criminal. He’s able to avoid imprisonment only if he helps bring his genetically engineered Doomsday device under control.
Cobra Bubbles is a former CIA agent who became a social worker because, who knows, maybe he wanted a change of pace. Come on, what kind of real man would choose to leave the CIA? He either got booted or went soft.
Captain Gantu is a towering, sharky alien who enjoys slamming his fist on things to get his point across. Good at angry gestures, but he’s a failure when it comes to transporting Stitch to his asteroid exile or capturing Stitch for more than a few minutes at the end.
Agent Pleakley the environmentalist is hardly violent enough or manly enough to deserve male status. He fails to restrain Jumba through most of the movie and fails to bring Stitch back to the Grand Councilwoman. Even dressing like a woman (camouflage to prevent humans from recognizing him as an alien) doesn’t help Pleakley succeed like one.
Stitch manages to create a little havoc, but cuts it short before destroying any large cities. His greatest success comes when he acquiesces to women and rejects his manly instincts.
In the opposite corner, representing successful females, we have the Grand Councilwoman in charge of the Galactic Federation. This alien is not in charge of a nation or a planet or a star system. She runs the entire galaxy. Hillary Rodham Clinton would toss out her Yankees caps in a heartbeat and start wearing Alpha Centauri bloodsport caps if there was any chance the Galactic Council would elect a carpetbagger like her to lead them.
Then there’s big sister Nani. In between housework and chasing Lilo and waiting tables at the luau, Nani manages to fend off an intimidating social worker with the ridiculous covername “Cobra Bubbles.” More likely he’s big, bad Marsellus Wallace straight out of Pulp Fiction, hiding from the law or from rival gangsters, biding his time in Hawaii until it’s safe to go back to Cali. Maybe it’s just the same actor doing the voice, maybe both characters just happen to be bald with a gold hoop earring in each ear. Either way, you have to give Nani credit for standing up to him, and for confronting the aliens who capture her little sister later.
Finally in the case of successful females, we have exhibit Lilo, a lonely little girl who has a hard time making friends with humans (failure), disrupts hula class (failure), argues with her sister (failure), and is able to tame Doomsday personified (success!).
Eventually the major female characters all get their way or reach favorable compromises. Coincidence? No. Women know how to behave.
Child Protective Services from Outer Space
Reviewers and shills for the movie played up the “non-traditional family” featured in Lilo and Stitch, a young woman trying to raise her sister Lilo and hold a job. We’re supposed to give props to the creators for bringing up the topic at all in a children’s movie. Unfortunately if that’s your focus, the moral of this story seems to be that a young, single woman can’t raise a child without help from powerful aliens with advanced technology, or at least one adult male surfer. One of the highest points of the movie comes when Nani’s love interest David tries to cheer them up by taking them surfing. They’re depressed because Stitch just caused a riot on the beach and Nani got turned down for every job she applied to. Yet as soon as David joins them, everyone laughs and giggles and behaves. Instant nuclear family, just add boyfriend.
Hanging over the struggling family comprised of two sisters is the threat of authorities breaking them up. Stitch’s experience is a primer to show us what could happen to Lilo. When parents raise a child carelessly, for example teaching it to destroy large cities, then authorities take away the child. The Galactic Federation acts like Galactic Child Protective Services and takes Stitch away to be exiled on an asteroid. After watching the trial and Stitch’s escape, we know what’s at stake for Lilo if authorities disapprove of her sister’s parenting skills. Lilo will be banished from her sister to live with a foster family, maybe on a deserted asteroid.
Lilo and Sartre
For a long time after the title characters are introduced, Stitch behaves like a conniving hero straight out of a screwball romantic comedy. He fakes a relationship with Lilo because she’s useful to him, a human shield to prevent Jumba from blasting him. Gradually Stitch develops genuine feelings for her. There’s no romance, but call it a screwball friendship.
A picture book triggers Stitch’s transformation from self-absorbed monster to friend. He glances at boring books on Lilo’s shelf and tosses them aside until he finds one that shocks him into reconsidering his life: The Ugly Duckling.
Stitch skips the part of the story that everybody knows and lands on a section he can relate to. On one page, the duckling wanders alone in the woods shouting, “I’m lost.” On the facing page we see the Swan family happily recovering their misdiagnosed “duckling.” Stitch identifies with the ugly duckling so strongly, he uses it as a guidebook, trying to reenact the end of the story. He takes the picture book deep into the woods on a vision quest to call his true family. Stitch speaks the magic words that worked for the ugly duckling, “I’m lost.” He waits all night for his real family to find him and make him feel wanted.
Ironically his closest original family does find him at that point, his creator Jumba, the father who was jailed for doing such a monumentally bad job of parenting. Jumba says that Stitch has no family and he’ll never feel like he belongs. He should come home quietly and let Jumba take him apart.
What do you do if your creator gives you a purpose that seems absurd? The same thing that Jean-Paul Sartre said to do if you can’t find or believe in a creator at all: you design your own purpose. Stitch has already seen glimpses of what a functioning family is like. He had to endure a whole montage of Lilo squirting water at him as if he was a bad dog, trying to teach him how to behave, sharing snocones, surfing, hanging out at the luau where Nani works. Belonging to a family makes more sense to Stitch at this point than destroying cities or allowing himself to be snuffed out as punishment for the sins of his creator.
Stitch rejects Jumba’s violent way of life. A failure as a manly Doomsday machine, Stitch starts to succeed when his goals turn girly, focusing on family.
Lilo Versus Stitch
If they’ve been raised traditionally, boys manufacture chaos and girls strive for order. No one says, “Girls will be girls” to excuse them when they break rules.
Girls are badgered to specialize in relationships and family. Even the most loose-knit relationship requires some compromise now and then. Families have hierarchy and rules built into them. That’s why Lilo tries to bring order to her messy world from the first moment she comes on screen. She arrives to her hula class late and drips water on the stage, causing the other dancers to slip. By her way of thinking it was quite necessary. Lilo explains that she has to feed peanut butter sandwiches to a certain fish every few days, but all they had at home was tuna, which would be wrong to feed to a fish, so she had to take time to buy peanut butter so she could feed the fish, and that’s why she was wet and late. Why does she need to feed the fish? Because he can predict the weather.
Okay, that part doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it shows how Lilo sees patterns in everything. Even if she’s wrong about the fish’s secret knowledge, the subject of weather prediction fits with Lilo’s concern of finding order in chaos.
Lilo’s other obsession is taking pictures of people on the beach and taping their photos on the wall of her room. She keeps a snapshot of her family under her pillow and demands that her alien pet/friend Stitch must never touch it. Staring up at her wall of pictures, she says mournfully, “Everybody leaves.” Lilo takes pictures to remember everyone, because parents can die in car wrecks and tourists only stay a short time before going home. Given how much she values that photo of her parents, it might also mean that she takes pictures of strangers as a way of incorporating them into her family. They might not know it, but they will always be part of her photo family, properly organized instead of random strangers bouncing in and out of her life.
Lilo often brings up the Hawaiian word “O’hana” that her late father taught her. Instead of the simplistic translation of “family,” he explained that “O’hana means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” By repeating and emphasizing that idea, Lilo shows Stitch there’s something better than chaos.
I’m not saying she’s using a wink and a come-hither look to keep Stitch under her thumb, but a different kind of feminine “wicked wiles” as Grumpy calls it in that other Disney movie. The battle of the sexes can also be about family and relationships in general. In the classic Greek play Lysistrata, women who are sick of war stage a protest in a government building and refuse to have sex with their husbands until they stop the war. There they go again, men creating chaos, women demanding order. It’s not just the act of sex that women control and extend to men, but their example as the embodiment of family and order. How can families stay together if their members and resources are being wasted in some distant conquest? If men care about their children or family or consistently getting booty, then they have to give up their dalliances with chaos and come to order.
Lilo has something valuable to trade with Stitch if he’s willing to give up his destructive nature. Imagine the two of them singing a playground song that you might hear on any given day between a competing boy and girl:
Stitch sings: “I can do anything you can do, better!“
Lilo: “Only if you destroy all things good in the process.”
Stitch: “Right. So?”
Lilo: “Try a bite of this O’hana. It’s a fruit that I got off the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and Love and Loss.”
Stitch: [Gobbles it up, recognizes his emptiness.] “More!”
Lilo: “The only way you can ever have it again is to leave the Garden of Manly Men. Families require order and you can’t keep them together if you run around creating chaos in every aspect of your life. You must get in touch with your inner Alan Alda, your inner Oprah, your inner girl!”
Lilo: “No, that’s outer! None of those dangly things that you keep poking out and then retracting. Inner!”
Lilo puts her hand on his heart, morphs into Jennifer Connelly from A Beautiful Mind and says, “I need to believe that something extraordinary is possible.”
You get the picture. Men have to sacrifice their wild nature in order to stay rooted in relationships. Women act as gatekeepers of the knowledge that families and order are good things, because men certainly wouldn’t know enough about it to learn it from each other. So Lilo offers her knowledge of O’hana and Stitch gives up intergalactic conquest so he can be part of the O’hana.
The Only Hope
Boys are violent. Men are violent. Hulk smash. If their skills at destroying things and places and people become better and better, then the ultimate success is to destroy everything — the world, the universe, themselves. Who wants that kind of success? Succeeding as a man in the terms we’ve been given means failing to survive.
Women succeed throughout the movie because they are traditionally stuck with the job of raising families. They come to understand order and embody order. They can help men succeed by helping them move away from chaos, move away from wild masculinity, move toward family and order.
Notice that Stitch was not captured by the Galactic Federation forces in the end. He escaped from them repeatedly and finally gave himself up because it seemed best for the people he cared about. Their violent defensive tactics could not have stopped him from destroying the universe. Only Lilo’s efforts at changing his mind and changing his identity saved the universe.
You can tell that identity is important to Stitch and the others because in the final confrontation between all the aliens and humans, the Grand Councilwoman calls our little blue hero by the original name that Jumba gave him, “Experiment 6-2-6.” He interrupts the argument to correct her: “My name Stitch.” The name that Lilo gave him. Hoping for some redeeming quality in the monster so she won’t have to banish him, the Grand Councilwoman asks with feeling, “Who are you?”
Stitch’s reply almost sounds like he’s ignoring her. “This is my family,” he says. “I found it all on my own. It’s little and broken, but still good.”
Yeah, get a tissue. Finished? He might as well have said, “My family is my identity.” The other junk about his family is a projection of how he feels about himself: “I found myself all on my own. I’m little and broken, but still good.”