Lilo & Stitch: Understanding Family

In almost every Walt Disney movie, there’s an individual who doesn’t belong, has been abandoned, or lost a parent. Somehow, they’re seeking to define their life based on those around them, because their ability to determine who they are based on “family of origin” has been disrupted. So it is with Lilo & Stitch and Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has A Glitch (releasing tomorrow on Blu-ray and DVD combo pack) but the story allows for two characters, one Hawaiian and one alien, to examine life together through the new lens of family.

To begin with, Stitch (Chris Sanders, How To Train A Dragon, The Croods) is the illegal genetic result of an space genius experiment, and is quickly adaptable, crafty, and indestructible. In other words, Stitch was someone’s idea of a Disney character after watching a two-year-old operate for a half hour! But Stitch (or Experiment 626) escapes, and crashlands on Hawaii’s Kauai, where he quickly becomes part of Lilo’s (Daveigh Chase) life. She has her own problems, as she’s causing trouble for her older sister Nani (Tia Carrere) who has been caring for Lilo since her parents died in a car crash, but soon Stitch escalates them all.

Throw in the interplanetary pursuit by the Galactic Federation and an Earth spy (Ving Rhames’ Cobra), and you’ve got a motley blend of sci-fi, drama, comedy, and action that will delight the whole family. But our awareness of how much this is about family won’t be dimmed. Lilo wants Nani to love her the way she is; Nani wants Lilo to respect her. Both are grieving and driven by their own immediate felt needs, not what the other needs. But this crazy little alien unites them, some other humans, and a few other alien beings into an indisputable family in classic Disney style.

Several years later, Disney made the direct-to-DVD sequel about Stitch running out of power, and experiencing a violent “glitch” that caused him to remove himself from the family, believing himself to be too dangerous. It’s the way so many of us deal with family issues (avoidance) rather than asking for him, and it’s the alien version of what Lilo and Nani did in the first film. We need each other, or to coin a U2 phrase, “we carry each other.” Regardless of what your family actually looks like, it’s the people who support you when you need them who are truly your family by blood or not. And when family is acting appropriately, say a support group or a church on a good day, we’re stronger for those bonds than we could ever be on our own.


About Jacob Sahms

I'm searching for hope in the midst of the storms, raising a family, pastoring a church, writing on faith and film, rooting for the Red Sox, and sleeping occasionally. Find me at,, and the brand new
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