The Dark Hidden Meaning of Lilo and Stitch.

You think Lilo and Stitch is basically about surfing and aliens and Ohana. You’re mostly right. But buried in the movie’s subtext is a dark allegory to a deadly reality, and when you see the meaning you’ve been missing, you’ll never watch the movie the same way.

Was that intro blurb clicksy enough? I hope so. Let’s quit teasing and just put the thing out there, yes? Yes.

Lilo and Stitch is a movie about the plight of the American military wife.

I swear I’m not insane. Think about it for a second.

The movie starts with an international tribunal taking an unethical scientist to task for his crimes against…alienanity? Nature. Let’s just say nature. He has been experimenting with the building blocks of life itself to create a conqueror of civilizations. A killing machine. A super soldier. A super soldier with no real home and an identity suppressed beneath layers of intentional conditioning.

Are you seeing this?

Stitch breaks out of captivity and lands on an island with no major cities. There’s just no way for him to reconcile his combative instincts with life in this paradise (which happens to be the home of a major U.S. naval base). He is taken in by a girl and a young woman who spend most of the movie struggling to understand why this beloved addition to their family seems hell-bent on isolating himself and hurting those who try to get close.

Ahem, PTSD.

Stitch cannot provide for his broken family, because he himself is broken, divorced from normalcy by virtue of his twisted lineage. Only his mad-scientist creator celebrates him for who he is, but when Stitch gets out of control, out comes the assassin’s laser gun. He’s not the product of an intentional dehumani… dealienization. He’s just a bad apple who needs to be dealt with. This dude is Lyndie England with a couple extra arms.

And so Nani must provide. But she is burdened by this interloper posing as a pet. As Stitch subverts her ideals of family-ness, she is buffeted from job to job, straining to make things work while the echoes of militarization threaten to unmake all her efforts.

The conflicts are finally resolved when the threat posed by a foreign enemy brings out the hero in Stitch. Notice how the big mean sharkface is portrayed as an antagonist, even though he’s just a policeman trying to enforce his homeland’s laws? Operation Iraqi Freedom much?

Anyway, Stitch cute-and-fluffies his way out if a sticky situation, and returns Lilo to solid ground. But he’s still a wanted fugitive. Until a former CIA agent and current employee of a social service agency intervenes.

Ving Rhames represents a dwindling safety net for veterans returning from active duty. You will never read that sentence again anywhere.

We’re left with a family video reel that celebrates Stitch’s completed assimilation into polite society. He has not been left behind. Or forgotten. If only that were true for so many real vets.

Also. You know why that Ohana definition sounded so familiar when you first heard it? “Nobody gets left behind” is a gender neutral remix of “Never leave a man behind,” which is part of the Soldier’s Creed.

Stitch might not have been as hunky as Van Damme’s Universal Soldier. But he was more universal.

Intergalactic, even. I’m here all week, folks.

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8 comments

  1. I am actually more inclined to believe the story is sub-textually referring to the dethroning of Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian Islands. Lilo’s (Liliuokalani) entire life was upset by the American government. You could even call these Americans aliens? Like Stitch perhaps? And through Stitch’s cuteness and appeal to those who aren’t quite wanting to see the evilness of aliens, he manages to win everyone over and everyone forgets all his wrongdoings. Kind of like how no one really knows quite how Hawaii ended up a state? Oh yea and almost all the characters relate to people who had a part in the struggle over Hawaii…
    Lilo – Liliuokalani
    Stitch – U.S. government
    Nani – Abner Paki and his wife Konia (Liliuokalani’s adoptive parents)
    Cobra Bubbles – President Grover Cleveland
    Grand Council Woman – U.S. Legislature

    … need I go on?

    1. Nice. I think you’re right on the money.

      Matter of fact, I’ve always thought Stitch’s head looks like a half-melted Mickey…Disney itself as the fluffy face of the American military juggernaut, winked at by some sly senior illustrator? I kinda hope so.

  2. I love both interpretations of the movie. My children used to watch Lilo and Stitch everyday and I never made either connection.

  3. My theory is that stitch represents both Nani and Lilo’s undeniable depression because they lost their parents- think about it – idea of depression (Stitch) constructed in a lab to create chaos, confusion and destruction to both Lilo and Nani (after accidentally landing on their island). However, Lilo and Nani learn to live with their depression and the depression, or Stitch, is tamed and becomes part of the family. An ugly, dark entity replacing the void that is their parents. But, Stitch becomes this lovable creature because he is tamed and nurtured by Lilo.

    1. I love this reading! It’s less complicated and more widely relatable. I remember having my own inner “Stitch” to sabotage my efforts at finding a job when I was depressed and unemployed a decade ago. Luckily I managed to pull out of that rut with lots of support and focused routine, and without portly alien scientists lasering holes in my roof.

  4. Great art is great art because it’s always open to infinite interpretation — as with an inkblot test, everyone will see in it what they project into it.
    The question here is, is there any reason to believe that either of the interpretations described here (abuse of our warriors by military brass and the larger society; imperialist exploitation and appropriation of a Pacific island paradise by the Big Bad of the world) was actually intended by the artists involved?
    Do we have any biographic knowledge of any of the writers, directors, producers, etc, that sez they’re ex-military or Hawaiian native in origin, and thus might have wanted to tell a story with such slants?
    (This isn’t a challenge, it’s a question. Does anyone out there know anything either way on this?)

    1. This is a fantastic reality check, and a great line of questioning.

      Honestly, I was basically spitballing when I wrote this, and I’m almost positive my reading wasn’t the intended one. But I’ve never edited it because it remains a statistical curiosity among my posts; teen.com linked to it in a clickbait listicle, and so it gets visited more than anything else I’ve written. Including all the stuff where I was definitely not spitballing, but wholeheartedly speaking from lived experience.

      I like to leave it unchanged (but do Google “Lilo Stitch based on Hawaiian” for better answers to your questions) because it reminds me that I should not write for the sake of engagement stats. Because you never know what people will engage with, and it’s sometimes precisely the work you kind of wish they’d skip over on the way to something better.

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