Whenever I watch Lilo and Stitch I get that warm fuzzy feeling that emerges from inside, and God only knows how many times I have rewatched that movie. But, that got me thinking: what am I supposed to be understanding? Is Disney brainwashing me with messages secretly engrained in their films? Why are Nani and Lilo the most relatable Disney characters EVER? (honestly that last one is self explanatory)
Well, Disney is definitely trying to tell us something ( I mean, what else is the point of spending billions on film every year).
"What are they telling us?" you may ask. Disney? No way they would never mess with me. I, young and naive, also thought the same thing until I realized ... Stitch is literally supposed to be an "illegal alien." Aside from being an undocumented immigrant, Stitch is also a convicted felon. Through Stitch, Disney aims to target and provide commentary in support of two minority groups: immigrants and criminals.
Really different, Right? I thought so too. Disney makes Stitch so strikingly different to show his evolution, through which they can show the difficulties that every immigrant faces when entering a new country.
At the start, Stitch struggles to learn the American language, though try as he might:
Not only so, but Stitch also does not understand American life and terrain, as he shoots at the rain, aims his gun at a frog, and tries to bike off of an island on a tricycle. In subsequent scenes, he is also shown to eat with his hands and not share cake with Lilo. Each of these tasks shows his lack of knowledge for even the most basic human interaction.
A Quick Aside: the scene where Nani brings Lilo and Stitch cake to eat is a strikingly negative view of immigrants. Since we have established that Stitch is in fact an immigrant, his actions of grabbing the cake with his hands and eating without sharing portrays immigrants as crude and selfish to the American viewer. I must denounce Disney for this portrayal, but do believe the final messages about accepting immigrants is a positive one, despite this and other negative portrayals in the movie.
However, Lilo takes the time to teach Stitch about American culture, and under the ultimatum given by Lilo's social worker, Cobra Bubbles, she makes Stitch a "model citizen" by modeling him after the American Icon Elvis Presley. *Queue the Screaming Fans*
From the video above, Lilo is seen to teach Stitch iconic American cultural tasks, namely how to dance, how to sing, how to act like Elvis, and how to love. Through these tasks, she hopes to integrate Stitch into American culture. Though Stitch tries very hard, he finds it very difficult to grasp some of the concepts and actions, just like an immigrant may find it difficult to master American cultural tasks upon arrival. By doing this, Disney visually depicts the challenge that immigrants face when trying to learn new, American tasks. In every task Stitch tries, something goes wrong and he takes it very hard on himself. Nevertheless, Lilo persists.
However, it is not mastery of rudimentary tasks that help Stitch assimilate, rather, the feeling of family (the most important aspect of American culture) that catalyzes his transformation. During his first day home, Stitch goes on a destructive rampage and Nani wants to throw him out. Lilo doesn't let her introducing to Stitch and the audience the concept of "Ohana" which means "family, and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten." Making an inquisitive 'huh?' (previewed before), Stitch begins to understand the most vital part of becoming a citizen: having a family no matter what kind of family that may be. As the movie progresses, several other scenes (like the one shown below) show Stitch what family really means.