Disney has over the years become synonymous with saccharine, sanitized characters, stories, and plots, whitewashed for family-friendly mass consumption, but that reputation is not entirely accurate. While the details aren’t always that grim and gritty, Disney has often looked at the pathos of the broken. None more so, perhaps, than Lilo from2002’s Lilo and Stitch.
What we learn about Lilo is that she’s young and that her parents are dead and that she doesn’t quite fit in. She’s being raised by her older sister, Nani, who is being dogged by the last in a long line of social workers, a specialist named Cobra Bubbles, who seems to be set on placing Lilo in foster care.
While this sets the story in motion as Lilo’s desire to have a friend is met in adopting the wayward Stitch, a fugitive alien experiment whose sole purpose is to destroy, it’s clear that Lilo is a tragic character. Her confusion over her parents’ death manifests itself as she feeds a fish a peanut butter sandwich and assaults another girl at dance class.
Aside from that, the girl just doesn’t fit in. She’s obsessed with Elvis, casually uses practical voodoo to punish her friends, and made a doll that looks like something from Tim Burton’s sketchbook.
But that’s what the movie is about. Lilo and Stitch are a pair of misfits, looking to belong, finding what they are looking for in each other.
Because she is so broken, Lilo gets to say things no one could say in any other Disney animated feature. And it’s not just hilarious, it’s touching in her honesty. She’s anything but saccharine or sanitized; she’s wounded and weird and every bit of deserving of a Happily Ever After as any of those privileged white princesses.