Lilo and Stitch is the last Disney film that was animated in the traditional, hand-drawn manner. I saw it not long after it came out on VHS. It is one of my favorite movies, with great music and wonderful scenes of the ocean, for which I have always had a particular love.
By far, the film is most enjoyable for its protagonists. These are a human girl named Lilo, and an alien experiment she mistakenly believes is a dog. Called 626 by his maker, the experiment is given the creative name Stitch by Lilo. I sometimes wonder if the writers for the film decided to name him Stitch because he was “stitched together,” like Frankenstein’s monster. Just a thought.
In essence, Stitch is Frankenstein’s monster – just shorter and “cute and fluffy!” instead of physically intimidating. Jumba, Stitch’s alien creator, built him to destroy anything and everything he can lay his paws on. In the process, he made 626 too heavy to swim, so Stitch sinks like a rock in water of any kind.
The irony is thick when, after escaping the custody of the Galactic Alliance, Stitch crash lands on one of the Hawaiian Islands. He is surrounded by water here. And worse, his programming drives him to seek out large cities where he can wreak the most destruction. But Lilo’s island has no large cities, just a relatively large town!
Throughout the three days she spends with him, Lilo’s unfailing love for Stitch leads him to realize that destruction is not the point of life. This is hard for him to understand at first, since Jumba gave him no “higher purpose” than to wreck everything he sees.
In learning about love and life from Lilo and her older sister, Nani, Stitch comes to wonder if there might be more to his own life than tearing things apart. He starts to wonder about himself. Does he have a family? He does not remember anything other than Jumba and the lab. But then, maybe something happened to him and he forgot his family. Or they lost him and Jumba picked him up to study him.
So, the second night after his adoption by the sisters, Stitch goes out into the woods alone to find his family. He takes Lilo’s copy of The Ugly Duckling along with him, reading the distraught duckling’s words and making them his own: “I’m lost!”
The next morning, Stitch wakes up – and is found by Jumba. The alien scientist explains to the hopeful Stitch he is his creation. He is Jumba’s six hundred twenty-sixth experiment – 626. He has no family, absolutely nothing to make him normal – even by alien standards! No, instead, Stitch is a thing. A monster cooked up in a mad scientist’s lab. (And yes, I know Jumba prefers “evil genius!”) Added to this heartbreaking news is the fact that Jumba wants him to come along so that he can take Stitch apart. No, thank you!
This would be enough to make anyone in Stitch’s position – a clone, for instance, or Frankenstein’s monster – go crazy. In fact, it is why they inevitably go crazy in the storylines where we see them. As someone I know likes to say, this is the problem with clones and monsters such as Frankenstein’s creation. They have no way of answering such questions as, “Where did I come from and why am I here?”
Being told that one was an experiment, nothing more than a series of lucky coincidences in a lab, and that one was made for a function of the scientist(s) choosing – that is a horrible, horrible thing to learn. It is mind-shattering, and it leaves most such experiments insane. The same friend who pointed out the problem with clones likes to say they are “born insane,” for the simple reason that they have no “higher purpose” than the desires of the scientists who made them from the moment they are “born.”
Put yourselves in Stitch’s place for a moment, readers. Can you imagine how crushing it was for Stitch to hear Jumba say he had no family? To learn that his creator was a scientist who programmed him to be a machine of destruction, meant for nothing but causing misery? That he had no “higher purpose” than to mindlessly destroy everything in sight? Even without seeing the love-filled life Lilo and Nani share with each other and their neighbors, despite the brokenness of their family, this is staggering news.
This is where Stitch could really have gotten lost, as most experiments like him do. He learns he has no mother, no father, no siblings, no history beyond the lab where Jumba made him. Stitch has nothing – he is nothing, in a sense. We are each something, someone, readers. We were each born of a mother and a father, parents who helped to bring us into the world. But we come from beyond it. We have souls and a shared destiny outside the “circles of the world,” (thanks, Professor Tolkien!).
Stitch, sewn together out of spare parts, has no soul to begin with. He is just a thing – a malevolent, makeshift creature cooked up in Jumba’s lab. For all the difference it makes, he might as well be a clone. He was made out of the stuff of this world, and has no higher purpose in the grand scheme of things…. at first.
However, Stitch escapes the dark fate of numerous fictional clones, sentient robots, and monsters like Frankenstein’s creature. Stitch does not escape because he is a character in a Disney film (which is a shallow answer to the question at best). No, he escapes his fate because he is loved despite what he is and what he was made to do.
Think about it, readers. What is the first thing Stitch does after Jumba reveals his history to him? He doesn’t go ballistic, he doesn’t cower and whimper. He runs – straight back to the one person he knows cares about him. The one person in the whole universe who will forgive him practically anything, the one person who saw good in him when even he saw nothing there. The one person who has never given up on him, consistently and certainly stating that he is “ohana.”
Lilo’s love for Stitch is what saves him from his programming – and from the insanity that could have resulted from the revelation that he was made to be a tool for a certain “evil genius” who meddled where no man (or alien) should.
This is why I enjoy the scene in the film where Stitch says, “I’m lost!” He is lost. But he is also searching to be found, only to realize later that he already has been discovered: by a lonely Hawaiian girl and her sister, needing someone to love so that they can heal. This is because in finding and loving Stitch, the sisters heal, and become a family again.
This is the first Spotlight! post I have done about a scene in a film, readers. Hopefully, I will have another such post up at some point in the future. Until then –
The Mithril Guardian