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Lilo & Stitch and the Spirit of Hawaii

The message of the film and the meaning of 'ohana

By

Lilo and Stitch

Lilo and Stitch 2002

©2002 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved
Interestingly, what finally became the prevailing message of the film was not included in the original story. Only after visiting Kaua'i and hearing a tour guide speak of 'ohana and the extended Hawaiian families that exist throughout the islands, did Chris Sanders realize that this would fit in nicely with their story and should be a major focus of the film.

The Hawaiian word 'ohana literally means family and the film's creators are careful to put a period at the end of that sentence. The actual concept and examples of 'ohana are more complex. The mainland concept of family is a mother, a father and their children. Granted, many other types of families exist - this writer was raised in a household consisting of his father, two aunts and grandmother. 

In Hawaii, however, the "other" type of family is more the norm than the exception. Many families consist of parents, grandparents and children all residing under one roof. It's not unusual to see a child being raised by a grandparent or aunt while the parents live and work elsewhere. The Hawaiian family or 'ohana can also consist of others not related by birth. A valued friend can be a member of your 'ohana. An entire group of close friends or associates can be their own 'ohana. The late Hawaiian music superstar Israel Kamakawiwo'ole often referred to the friends he chatted with on the Net as his "cyber 'ohana."

To their credit, the film's creators did not attempt a detailed explanation of 'ohana. They let the circumstances of their film and a two simple sentences convey their message in a way that every child, or adult, viewing the film will understand. 

At the beginning of the film Lilo's 'ohana consists of herself and her sister, Nani. (Their parents had died in a car accident.) Gradually Stitch becomes the third member of their little "broken" family. By the time the film ends, and in scenes from events which take place after the film, we see that their new 'ohana has added quite a few new members including Nani's boyfriend David, the social worker Cobra Bubbles and even the two aliens who were originally sent to capture Stitch, his creator Jumba and sociologist Pleakley.

As Lilo, in her own eloquent way says, "'Ohana means family. Family means no one is left behind - or forgotten."

Recommended Reading

Lilo and Stitch: Collected Stories from the Film's Creators
Disney's "making of" book provides fascinating stories for all ages on the background of the film. It tells how Stitch was created, how Nani was inspired by a real Hawaiian hula dancer, how the creators spent time in Hawaii researching and painting scenes and much more.

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