Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Lilo and Stitch Adoption Movie Review

On a distant planet, a mad scientist has created 626, an experimental creature bred for destruction. Although the Grand Councilwoman condemns 626 to destruction, it escapes and ultimately arrives to Earth, landing on Hawaii. 626 is mistaken for a dog, and is adopted from a shelter by Lilo, a young girl who is being cared for by her 19-year-old sister Nani. Lilo names 626 “Stitch.” Nani was already having trouble caring for her sister, and Stitch’s destructive tendencies make life even worse. Social worker Cobra Bubbles has become very concerned about Lilo’s safety, and has given Nani three days to convince him not to take Lilo into foster care.

How is This Relevant to Foster Care / Adoption?
There are two strong adoption and foster care connections. Stitch is far away from home, living with a new family. His behaviors are destructive and many people are initially uncertain as to whether he can fit into this (or any) family. Some children in foster care exhibit behaviors that frustrate, worry, or confuse their caregivers. At the same time, Nani and Lilo experience the stressful involvement of child and protective services. This will be familiar to most children who have been in (or are in) foster care.   Lilo has also experienced significant loss (her parents have died.) She comments, “I remember everyone that leaves.” She prays for a friend. She wonders whether hers is “a broken family.” She struggles with viewing Nani as both a sister and a mother. Her feelings are likely to resonate with feelings that kids have had while journeying through foster care.
Ultimately, a family is formed between Nani, Lilo and some unrelated folks. This illustrates adoption into a new family as well as adoption by an older sibling.

Positive Elements
Someone suggests that Stitch should be returned because of his behavior. Lilo protests, “We adopted him and family means that nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” It’s powerful. Stitch eventually overcomes his destructive behavior once he finds a sense of belonging in Lilo’s family. This kind of reminds me of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which suggests that people can invest in love and belonging once they know that they’re safe and stable.

Cobra Bubbles is a firm but compassionate social worker. That’s a hopeful but reasonable expectation of most social workers in the foster care field. As a social worker, I appreciate this film’s avoidance of the negative and unhelpful stereotypes of social workers that seem to predominate most films, and I think it is probably helpful for kids to realize that their social workers are not typically villainous, even if they are sometimes intimidating.

The film affirms that a family doesn’t have to be perfect to be positive. Stitch claims Lilo and Nani as his family, saying “This is my family. It’s a little broken but it’s still good.”

When it seems that Lilo will be taken from Nani, Nani blames Stitch. Some kids watching this film will likely identify with Lilo, but for the ones who identify with Stitch this could be painful. It gives a parental voice to the belief that a child can cause a family to be separated. Even though Stitch eventually saves Lilo and is accepted into the family, these words are never expressly taken back.

Because Nani and Lilo ultimately stay together, this could be a painful film for kids who weren’t able to reunify with their families, and for the families that have lost kids to foster care. Aside from that, though, I see that this film both allows for a broad definition of family while also underscoring the importance of biological family and emphasizing that nontraditional families can work, even when faced with significant challenges. It also shows social workers as allies. I like it. Lilo and Stitch seems like probably a good choice for most kids between the ages of 7 and 10, allowing for the one concern I mentioned at the beginning of this section.

Questions for Discussion

For Lilo and Stitch, family means “No one gets left behind or forgotten.” What does family mean to you?

Lilo remembers everyone who has left. Who do you remember?

What do you pray for?


  1. Hey, I saw your blog linked from friends at The Barker Foundation and at Chocolate Hair Vanilla Care. I thought I'd reply since your review of Lilo and Stitch was sort of lukewarm, but I actually thought it was the best kids' movie I've ever seen regarding foster care or adoption (or, more accurately, kinship care.) Granted, the bar's kind of low when it comes to adoption related movies for kids.

    First, a disclaimer--I'm an adoptive parent, not an adopted person.

    Cobra Bubbles as a firm and compassionate social worker? I disagree. While he ends up and an okay guy in the end, he's totally intimidating! (In fact, he looks like a thug. Naturally, he's a big black guy. Hmm, potentially racist stereotype...?) Cobra has complete power over whether Nani gets to keep Lilo or not (or so it seems to Nani—and she is probably right. This is one reason that relatives who care for kids don't want the kids to enter foster care, even if the relatives might be able to become licensed and get foster care stipends. If you are caring for a niece or granddaughter or little sister whom you love with all your heart, do you want some random professional to have the power to judge whether you are a sufficient caretaker and—if they determine you are not--take that child away from you?) Cobra is judgmental, and Nani is well aware of her shortcomings. He's not supportive of how important Nani, as Lilo's sole remaining relative, is to Lilo. He urges Nani to think that Lilo would be better off elsewhere. Boo! At one point, Stitch says: "This is my family. I found it all on my own. It's little, and broken, but still good. Yeah - still good." A small, broken family still can be valuable for kids. Even if that family has little money.

    Anyway, those of us who've had negative experiences with social workers get a big laugh when we find out that the last name of this tough "Cobra" guy is--mmph!--"Bubbles." Ha! I loved it! But maybe you are right; perhaps the name “Bubbles” symbolizes his compassionate side.

    Stitch is a character who tantrums and destroys things b/c of his severe loneliness (and trauma). Ya think? Any foster or adoptive parents out there ever seen this? Yep, I thought so. In this movie and in the sequel, a big question seems to be whether Stitch (and Lilo too) are “bad” by nature. Stitch and Lilo have both experienced trauma and loss, and in a way Stitch is a child, like Lilo. Kids who have experienced trauma often thinnk they are bad and are responsible for the bad things that have happened. And furthermore, they feel bad about being bad. While this could be a trauma trigger for kids watching the movie who have experienced trauma, I think it could also vailidate their feelings. It is normal to tantrum and act out (and do bad things) and think you are bad if horrible things have happened to you as a child. So wouldn't it be sort of reassuring to see movie characters acting and feeling the same way? And ultimately coming together in a supportive way?

    Additionally, though I'm not sure how native Hawaiians feel about the portrayal of Hawaiian culture (I hope it is respectful), at *least* this movie doesn't solely feature white people.

    I'm not meaning to be critical of your blog! Just want to add to the discussion, particularly since I was really quite impressed with this movie.

    1. Hi Sharon! Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, and welcome to Adoption at the Movies. I'm glad you're here! It's interesting to hear from folks with a range of connection to adoption; adoptive parents, birth family members, adoptees, and professionals all bring different perspectives, sometimes influenced by their role and sometimes by their individual story.

      You've raised a really good point about Cobra that I missed in my review; he is judgmental initially. I did appreciate that he had a soft, reasonable side (and that he remained invested in the family to celebrate their successes); I think many film portrayals of social workers only get the judgmentalism, and I like that this one gets the "Cobra" side as well as the "Bubbles" side. You've helped me see that the "Cobra" side has a bit too much venom, though.

      You've also raised a great point - three kids with similar experiences can watch the same film. One will find it triggering, one will find it validating, one won't be impacted by it, and it's so hard to know what the reaction will be for a given kid. I hope to point out the things that could be triggers, and also to point out opportunities for families to use film for discussion.

      I like Lilo and Stitch, though! In all of my reviews, I try to find strengths and potential concerns for a film. I agree with you that Lilo and Stitch is one of the good ones :)

      I'm glad you found this site, and that you commented. I'd love to read your responses to other reviews here; this was very insightful and interesting! And also, I'd love to invite you to share a review or two of movies that you've loved! :)


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