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  • Writer's pictureLauren

The APAHM Project Day 20: Moana and Lilo & Stitch

Film: Moana/Lilo & Stitch

Directors: Ron Clements and John Musker/Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois

Release: 2016/2002

Where to watch: Disney +

Why they made the list:

How could I not include these two Pacific Islander ladies in the list? Not only do they star a great, accurately diverse cast, but in true Disney form, the setting, clothes, and traditions feel very authentic as the crew does extensive research.

My thoughts:

I love both these movies for similar and different reasons. While of course they probably deserve their own days, I felt that because most people have probably seen them, I would combine them to make room for other films on the list.

Let’s begin with what’s appealing about both movies: they star very strong, independent female characters with big hearts. Moana, a future chief, sets out on her own journey with no sailing or voyaging knowledge at all. She is alone with no one but a chicken named Hei Hei and eventually a demigod named Maui to return the Heart of Te Fiti. Despite her fear of leaving her tribe and family behind, she goes on her journey, the importance of her mission to save her people outweighing her fear. Moreover, Lilo and Nani are orphaned sisters. Lilo is a social outcast who is lonely and Nani can’t seem to hold down a job. Not always seeing eye to eye, it isn’t until Lilo adopts Stitch, her intergalactic alien “dog,” that Nani and Lilo begin to understand each other and get along.

When I watched “Moana” for the first time, I cried, because I was so overwhelmed that a princess of Asian descent was finally getting her own movie. I had been following the film for a while because I actually made an audition tape for the part of Moana (I never ended up submitting it). But Moana is a very likable character: she’s quirky and fun, hard-working and determined, and very brave. I think the directors did an amazing job of her “not needing a man” without making it obviously so (*ahem* Frozen). Not only that, but the messages about how we must treat our environment is so important, although it probably goes over people’s heads at first watch since it’s not so prominent like it is in “Wall-E” or “The Lorax.” Another analogy viewers have made is that of sexual assault. **Follow this link with caution, as it may be triggering.** Additionally, the music is “Moana” is great, I find myself singing “How Far I’ll Go” in the shower more times than I would like to admit. The accurate casting also should be noted with newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Temuera Morrison, Nichole Scherzinger, and Rachel House. I applaud Disney for their casting choices, especially to cast a newcomer. Because of “Moana,” Cravalho has gone on to starring in an NBC TV show and the live performance of “The Little Mermaid.” Hopefully, she will continue to get more roles so we can have another AAPI to root for.

Now “Lilo & Stitch” came out when I was much younger and I never saw it as more than a fun Disney movie. As I got older however, I kept getting the urge to watch this movie again and again. I think many Disney films deal with their heroes being an outcast: “Hercules,” “Mulan,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” are the first to come to mind. And I think it’s important to show that sometimes, as the hero of our own story, you have to feel a little alone, a little rejected. It’s bound to happen and it would be silly to never portray this in film, TV, or books. But the difference with those other Disney movies is that they eventually were accepted by the very people who rejected them because of some heroic achievement. But Lilo is never accepted by her “friends,” which we also see in the successful Disney Channel series (it’s on Disney+ and I may or may not have been watching it). Instead, she finds acceptance in her family: 2 aliens, her sister and the boy she kind of likes, a social worker/undercover agent, and her alien dog/friend Stitch. Because she knows what it’s like to not fit in and what it’s like to be teased and bullied, she makes sure that Stitch doesn’t feel this way too. Lastly, we can’t forget to talk about Nani and Lilo. Nani (voiced by Hawaiian actress Tia Carrere, who was in the running to voice Mulan), is a teenager who finds herself as the legal guardian to a six-year-old sister after her parents die. She works several jobs but has a hard time keeping them. But what I love most about Nani is she is always there for Lilo. She develops her photos, she goes along with her antics, she let’s Lilo adopt a dog thinking it will make her less lonely. The sisterhood that Nani and Lilo demonstrate is so under appreciated (*ahem* Frozen). Nani has to be one of the best Disney characters ever. “Lilo & Stitch” became a big success, as seen by its multiple sequels/spin-offs and its own TV show. Stitch is one of the most recognizable characters across the world, being especially big in Japan apparently.

Does it deserve to stay on this list?

I love both of these films so much and have seen them more times than I can count. What I love about Disney is they know no limitation to the kinds of stories they can tell. And they do so with such care and consideration. Both films have great themes for both adult and children audiences. And in doing so, they raise awareness of Pacific Islander and Polynesian representation in media.

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