My First Tearjerker

January 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Disney’s Lilo and Stitch was both my first memorable movie theater-going experience and the first tearjerker I’d seen. I very clearly remember craning my neck to watch that little blue alien land on a Hawaiian island next to my dad because we were sitting in the very front row (we had a late departure because I couldn’t find my jacket). My dad has always been a huge kids’ movie fan but this time he was sort of unaffected by the unconventional retelling of the ugly duckling. Lilo and Stitch, although not my favorite Disney movie has a lasting imprint on my childhood and revisiting it I was able to find much more literal meaning, and maybe less emotional meaning, than before.

The first thing that struck me in my revisit was the amount of stuff that just went over my head in this movie. Whether it was dialogue, pop culture references, stereotypes, or just facts – I think I all took from for granted the first time around. At the beginning of the movie one of the aliens describes Stitch’s “genetic signature.” There is no way that 9-year-old me was able to understand the implications of genetics and how that affects one’s character. Also, there is a CIA agent in this cartoon who references Roswell in 1973. I’m not even sure I would have been able to recognize that comment a couple of years ago. Similarly, there were many more details that I noticed this time around that were very specific that I am sure I did not appreciate when I was younger. For instance, Lilo is seen eating Shave Ice which is very characteristic of Hawaii, and the architecture and thins in the town they live in appears to be very similar to real Hawaiian communities.

Looking at the amount of things that just did not register the first time through, I realized this must be true of most kids’ movies. How much did I miss? And I don’t think that I was necessarily a below average third grader, so then why do the directors choose to continuously add extra information? I think that when I watch movies now I am much more prone to frustration when I am met with a reference I don’t understand and spend a lot of time wondering what that is. When I was little was I a more easy-going movie watcher? Or was it just that I was so engrossed in the plot that there was no time to stop and consider things I didn’t know. It seems when I knew so little I was much better about knowing very little and maybe that’s a quality I should relearn.

The thing I found most surprising about this movie the second time around was how adult and emotional the subject matter was. Looking back on my experience at the movie theater seven years ago I felt foolish for having cried about a little blue alien. And at the time I was very uncomfortable crying publically (although no one could really see). But this time around, when I could actually understand everything, I realized that these directors chose to unravel a very touchy subject in a kid-friendly way. Both of Lilo’s parents were killed in a car accident and Nani, Lilo’s older sister, is struggling to keep a job. A social worker comes to take Lilo away because Nani isn’t capable of raising her properly. I think this subject is too emotionally intense for me to fully understand at a young age. I clearly couldn’t connect on that exact same level but immediately I fell in love with both Stitch and Lilo and felt sympathy for their lack of a family. It seems that the surprisingly sad plot is the common path for children’s movies and they almost always involve death – The Lion King, Bambi, Tarzan, etc the list goes on and on. However, the part that I cried about in this movie was not Lilo’s parents’ death, but instead when Stitch thinks he is the ugly duckling and has no family. I think that these movies all try to show children that there is no predetermined type of family you have to have, but that there are always people who love you and you always belong. I really wonder what was happening in my life at the time I saw this movie for me to feel so emotionally moved by this topic or maybe it was just an incredibly emotional reaction, it seems I will never really know.

Lastly, I think that it is striking how much of an impact this movie had on me. It was definitely not one of my favorites or one of those movies I’d watch seven times in a row if it was a one-day rental from Video Room. I didn’t even remember that much of the plot of the movie. However, on my trip to Kauai this break we drove to a lookout to see the Napali Coast. I knew I recognized it from somewhere but couldn’t quite place where. Turns out there is a very similar depiction of the coastline in Lilo and Stitch! Unclear whether or not that’s where I recognized it from but pretty incredible if it is. Also, the whole trip the song “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” from the movie was stuck in my head. Miraculously I remembered all of the words. If I am able to store this much stuff in my memory from one movie it’s pretty incredible to think about the enormity of the impact made on us as children. It’s crazy to realize how much of our childhood we take with us on a day-to-day basis, it seems like a lot to carry around.

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