Comfort Cartoons: Roller coaster ride ‘Lilo & Stitch’

Derin Savasan / The Tufts Daily

Sleeping with the television on was a dangerous game. Sometimes, it’d be fine. You’d fall asleep to some game show or a BBC documentary on the city of Pompeii and sleep safely and soundly. But most of the time, you’d wake up to something like the “George Lopez” (2002–07) theme song or that “Ultimate Love Songs Collection” commercial. The latter featured Michael Bolton and Céline Dion belting at the top of their lungs; it’s no wonder you’d jolt out of bed, desperate for the remote.

Throughout my childhood, Disney Channel used to play some of its best animated shows in those late-night hours before its Playhouse Disney (and later Disney Junior) programming. Nights usually went like this: after a Disney Channel Original Movie and maybe a few episodes of “That’s So Raven” (2003–07), the schedule switched to classics like “The Replacements” (2006–09),Brandy & Mr. Whiskers” (2004–06) and of course, the heartwarming “Lilo & Stitch: The Series” (2003–06). The last one was always a highlight for me.

After the 2002 animated film’s success, “Lilo & Stitch” became a television show. The show follows the search for Dr. Jumba Jookiba’s other missing genetic experiments (one of which is Stitch), something the direct-to-video “Stitch! The Movie” (2003) sets up perfectly. That formulaic plot — find an experiment, determine what its purpose is, help it join a community where it belongs — makes the series easy to watch. And lovable, too.

“Lilo & Stitch” has always been focused on family, whether it be broken or whole, and how we can find connections and purposes that matter. The franchise’s earnestness has made it both famous and a generational touchstone. For people who grew up with the film (and its subsequent show), Stitch is just about the cutest plush animal you can get at The Walt Disney World Resort. And the iconic line, “’Ohana’ means family. Family means nobody gets left behind, or forgotten,” has prompted thousands of Etsy home decorations and T-shirts.

The show builds on that recognition. Lilo and Stitch, a lovable pair, cause mayhem and madness while searching for each episode’s titular experiment. Some are just funny entertainment. The episode “Frenchfry” follows the duo’s desire to hire an experiment who makes delicious food after Nani, Lilo’s older sister and legal guardian, bans junk food. But the experiment surprises Lilo and Stitch — it’s been preparing to fatten them up and eat them all along!

Other episodes, like “Spooky,” feel much more grounded. The Halloween-centered episode features an experiment (named Spooky) who transforms into the characters’ worst fears. Of course, some of the fears are comical — Pleakley, an alien living with Lilo and pretending to be her aunt, is terrified of his own mother. Nani’s fear is a little more frightening — she’s afraid that Lilo will be taken away from her. While this plot is a reminder of Nani’s struggles and worries, rest assured that “Lilo & Stitch’s” main characters remain family through thick and thin.

“Lilo & Stitch: The Series” is available on Disney+.


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