How a Direct to Video Sequel Became Disney’s Best Movie About Depression
It’s hard to think that, in a timeline where it’s more likely than ever something you love is owned by them, that there was ever a time that it felt like Disney were struggling. As much as Iger and co. would like us all to forget about it, there are two notable points in history where things looked more than a little shaky for the House of Mouse; the first occured during the 80’s, a period often lamented as “the Dark Age” where the money was still rolling in but not nearly as fast as they’d like it to (though we did get The Great Mouse Detective during this phase so it wasn’t *all* that bad).
The latter was during the noughts, home to some animated movies that even those with Criterion collections will agree are amongst the best in their field. Sadly, despite some stellar movies, this point in time also occurred when 2D animation was seemingly on its deathbed and Disney, ever eager to flog a dead horse, upped its number of animated home video releases in the 2000’s by 113%. Many of these were hollow, fast and cheaply made sequels to well loved franchises and were rightfully bashed by critics and forgotten about by those who viewed them; that is, all of them but one. One that builds on its predecessor’s themes on morality and sufficiently tackles what it means to be good when you’re not doing so good.
And yes, it’s the one with the blue fluffy alien.
Now, before I spill my heart out about a movie you’ve most likely never seen and/or care about, it’s worth putting Stitch Has a Glitch, and the wider Stitch franchise, into some context. The 2002 original film was nothing short of being a big deal, no matter how you look at it; it made three times its budget back, was nominated for an Oscar (where it eventually lost to none other than Spirited Away so take that how you will) and kickstarted a franchise that would lead to new avenues in gaming, theme parks and, Hell, even anime. So as easy as it is to be cynical about the monopolistic nature of Disney both at the time and present, it makes sense that Lilo and Stitch 2 exists.
What doesn’t make sense, however, is what became of the movie. Looking at the majority of straight to video sequels that Disney vomited our during this time, it’s clear not much thought was put into them; take a well loved movie, formulate a flimsy plot over your lunch and make nods to what had came before to massage those nostalgia glands. To say Lilo and Stitch 2 avoids every pitfall that these movies didn’t would be disingenuous (Elvis adoration and our cursed, body posi, sunburned ice cream lover are in tow) but these elements are the dressing as opposed to the whole damn meal.
Enough about the content – why talk about this film 14 years after its release? One of the many reasons I love the original comes down to its core message of Ohana (you know the rest) and what it means to be a good person; can someone like Stitch, who was born to be bad, avoid his fate and be as good as he is fluffy? By the end of that movie, it’s made clear that yes, such a thing can happen and doing so can be made possible with those who love you.
Flashforward to Lilo and Stitch 2 and things still seem to be going fine, key word there being seem; the movie kicks off with Stitch having a horrible dream about becoming bad, destroying Hawaii and, worst of all, hurting Lilo. Once he wakes up, he’s quickly comforted/tested by Lilo, relieved in hearing from her that he’s a good person. There’s no time to dwell on this nightmare anyway as we’re late for Hula Class where it’s announced the local May Day festival is happening soon and all the girls will get to prepare their own dance which leads to Lilo getting glum about having to hear her classmates talk about their mother, knowing fine well that hers is gone. Thankfully teacher Kumu takes it upon himself to show Lilo previous winners from the 70’s, one of whom happens to be none other than her mum.
I could continue this plot summary further but this is the main crux of the film. Stitch may be the type to eat his own green nose gold but he understands the significance of this competition and can’t let anything ruin it – not even himself. Unfortunately enough, such a thing seems possible as the titular glitching happens with Stitch going into violent, uncontrollable spasms that ultimately end up with him a) losing control and b) leaving wreckage from his antics.
While it would be unhealthy to read this as a 1:1 metaphor for depression (comparing that to what the film calls a “malfunction” would be easy to misconstrue), it’s not so much the glitching we’re focussing on so much as it’s the repercussions. We do get a scientific mumbo jumbo explanation for why he is lashing out but the best scenes, and what made me want to write this in the first place, comes from scenes like Stitch cowering underneath the bed. Unsure of what is happening and if this will make his worst nightmare come true, what should have been a shallow repeat of the original film that came before transforms and evolves; as stated before, Lilo and Stitch focussed on becoming good but with the sequel, it becomes clear that something just as important but never properly explored in media is trying to maintain that inner balance.
There are other scenes that really flesh out this idea, one of my favourites being a pretty fun romp around the island as Lilo tries to find inspiration for her dance via an Elvis fuelled map. After a few hijinks ensue, the map is sadly destroyed and with some prime Pathetic Fallacy, Stitch seemingly breaks down and…blames himself? Keep in mind, there is no action nor butterfly effect that would lead to any sort of guilt yet Stitch rolls around in puddles and weeps. As a kid, this definitely seemed like it was intended for laughs but viewing it with a different lens, I just felt caught off guard.
That being said, it didn’t compare to the third act where, after lashing out at Lilo before her big dance, Stitch decides to…isolate himself. I’ve gotta be straight up at this point; I welled up like a baby at this point. It would be easy to just follow this movie quite literally and remove all remnants of empathy one could have towards an exotic alien movie but having Stitch go through unfiltered fear, trying his best to overcome what’s going on, do what’s right by his loved ones and ultimately failing to juggle all this was a little too much for me at midnight on a Friday night. It also doesn’t help that, from personal experience and I’m sure many others’, isolating oneself can often feel like the best course of action despite it being fairly unhealthy. So to see that reflected in a kids movie that I had pushed to the back of my mind for the better part of a decade was like having all your childhood bullies take turns on dropkicking your heart and then some.
Oh, heads up – Stitch dies. Like, just flat out dies in Lilo’s arms as she breaks down in tears. Again, not everything that happens in the movie is a 1:1 what depression is like (no matter how hard any film tries, it’ll never manage to encapsulate every person’s experience of depression) but this felt like a prime example of the exhaustion/defeat you endure after having a really bad bout, after fighting that feeling for so long but eventually succumbing to it. Even without this context in mind, this scene hurts like a toothpick under your nail though thankfully, Disney don’t go all out and we get our Messiah revival.
It’s very easy for onlookers to see someone struggling with their mental health and chime in with their two cents (going a walk can help but it’s not going to cure my crippling self doubt, Louise) so what I like a lot about L&S2 is how over the course of the movie, there isn’t one major approach that works for Stitch; he gets scared, he mopes, he goes to the ends of the earth for someone he loves (or the island at least) and at no point does the film ever criticise Stitch for not doing The One Right Thing™️ – simply because it doesn’t exist and it’s refreshing for a film to actually let the character in question be shown in a positive light for both trying and struggling, keeping the moral spray bottle holstered.
There is a reason why this post is titled the way it is and not “why it’s the best Disney film ever”. I’m kinda vexed that Nani gets done dirty especially after how important her dynamic with Lilo was in the original. Now, she’s demoted to a few comedic beats and a pretty lame b-side plot about David trying to swoon her which I could do without. That being said though, I let out a big sigh of relief once she tells Lilo that she doesn’t have to win the competition to make her mum proud of her; losing your parents would be hard enough without having their name looking over you for one big guilt trip whenever the situation called for it so I give the movie props for lightly touching on this considering what else it’s juggling.
As the movie closes, Lilo gets her big May Day performance sans an audience but that doesn’t matter as she gives us that big warm smile that I swear no other animated character can radiate like her. Expectations were what stressed out both her and Stitch but as they initiate their dance, there’s a real sense of joy. It’s so easy to get yourself down for not being “normal”, and subsequently thinking you don’t deserve things like happiness because of it, but as the camera pans out, it’s clear to see that this unorthodox family unit couldn’t be more glad.
The feeling and struggle of depression can often feel abstract, hard to pinpoint, so for a goofy noughties Disney flick to effectively read as one explanation of it and how that ultimately doesn’t define your worth is no small feat; it’s an astronomical one.