Defining family

Continuing on last week’s theme of family, I’m going to turn to a slightly different source. I have a confession to make. This week I’m going to talk about the Disney Studio animated feature film ‘Lilo and Stitch‘. I know, I know, what could the Disney corporation possibly have to contribute to this discussion other than perpetuating saccharine sweet conventional family stereotypes? But this time, they do have something to say.

Lilo and Stitch (2002) was directed and written by Chris Sanders and Dean DuBlois and tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a girl, Lilo,  and an alien, Stitch, who crash lands on the Island of  Hawaii, Lilo’s home. Seems par for the course so far. What really caught my attention though was Lilo’s home life. Lilo lives at home with her older sister, Nani, who is her sole carer after they lose both their parents at some point prior to the film’s story line. What follows is a surprising level of psychological realism including teasing from peers, visits from social workers, sibling arguments and money worries. This is not what impressed me most about the film though.

Amidst the zaniness, Elvis and hard-hitting psychological realism, the theme of ‘Ohana’ arises. Ohana is a Hawaiian word meaning ‘family’ or as Nani and Lilo explain “Ohana means family, family means nobody gets life behind, or forgotten”. Now, the more I’ve thought about this, the more I can’t think of a better definition of family. Families come in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of kinship relation or otherwise and varying degrees of interpersonal success. Whether you’re a picture book model of the happy family or you’re estranged from or without those who share your DNA but you’re surrounded by friends and people of your choosing, this definition of family holds. It doesn’t presuppose or impose idealised standards of compatibility or closeness, it just describes the basic duty of care at its most fundamental and crucial level.

Instead of promoting an ideal of family life, which alienates and values one possible family structure over other, the film puts forward a basic concept that we can all relate to. Families may not love each other perfectly all the time, they may not even like each other half the time, but what matters is that family are important to each other and that on a fundamental level they care.

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