Movie Reviews

I Rewatched Lilo & Stitch And Realized Nani Pelekai Is The Unsung Hero Of The Movie


  • Nani in Lilo & Stitch is the unsung hero, balancing work, family, and grief at a young age.
  • Controversy surrounds the Nani character, as a lighter-skinned actor was cast to play her in the upcoming live-action remake.
  • Nani makes sacrifices out of love for her sister, like when she lets her buy the rambunctious Stitch as a pet.

Nani Pelekai may not be an official Disney princess, but the co-star of Lilo & Stitch is as crucial as Cinderella or Ariel, and just as heroic as Merida or Mulan. With a Lilo & Stitch live-action remake in the works, everyone will get a reminder of an indisputable fact I’ve come around to since rewatching my favorite Pacific Island-set Disney movie. As great as it is, Moana doesn’t have my dream Hawaii house, so it never really stood a chance. But what I realized upon rewatching Lilo & Stitch is that Nani is the movie’s real hero.

While much of the talk about the live-action Lilo & Stitch may be about the Nani casting controversy surrounding choosing a lighter-skinned actor for a dark-skinned character, hopefully, some of the conversation will be about how Nani, voiced by Tia Carrere in the animated movie and played by Sydney Agudong in the film, is the true hero. In a movie with a superpowered blue alien, a young girl whose love and bravery help to save the day, and a social worker/former savior of the world, it’s the beleaguered older sister Nani I’ve come to realize is the hero.


This Lilo & Stitch Theory Gives A Sad Twist To One Of Its Most Memorable Scenes

One of Lilo & Stitch’s most memorable scenes takes a sad turn thanks to a theory, but it makes the overall story a lot better and more interesting.

Nani Pelekai Was Just A Kid When She Took Responsibility For Her Sister In Lilo & Stitch

Nani Has To Balance Being A Caretaker, A Young Professional, And A Grieving Daughter

When you’re young watching Lilo & Stitch, it can be easy to think of Nani as a wet blanket. She’s constantly thwarting Lilo and every time the young girl tries to have a little fun, Nani is there to stop her. But now I’ve come to understand just how heavy a burden Nani is carrying. Only a little older than 18 in the movie, Nani is Lilo’s legal guardian after their parents die. Nani must hold down a job and be a mother figure to a girl who is lashing out, while a social worker threatens to split them up.

It’s an incredibly real portrait of a young person tasked with a down-to-earth struggle, not a fantastical one that’s usually found in children’s movies.

Nani does all this while presumably quietly grieving her parents, though she has little time to actually contend with those feelings considering how she has to devote her time to Lilo. Even dating is difficult for Nani, who has no time to pay attention to an interested coworker, as her life is constantly interrupted by the demands of raising her sister. It’s an incredibly real portrait of a young person tasked with a down-to-earth struggle, not a fantastical one that’s usually found in children’s movies.

As I rewatched Lilo & Stitch, I came to see just how much Nani gives up for her sister. The things I laughed at before or sided with Lilo on when I was younger, like Nani chasing down Lilo and throwing her in her room, were now understandable. She’s stressed out, unsure, and barely hanging on, and to have to carry those feelings and still be a loving sister is exceptionally heroic.

Tia Carrere will return for the live-action remake as a new character, Mrs. Kekoa, a friendly neighbor to Nani and Lilo who understands Nani’s struggles.

Everybody Forgets That Nani Is The One Who Gave Stitch To Lilo In The First Place

It Was Nani’s Idea To Go To The Animal Shelter

Stitch, Nani, and Lilo on a surfboard catching a wave in Lilo & Stitch

Let’s also remember that it’s Nani who gets Stitch for Lilo in the first place. Understanding that her sister needs a friend, Nani brings Lilo to the animal shelter, where she immediately takes to Stitch. I guess rambunctious creatures are attracted to one another. Despite some misgivings about Stitch not actually being a dog, Nani gets him for Lilo. In a scene I love, that speaks to the closeness of the sisters, Nani attempts to pay for Stitch, but Lilo insists she wants to buy him. Of course, she needs to borrow the money.

Nani rolls her eyes but hands Lilo the money for the transaction. It’s the type of sibling moment in Lilo & Stitch that feels real to me. You’re annoyed by a younger sibling, but if there’s a chance to make them happy, you’re still going to play along with whatever goofy game they want.


Lilo & Stitch

In Hawaii, Lilo, a young parentless girl being raised by her older sister, adopts a “dog” from the local shelter. Naming him Stitch, Lilo is unaware that the creature is actually an alien experiment, and he soon starts wreaking havoc at home and across the island.

Chris Sanders , Dean DeBlois

Release Date
June 21, 2002

Chris Sanders , Daveigh Chase , Tia Carrere , Ving Rhames , David Ogden Stiers , Kevin McDonald , Jason Scott Lee , Kevin Michael Richardson

85 minutes

$80 million

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