This is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good.Chris Sanders as Stitch – Lilo and Stitch (2002)
When talking about film history, one cannot discuss the topic without mentioning the impacts animated films have had on the industry. Due to the lighthearted nature of these films, one of the most common themes in these films is the importance of family.
In any film, familial conflict can be used as an obstacle for the hero to overcome. Since everyone has experienced this type of conflict at some point, it can provide characters that are relatable and keep the viewer invested in the story.
I’ll be looking at three films that I believe have done a masterful job at accomplishing this. I’ll explain how these films accomplished what they set out to do, and how you can apply that information to your own life. Lilo and Stitch, Tarzan, and The Lion King have all used their respective familial conflicts in their story to leave impressions on their audience, all to phenomenal success.
Lilo and Stitch
In Lilo and Stitch, familial conflict is used to represent two ideas to the audience. For the film to keep its characters relatable to the audience, it uses a principle in psychology called Nature vs Nurture. This principle describes that your genetics is responsible for about 50% of your behaviors. Genetics can only be responsible for so much of your personality. Nurture, or the environment around you is responsible for the other 50%. The parenting tactics your parents use in your upbringing, the friends you make, the cultures in the country you live in, and the physical environment itself all influence what shapes you into who you are.
Essentially, the principle of Nature vs Nurture explains that no one is destined to be evil. If someone is brought up in an unsafe environment where crime is frequent, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will grow up to become a criminal. In the same vein, if someone is birthed from a parent that has committed unspeakable acts, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are destined to walk in their parent’s footsteps.
The second motif used in this film is the idea that people’s perceptions of you don’t define who you are. In some situations, if we are bullied frequently and treated like a punching bag, our insecurities can get to us and we can start to believe what our oppressors say about us.
The film uses a mischievous dog-like alien named Stitch, a creature made in a lab, born for the sole purpose of causing destruction. As we witness Stitch’s adventures with his new human family, the film suggests that the domestic relationships you have with your family, as well as the environment you grow up in, can have an impact on who you become in the future. Using this knowledge, we can prove that what people say about us isn’t always true, because no one is destined to be evil.
Nature vs Nurture
After Stitch escapes from the spaceship he was conceived in, his ship crashes in Hawaii. Hawaii is an island with no major cities and is surrounded by water. We learn that Stitch hates water, because his molecular structure is too dense, heavily impacting his ability to swim.
The motive behind this particular choice of a setting is genius, because if Stitch has nothing to destroy, then his destructive tendencies cannot live up to their full potential. If Stitch cannot fulfill his craving for destruction, then there is nothing to enable him to be mischievous.
We can see examples of this in modern-day, where children who were once victims of domestic abuse from their biological family were moved to a foster family, where the new foster parents were able to provide a loving and caring home for their child. It takes time for these destructive and angry behaviors to go extinct, but if there’s nothing in the child’s environment to enable these behaviors, then the child can change them into productive and positive ones.
However, the same can be said for the opposite side of the spectrum. Throughout the movie, it takes a long time for Stitch’s family to warm up to him, and at some points, we even see him suffering from abuse from the people around him. If someone is living in a hostile environment, they may learn hostile behaviors.
For example, when Lilo is trying to teach Stitch to be a “model citizen”, we see him play guitar for a group of people on the beach. People start to take pictures, and the flash of the cameras irritates him which enables his destructive behaviors, causing Stitch to destroy everything around him. As a result of his rampage, Stitch is abandoned as the paparazzi flee in fear. Since an individual’s environment plays a big role in who they become, events like this can become incredibly traumatic, which can become sources of bigger problems later in life. When Stitch made an effort to be likable, he made a mistake that pushed people away from him.
Because Stitch has the experience of this event in his mind, his willpower to be good will be weaker, because his mistake is deemed as a failure. As a result, he is swayed from further attempts to be likable as he has the experience of failing. However, everyone relapses at some point in their life, out of no fault of their own.
Despite all of this, Stitch’s family doesn’t give up on them because of Lilo’s family motto: “Ohana”, Stitch was showered with love in spite of his disastrous past.
Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.Chris Sanders as Stitch – Lilo and Stitch (2002)
Lilo and Nani lost their parents in a car crash long ago. To them, their family is everything because it’s all they have. Children don’t like to be a burden on their families. So, when Stitch saw that he was causing problems in his new family, it proved to be too painful to bear, but, because he was showered with love, the pain from losing his family was enough to convince him to stay and be a part of a family he found all on his own.
Lilo and Nani had a rocky relationship even before they met Stitch. When people go through traumatic experiences like losing their parents, sometimes they can adopt aggressive and toxic behaviors to cope with their suffering. However, when Stitch came along, he taught them that no family is destined to be broken forever. If Stitch’s toxic behaviors could be changed to healthy behaviors, then anyone can achieve just as successful results if they are showered with enough love in a healthy environment.
Stitch was right when he said that his family was broken, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a family worth being a part of. Everyone makes mistakes at some point, but those relapses don’t say anything about their character, and if you embrace their mistakes with kindness and forgiveness, you can condition them to change their toxic behaviors.
Tarzan, although the simplest of the above-mentioned films, still has some ideas that are worth discussing. The first of which, suggests that any type of toxic relationship can be saved. The film explains this through the concept of destroying hateful emotions by working together to solve a problem.
The film also places a strong emphasis on the gravity of a relationship between a father and son. The film uses Tarzan’s rocky relationship with his father to explain his naivety, which leads to a conflict between gorillas and humans, causing violence to erupt.
This film uses familial conflict to represent the importance of a healthy father-son relationship, and what someone can do to fix broken relationships born out of jealousy and hatred.
In the “Two Worlds” montage that opens the film, we learn that the same jaguar was responsible for killing both Tarzan’s human parents and the ape baby belonging to Kerchack and Kala.
Kerchak’s hatred towards Tarzan was brought about out by his past. This type of hatred can be seen today in similar relationships. For example, a person who had recently lost their dog may be very upset when someone brings another dog to the household. This hatred can be especially strong if the new dog has some sort of physical disability. To the person in question, nothing can replace the dog that was lost, and to bring home something deemed to be “inferior” would be insulting.
Another example of this type of behavior would be a child who had lost their mother, and his father comes home with someone else. Nobody can replace the person that this child had lost, so he might remain in denial for long periods, refusing to knowledge this new person as their mother. In some circumstances, if the step-mother’s behaviors are similar to the child’s previous mother, it may bring about feelings of hatred, because this new parent only reminds him of the mother he lost.
To Kerchak, nothing can bring back the child he loved. When Kala brings home a baby from another species, she expects Kerchak to treat it with the same amount of love and affection. Kerchak was furious that Kala thought that he’d be able to move on from from his baby’s death so soon. Not to mention that Kala brought home another baby and expected him to approve of the new child right on the spot. Now, to us, Kerchak’s feeling’s toward Tarzan can be seen as toxic and hateful. However, Kerchak refused to move on from his son’s death, and would refuse any offspring that wasn’t his son. People can remain in denial for long periods of time.
In many circumstances, the brain will do whatever it can to feel that it’s made the right decision. I’m sure we have all been in situations where we resorted to moronic and toxic justifications just to feel that we’re in the right. In some cases, we can hold on to these terrible justifications for long periods as we remain in denial. From Kerchak’s perspective, Tarzan isn’t worthy of being his son because he’s not an ape.
We can see this hatred in action as Kerchak frequently attempts to convince Kala to send Tarzan into exile. When Tarzan accidentally causes an elephant stampede, Kerchak claims that Tarzan’s mistake is a side effect of his inferiority and incompetence as a human.
However, in most cases, any toxic behavior can go extinct if given the right circumstances. The best way to solve a conflict like this is a circumstance where both parties are working towards a common goal. Later in the film, the jaguar makes another appearance, threatening the safety of the tribe. Kerchak and Tarzan work together to bring him down and prevent him from hurting anyone. The two work together again in the climax when the movie’s antagonist Clayton threatens to enslave the gorillas in Tarzan’s tribe. Unfortunately, Kerchak dies in the process, but in his last words, he passes the torch to Tarzan to be the new leader.
Tarzan’s actions were able to get Kerchak to see him as an equal, because he saw that Tarzan loved his family just as much as Kerchak did and wanted to protect it. When two people work together on a common goal, it removes any sense of segregation because they now see each other as human beings. When someone meets another person who can solve problems, the brain instantly seeks a relationship with them, because relationships with problem solvers are very valuable. Also, making friendships with someone who is enthusiastic about helping you with your own problems can be just as advantageous.
One great example of this seen outside of Tarzan is in the TV show “Friends”, where Ross and Chandler teamed up with their bullies to chase someone who had stolen everyone’s belongings in a hat. The scene is very comical, but it’s comical because it’s relatable. Afterward, they had become friends because they teamed up to solve a problem that affected all parties involved. It’s incredibly difficult to hate someone after they helped you solve a problem.
The Importance of Fatherhood
Because Tarzan’s knowledge of himself was so limited, he was instantly captivated when he discovered creatures that looked like him.
This is why it’s so important to have healthy relationships with your family. If Tarzan grew up with a father that showered him with love, he may have been more cautious in approaching humans. Tarzan didn’t grow up with a father figure to teach him about the value of his family, and what that will mean for Tarzan when he eventually assumes the role of a leader. Of course, Kerchak rejected Tarzan and never intended to give him ownership of the throne.
Due to Tarzan’s naivety, he didn’t understand the dangers when he sacrificed the safety of his tribe for his selfish desires of understanding the humans. Kerchak never taught him about the value of fatherhood, and the responsibilities that came with a leadership position, so Tarzan never understood the danger of carelessly bringing strange individuals into your home, nor did he see past Clayton’s treacherous agenda. Had he grew up with a father that taught him about the value of protecting his family, Tarzan may not have made such a mistake.
In Life of Pi, Pi understood why his father wasn’t showing much emotion once they left India because he knew that his father was staying strong so he could support his family. In a similar vein, Kerchak could have been a similar father figure who could have taught Tarzan about the responsibilities of fatherhood, so he could have understood why his father was being so cautious.
The Lion King is similar to Tarzan in the sense that it emphasizes the importance of fatherhood, and explains to us why having a wise father is so important. Mufasa teaches his son Simba about the Circle of Life. He explains that everyone has a role to abide by. By making the most out of that role in your life, you have lived up to your potential.
The film also talks about more relatable topics, like learning how to adapt to your mistakes. This film uses familial conflict to represent Simba’s character arc as he learns how to readjust from his passive lifestyle and live up to his father’s teachings of responsibility.
The Circle of Life
In one of Mufasa’s teachings directed towards Simba, Simba learns of the Circle of Life. Mufasa explains lions eat antelope but when lions die, they become the grass, giving food to the antelope. So, carnivores like lions to respect the animals they prey on because if they eat too much food their prey will be driven out. Lions need to be mindful to respect the roles their prey fulfills in the circle of life.
This is exactly what happens in the aftermath of Scar’s rule, as the overabundance of hyenas caused the herd to move on in search of safer lands. Although lions do eat other animals, they still treat them with respect, as without them, lions would starve.
What Mufasa is trying to tell us, is that it is important to not only respect yourself but to also treat others with the same amount of respect. Everyone has a role to abide by, and you have no right to take that away from them. If someone is having trouble learning how to live up to their potential, you can help them. It’s not about making yourself feel better, it’s about making the world a better place. If you help someone with a problem, you’re helping them accomplish their goals. By helping someone accomplish their goals, more problems are being solved, meaning that the world has just become a little bit better.
The same can be said for the opposite side of the spectrum. If your journey to accomplish your goals is acted out of selfishness and obsession, you can end up harming the world around you and making your environment more miserable. Scar was so obsessed with his endeavors to become king, that he couldn’t recognize that he was too stubborn and unequipped to handle the responsibility. He didn’t respect the prey that lions need to survive, so the herd was driven out in search of better prospects. With too many carnivores and not enough herbivores, there was not enough grass for the herd to graze on, and too many carnivores for the herd to keep a stable population.
When the legitimacy of Scar’s rule was challenged, he was too stubborn to admit that he would have to leave pride rock for his kingdom to thrive. This is because he couldn’t admit that his actions had doomed everyone to suffer from starvation. In fact, Scar couldn’t become king out of his own ability. He had to kill Mufasa and send Simba into exile so there would be no heirs to take the throne.
Scar’s arc is similar to Gu-Kyung’s character arc in The Tiger. Both characters are so obsessed with accomplishing their goals, that in doing so they have made the world a miserable place to live in, by sacrificing the well being of others for their agendas.
After Simba is framed by Scar for Mufasa’s death, he is sent into exile and is ordered by Scar to never return to Pride Rock ever again.
Sometimes bad things happen, and it may or may not be your fault. Regardless, there’s nothing you can do to change the past. You don’t have to apologize frequently or try to do good deeds to make up for the horrendous acts you have made. It doesn’t matter what you say or think, all that matters is what you do. After all, you shouldn’t base your actions in the pretense of avoiding the harsh judgment of others. Besides, once people see that you have learned from the consequences of your actions, the impact of those consequences will start to weaken.
If you fail to put your past behind you, you will only push people away from you who want to help you. This is represented by Simba’s exile, as he is afraid to return home out of fear of what his family will do to him.
After Simba met Timone and Pumba, he adopted a sedentary lifestyle where he ignored his father’s teachings of living up to his responsibilities. From Simba’s perspective, he thinks he can live a life free of worry if he ignores his responsibilities. Now, that may be true, but he isn’t leaving his mark on the world and living up to his potential. No one is necessarily “destined” to be a leader. However, no social structure can function correctly without a great leader. Simba knows deep down that he needs to dethrone Scar to revitalize his kingdom, but he is too afraid to face his past and accomplish his goals. If you have the opportunity to solve a problem or fill a position, and you don’t fulfill that responsibility, someone who is craving for that responsibility will take it away from you.
Simba eventually accepted that he had to face his past and take the throne away from Scar because he didn’t want his kingdom to be defiled by the likes of someone unfit to rule. Simba didn’t do it out of personal gratification, he did it to make the world a better place so the circle of life could be restored. When you’re a person who can solve problems, you can make the world a happier place to live in.
Simba’s rise to power is much like John’s character arc in “The Grey”, where John knew he had to be the rock and assume leadership over his group because he was the only one who was equipped to handle leadership responsibilities. John didn’t take that spot because he wanted the gratification, he assumed that role because he knew that without a proper leader, the group would not survive due to a lack of organization and morale.
In conclusion, a healthy domestic environment is very important for the mental stability of an individual. However, if said individual is brought up in an environment that loves them and teaches them about the world, they can grow up to be amazing people. Often our family is all we have left, and we will only ever have one family, so we should try and learn as much as we can from them while they are still here. Even if our relationships with some of these family members may be toxic, those relationships can still be saved.