Lilo’s sister Nani is given more responsibility and emotional hardship that most other female heroines in commercial Disney films. That’s not to belittle Elsa’s emotional turmoil, but Nani is sadly a case that exists all too often in the world: an older child with parenting responsibilities to their younger siblings. We see this from the moment we’re introduced to Nani. Lilo’s a sharp one and Nani is constantly kept on her toes running after the kid.
Her adoption of Stitch is perhaps not the best idea for a young woman struggling to take care of a kid, but her sense of responsibility and care is admirable. She puts her family first beyond all else, even her job. Nani’s strengths become Lilo’s as the two band together to stay a family. Possibly her most moving moment occurs when she accepts that Lilo may be taken away from her. Faced with giving Lilo a life that might not be good, you can see that she is willing to give up her sister (if not without a bit of a fight.
We see few female Disney characters with such heavy familial responsibilities: often the film’s show the heroine’s growth to this state of mind. Nani’s growth is perhaps not as prominent as Lilo’s due to not being a main character, but the film hinges as much on her characterisation as her sister’s.
Lilo and Stitch was the great sisterhood movie Disney didn’t even realise it had made. Frozen might be all the rage now, but it’s worth taking a look at the film to see an example on a forgotten but no less good example of strong, independent female characterisation.