Lilo & Stitch Star Responds To A Popular Theory About The Characters’ Backstory

Stitch, Nani and Lilo during Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride scene
(Image credit: Disney Animation)

With Lilo & Stitch set to turn 20 years old this summer, have you revisited the groundbreaking Disney film yet? The 2002 animated feature was an oddball for the studio at the time, as it brought an alien to Hawaii between Disney princess movies like Mulan and Pixar’s rise to success. As fans have rewatched the film over the years, one element about the backstory of Tia Carrere’s Nani has become a popular theory. But what does the voice actress herself think about it? 

Over the years, Lilo & Stitch viewers have taken to the internet to discuss a theory about Lilo’s older sister, Nani. Some people on Tumblr and Reddit believe that the 19-year-old gave up the pursuit of professional surfing after her parents died in order to take care of Lilo. The theory was thought up after fans noticed her room is cluttered with surfing awards, which you can check out in the screenshot below: 

Lilo, Stitch in Nani's room with record player in Lilo & Stitch

(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios)

Additionally, in the famous “Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride” sequence, Nani looks like an absolute pro, surfing the waves with Lilo and Stitch at her side. When CinemaBlend spoke to Tia Carrere ahead of the movie’s 20-year anniversary, I asked her if the theory had some truth to it. In her words: 

It was never discussed, but yeah, definitely. I mean that's why she's, I wouldn't say resentful, it’s too hard a word, but she has a difficult time because she's the mother figure. And she's still just a young girl herself and that's why when they're screaming at each other and it's all going haywire. You can really empathize, because she's just a kid that is trying to do the best she can too. It was difficult circumstances. And that happens often, you know.

While it sounds like Tia Carrere was never tuned into this much of a Lilo & Stitch backstory when recording her lines as Nani, the actress, also known for Wayne’s World, was not at all surprised that Nani gave up a lot to raise her younger sister, Lilo. In the film itself, we see Nani struggle to balance holding a job and taking care of her sister following their parent’s car accident. In her time of distress, David attempts to cheer her up by having them all go surfing together, perhaps inferring that the ocean is her ultimate happy place. Perhaps it's the place she hoped to spend more of her time if they didn’t undergo a terrible family tragedy? 

What’s beautiful about Lilo & Stitch two decades later is how complex and grounded the sisters within the film were. One particularly special moment in the movie is when Lilo is going to be picked up by social services the next day, and Nani says goodbye to her with a song. That song is “Aloha ʻOe,’” which became part of the film thanks to Carrere being included in the creative process. 

During our interview with Tia Carrere, the actress shared that the filmmakers asked her if there was a Hawaiian phrase one might use to say goodbye and she mentioned the famous Queen Liliʻuokalani song. The actress recalled singing it that morning “without even warming up or anything,” which is now featured in the emotional hammock scene in the film. Carrere also applauded the filmmakers for turning to her for other elements of the language Nani uses that is specific to Hawaii, doing lengthy research and listening to other people from the island when making the film. 

You can check out Lilo & Stitch with a Disney+ subscription ahead of its anniversary on June 21, and keep up with upcoming Disney movies here on CinemaBlend. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.