Lilo & Stitch came out in 2002, around the time I was in the first grade. It quickly became a favorite movie of mine (alongside Hercules, Mulan, and Lion King) for its plot, but also because… aliens. Seven-year-old Edmarie was enthralled with the idea of angry dog aliens, one-eyed, well-dressed aliens, and aliens with Russian accents.
I think what really etched the movie into my heart was the soundtrack. Though my favorite track, “He Mele no Lilo”, always got me feeling some type of way, I found that my favorite parts of the movie always coincided with the scenes where Elvis Presley was playing in the background. I grew up listening to a lot of Elvis’ music–my dad’s a fan–so I figured the familiarity of the soundtrack made it easy for me like the film.
(Side note–this is something related to what social psychology calls the “mere-exposure effect”, where you are more drawn to someone frequently see/are exposed to, and will be more attracted to them the more you are exposed to them/are in their presence.¹ Except, in this case, we’re talking about Elvis and my liking of a 2002 Disney movie. Not too farfetched, but I’m sure Robert Zajonc didn’t intend for his research to be used this way.)
Furthermore, around the same time the movie came out, one of the PTA mothers at my elementary school, lovingly referred to as “Auntie Ellie”, recruited girls to join hula. (Yes, I wore a coconut bra. Once. Wildly uncomfortable.) One of the songs in the list she taught us was “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride”, the other non-Elvis song. I loved Auntie Ellie, and I loved hula for the few years I was able to be a part of the group; it gave me a sense of belonging and self-confidence as a child.
Cut to 2015, where I’m sitting in the film department’s computer lab, trying not to freak out over my first film project, a character piece featuring my then-roommate and dear friend. I had managed to trim down a two-hour interview into eight minutes, and even managed to get a rough cut that was watchable, but for some reason the dialog and the visual felt very disjointed. My goal had been to patch that bridge with background music, but nothing I found felt quite right, especially for a project I was growing emotionally tied to.
After throwing in the towel for the evening, I decided to do the right thing and procrastinate. I ended up watching Lilo & Stitch, thinking that, since my roommate was part Hawaiian, and was also nicknamed “Lilo”, that I would get some inspiration for music.
Yeah, the stars lined up for me that well.
My initial thought was to use Elvis, though I quickly realized that his crooning, though soulful, didn’t convey the emotion I wanted. I then realized I wanted to sneak a bit of heritage into the piece, though I was unsure of where to go to find something that fit.
It was around this time that I got to the part in the movie where it’s the night before Lilo is going to be taken away by a social worker. Lilo and her older sister, Nani sit together in a hammock, and there is a heavy sadness in Nani’s voice as she sings, knowing that they’re going to be separated from one another. As usual, I’m on the verge of tears (if not already crying).
And then I realize that I had found it.
I didn’t even finish the movie, instead immediately going into planning how I would incorporate this song into the character piece. Of course, wanting to go the extra mile–to give it that extra stamp of authenticity–not for a grade, but because I wanted the video to be a gift for my friend, I decided that I’m not only going to use the song, but I’m going to use a version where I (yes, I) sing it.
This is the result of that. It certainly isn’t polished, and it lacks the weight that Tia Carrere (who played Nani) was able to convey. However, it is something I did for someone else, and I am nonetheless proud of it.
(If you would like to watch the aforementioned character piece, it’s uploaded on Youtube! Alternatively, you could also just click here.)
¹ Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of personality and social psychology, 9(2p2), 1.