I’ve raved about Lilo & Stitch before. And for good reason. It has great characters, it respects the Hawaiian culture, and it features one of the most lovable aliens of all time.
But there’s one gag that is known for being a headscratcher. What’s the deal with the mosquitoes?
Never fear! I’m here to explain why this joke is actually an underrated genius moment.
At the start of the film, Experiment 626 escapes custody and lands on Earth. The Grand Councilwoman decides to destroy the planet to stop the evil experiment from causing havoc.
Pleakley argues that Earth is a protected wildlife reserve and humans are important, not because we’re an intelligent species in our own right, but because we’re “the food of choice” for the endangered mosquito population.
It’s no secret that mosquitoes are the furthest thing away from endangered. There are over 3500 species! While only 200 of these with nip a human, if mosquitoes were to go extinct nobody alive would miss them. (Plenty of birds, fish, and amphibians on the other hand…)
You might be thinking, well, yes, okay, but you’re just explaining the joke. Everyone hates mosquitoes, yet there’s so many of them, and it turns out it’s because aliens are keeping them around.
But that’s not the reason it works.
The Best Part Of The Joke Isn’t The Punchline
Sometimes the secret to a good joke is repetition, namely the rule of three. This facilitates build-up to a punchline. Like so:
- Pleakley is devoted to mosquito conservation and protecting Earth.
- Halfway through the film, Pleakley gets an unfortunate dose of reality when he becomes victim to the same thing all tourists do: A vicious mosquito attack. Pleakley now hates Earth.
The third and final time features a twist. We expect something to befall Pleakley. If this were a darker story, this would be the part where Pleakley contracts Malaria and is forced to quarantine on a planet he now hates, with Jumba choosing to stay to study the disease.
Unsurprisingly, this is not what happens.
We discover that CIA agent turned social worker, Cobra Bubbles, was the one behind Pleakley’s misinformation, ever since he “saved the world by convincing an alien race that mosquitoes were endangered.”
If we’re following the rule of three, this is actually a pretty weak punchline. It has nothing to do with Pleakley, who sets up the joke, and on who this information would have the biggest impact. He doesn’t say a word when this is revealed. It would have made more sense to see Pleakley’s reaction to finding out he devoted his life to a lie, given what builds up to it. Would adding this have made Lilo & Stitch a better movie?
By the time we learn that Cobra worked for the CIA, it’s the end of the story. Loose ends are being wrapped up. This no time for punchlines. It’s about Lilo, Nani, and Stitch coming together. It’s about ohana.
So why have Cobra mention it at all?
Though it may seem eyebrow-raising initially, it’s actually a subtle use of backstory and world-building.
World-building is how writers create fictional universes. It’s especially important for fantasy and science fiction stories; it’s the history, the ecology, and the rules that dictate how things happen.
Aliens Are All About Rules.
Lilo & Stitch might be science fiction, but its devotion to the Hawaiian culture is far more important than its development of an off-world culture. Despite that, the writers give us the only information we really need to know about these aliens.
- They like rules.
- They will bounce from one extreme to the other in pursuit of obeying rules.
For example, the Grand Councilwoman banishes Experiment 626 believing it to be evil. When he escapes, she pursues him, but is just as quick to change her mind when Lilo produces Stitch’s adoption certificate out of the same place Sora keeps his Keyblade. Having it on paper is acceptable enough to let him go. (Stitch has gone through a character arc at this point and has proven himself not to be a complete monster, which helps make it a little more convincing.)
The only reason Earth isn’t destroyed at the start of the film is because Pleakley brings up legalities. Like our own governments, it doesn’t matter if it’s hypocritical.
Aliens need legal paperwork. That’s the real punchline here.
If it’s in writing, it shall be done. Even if it makes no sense. Even if it’s based on zero research.
Cobra even points out “Aliens are all about rules.”
Speaking of Cobra, he’s an interesting fella. He looks like the president’s bodyguard. He looks like he walked off Batman: The Animated Series. He’s definitely killed someone. Really, it’s no shocker that his backstory is what it is. We expect him to save the world by shooting guns and taking no prisoners.
Which begs the question:
Imagine you’re CIA Agent Bubbles, with hair, facing that incident in Roswell in 1973. You know the one. Aliens. First contact. A potential invasion. The stakes are high. World-shattering, in fact.
Suddenly you’ve got to convince the galaxy that Earth shouldn’t be invaded. You don’t want people to get hurt. They’re pretty fickle, these aliens. Plus, is humanity really up to the task of dealing with aliens and their questionable politics? We have enough of that of our own, thanks.
So how’d you, first, get potential invaders to keep their plasma canons to themselves, second, convince pencil-pushers at the Galactic Council that humanity is worth protecting on paper, and third, ward off landing parties from dropping off ‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood’ gifts?
Throw up the fences and the keep out signs: PROTECTED AREA. STAY AWAY. No gas, no plasma, no fire, and no littering.
If Cobra was gonna pick any species to call endangered, he might as well pick one that’s considerably NOT endangered. The longer the species in question lasts, the longer Earth lasts.Lilo & Stitch / Headscratchers, TV Tropes.
Turning Earth into a wildlife reserve means we have passionate allies watching over us to keep the nasty folks at bay. I’ve met conservationists and they’re a tough bunch. You can’t ask for a more vocal, stubborn, and knowledgeable bunch to act on your behalf.
But why not pandas, or tigers? Something that’s actually endangered and not a huge pain in the ass.
1. Most Endangered Species Are That Way Because of Humans
Whether directly or indirectly, humans are the cause of most extinctions around the world. Climate change and habitat destruction have led to plummeting numbers of species.
Any alien worth their job at the Galactic Federation, an organisation so obsessed with rules that one of their councillors vomited gears when Stitch said something naughty, would come to the conclusion that humans were too destructive to exist in the wider galaxy.
When Cobra chooses mosquitoes, he’s choosing a species that is reliant on humans. Or so it seems.
2. We Hate Them, Therefore The Lie Is An Easy Sell.
The truth is, nothing on Earth relies on us.
We aren’t the mosquitoes food of choice. Adult females need hemoglobin and ferric-transferrin found in blood to ensure that their eggs develop, but most of them will drink from mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and birds, before human blood.
Still, who hasn’t complained about getting feasted on army of these miniature vampires? Any aliens monitoring Earth would surely throw out their arm and declare See! and get that legalisation passed immediately.
Congratulations! You have given Earth legally-binding privacy and protection.
If only saving the world in real life were that simple.