- “I like you better as a sister than a mom...”
- ―Lilo to Nani
Nani's the older sister of Lilo Pelekai, and after Nani and Lilo's parents were unexpectedly killed in a car accident one night during a storm, Nani, as Lilo's closest living relative and due to being a legal adult, was appointed as her legal guardian. In the movie, Nani is said to be nineteen and Lilo is said to be six, making them at least thirteen years apart in age.
As a result of having to support herself and Lilo, she is often stressed and busy. Her intense schedule often interferes with her relationship with her boyfriend, David, and somewhat prevents her from having friends. He makes several attempts to treat Nani on a date, only to meet rejection due to her busy schedule. Despite their sometimes rocky relationship, Nani and Lilo care deeply for each other, and this strong bond is shown continuously throughout the film. Through her sister and the loss of their folks, Nani is shown to have a motherly side, and often makes decisions based on Lilo's best interest, alone. In the original film, her custody over Lilo was put to the test at the hands of social worker Cobra Bubbles, who, despite regretting the thought of having to separate the two sisters, is looking out for Lilo's best interest, as well, knowing she needs a figure who can handle the task of raising a child.
Two things that Nani is known for are her inability to hold down a full-time job, partly due to the antics of her sister and Stitch, and for being a terrible cook, although she excels greatly in math and chemistry.
Nani is a kind, mature, caring individual. Unfortunately, as a result of her busy job and the stress of taking care of and providing for her ohana (at first Lilo and then including Stitch, Jumba, and Pleakley), she tends to be fairly temperamental and sarcastic with everyone. Jumba at one point refers to her wrath as scarier than Hämsterviel's. While this is usually reasonable, considering how Lilo and Stitch tend to disobey rules and get into trouble, at times her temper gets the better of her and jumps to conclusions, which causes her not to listen to the whole story. An example is the time Lilo and Stitch were talking with Mertle's mother in front of the movie theater, which made Nani think they were going to the movies when she said not to (when in reality they were actually experiment hunting) and didn't even let them explain. When she really stressed and angry, she tends to uncharacteristically snap at Lilo, only to regret it when Lilo's not in sight. Nonetheless, she is protective of her family, particularly Lilo, and will attack anyone and defend them from any threat. She loves Lilo more than anyone or anything in the world and does all she can to keep her from harm. She is kind and hardworking, and she proves that while she is somewhat irritable, she can also be compassionate and understanding as she usually forgives Lilo and Stitch for their antics. Just like her baby sister, she loves and misses her parents very much and is usually depressed on the anniversary of the day they died.
She is the breadwinner of her family and loves Lilo more than anything, but at times is ashamed she didn't make more of her life. From the number of surfing trophies she has in her room, it is possible that she could've had a successful career in surfing or even had gone to college had it not been for the death of her parents. As a result of their death, she decided to devote her time to taking care of Lilo which resulted in her having to put Lilo's future over her own, which includes giving up her chances of a huge surfing career for Lilo's sake, proving how devoted she is to Lilo, the one person she loves and cares for more than everything else in the world. Since Lilo is the love of Nani's life, her worst fear, in fact, is Lilo being taken away from her or losing Lilo in any way possible. Overall, she has the most common sense and is the most normal of her "unconventional" ʻohana.
She is very mature and wise for someone her age and the voice of reason, possibly as a result of losing her parents, having to grow up and be independent at such a young age, as she is shown to teach Lilo important life lessons, such as taking responsibility for her actions, not making fun of people based on their appearances, and having friends like you for who you are, not your appearances. Nani also is concerned that Lilo thinks Mertle, Elena, Teresa and Yuki are her friends, despite the fact they hate her and are mean to her (which she points out in one episode).
Nani is a beautiful young teenager; strongly built though fairly slender, with olive skin, black hair that reaches a little past her shoulders and brown eyes. Throughout the film, she can be seen wearing a number of outfits, though her most prominent (in the film) tends to be a pinkish beige short-sleeved belly shirt with a heart designed onto it, blue jean shorts, white socks, brown hiking boots, blue (sometimes brown or dark yellow) sandals (on her occasion). In subsequent appearances in the franchise, and in certain points of the original movie, Nani is often seen wearing a blue belly-shirt, beige calf-long pants, and sandals. One of her more iconic outfits is her blue and green bikini, which she dons during the "Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride" scene.
Nani appears in the film, having become Lilo's sole guardian after their parents' recent death. Nani is visited by a social worker named Cobra Bubbles who is concerned that Nani cannot adequately take care of Lilo. He is considering putting Lilo in foster care, but Nani refutes this by citing that she is the only relative (A.K.A. "ohana") that Lilo has left and vice versa. However, Nani will have to prove that she is capable of caring for Lilo in order to prevent Lilo from going to a foster home, a task that proves to be a difficult one. When Cobra leaves, both sisters get into a huge argument. That night, Nani comes up to Lilo's room to apologize.
After realizing that Lilo has no friends (Mertle Edmonds and the other girls bully her), Nani allows Lilo to get a pet from the pound. Lilo chooses Stitch, who, unknown to either girl, is actually an alien. Later, Nani is forced to take Lilo and Stitch with her as she tries to find a new job. Unfortunately, Stitch's attempts to evade capture by Jumba and Pleakley keep ruining her chances. Nani's friend David, having seen Nani, encourages Nani to take Lilo surfing with them to improve their mood. However, Jumba makes an attempt to capture Stitch from underwater. To everyone, it appears that Stitch had tried to drown Lilo. Mr. Bubbles sees the whole thing and tells Nani that he will come for Lilo in the morning.
While waiting for Mr. Bubbles the next morning, Nani is informed of a job offer by David. Nani orders Lilo to stay at home while she goes to apply. While she is gone, a fight between Stitch and Jumba results in the house being destroyed and Lilo calls Mr. Bubbles for help. Nani returns at the same time as Mr. Bubbles arrives and the two have a brief argument over Lilo's well-being. When Lilo is kidnapped by Gantu, Nani accompanies Stitch, who has revealed his alien origins, in Lilo's rescue. At the end, Nani and Lilo are appointed as Stitch's wardens by the Grand Councilwoman while Cobra Bubbles, who is revealed to be a former CIA agent, is enlisted to supervise the new family.
Taking place some time after the events of the first film, Nani has adjusted to life with an extended family, now living with both Stitch, Jumba, and Pleakley. Her regular occurrences include keeping the house in order, despite the color cast of characters that inhabit it, raising both Lilo and Stitch, working her job at the beach, and spending time with David, who she is said to have been dating for three weeks by the beginning of the film.
On an ordinary day, Nani is preparing "Family Night" at the Pelekai household, asking Jumba and Pleakley for assistance, though she faces denial on rather nonsensical accounts. Later that day, Nani is visited by Moses, Lilo's hula instructor, who reports a recent altercation between the latter and Mertle Edmonds. Nani invites Moses inside to talk over Lilo's behavior, but she is interrupted by a meddling Jumba and Pleakley, who disguises themselves as the Pelekai sisters' uncle and aunt, respectively, and try to convince Moses that Lilo's behavior was merely a misunderstanding. Nani is then approached by David, who makes an attempt to strike a date with the former, only to face rejection due to Nani's hectic schedule. Having enough of Jumba and Pleakley's attempts to help, Nani takes Moses and Lilo outside, where Lilo is given a warning: should her attitude remain low, she will be banned from an upcoming hula competition.
Over the course of the following days, preparation for the competition, as well as odd behavior with Stitch's programming (said to be a malfunction by Jumba that, if not rectified, will result in Stitch losing his life) begin to cause a rift in the relationship between Lilo and Stitch. When Nani comforts Lilo one night, asking why the competition is so important to her, the older sister learns Lilo's stress and desire to win the competition is a result of the sisters' deceased mother, who won the same competition when she was Lilo's age. Now with an understanding of Lilo's pain, Nani assures her younger sister that their mother would be proud of the former, just for being her. In turn, Lilo assures Nani that their mother would be proud of her efforts at parenting, moving the older sibling.
Also occurring throughout the days is a side story with David who, because of Pleakley's poor advice, believes his relationship with Nani is dwindling and struggles to save it.
In this series, Nani doesn't have much of a role as she did in the first two films. She is usually seen working a variety of jobs to support herself and Lilo. As always, she is concerned for Lilo's well-being, though she does allow Lilo to capture the rogue experiments. The episode "Retro" features Nani's middle school friends, who mistakenly believe that she is the Vice President of the company she works for. She sometimes helps with the experiment-hunting, such as in the episode "Phantasmo" where she saves Lilo and Stitch from a ghost-like experiment. She also rescued Lilo from being annihilated by Gantu in "Fibber", where she also briefly pretended to be Pleakley's fiancée as a means to impress his visiting family. In "Link", she and Stitch are stuck together by the titular experiment, forcing her to go about her duties at work with Stitch by her side. Though they initially butt heads, they find themselves enjoying the time they spent together by the end. They also come to discover the secret to dissolving the bind created by Link, which they use to help Lilo and Mertle.
Nani is seen after Lilo, Stitch, Jumba and Pleakley return from the Galactic Federation with awards for the successful extraction of the 625 experiments. Stitch, Jumba, and Pleakley turn down their awards at first to stay on Earth, so as not to break Lilo's heart. However, Lilo notices that they really do want their dream rewards and Nani convinces her that she's doing the right thing and showing "aloha spirit" by letting them go. She is present when Lilo sees the aliens off, and comforts her younger sister as they fly off into space. Following these events, Nani continues to comfort Lilo on her loss after realizing she is still visibly distraught by the recent events. When Lilo expresses worry over Stitch and notes that she's been trying to contact him, Nani notes that she'll need intergalactic technology in order to do so, which gives Lilo the idea to form an alliance with Stitch's cousin, Reuben to use his ship's contact computer.
Later on, after an evil clone of Stitch named Leroy arrived on earth to kidnap the experiments, he sneaks into the house to steal Lilo's experiment log and is nearly noticed by Nani, though he saves himself by pretending to be Lilo.
Nani later appears at the end, where she joins David, Lilo, Jumba, Pleakley, Stitch, Mertle and all the experiments in taking a group, family picture.
Nani appears briefly in flashbacks in "Reunion with Lilo!", including a brief scene where she, Jumba, Pleakley, and Stitch see Lilo off to college. Somewhere during this time period, she had a child or was about to have a child, which delayed Lilo when she planned to come back from college to visit Stitch, leading him to leave Earth.
Nani makes a brief appearance in the finale of the original World of Color alongside Lilo and Stitch. She also appears in World of Color: Celebrate!, during the segment celebrating animated films. In the 2016 holiday version, World of Color: Season of Light, she appears during the segment centered around Lilo & Stitch.
- It is quite possible that Lilo and Nani were both named after Queen Liliuokalani, the last ruling monarch of Hawaii. Lilo has the same first three letters of the monarch's name, while Nani has the last three letters of her name.
- Lilo & Nani
- If this truly is indeed the case, then that would make their connection to the song "Aloha `Oe" that much more meaningful, as they, as a whole, represent the last Queen of Hawaii, the one who wrote the song.
- In the original movie, Nani is shown to have a Mulan poster.
- She initially worked as a Rental Hut worker, but later moved up to rental pavilion worker at the Birds of Paradise Hotel under Mr. Jameson.
- According to Lilo in the episode "Sinker", Nani is revealed to have an addiction to chocolate.
- One of the experiments, Belle, acts as her alarm clock.
- When Nani thinks someone is doing something crazy (particularly Lilo), she refers to them as "lolo," which means "crazy" or "stupid" in Hawaiian.
- In "Slick", it is revealed that Nani used to wear braces in eighth grade.