Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Angry Birds Movie - Adoption Movie Review

On Bird Island, happiness is key, but Red is not happy. That’s particularly unfortunate, since he works as a clown. At one party, he assaults an unhappy customer, and accidentally causes that customer’s egg to hatch. After that outburst, Red is sentenced to anger management class. There, Red makes friends with others in the class: hyperactive Chuck, explosive Bomb, and the silent but massive Terence. One day, Bird Island is visited by Leonard, who claims to be an explorer from Piggy Island. The Birds welcome Leonard, and many subsequently arriving Pigs, with songs and festivities. Red is suspicious of the Pigs, but the Birds do not take him seriously. Eventually, Red and his friends come to learn that the Pigs are intending to abscond with all of the Birds’ eggs. After the Pigs successfully escape with the eggs, the Birds get sad, and then angry. One suggests “getting busy” to start replacing the stolen eggs, but Red encourages the Birds to rescue the stolen eggs. Led by Red, they attack the fortified city of the Pigs, in an attempt to reclaim their stolen eggs.  






The Adoption Connection

One character mentions that Red does not have parents. Later, Red sees one egg left behind after many have been rescued, and risks his safety to save it.

This is a story about parents reclaiming their children that have been unfairly taken away, and although the Pigs are certainly not adoptive parents, the story might resonate with parents who have had children taken into foster care, or with parents or children who are sad about the loss of relationships that they attribute to adoption. The eggs are the Birds’ soon-to-be-born children, and they are loved as eggs. The pigs are only intending to have a breakfast banquet, but to the birds, the pigs are trying to steal and eat their babies. Red encourages the Birds to get their eggs back, saying “They stole your kids; who does that? Have you ever stolen anyone’s kids”?

There is a fertility clinic on Bird Island. Some couples long for children.


Strong Points

Angry Birds captures the deep love that parents have for their children, and it can reassure children that their parents will do anything necessary to keep them safe.

Much like Inside Out showed the valuable role that sadness can play, Angry Birds shows how anger can be a helpful emotion, if channeled and directed properly.


Challenges

Some young viewers – especially those who remember being detained from their birth families – might need parents to help them discern the difference between their removal from their abusive or negligent home environments, and what the Pigs try to do. A helpful way to introduce this thought might sound something like, “it’s usually a child’s parents’ job to keep the child safe, but sometimes the parents do not do that; then, someone else steps in to keep the child safe – usually, at first, it’s a social worker, teacher, or police officer, and then it’s a foster parent or adoptive parent. The most important thing is to help the child stay safe and taken care of.”


Weak Points

Most kids who have played Angry Birds on their parents’ phones will be familiar with the story, but some very young kids might be scared by the thought of the Pigs trying to kidnap and eat the Birds’ still-in-the-egg babies.  


Recommendations

The Angry Birds Movie seems most likely to appeal to kids ages 3-10, plus anyone who’s been particularly addicted to the games. Although there are some negative connections that some viewers could draw to adoption, the film seems likely to be enjoyed by most kids. The film can also be illustrative of a couple worthwhile insights that parents might want to share with their kids; especially the fact that they’ll do anything to keep their kids safe.


Questions for Discussion

When is it helpful to be angry? How can the anger help?

How do you know that your parents will keep you safe?

Which Bird was your favorite?

How could the Birds have guessed that the Pigs weren’t safe?


 (For kids who have been detained) When haven’t you felt safe? When do you feel safe?  

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Captain America Civil War Adoption Movie Review

A year ago, the Avengers defeated Ultron, but the fight caused many casualties in Sokovia. Now, the Avengers have defeated another villain, but civilians have died in the wake of the battle. The United Nations demand to have oversight of the Avengers, and the Avengers are divided over whether to concede to this request. Meanwhile, Helmut Zemo desires to break up the Avengers in order to avenge the deaths of his loved ones, who were innocent casualties of the fight in Sokovia between the Avengers and Ultron.  



The Adoption Connection

Multiple characters have lost parents or other family members, and those losses are primary motivating forces for many of them. The Avengers have formed a family of sorts, but its unity is threatened.


Strong Points

Tony Stark has invented a device that allows him to clear traumatic memories by reliving them and making different choices; he uses it to work towards closure over the loss of his father.


Challenges

Two characters lose parents in violent attacks. One character learns that his friends have kept a very painful secret from him.  


Weak Points

Some scenes of violence (one character murders another by slowly drowning him) will be difficult for some viewers with past histories of trauma.


Recommendations

Captain America Civil War captures the all-too-real truth that sometimes, we cause harm even when we intend (and achieve) good. There are scenes of violence and themes of parental loss that might be triggers for some viewers who have lost parents to adoption or viewers who have experienced violence. The film is entertaining, captivating and thoughtful, and seems likely to be a good fit for most kids ages 12 and up, and their parents. It might be too violent for younger kids.  


Questions for Discussion

If you had a machine like Tony Stark’s BARF machine, which situations would you try to work through?

Is it better to act to do good, with the risk of causing harm, is it better to remain inactive, or is there a third option?

What role does guilt play in our decisions? Do your guilt-driven decisions generally turn out better or worse than other decisions you make?


Where would forgiveness and self-forgiveness help these characters? 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mother's Day Adoption Movie Review

Sandy, a recently-divorced mother, must navigate sharing her mothering role with her ex-husband’s new wife. After Dana dies, her husband and two daughters prepare for their first Mother’s Day without her. Jesse has hidden her cross-cultural marriage and children from her estranged, racist mother. Kristin is a new mother; she has not married her boyfriend because she fears committing to a permanent attachment, and this stems from the fact that she was adopted at birth, and never knew her birth mother. *SPOILERS AHEAD*  At the advice of a friend, Kristin sets off to try to find her birth mother, who ends up being a famous celebrity. Although her birth mother initially is not receptive, she privately comes to Kristin and begins to invest in her life, which allows Kristin to find the closure she needs in order to move on into marriage.  


The Adoption Connection

Kristin was adopted as an infant. The absence of knowledge of her birth mother has had a profound impact on her personality development. The birth of her own child brings the absence of her mother more immediately to her awareness, and she sets off to find her. Kristin explains, “I have no idea who the hell I am. I was adopted and never met my biological mother.” Kristin has kept her adoption a secret, and has only ever told her best friend and her boyfriend. Kristin wonders, “Did she just throw me away, or is there a reason she got rid of me? I have attachment issues.” Kristin has located her mother, but has been too scared to contact her.

Jesse’s sister Gabby has adopted the sperm-donor-conceived son of her partner.

*SPOILERS AHEAD* Kristin’s birthmother Miranda is asked whether she has any kids, and says that she does not – that instead, her career has kept her busy. Eventually, Kristin and Miranda meet, and Miranda shares the story of how she met Kristin’s birthfather. Miranda shares that her parents pulled her out of school for a year, never looked at her the same again, and did not allow her to choose to keep Kristin. She explains that Kristin has always been on her mind, and that Kristin’s adoptive parents sent her a picture of Kristin every year. Kristin asks why Miranda never contacted her, and Miranda explained that that was part of the agreement in the adoption. Miranda explains that she never remarried or had children because she did not want to replace her high school boyfriend or her daughter. Miranda meets her granddaughter and Kristin’s boyfriend, and helps Kristin propose to her boyfriend.


Strong Points

Kristin has a supportive friend who reacts well to her confiding her story of adoption. 
Kristin is able to learn the story that led to her adoption.  


Challenges

Several characters have lied about their lives and identities, and in most cases we see that the secrecy has caused more pain, and that openness allows for growth and healing.

Kristin is initially shunned by her birthmother’s assistants when she tries to contact her; that could be painful for some.


Weak Points

Jesse’s parents are caricatured, and say plenty of cringe-inducing, hurtful things to their daughters.


Recommendations

Mother’s Day has been panned by critics for being manipulative and unoriginal, but it does provide an opportunity to think about the impact of secrecy on relationships, and the storyline that follows 

Kristin as she seeks to reunify with her birthmother is certainly relevant to adoption audiences, and is actually pretty positive. Mother’s Day seems like a worthwhile choice for adults; it does not seem likely to appeal to kids.


Questions for Discussion

If Miranda had not sought out Kristin, would Kristin’s search to find her still have been worthwhile?


The secrecy surrounding Kristin’s adoption might have been intended, in part, to benefit Kristin and Miranda. How did it actually impact Kristin and Miranda? 

How could the issues of confidentiality and privacy in Kristin's adoption have been handled in a less damaging way? 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ratchet and Clank Adoption Movie Review

Ratchet, an unassuming Lombax, hopes to leave his job as a mechanic’s assistant to join the Galactic Rangers in their quest to save the galaxy from the villainous Chairman Drek– and the Rangers have an opening. However, Ratchet is very small, and the heroic leader Captain Qwark, ridicules him and sends him away. However, with the help of Clank – a defective robot that Chairman Drek cast away – Ratchet saves the day, and is thrust into membership with the Galactic Rangers. However, Qwark becomes jealous of Ratchet’s growing popularity, and his jealousy leaves him vulnerable to manipulation by the Chairman, who is hungry for power.  



The Adoption Connection

Ratchet does not know his own history; he was found by the mechanic who he assists, and does not know where he came from. He bonds with Clank when he realizes that they both were found with “no notes, no message, no name.”

The mechanic with whom Ratchet lives fills somewhat of a father-like role for him.


Strong Points

Ratchet is initially discouraged, believing that he cannot be a hero. His father figure tells him, “To be a hero, you don’t have to do big things, just the right ones.” In doing the right things, Ratchet truly proves himself to be a hero.

When Ratchet starts to blame himself for something that went wrong, a character gives him sage advice, “Blaming yourself and taking responsibility are two different things.” Self-blame leaves you feeling bad; taking responsibility avoids the question of blame, and focuses on improving what went wrong, and doing it better next time.  


Challenges

It could be disillusioning to some when Ratchet’s hero does not live up to Ratchet’s expectations.


Recommendations

Ratchet and Clank is a positive, fun movie that has some good messages for young viewers. It seems best suited to kids between the ages of 5-10.


Questions for Discussion

What do you think makes someone a hero?


What is the difference between taking responsibility for something and blaming yourself for it? Can false blame stop us from taking responsibility?  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Divergent: Allegiant Adoption Movie Review

After genetic experiments failed miserably, The Bureau of Genetic Welfare has created several isolated cities where genetically crafted societies are created, with the hope that eventually these societies will produce genetically pure people. Tris and her companions have escaped from the city of Chicago, and have now discovered the Bureau. Tris speaks with David; she initially believes that he intends to bring peace to Chicago, but learns that he has known of all the terrible events that they have experienced, and did nothing to stop them. Wars are breaking out in Chicago, but Tris and her friends decide to go to Chicago to tell the citizens about The Bureau, who she believes is their common enemy.



The Adoption Connection

The Bureau takes impoverished children and places them in cities like Chicago. The Bureau’s position is that they are saving the children; opponents say that they are stealing the children. To ensure a fresh start, the Bureau wipes the children’s memories. A character protests, “If you take away what they know, you take away who they are.”


Strong Points

Although she shows it in misguided ways, Four’s mother demonstrates her love for him, and shows how important their relationship is, at great cost to herself.


Challenges

Lots of violence, including executions carried out by bloodthirsty mobs, could make this a difficult movie for some kids and pre-teens. Tris initially suggests that she will not save her brother from such an execution, since he did wrong, and she “owes him nothing.” She does eventually save him, saying “It’s what you do for family.”

Tris and her friends initially thought they were safe when they got to the Bureau, but instead they found yet another set of untrustworthy adults.  


Recommendations

Divergent: Allegiant seems most likely to appeal to teenagers; it is probably too violent for many younger viewers. Critics have panned it widely, and some adults might find it less entertaining than they’d like. This one is probably OK for teens 15 and up. The film does not mention adoption, and many viewers will not see a connection between adoption and the Bureau’s gathering of children. For those teens who do see a connection, parents will want to be prepared to talk about it after the movie.


Questions for Discussion

The Bureau was imposing their help on people who did not have the option to refuse. How do you feel about that?  

How can you know when you are with a safe adult?


How much of your self-identity is informed by what you know about your past, and about your family’s past? 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Doc McStuffins - Disney Junior Does a Great Job of Handling Fears Kids Have about Adoption

Disney Junior’s Doc McStuffins recently ran a five-episode storyline where the McStuffins family brought a new baby into their home, through adoption.


In the first episode, Baby McStuffins, Doc’s parents tell her and her brother Donny that they have a surprise – they will be adopting a baby. Doc is excited to be a big sister, but is also nervous, wondering whether she will be up to the task. Doc is friends with some stuffed animals which come to life in her imagination. Her friends are supportive, and help her get ready to assume the role of a big sister. Doc’s parents assure her that the baby will be a full part of their forever family, and Doc and Donny express their excitement. Doc even says, “I love the new baby already.”

The second story, “Runaway Love” shows the feelings of fear that some children may have prior to their family adopting another child. Donny gets ready to run away, believing that the new baby will make everyone “too busy to play with me.” One of Doc’s toys, Lambie, also feels that they will be replaced by the baby. Lambie expresses, “I sure hope Doc has time for me after the baby comes,” and feels upset when Doc cannot play. Donny wonders if his parents won’t love him as much once the baby comes, and he does temporarily move to a tent set up in the yard. Doc and her other toys being looking for Lambie. Young viewers who fear being replaced will be relieved to hear the search party clearly express their feelings, “We love Lambie and won’t give up till we find her.” Donny’s parents find him, and assure him, “The new baby will not replace you ever. We have enough love for all of you.” Doc assures Lambie, “I will always have enough love for you. You’ll always be my lamb.” A closing song proclaims, “I have plenty of love, can’t keep it to myself, and never running out.”

The third episode, “Hootie’s Duty” shows the McStuffins family as they prepare for a baby shower. Doc’s wise owl toy, Professor Hootsburgh, is charged with training the baby’s new toys on how to be good toys. In order to prepare herself for life in the nursery, Professor Hootsburgh gets subjected to messes, and she is slobbered on by a couple toys. Doc McStuffins intelligently shows many different types of anxiety that youngsters might feel about an upcoming addition to their family, but assures them that “a cuddle and a smile makes it all worthwhile,” and promises, “Act with love, and you’ll do just fine.” A character explains that, although she was nervous, she’ll do “whatever it takes” to make sure that the baby is cared for.
In the fourth episode, “Bringing Home Baby,” Doc’s parents go off to meet the baby, while Doc’s grandmother comes over to babysit Doc and Donny. While waiting for her parents to return, Doc remembers the way each of her toys came into her family. When Doc’s new baby sister arrives, the family declares, “She’s perfect, and totally worth waiting for,” and Doc promises, “I’ll be your sister forever and longer.”

In the final episode, “Baby Names,” Doc’s parents are undecided about what to call their new daughter. The note that her birth mother loves the name Alana, since it’s her grandmother’s name, and so they’ve decided to use that as the baby’s middle name. I love that Doc McStuffins acknowledges and incorporates the birth mother and her wishes. The baby’s new toy, Lala, is scared that the baby’s cries mean that the baby does not like Lala, but other characters reassure Lala that baby’s just cry sometimes. Lala eventually sings a song about the baby, and part of that song becomes the baby’s first name. Although Lala worries that she won’t fit in, Doc assures her, “Home is love and family. You’ll fit in; this is your home.”


Overall, Doc McStuffins covers a range of fears and questions that kids might have about adoption, and does it with warmth, humor, and reassurance. Job well done, Disney! 
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