Friday, September 4, 2015

Meet the Robinsons Adoption Movie Review

On a sepia-toned rainy night a woman, obscured by shadow and hood and fearful of being seen, hugs her bundled infant one last time and leaves him on the doorstep of the Sixth Street Orphanage. Twelve years later, Lewis has sat through 124 adoption interviews, none of which resulted in his adoption. He almost gives up hope.  Through the magic of Disney, Lewis travels twenty years into the future to meet the loving family that will eventually be his. He returns to his regular life with his hope restored.  The movie ends as Lewis is adopted by his new, lovably weird parents.

How is This Relevant to Adoption? 
Lewis shares an orphanage room with Mike, and both boys sit through interviews with prospective adoptive parents. Scenes from several of Lewis’ interviews show him optimistically sharing his inventions with prospective adoptive parents. None of them adopt him, and eventually Lewis loses his optimism.

One scene is loaded with adoption content. Lewis is sad after an unsuccessful interview. Mildred follows him and affirms that the family’s choice is not Lewis’ fault. Lewis responds that he’s almost 13, and that being a teenager makes being adopted less likely.  He feels as though no one wants him – not even his birth mother.  Mildred suggests that his birth mother loved him, and may have wanted to keep him, but couldn’t. Lewis latches on to this, and says, “My real mother is the only person who ever wanted me.” His desire to belong somewhere fuels his desire to find her, and his desire find her drives the movie. Lewis is eventually adopted.

Strong Points
Mildred, the orphanage director, is loving and positive. This is rare in movie portrayals of orphanage directors! Mildred smiles lovingly at Lewis when she first seems him, as an infant on her doorstep. Twelve years and 124 adoption interviews later, Mildred still believes in Lewis and shows her belief in him. Before an interview she tells him, “Go show them how special you are.”

The movie highlights the benefit of persistence. Lewis is adopted, even after 124 unsuccessful adoption interviews. One of his inventions took over 900 tries, but he finally got it right. His adoptive family celebrates failures for the lessons learned, and his own motto is “Keep Moving Forward.”

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Adoption Movie Review

Thief-turned-CIA-spy Napoleon Solo is in East Berlin, attempting to connect with Gabby Teller, who he believes will be his connection to a scientist who is creating a major weapon. They are being pursued by Russian agent Illya Kuryakin. When Russia and the US realize that their shared interests of preserving the world outweigh the desire for the power the weapon would give, the two enemies must work together to prevent the weapon from being given to a power-hungry family.

The Adoption Connection

Gabby was raised in a foster home, but there are some troubling truths about her birth family. (Napoleon explains that when he talks to Gabby about her father “I’m not referring to your late foster father – I mean your real father.”)

SPOILER ALERTS: Her birth father (who Napoleon refers to as “your real father”) was a mechanic who worked for Adolph Hitler. (SPOILER ALERT: She does meet her birth father, but he is killed. Her birth uncle is a psychopath who loves torturing people.) END SPOILER

Strong Points

In The Man from U.N.C.L.E., three people who initially distrust each other are able to develop trust, and even some degree of friendship. They make a hard, but wise, decision at the end of the film that highlights the good that comes when rivals put aside their enmity.

Weak Points

There are some concerning truths about Gabby’s birthfamily, which are discussed in the “Adoption Connection” section, under the spoiler alert.

One character is very much a racist.

One character threatens another character by saying “Any blood relation of yours will be dead within one year.”

One character’s father is murdered on screen.


The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is an entertaining, funny, and suspenseful spy/action movie. There is a scene where a character is tortured, which might be too much for some viewers, but overall this could be a fun one for teens 15 and up and their parents.

Questions for Discussion

Have you ever had to work alongside someone that you didn’t trust?

Have you ever made friends with someone that you initially disliked?  

Friday, August 28, 2015

Tarzan 2 Adoption Movie Review

You might have missed it. Tarzan 2 was a 2005 direct-to-video Disney movie. It's not actually a sequel to Tarzan; it's more of a in-the-middle-of-the-first-movie-quel. The whole story takes place during one of the first film's songs. Don't be scared away by the direct-to-video tag, though; this movie is an interesting portrayal of Tarzan's journey towards identity formation, which is an important issue in any adoption. Tarzan 2 isn't a perfect movie as far as adoption issues go, but overall, it's worth a read and a watch.

My adoption review of the first Disney Tarzan movie would be a helpful read before going on to the sequel.
Disney's Tarzan 2 is a relevant movie for adoptees on a quest for identity.
Tarzan 2

The Plot (spoilers ahead)
Tarzan is a young human boy living with a family of gorillas. Although he is accepted by other children in the family and deeply loved by his mother Kala, some of the other adults in the family do not feel he fits in. He can’t keep up with the others, and the group has to wait for him when racing towards shelter from a storm. Tarzan confides to his mother that he feels he is “not a good ape,” and that he believes “everyone would be better off if I just wasn’t around.” Tarzan’s mother tells him that he and the family need each other, and that she particularly needs him. However, an accident occurs where Tarzan is presumed dead. He overhears various family members expressing their belief that Kala (and the rest of the family) will be better off without him. Tarzan decides to run away, even though running away might expose him to a fearful monster named Zugor.

While on the run, Tarzan encounters a family of displaced gorillas and an old ape (who turns out to be Zugor). Tarzan learns that Zugor pursued a life of solitude after being rejected by his peers for not being able to keep up. Tarzan asks Zugor to help him be a “good ape.” Zugor figures out that Tarzan is not an ape, so he and Tarzan set off to figure out what Tarzan is. Tarzan is shown trying a quick succession of possible identities: giraffe, warthog, vulture, fish, elephant, frog, and others. A song playing in the background asks, “Who am I? Tell me, where do I come from?” Eventually, 
Zugor determines that Tarzan is uniquely himself; that he is “a Tarzan.”

Meanwhile, Tarzan’s friends and mother have discovered that he is still alive, and set out to find him. They find themselves in danger, but Tarzan, inspired by knowing that he is uniquely himself, is able to rescue them. As the film ends, Tarzan is happily reunited with his gorilla family and is able to fit in – not as another gorilla, but as a Tarzan.

The Adoption Connection
Tarzan is a human who is being raised by gorillas. The movie shows him struggling to be “a good ape,” and eventually working to discover his own identity. He withdraws for a time during a difficult period of this work.  He finally realizes that he is both “a Tarzan” and a member of his gorilla family. 

Adoptees who are adopted cross-culturally likely have a similar quest: to synthesize their multiple identities. Their quest can be impacted by others. The impact can be  positive, like when Tarzan’s mother tells him that she needs him and that he needs the family; and when Zugor tells Tarzan that Tarzan is uniquely himself. The impact can also be negative, like when the displaced apes laugh and tell Tarzan that he obviously isn’t one of them; and when some of the gorillas in Tarzan’s family express their belief that the family is better off without him. It is ultimately the adoptee’s job to determine his or her unique identity, but the role of the adopting family (and the birth family) should be to show unconditional love for the adoptee and to allow the adoptee freedom to do this work of identity development, rather than making the adoptee feel guilty for having an identity with multiple sources.

Strong Points
Tarzan’s mother affirms her love for Tarzan to him and to others. She affirms to him that he needs the family and that the family needs him. At the very end of the movie, Tarzan realizes that part of his identity is being part of his family. Tarzan left because he felt everyone would be better off without him; however, in his absence we see that he is very much missed by his friends and his mother.

Weak Points
Tarzan ran away, in part, because some adults in his family expressed that the family would be better off without him. This was largely due to Tarzan being less physically capable than the rest of the family. When Tarzan returns, his newly found confidence has seemingly increased his physical capabilities , but the adults never recant their statement that the family would be better off without Tarzan. This is challenging for two reasons.

First , many children who are adopted have experienced abuse or neglect, which sometimes results in physical, mental, emotional, educational, or developmental delays. Children who already feel sensitive about their delays may resonate painfully strongly with Tarzan’s inability to keep up with his peers.  These children might also take an unintended lesson from this movie: they’ll fit in once they function as well as everyone else. Parents should use discretion in determining whether this is an appropriate movie for their children. Parents may want to watch it before showing it to their children.

A second concern is that, while Tarzan accepts the family as his own, we never learn whether the whole family accepts Tarzan. This may mirror the situation in some families; it’s possible that some extended family members of some families don’t fully accept an adoptee as part of the family. If this happens, the best course of action for a parent may be to continually affirm the adoptee’s worth and place in the family – both to the adoptee and to the unaccepting family member. If the family member persists in their lack of acceptance, contact should probably be limited. Tarzan’s family appears to be very closely-knit, and so Kala would likely have to confront her other family members about what they say about Tarzan. We never see those conversations in this movie.

Some Recommendations
As a musical, animated Disney movie, this film will probably appeal most to children up to about ten years of age. Identity formation is a relevant topic of discussion for kids towards the later end of this age group. The movie’s main message is supportive of a person’s individuality and their inclusion in a family; this is good for adoptees, and particularly cross-cultural adoptees. There are some concerns with some members of Tarzan’s family never expressing their acceptance of him , but this movie could still be helpful as a starting point for some discussion in support of adoptees being comfortable with the identity that they inherit from their birth family, the identity that they receive from their adoptive family, and the identity that they creae for themselves. 
Questions for Discussion After the Movie
 For Kids:
   Tarzan wondered who he is. Who do you think Tarzan is?
   What makes you, you? 
   Some adults said mean things that hurt Tarzan’s feelings. The things they said were not true, but they still hurt.  Has anyone said something that hurt your feelings?
   Some people really loved Tarzan and were his friends, and missed him when he was gone. Who are the people who you know really care about you? [note: don’t lead with this question. Don’t be offended if they name (or don’t name) certain people. Let this just be a time for the kid to talk, and for you to get insight.]

 For Parents:
   Are there members of your family or friends who are not (or will not be) supportive of your adoptee? Who are they, how do they express their lack of support, and how can you respond to them? 
   If Kala learned that Tarzan overheard the other gorillas saying they’d be better off without him, how should Kala respond to those gorillas, and what should she say to Tarzan
   If you have adopted cross-culturally (or are considering doing so), are you comfortable with your adoptee forming an identity separate from your own? How will you help in this?
   What can you do to create a “new” family culture that incorporates elements of everyone’s culture?
   What are your expectations and what are your hopes about how your adoptee will choose to identify in the future?
 How will you help your child develop as an individual?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Fantastic Four Adoption Movie Review

Reed Richards and Ben Grimm have been working together since they were young children, attempting to create technology that would allow them to teleport material. They inadvertently reach another dimension, which draws the attention of Franklin Storm, a professor who has surrounded himself with young geniuses and nurtures them like a parent. Reed and Ben join with Victor, an estranged protégé of Storm, and Storm’s son Johnny, to explore the new world. However, something goes wrong and Victor is left behind, and the others are changed physically. A year later, they attempt to reenter the other dimension to get their old bodies back, and they run into Victor, who has survived. Victor comes back to our world, but he is bent on the destruction of our world.

The Adoption Connection

Franklin Storm treats his proteges like children. He refers to them as his family, and the film overtly acknowledges that he has adopted Sue, who had been born in Kosovo. Although the film barely mentions it, Sue and Franklin form a transracial family. Reed asks Sue, “Did he adopt you?” Sue replies that he did. Reed says, “I know what that’s like.” Sue asks, “You were adopted?” Reed says, “No, I just wish I was. We just don’t understand each other.” This exchange reminds me of Moonrise Kingdom, where an adopted character is told by a friend, “You’re lucky you were adopted.” He responds, essentially, “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Franklin and his children and proteges are involved in the Baxter Institute. Other members of the Institute view it more as a business, and speak disparagingly of Franklin’s “little orphanage.”

Strong Points

As a father figure, Franklin is great. He encourages them to thrive, trusts them explicitly, forgives them when they rebel, shows deep concern for their well-being, and holds them accountable to their own potential. Franklin also creates a strong family culture – he makes his kids promise to take care of each other, and tells one of them that, even though he’s frustrating, “Johnny is your brother. Like it or not, he’s family, and family means we take care of each other.” – That speech kind of reminds me of how family is defined in Lilo and Stitch.

The characters wrestle with the changes that have happened to them – their lives are altered uncomfortably, but they have improved abilities. They wonder whether this is something to be overcome, or a change that has happened for a reason that they should use productively.


There is a traumatic scene where one of Franklin’s proteges is left behind in a perilous situation.

Weak Points

There are some scenes that could be jarring to some viewers.

One character feels displaced, as though he no longer belongs in the world or with his former family. 

(Spoiler alert: One of Franklin’s sons kills him. There’s no deeper form of rejecting a parent. END SPOILER).


Spoiler alerts in this section:

Franklin is a good father, and a good adoptive father. He has created a family culture of support and care. He’s one of the better father figures I’ve seen in film over the last couple years. However, he’s killed by one of the kids he’s loved as his own, and basically disintegrates on screen, in front of his other kids. If it isn’t a traumatic scene for younger kids with parental loss issues, it’ll only be because it’s not particularly realistic. Fantastic Four introduces several relational conflicts, but doesn’t resolve many of them. This might be an entertaining film for some viewers between the ages of 13-17, but it’s probably too scary for some younger kids, and won’t entertain most adults.

Similar Films

In the X-Men film, other characters also wrestle with deciding whether their differences are blessings or curses.

Questions for Discussion

Sue tells Reed that everyone has patterns that makes them somewhat predictable. Do you agree? 

What patterns do you notice in your parents? Your teachers? Your friends? Yourself?

The Chinese character for crisis combines two symbols – danger and opportunity. When you find yourself in a difficult situation, how do you decide whether it’s a danger to run from, or an opportunity to carefully explore? 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Tarzan Adoption Movie Review

Disney's Tarzan is a pretty fun movie to watch. It also raises some good questions about discussing adoption with an adoptee... you see, Tarzan is raised by Kala, but Kala's been putting off telling him that he's adopted. She finally gets around to it.

Disney's Tarzan

The Plot (spoilers ahead)
A young married couple is shipwrecked on an island. They make a home for themselves and their infant son but are killed by a leopardess. Around the same time, a female gorilla named Kala loses her child to the leopardess. Kala hears the infant’s cries and rescues him from the leopardess. She names him Tarzan and chooses to raise him as her own son.

Kala’s mate, Kershak, is the leader of the family of gorillas. He does not trust humans. He does allow Tarzan to stay after ascertaining that Tarzan was alone, but he establishes that Tarzan is not his son. Tarzan grows into manhood while being raised by gorillas and making friends with other jungle animals. He first encounters humans when he rescues a young explorer/biologist named Jane. Jane and her party want to find the gorillas, but Tarzan says he cannot bring them there; Kershak has forbidden it. Over time, though, Tarzan falls in love with Jane. He brings her and her party to his gorilla family. This angers Kershak, and he chases the party away.

Jane is about to leave for England, and Tarzan decides to go with her. However, as soon as he boards her boat, several of her party capture Jane and Tarzan, lock them in a cell, and proclaim that they will go and capture the gorillas for profit. Tarzan is eventually freed and pursues them. Tarzan is able to save his gorilla family, but Kershak is wounded during the battle. Before Kershak dies, he apologizes to Tarzan, and says that Tarzan has been his son all along. Tarzan is given leadership in the tribe. Jane and her father decide to stay with Tarzan, and is welcomed by the rest of the gorillas.

The Adoption Connection
Tarzan is found and raised by a member of another species. Different members of his new family accept him to varying degrees; his mother accepts him fully, his father does not accept him; some children accept him as a curiosity, another accepts him as a best friend. Tarzan grows up knowing the language and culture of his new family and grieves that he is not more like those raising him. He is eventually introduced to his culture of origin. He meets another human and quickly learns his birth language. Tarzan’s gorilla mother shows him a photograph of his birth parents and lets him know that she just wants him to be happy. Tarzan affirms that the gorilla will always be his mother. He tries to integrate the two cultures. His initial efforts at integration are met with fear and rejection, due in part to the gorilla family’s fear of humans and the impure motives of some of the humans. Eventually, he is able to integrate his two worlds as two trustworthy humans (Jane and her father) are accepted by the gorillas.

Tarzan’s story reflects some aspects of intercultural adoption. Some adopting families are hesitant to acknowledge the culture of their child’s origin; perhaps they do not know much about that culture, or do not view the culture as important. Some members of the adopting culture who have contact with the adoptee may dislike the adoptee’s culture, as Kershak seems to dislike Tarzan’s.  Other members of the adopting culture may be well-meaning but insensitive, like one young gorilla who comments about Tarzan’s different appearance and asks about the whereabouts of his mother. When Kala says that she will be Tarzan’s mother, concern is evident on the faces of many other gorillas.

Strong Points
A song which plays frequently during the movie includes the lyrics “two worlds, one family.” This is Tarzan’s wish and is also a good goal for multicultural families. Cross-cultural adoptees gain the culture of their adopting parents when they are adopted; they shouldn’t have to lose their culture of origin.

Kala adopts Tarzan shortly after the loss of a child that had been born to her. Kershak cautions Kala that Tarzan “won’t replace the one we lost.” Kala’s response is excellent: “I know that… but he needs me.”

When Tarzan questions Kala about the differences in appearance between them, Kala reminds him that their heartbeats (and hearts) are “exactly the same.” Later, when Tarzan meets Jane, he listens to her heart and finds that she also has a heartbeat. A song during the end credits sings, “I know we’re different, but deep inside us we’re not that different at all.”

Tarzan’s identification with his adoptive culture is very evident. After Tarzan tries to leave for England with Jane, he learns of the danger his family is in and returns to save them. Kershak comments, “You came back.” Tarzan responds, “I came home.”

Jane accepts Tarzan’s identification with his adoptive culture, remarking aloud that Tarzan is “one of them.” At one point, Jane tells Tarzan, “You belong with us.” Eventually, though, she chooses to join Tarzan in his culture while also educating him about hers.

The movie shows strengths and weaknesses in each culture; some gorillas are open to Tarzan, others aren’t. Some humans are noble, others are ignoble. In any adoption, no culture is purely good, and no culture is purely bad. One culture is not better than another, and one shouldn’t be totally forsaken for another.

A Challenge
After Kala shows Tarzan a photograph of himself with his birth parents, Tarzan asks Kala, “Why didn’t you tell me that there are creatures that look like me?” Tarzan has a very valid question, and Kala does not have a satisfactory answer.

A Weak Point
Kershak is the gorilla least pleased with Tarzan’s inclusion in the family. For much of the movie, Kershak appears to dislike Tarzan, telling Kala, “He’s not our kind,” and proclaiming that Tarzan is not his son.  At one point, Tarzan relates how he interprets Kershak’s actions, telling Kala, “Kershak said I don’t belong in the family.” Although Kershak eventually apologizes and accepts Tarzan, the resolution is brief. The evident dislike of Tarzan by his adoptive father could be painful for a child who does not feel close to an adoptive parent. A person adopted cross-culturally will likely have struggled (or sometimes still struggle) with feelings of not belonging in their new culture; Tarzan experiences overt rejection from Kershak and from some peers.  Discussions about belongingness are probably a good idea; even if a child hasn’t expressed their struggles, they probably have experienced feelings of not belonging, either internally or through things others have said. Kershak’s dislike of Tarzan might be too poignant to focus on, but the mild unacceptance Tarzan experiences from his peers could be a good starting point for discussion.

Some Recommendations
This is a musical Disney animated movie and will probably appeal most to children up to around ten years of age. The fact that the cross-cultural adoption is actually a cross-species adoption also makes it seem most appropriate for a younger audience. The movie seems appropriate for grade-school-age children who have been adopted cross-culturally and who are starting to have questions about their culture of origin, their place in their current culture, and the relationship between the two. The movie could be used as a way to begin a series of discussions with a child about culture; both the culture of their birth family and the culture of your family. Create a family culture which combines elements of each original culture.

Parents watching the movie can try to identify with Kala: What is she feeling at various points in the movie? What does she do well? What can she do better?

Questions for Discussion After the Movie
 For Kids:
   What do you know about where your birth family is from? What would you like to know?
   Tarzan sometimes felt like he didn’t fit in with the gorillas. He tried to fit in by putting mud on his face, and by trying to get a hair from an elephant. He also fit in without trying because he knew the same language as the gorillas and because he had a heart exactly like Kala’s. Do you ever feel like you fit in? Do you ever feel like you don’t fit in? [Explain “culture” to younger kids before asking this question.]
   What’s your favorite part about being part of our culture? What’s your favorite part about being part of your birth family’s culture?  [This question might be easier to phrase by using the actual names of the cultures, for example, “What’s your favorite part of being Texan? What’s your favorite part of being Vietnamese?”]

 For Parents:
   In the scene where Kala shows Tarzan the photograph of him with his birth family, how would you have answered Tarzan’s question: Why haven’t you told me before?
   How do you imagine Kala felt when Tarzan emerged in human clothes?
   If you have adopted cross-culturally or are considering doing so, how much do you know about the culture of the child? How can you learn more?
   Some adoptive parents have expressed that the child will inherit the culture of the adoptive family and should not need their own culture. How is this view harmful to the adoptee?

Now that you've checked out Tarzan, it's time to see the surprisingly relevant sequel!
Check out my adoption movie review of Tarzan II!

Thursday, August 20, 2015


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