Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Wonder Adoption Movie Review

(There are spoilers throughout this review)

August “Auggie” Pullman has been home schooled all his life, but he surprises his parents by saying that he is ready to go to a charter middle school. Auggie has Treacher Collins Syndrome; it has taken many surgeries to help him breathe and hear, but some facial abnormalities suggest the medical difficulties he has had in his life. His parents and his sister are worried; will the kids at school see past his physical appearance and embrace him? One fellow student, Jack Will, becomes a friend to Auggie, but when Auggie overhears Jack speaking very unkindly, their relationship seems threatened.
Auggie’s older sister, Via, has not resented the fact that her parents’ lives have revolved around her younger brother; she has joined them in their care of him, and she loves him deeply, but as a high school student, she feels neglected by them, and the effect of their relative inattention to her is amplified when her longtime best friend Miranda stops returning her calls.

Wonder takes turns following Auggie, Jack, Via and Miranda as it explores the social and emotional experience of life for each of these young people, who each struggle in their own way. It’s a compassionate and heartwarming film which captures the kindness and cruelty of kids and adults.






The Adoption Connection

There is not an adoption element to the story. Many kids can relate to the other children in the film, whether it’s relating to Auggie as he is bullied, Via as she feels neglected by her parents and abandoned by her best friend, Miranda as she feels insecure  and ashamed of her family circumstances, or Jack as he feels torn between doing the right thing and caving to peer pressure.


Strong Points

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Jack shows kindness to Auggie, and realizes that over time, he has come to like Auggie – he now wants to be his friend genuinely, rather than just as a kindness.

The principal, Mr. Tushman, shows compassion and wisdom. He does not overreact when kids misbehave, understands their motivation, and appears to care for each of his students. With regard to Auggie, he challenges a complaining parent, “We can’t change the way he looks; maybe we can change the way we see.”

Auggie’s main bully, Julian, expresses genuine remorse when he is expelled; Mr. Tushman acknowledges that Julian’s remorse is genuine.

Auggie’s parents love him, and struggle to find the balance between protecting him from hardships and supporting him in the midst of them.

In a powerful scene, a distraught Auggie asks his mother, “Why am I so ugly?” She says that he isn’t, and he says it doesn’t count because she has to say it, because she is his mother. She replies, “Because I’m your mother, it counts the most, because I know you the most.” She admits to him that she doesn’t know if kids will start treating him better, but acknowledges that “the face shows us where we’ve been, and it’s never ugly. Your heart shows where you’re going.”

Via’s parents and friend eventually do find a way to connect with her and help her feel supported. Via also had the memory of her grandmother’s support – her grandmother confided in her that, “your brother has lots of angels watching after him – but you’re my favorite.” It’s a memory that Via has cherished when she feels overshadowed by Auggie’s needs.

I rejoiced in my heart when Jack and Auggie reconcile their friendship.

Auggie’s parents and sister always have loved him. We get to rejoice along with him as he is triumphantly accepted by his teachers and peers.



Challenges

Several characters bully or ostracize Auggie. One is particularly cruel, and leaves a note telling Auggie to die. He has photoshopped Julian out of a class photo, and written “no freaks allowed” on it. Later, that child’s mother says that she photoshopped Auggie out of the photo because she wanted her friends to notice her son rather than Auggie. The bully was suspended, and his parents decided that he would not be returning to the school – not as a punishment to their son, but in protest of the school punishing their son at all.  Auggie also overhears his only friend say that, if he looked like Auggie, he would kill himself. It takes a long time for their relationship to heal, but it does. It could be hard for some kids to see Auggie bullied or in peril.

Via briefly says that she is an only child. She regrets this, and later admits this. The friend to whom she lied is understanding of her situation.

It is sad to see Via’s time with her mother cut short by Auggie’s needs, but Via recovers from her pain and uses it as relational currency to talk to Auggie about what he’s going through, and what she’s going through. She tells him, “Right now, we’re each other’s best friends.”
The family dog dies, which could be sad for some viewers.

Miranda wishes for a loving family; her own family does not pay much attention to her. She has gained a sense of belonging in the Pullman family, but over the summer she told her new friends about her life – but pretended that she had Via’s life. Now, she is ashamed and tries to avoid Via, but she misses the Pullmans.
 

Recommendations

Wonder is a compassionate, thoughtful film that examines the same days through several sets of eyes. It’s much easier to view others with compassion when we understand their experiences, and Wonder accomplishes that several times over, while capturing some of humanity’s worst moments, but also some of the best. This one seems best suited to teens and their parents, although some older grade schoolers and preteens might find it worthwhile as well, if the scenes of bullying aren’t too hard.


Questions for Discussion

What do you think Auggie was feeling when he walked to school the first time?

Why did Miranda not talk to Via for a long time? Why did she pretend to be Via?

Why do you think Jack said the mean thing about Auggie? How do you think he felt when he said it?

How does Via feel about her brother?

Which kid do you think is most like you?

Have you ever been bullied – or are you being bullied?



Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Christmas Prince

(There are spoilers throughout this review)

The kingdom of Aldovia is in a crisis – Prince Richard may choose to renounce rather than to assume the throne, and it is uncertain what will happen if he does. Struggling New York writer Amber Moore takes the journalistic assignment of covering the situation. When a scheduled press conference is cancelled, Amber decides she cannot leave empty handed. She ingratiates herself to the Royal Family by posing as a tutor. She starts to fall in love with the Prince, and to care for his younger sister. While she conceals the truth about herself, she does find a surprising truth about Prince Richard, that not even knows – and it will threaten his claim to the throne, much to the delight of Richard’s power-seeking cousin Simon.

The Adoption Connection

SPOILERS IN THIS SECTION

Richard was adopted as an infant, nearly 27 years ago, but he does not know about this. His parents, the King and Queen of Aldovia, had talked about disclosing the adoption to Richard, but they had never done so. When Richard’s adoption is made known, it is declared that he cannot inherit the throne, as law says that it must remain with the King’s bloodline. Richard is not bothered by the loss of the throne, but he is distressed that his parents had lied to him. Still, he tells his mother that she is his mother, and he assures her that she will not be leaving. Before Simon can take the throne, Amber discovers that the King had hidden a secret decree which changes the law, allowing Richard to inherit the throne. He accepts, and is crowned King Richard II of Aldovia.  


Strong Points

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Richard declares that he loves his parents, even though they kept the truth of his adoption from him.
Richard’s father changed the law so that Richard was not limited by being adopted.
The truth does eventually come to light, and it is evident that Richard’s father intended to “light the shadows of the past,” leaving in writing that “my blood is not in his veins, but he is my son.”



Challenges

Richard’s parents kept his adoption secret from him. The Queen acknowledges that this secrecy was for their own benefit, not Richard’s. Richard’s cousin discovers the truth of Richard’s adoption, and surprises Richard publically with it, in an attempt to show Richard to be an illegitimate heir to the throne. They refer to him as a “fraudulent prince” and say that he “is not of the blood of the late king; he is in fact adopted.” This film does show that secrecy with regard to adoption can be painful, can be exploited, and can have negative consequences, but the theme – and the presentation of an adopted son as being thought of as less legitimate – could be hard for some viewers. It is important to note that the King did change the law to make it clear that Richard is not less legitimate, but that his adoption is a “love far greater than blood.”

Richard’s cruel relatives refer to his adoptive birth certificate as “fake.”


Recommendations

A Christmas Prince is a stereotypical Christmas love story. The plot is direct and shallow. And then there’s a surprising adoption connection upon which the whole of the story hangs. Richard’s adoption has been kept secret by his parents; when it is discovered, it is used against Richard and causes him grief. Eventually, the discovery leads to a conversation between Richard and his mother, where they find that their relationship can endure this discovery, and we also see that Richard’s father intended to break the secrecy, but died before he was able to. Richard’s full status as a Royal is affirmed. In the end, A Christmas Prince tries to be affirming of adoption, and it briefly shows the trouble that secrecy can cause, although Richard’s surprise, anger, and grief at the discovery seem very muted. I wouldn’t recommend this one for kids. For parents, as you watch it, think about how much better Richard’s life could have been had his parents not kept the adoption secret from him, and whether you think Richard’s reaction is realistic.
 

Questions for Discussion

Why did Richard’s parents keep his adoption secret from him?
How might Richard’s life have been better if he had known about his adoption all along?



Monday, November 27, 2017

Coco Adoption Movie Review (Spoilers)

(There are spoilers throughout this review)

Miguel loves music, but his family forbids it. Four generations ago, Miguel’s great-great-grandfather left, when Miguel’s great-grandmother Coco was only a small child. He left intending to play his music for the world, but never returned. His wife, Miguel’s great-great-grandmother learned how to make shoes, and in the generations since, her family has become famous and successful as shoemakers. Music has been forbidden from the family because of the pain caused when Miguel’s great-great-grandfather left. Miguel secretly loves music and wants to be a musician. His family will not the speak the name of his great-great-grandfather; they try to forget him. As a result, Miguel does not know who his ancestor is, although he believes it is Ernesto de la Cruz, who during his life had been the most famous singer in the land. On Dia de los Muertos, Miguel, frustrated by his family’s lack of support for his love of music, claims that he no longer wants to be part of his family. He is transported into the land of the dead, where he attempts to find Ernesto de la Cruz, but instead finds out some surprising truths about his family history.



The Adoption Connection

Coco is a story of search, reunion, secrecy, and identity. It is one of the most adoption-relevant films I’ve reviewed, even though the film is not about adoption.

The importance of family over many generations is important to Miguel, but much of his identity is missing because his family refuses to speak about his great-great-grandfather. Their pain over what they perceived as his betrayal of the family leads them to try to forget him, and to not speak about him. However, this causes Miguel to fantasize about who his ancestor may have been. For adopted persons or kids in foster care, it is not uncommon to fantasize about unknown birth parents; those fantasies are often either overly negative or overly positive; the truth can help develop a more realistic understanding.  The family’s unwillingness to speak of Miguel’s ancestor also leaves Miguel without answers for why he has certain skills, drives, and ambitions. Eventually, he learns the truth – that his grandfather was a talented and passionate musician, and then Miguel can make peace with that aspect of his own identity. Miguel expressed, “My whole life, something made me different and I didn’t know where it came from – it’s from you, and I’m proud to be your family.” What a powerful statement of the importance of family, and a powerful picture of what is lost when we keep secrets about a person’s ancestry.  

A character without family connections has made family connections with others in a similar situation; he explains, that they are “kind of” his family. “We’re all friendless and forgotten. We call each other cousin.”

Miguel feels that he must prove himself worthy of his heritage.


Strong Points

Even though a family uses secrecy and silence to try to protect themselves, they find healing through truth. (For more on secrecy and silence Check out our Book! )        

Coco captures the importance of multigenerational familial connections, which is relevant to all families, but perhaps particularly to those families touched by adoption.

Miguel struggles with feeling part of his family, but knowing the truth about his family helps him accept his family – and helps them accept him.  

We learn that Coco’s father missed his young daughter even though he was ultimately prevented from returning to her.

Miguel’s family believed that his great-great grandfather abandoned his family. They tell Miguel to forget him and not speak of him, but Miguel protests, “He is my family.”

Miguel feels caught between his own identity and the demands of his family. I can imagine adoptees feeling a similar way when they experience, or are subjected to, loyalty conflicts between their adoptive and birth families. Miguel powerfully challenges his great-great-grandmother, “I don’t want to pick sides. Why aren’t you on my side? That’s what family is supposed to do.”

Miguel is freed from an untrue fantasy about his unknown relatives, and is able to take pride and wholeness from the truth.  

Even when it seems that Coco has forgotten her father, she still has some memories of him tucked deep away, and Miguel is able to help her find them.



Challenges

*Major Spoilers*

A big theme of the story is that Miguel’s ancestor did leave his family. What Miguel learns, though, is surprising. Ernesto de la Cruz is not his relative. In fact, Miguel’s ancestor was a forgotten musician named Hector, who was close friends with de la Cruz. Hector decided that he wanted to abandon his career and return home to his family; however, de la Cruz wanted to become famous. He poisoned Hector, and after Hector was dead, de la Cruz stole Hector’s music, took credit for it, and used it to gain fame and riches for himself. Miguel learns and shares the truth, which brings healing to his family, both in the land of the living and in the land of the dead. The themes might be a bit hard for some of the younger children that this film seems likely to appeal to.

Before they learn the truth about Coco’s father, Miguel’s family tells him, “never mention that man; he’s better off forgotten,” but it is obvious that Coco, even in her very old age, longs for her father.
The tradition holds that someone whose family has not put up their photo on the day of the dead cannot cross over into the land of the living. Some kids could walk away from the film feeling responsible for the lost relationships with their birth family members; parents should proactively address this, reminding children that they are remembered and loved, and that it is good for them to remember the people they love, but that they are not responsible for what losses they’ve experienced. 

As Hector is nearly forgotten by his living relatives, he starts to fade away. He expresses that, when no one left in the living world remembers him, he will experience “the final death, which he says happens to everyone.”

Miguel nearly becomes trapped in the land of the dead – his skin starts to be translucent and we can 
see his skeleton; this could scare some young kids.

For a moment, it seems as though Hector will never be reunited with his daughter.

A crowd cheers when a villain is crushed to death.


Recommendations

Because of Coco’s portrayal of the importance of family relationships and the power of breaking secrecy, it seems like an important film for adoptive families. At the same time, kids should not feel guilty if they forget those they’ve lost, especially kids who’ve lost familial connections through foster care or adoption; kids in that situation often do struggle with unjustified self-blame, and they could leave this film feeling as they’ve got something else to feel guilty about. Parents need to guard against this, and the best way to do that is with proactive conversations – but the film seems so important to see because of how it captures the importance of the family members with whom we’ve lost contact and because it shows the gain that can occur when secrecy is broken. Some young kids might be scared by the skeletons, but overall this one should be good for parents as well as for most kids ages 8 and up, with parental guidance. The film is paired with Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, which is a heartwarming and even insightful short film.

Questions for Discussion

Why did Miguel says that he did not want to pick sides? What did he mean? What do you think about how he was feeling?

Why did Miguel’s family try not to talk about his great-great-grandfather? How did that impact Miguel?

How did the truth change Miguel’s family?

In what ways is Miguel shaped by family members that he grew up with? In what ways was he shaped by his great-great-grandfather?

Who makes you, you?




Olaf's Frozen Adventure Adoption Movie Review

(There are spoilers throughout this review)

Olaf, the magical talking snowman, is very excited to celebrate the first Christmas of his life, and the first Christmas that the Kingdom of Arendelle will Celebrate in many years. Queen Elsa and her sister Anna are excited to ring the traditional Yule Bell to open the holidays, and they anticipate sharing the festivities with their subjects, but they are surprised to find that their subjects all return to their homes to participate in their own family traditions. Anna and Elsa realize that they do not know what their own family traditions are, and Elsa takes the blame on herself; her parents were so careful to protect her during her difficult youth that the family did not seem to celebrate any holiday traditions. Olaf is saddened to see his best friends so sad at the holidays, so he and the reindeer Sven set off to discover what other families do around the holidays; he intends to bring new traditions back to the girls to help cheer them up. Although his efforts appear to be unsuccessful, the girls realize that Olaf himself is their family tradition.





The Adoption Connection

Anna and Elsa’s parents have died. Many people who have been in foster care or adopted might be able to relate to Anna and Elsa, as they realize they do not know what their family traditions are. They might also rejoice when Anna and Elsa realize that family is their tradition.


Strong Points

Olaf is a supportive friend.

Anna and Elsa realize that their family is their tradition. They can make new traditions, but being with each other and Olaf is already a significant part of their life. Children might leave this short film able to find peace in the good things that they have in their lives – in a way, it reminds me of the Tigger Movie; Tigger still misses his birth family, but he also is able to accept the people in his life as his family.

The film is long for a short (21 minutes), but the songs are enjoyable, the sentiments are warming, and it is nice to be back in Arendelle for a little while.

There’s a great line in a song towards the end of the film, “Tradition is the family we’ve made. When we’re together, I have all I wished. When we’re together, then my favorite gift is you. When we’re together that’s my favorite time of year.” It’s actually a pretty good sentiment for any family; parents could feel that way about their children, children could feel that way about their parents; siblings or extended family members could echo it. It’s a really good song.


Challenges

When Olaf’s plans to find new traditions for Anna and Elsa appear to fail, he wonders if he should stay lost in the woods. Anna, Elsa, and the whole community search for him and find him.

Olaf does get in brief peril, as he is chased by wolves. It could scare some of the youngest viewers.


Recommendations

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is the short film that plays before Coco. Coco is worth seeing, and Olaf’s Frozen Adventure would be worth seeing on its own, but is certainly worth seeing along with Coco. It captures the true sadness that some folks feel around the holidays, and young adoptees might relate to the sadness of feeling as though they have no family traditions. Olaf’s Frozen Adventure provides some help; it’s positive, heartwarming, and perhaps even profound to indicate that our family is our tradition. This application could be hard for kids who have been cut off from their birthfamily, but for others, it could be very helpful. This should generally be fine for kids of all ages.


Questions for Discussion

What family traditions do you already have? What new family traditions would you like to make?

What makes the holidays sad for Anna and Elsa? What makes them happy? Do you think they’ll usually be happy, sad, or both around this time of year?

What makes Olaf such a good friend? Do you have any friends like him?

Have you ever tried fruitcake?


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Daddy's Home 2 Adoption Movie Review

Dusty and Brad have worked to successfully become “co-dads” after Brad married Sara and became stepfather to Dusty’s two children Dylan and Megan. Brad has demonstrated a compassionate approach to parenting that Dusty has come to accept and respect, and Dusty has accepted Brad as part of his family. Now, Brad and Sara have become parents to Griffy, and Dusty has married Karen, become stepfather to Adrianna. When Megan expresses that she hates having to have two different Christmases, Dusty and Brad agree to have one big celebration together as a family. It gets even bigger when Brad’s father Don and Dusty’s often-absent father Kurt both join the festivities. Dusty’s macho father can’t believe that Dusty and Brad actually are able to successfully share parenting duties, and he tries to drive a wedge between them. Brad’s father is hiding a secret, and Adrianna’s musclebound father brings an element of dangerous unpredictability when he shows up, too. Can these several dads learn to work together for the good of their kids?

*Spoilers ahead the rest of the way*






The Adoption Connection

Although there is no direct mention of adoption, the concept of blended families and shared parenting is relevant to many families, including adoptive and foster families. Brad and Dusty have built a strong relationship, even though their start was rocky, and even though they don’t always get along very well.


Strong Points

Dusty and Brad initially say that they don’t harbor any hard feelings towards each other, and they present as having a very strong relationship. The truth that comes out is, they do have some grudges against each other – but the film doesn’t end with that realization. They both love the children that they’re parenting, and they view each other as family. The hurt feelings that they have towards each other are true, but their relationship doesn’t end because of those feelings, and in fact, those feelings aren’t the primary defining factor of their relationship – they’re just part of the story. Brad and Dusty show that adults co-parenting the same children can be a team – and be a family – even in spite of differences in lifestyle and differences in approaches to parenting. This film could present a surprisingly helpful example for what positive relationships could look like between adoptive and birth families, as well.

Dusty is learning to express his emotions. Although his father was not nurturing, Dusty is learning to tell his kids that he loves them.


Challenges

Brad and Dusty do try to hurt each other. Dusty’s father Kurt seems to be trying to upset the balance that Brad and Dusty have worked to form.

When Adrianna’s dad shows up, he refers to himself as her “one true real dad,” which seems to be intended to belittle the role that Dusty is taking in her life.


Recommendations

I wouldn’t recommend Daddy’s home to kids, and I don’t think it’s intended as a family film, but it seems like it could be a good choice for parents. As you watch it, consider how adoption or fostering is similar to a blended family. What conflicted loyalties might your children be feeling? How can you acknowledge and honor the other connections in their lives?


Questions for Discussion

What makes Brad’s and Dusty’s relationship work?

Can you maintain a relationship with someone even if you have some mixed feelings towards them? What helps that happen?

To what extent could you incorporate your children’s birth family into your family’s life?


Friday, November 10, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok Adoption Movie Review

Thor’s home is threatened by the fire demon Surtur who promises to bring a time of destruction; meanwhile, the universe is threatened by the release of Hela, a long-imprisoned goddess intent on ruling all worlds. Thor and his trickster brother Loki form a tentative alliance to work against Hela and save their home world.

*SPOILERS AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY*


The Adoption Connection

Loki is the adopted son of Odin, Thor’s father; Thor and Loki are adoptive brothers, and their relationship is often contentious. When Thor returns home, he finds that Odin is missing, and Loki has fooled his father’s subjects by disguising himself as Odin and convincing his subjects that Loki died nobly.

Odin reveals that he is dying, and his death will cause the release of his daughter Hela. Loki and Thor had not previously known that they had a sister; Hela was banished from her home and written out of her homeland’s history because of her ambitions of dominating others.

In order to save his people, Thor must ultimately choose to allow the destruction of his home. He realizes that the people are what defines his home, rather than the location.

Bruce Banner is locked into the “Hulk” mode – in a way, his anger keeps him safe, but he has not been able to return to normal, and it takes hearing the voice of a loving friend to return to his normal self.


Strong Points

Thor inherits his father’s throne, and it appears that he will rule with wisdom and bravery.

In spite of the contentiousness of their relationship, Thor and Loki do work together, and it seems likely that their fraternal relationship will continue.


Challenges

Loki and Thor have a contentious relationship. Each has desired the throne. Now they must work together to fight against a sister that they never knew they had. Loki and Thor betray each other at various points of their journey.

Thor loses an eye.

Odin dies, which could be hard for viewers who have lost a parent.  

After Odin dies, Thor and Loki question the continuation of their brotherly bond. They decide to go away from each other, in a scene that could be heartbreaking for adoptive families. They express that “[our father] brought us together; it is fitting his death sets us apart… it’s probably for the best if we never see each other.”

Hela is the goddess of death, and she slaughters many.

Odin tried to erase his daughter’s name from the history of his world. It would have been healthier to acknowledge the truth and learn from it. Another character speaks a strong indictment against secrecy, “It hurts being told you’re one thing and learning it’s all a fiction.”

Thor’s home world does end in fire.


Recommendations

Thor: Ragnarok is a fun and engaging film, but it is probably pushed out of bounds for most young viewers touched by adoption by the violence, parental loss, home loss, and the discussion in which 
Thor and Loki appear to decide that their relationship should end now that their father has died. This one should be OK for most teens and adults, although parents should still check in with their teens about the conversation between Thor and Loki.


Questions for Discussion

Why did Odin keep Hela a secret from Thor and Loki? What would have been different had he told his sons about her?

After Odin dies, why are Loki and Thor still brothers?

What makes someone a part of your family?

What makes a place your home?


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