Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ernest & Celestine Adoption Movie Review

Mice live below the city, and bears live above ground. Mice are scared of bears, and believe that bears will eat them. Bears are scared of mice, because… well, I guess just because mice are scary to them. They probably wouldn’t have any interaction with each other, except for the fact that mice often lose their teeth, and bear teeth make great replacements. Young mice are sent above ground to scavenge replacement teeth. One young mouse, Celestine, gets trapped above ground. She is discovered by a bear named Ernest who has just awoken from hibernation. He is very poor and very hungry. Through quick thinking, Celestine becomes his first friend instead of his first meal, but neither the society of mice nor the society of bears are prepared to accept their friendship.

How is This Relevant to Adoption? 

*** Spoiler alert ***
Although Ernest and Celestine mostly have a friendship, at the end of the film, Ernest recounts the story of his relationship with Celestine, and he edits it to make it sound like an adoption story. When viewed retrospectively as an adoption story, the film seems to show two cultures opposing a crosscultural adoption, but finally coming to accept it when they see that it helps society rather than hurting. Celestine appears to be raised in an orphanage. She is ostracized for being a friend to Ernest. Although he tries to send her away, she says, “I’m all alone. Nobody loves me and I don’t have a home.” He eventually embraces her. Ernest and Celestine eventually develop a mutually nurturing relationship. It’s not a perfect picture of adoption, but it is nurturing, cute and heartwarming.
Ernest and Celestine each express that their desire is to live with each other forever.

*** End Spoiler

Strong Points
Ernest and Celestine are able to develop a mutually nurturing, positive friendship with each other, even though they are from different cultures.

Eventually, we get an understanding of the fears Ernest and Celestine have of each other. They have nightmares about each other. Ernest fears that Celestine will drain his resources. Celestine fears that she cannot trust Ernest.  But each character comforts the other, and offers the reminder, “I am not your nightmare.”

Ernest and Celestine eventually win societal permission for their friendship, but only after they perform acts of heroism.

When Ernest initially finds Celestine, she is in a trash can.

Weak Points

One character briefly appears likely to eat another. A grandmotherly figure tries to scare children in to obedience with nightmarish bedtime stories.


Ernest and Celestine seems to be a generally kid-friendly film. It is animated in a style that reminds me of fairy tales. It is a heartwarming story, and scenes of peril are quite mild and frightening moments are limited to only a few.   It’s possible that some young children will be scared by the grandmother-figure’s bedtime stories. The crosscultural adoption connection is both vague and positive, which makes me think that triggers are unlikely, but that children may be able to take positive messages away from the film. This is one of my recent favorites. It was also one of the films nominated for Best Animated Feature in this year's Oscars, along with Frozen, The Croods, Despicable Me 2, and The Wind Rises.

Questions for Discussion after the movie

Have you ever been teased for having friends or family who are different from you in some ways? How do you feel about the teasing? What parts of the teasing are untrue?

Why were Ernest and Celestine scared of each other? Were their fears true? Have you ever been scared of something that turned out to not be true?

How would you tell your own adoption story? Spend some time writing and/or illustrating it together.

Interested in Ernest and Celestine? Check out the trailer here:

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Visitors Adoption Movie Guide

Godfrey Reggio’s Visitors is a wordless, black-and-white film. It’s more meditative than it is entertaining, but I think that’s OK. Philip Glass’ soaring but somewhat looping music creates a pensive and relaxing atmosphere for Reggio’s long, slow-motion close-ups of human faces. There’s not much of a plot, so what I’m sharing here are the thoughts and questions I had while watching the film.

 -          The subjects are entranced by something off camera, and seem unaware that their reactions are being filmed. So many times, we are self-aware, but what are we, when we’re not aware of what we are?

-          There are so many faces. So many people. And each person has a story, and value. So do you. So do I. And yet, so often we lose sight of the awesome creativity and wonderful depths in each person we encounter. Sometimes we even lose sight of it in ourselves. There are so many people in close proximity to us that we don’t know, and as unrealistic as it is, I want to know everyone’s story. “It’s impossible to know someone fully, and then not love them” – Ender’s Game, paraphrased. 
-          Many children are featured. Who will they grow up to be? Why do some of us grow up to become untrustworthy?

-          Plants, people, and water look lively and animated in time-lapse videos. Manmade structures look stagnant.

-          We’re really pretty when we smile.

-          I wish I spent more time interacting with people, and less time interacting with technology.

-          We can look down and out, or cheerful and thriving – but we’re all people, no more, no less. But we each have been given the creative potential to shape the world by creating kindness in our relationships to others.

-          We probably have more “needs” than we need to.

How This Connects to Adoption

Visitors doesn’t really have an obvious plot, so, I guess it doesn’t obviously connect to adoption. Here are some thoughts that I had, though:

-          Everyone has a story.
-          Everyone has the creative potential to shape themselves, at least to some extent.
-          It’s easy to feel alone, even when unknowingly surrounded by people who have similar stories to your own.

Positive Aspects

People are interesting.

Negative Aspects

The film is probably too artsy to hold the interest of kids or teenagers, and limited distribution might make it difficult for adults to find. Also, I think the film really needs to be seen in a theater; it wouldn’t translate well to a home screen.

Questions for Reflection

Who do you see, every day, that you don’t know very well?

What don’t you know about yourself that you would like to know?

If you could grow in any way, what would it be?

If you could create one thing this week what would it be? 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Universal Studios Despicable Me Minion Mayhem Ride Features Adoption Celebration

Gru's Family Tree - with a colorful kid-eye level addition
Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem at Universal Studios Hollywood
I’ve never reviewed a theme park ride before.   Universal Studios Hollywood will be opening Minion Mayhem to the public on April 11. The ride features characters from Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2, and features a short mini-movie where riders frequently interact with the girls Gru adopted, Margot, Edith and Agnes. After escaping various perilous situations (with help from Gru,) the girls and the riders all arrive at a balloon-filled surprise party that Gru planned to celebrate the anniversary of his adoption of the girls.

If you live in or near Los Angeles and have adopted a young child, this ride might be a fun way to celebrate the anniversary of your child joining your family.

If your family has been touched by adoption in a painful way, this ride might be unexpectedly challenging, although the word “adoption” is never mentioned.

Think you'll go?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Somewhere Between Adoption Movie Review

Linda Goldstein Knowlton adopted her young daughter from China. She wants to provide her daughter with a culturally sensitive upbringing, and to do this she has sought out the stories of several young women who were adopted into the United States from China. One of the adoptees referred to feeling neither completely Chinese nor completely American, nor Chinese and American, but as a child stuck somewhere between two countries. Somewhere Between is a documentary which focuses on the stories and experiences of four teenagers.

The Adoption Connection

Somewhere Between directly relates to the international adoption of girls into the United States from China. It also focuses on issues relevant to all adoptions – issues of identity, birth family issues, reunification, birth family’s reasons for adoption, and issues of finding community connected to adoption.

Positive Elements

There’s a lot of good in this one.

Linda provides an excellent model for a parent adopting cross-culturally. She acknowledges that her daughter “will have so many questions that I won’t be able to answer.” She asks, “How will I help her build a strong sense of identity when there are so many missing pieces?” Then, committed to striving to meet her daughter’s needs, Knowlton reaches out for information and finds community. She’s not afraid of admitting what she doesn’t know, and isn’t willing to make excuses to continue not knowing.
Knowlton’s subjects have participated in the documentary with honesty and candor. One speaks of “always being seen, and never blending in.” One acknowledges that it is difficult to think about openness without worrying that either mother might feel unwanted. Different adoptees present different desires regarding openness and information. Knowlton has created a balanced perspective of international adoption. Some opponents of international adoption are presented, and share their concerns that orphanages do not operate ethically (one mentioned that orphanages will often claim to have lost documents in fires – a claim repeated by the orphanage in Philomena.) At the same time, the documentary captures the story of a young girl who was being neglected in foster care in China, but who was able to thrive with special attention. An adoptee expresses the value of adoptees remembering what they’ve been through, “even if at times it might be painful.”

One adoptee returns to China regularly and tries to discover which Chinese people group she belongs to. It’s a powerful reminder that culture goes deeper than just knowing one’s country of origin – there are different groups and cultures within nations. One shop keeper commented that she looks like she belongs to the Dai group; the adoptee explains, “She says I look Dai, so now I’m Dai.”

The adoptees interviewed have processed their adoption differently, but all seem to be thriving.

One adoptee seeks for – and finds – her birth family, and is able to learn the story of her adoption from their perspective. It is both a particularly sad story and yet the meeting seems to provide healing. The adoptee is given a Chinese name by her birth father, which is particularly meaningful to her.

Adoptees are advised to seek out their siblings as soon as possible, because records are lost, and that could render reunification much more difficult.

Adoptees confront stereotypes they face as persons of Asian origin.

The film encourages, and exemplifies, open discussion about adoption. One person summarizes, “you take adoption with you your whole life. You can try to run from it, but it runs faster than you.”

The film challenges the use of the term “abandoned.”

Adoptees assert that they were not overlooked by God.

One adoptee acknowledges the value of a supportive community of other adoptees, “Meeting other adoptees helped me understand how others feel about it.”

Someone expresses, “in an ideal world, I’d have both countries and both sets of parents.”

In a companion documentary packaged with Somewhere Between, we see how differently people can process adoptions. For some, it’s a primary identifier; for others, it’s part of their identity, but they view many other identifiers as more central to their self-concept.

The concept of “color-blindness” is challenged, and one adoptee makes the point that culture and race are unique from each other, and that both are important in a person’s experience of life.


It could be painful for some viewers to be confronted with the film’s portrayal of way in which females are differently (and perhaps less) valued in China than males. A common theme is that the girls were relinquished because of their gender. In one community, women are not allowed to be taught written language.


Somewhere Between seems well-loved by many in the adoption community. Angela and Bryan Tucker from Closure suggested it as a resource for families wanting to expand their understanding of crosscultural adoption. Some of my colleagues have also recommended it to me. After watching it, I immediately shared it with the social workers that I supervise. There’s so much good material for thought and conversation in Somewhere Between. It seems like a good fit for all adoptive families, especially for adoptive families who have adopted girls. The issues of identity, reunification, and wondering why they were relinquished are important to many people touched by adoption. Parents who have relinquished a child to adoption may see their own grief reflected in the grief of the birthfather shown in this film; like the reunion in the film, the film itself could be both painful and conducive to healing.

Questions for Discussion

When someone is adopted, do they become fully part of the adoptive family? Do they remain part of the birthfamily? Are they fully both? Or are they somewhere between?

Which story did you resonate with the most?

Would you be open to reunification during your child’s teenage years? Earlier?
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