Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Boxtrolls Adoption Movie Review

Archibald Snatcher longs to become a member of the elite class in his town – the White Hats. He tells the leader of the White Hats, Lord Portley-Rind that a local infant – The Trubshaw Baby -  has been kidnapped by Boxtrolls, an underground society of tinkerers with their own language and unorthodox looks. Portley-Rind agrees that if Snatcher kills all of the Boxtrolls, he can become a member of the White Hats. Snatcher spends the next decade hunting down the Boxtrolls, ostensibly to ensure that they take no more human babies. *SPOILERS AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY* As he prepares to collect and kill the last of the Boxtrolls, Snatcher is surprised to find that The Trubshaw Baby has returned. The truth behind Snatcher’s story is about to be challenged.


Eggs is a human boy who is raised by the Boxtrolls. His father committed him to the care of the Boxtrolls when he was very young, because his father was actively in danger of being murdered. The Boxtrolls raised Eggs as one of their own, and one Boxtroll, Fish, takes a particularly nurturing, parenting role. Both Eggs and the Boxtrolls seem unaware of the fervor being created aboveground by Snatcher, using Eggs’ disappearance to whip up fear against the Boxtrolls.
Eggs is confronted by a young girl who encourages him to look at his body, compared to that of the Boxtrolls. She notes that his hands look more like her own than they look like the hands of the Boxtrolls. Because of this, she asserts that he is not a Boxtroll. Fish, confirms sadly that he is not a Boxtroll.

Eggs is eventually reunified with his father, and together they join with the Boxtrolls to work against Snatcher.

In a way, The Boxtrolls reminds me of The Jungle Book – because of a traumatic event, a human child is being raised in a vastly different environment than the one they were born into. I wrote a bit about cross-cultural adoption themes in the Jungle Book (click here to check it out).

Strong Points
Fish is heartwarmingly tender and nurturing towards Eggs, without using words.

The villain’s henchmen continually question themselves, wondering whether they are really on the right side.

Eggs finds courage in the face of loss, asking his society, “Why do we go on like everything’s normal” when we keep facing drastic losses. This kind of reminds me of the growing voice of the adoption community demanding access to things of which they have been unfairly deprived – like original birth certificates.

If you stay through the credits, a song proclaims that some kids have families that look different than other, and that “we should be glad for the families we have and reach out to those who are on their own.”


Young children who are adopted transracially might have trouble when a child is told that he can’t belong to a group if he doesn’t look like them. The movie does not correct this. The conversation in this scene is very powerful. After Eggs is confronted with the fact that he doesn’t look like Fish, he asks, “It’s not true, is it, Fish? I’m a Boxtroll. Isn’t it right, Fish?” Fish says no. “Was I stolen?” Fish says he was given. “I was given to you? Who gave me to you?” And Eggs crumbles to the ground. Fish then tells Eggs the story of how he came to live with the Boxtrolls – kind of like Po learning his story in Kung Fu Panda 2. After learning his story, Eggs and the girl he has met talk about what a father is. She tells him that a father is someone who raises you, looks after you, and loves you. Eggs asks, “Like Fish?” and the girl replies, “Yes,” then looks at Fish, and changes her answer to “no.”
In trying to stir up fear against the Boxtrolls, Snatcher gives rather vivid descriptions of the imagined horrors they commit – slurping up intestines and eating faces. It might be scary for young kids.
Some kids might find it very sad and confusing to see the Boxtrolls’ numbers dwindle as they are systematically captured and imprisoned by Snatcher’s squad. One young viewer in the theater with me asked his mother sadly (and loudly enough for me to hear from the other side of the theater!) “Why are they gonna kill all the Boxtrolls?” He was concerned. I could imagine it being very concerning for kids with abandonment issues or fear of loss.

Along those lines – Fish is eventually captured, and is pulled away from Eggs’ arms. A sad scene follows where Eggs, disconsolate, sits alone, trying without success to find comfort in the activities he once shared with Fish. It could be very sad for viewers with loss issues. In fact, for Eggs, this is the second time He’s lost a father figure. He gets both of his fathers back, and that seems to be the only reason he bounces back from his sadness.

Eggs’ first interactions with his birth culture are humorously awkward.

The villain dies grotesquely, first swelling and then exploding from an allergic reaction.

An adult tries to strangle and kill a child.

Eggs believes that he sees his entire Boxtroll family killed. He also hears people chanting for the Boxtrolls to be killed. Later, they chant for his death, as well.


Kids will like the Boxtrolls. They’re like the Minions from Despicable Me – talking in their own silly language, tinkering with machinery, and being generally good-natured. They’re not as cute as the Minions, though. While the Minions kind of look like Twinkies or lemons, the Boxtrolls look more like Gollum. Oh, and they hide in boxes when they’re scared, like the kid from Martian Child. They also eat bugs, and one likes machinery so much that he rips the head off a musical teddy bear to get to the mechanism inside. Oh, and they bite when they’re scared – Eggs bites a girl on the arm. Young kids might mimic that. I imagine that the film will appeal to grade school kids, but I think it’s also funny enough to be entertaining to teenagers. The young kids to whom it will most appeal are also the ones who might have the hardest time with some of the issues I covered in the “Challenges” section. I’d recommend this one for ages 12 and up, or for ages 7 and up if the parent screens the film first.

Questions for Discussion

Why did Eggs fall to the ground when he heard that he had been “given” to the Boxtrolls? 

What might have been a better way for him to learn his story?

Can people be a family even if they don’t look similar?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Coming Attractions and a New Poll Question

Hi folks! Just so you know what's coming over the next week or two - The next three films I'll be covering are:

- The Boxtrolls (Tuesday 9/30)
- The Maze Runner  (Friday 10/3)
- Men, Women and Children (Tuesday 10/7)

Also, please answer the new poll question on the top right corner. Thanks!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Change of Heart - Adoption Movie Guide

Keith and Kim decide to pursue adoption. Kim is more invested, and notes that “a million kids out there need a home.”Brittney, a 3-month-old infant, is placed with Keith and Kim – however, Kim is diagnosed with cancer. When the cancer eventually takes Kim’s life before the adoption is finalized, Keith must enter into a battle with the adoption agency – their policy is that single parents not be allowed to adopt.

How is This Relevant to Adoption or Foster Care?
State laws and agency policies are (at least theoretically) intended to protect children, but sometimes the policies do make it difficult for good prospective parents to adopt. Some people are scared away or prevented from adoption because of policies like the ones in this film.

Strong Points
Keith eventually does view himself as a parent, and he defends the “reality” of his parenthood. While Keith is engaging in a legal battle with the agency, his family discourages him from continuing. He asks his mother, “How much would you spend to get me?” His mother counters that it’s “not the same thing,” but Keith says, “It’s exactly the same. Like any good dad, I’ll go get my kid back.”


Keith and Kim pursue adoption even though Keith is not particularly interested and his family is unsupportive. It is concerning when assessing a family if their extended family is opposed to the adoption. It really should be a deal-breaker if one of the parents doesn’t want to adopt.

The social workers come across as pretty heartless. I know that this reflects the experience that some people have – and the fear that others have – of social workers – but lots of us are nice.

Some of the legal proceedings (and under-the-table dealings) in the film feel, well, sleazy. I wonder how often made-for-TV movies are the source of folks’ expectations of adoption.

Weak Points

The film could have the effect of making the relationship between adopting parents and adoption agencies far more adversarial than it actually is.

It’s hard to tell whether Keith is fighting for his own right to parent, or if he’s actually fighting for what he thinks will be best for Brittney.


There is always some level of interest when a film involves a single adoptive father, but the movie is a bit over-emotional, over-dramatized and not super-helpful. It’s probably a “pass.”

Questions for Discussion after the movie
What are the adoption laws in your state or country?

Why would a person in Keith’s situation go to court – is it child-centered or self-centered?

By the way, I added a way for you to subscribe for free to Adoption at the Movies by email. A new review comes out every Tuesday - make sure to catch them all! Sign up today on the top-left corner of the page!   And if you're new here, check out all of our adoption movie reviews!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rocks in My Pockets review

Rocks in My Pockets is the darkly and quirkily animated story of the suicide, depression, and schizophrenia across several generations of the filmmaker’s family. Signe Baumane, a Latvian immigrant to New York, acknowledges her own struggle with depression and fantasizing about suicide. This film begins with the story of how her grandparents became a couple. Anna, a twenty-something college graduate in 1920’s Latvia, took an interest in her married, 50-something boss. After attracting his attention, he leaves his wife and marries her. Together, they have eight children; however, Anna finds herself feeling trapped and depressed. She tries to kill herself twice, but is stopped. She ultimately dies in her sleep at age 50. Although she had been physically healthy, her family attributes her death to natural causes or exhaustion; they ignore the evidence that she overdosed on medications. This does not satisfy Signe, who wants to understand why her mind works the way it does; she wants to know “the origins of the intensity of feelings” that she has. Signe goes on to share how she deals with her own struggles; by being available to other people, connecting with them and helping them, she finds the strength to stay “alive and sane” from day to day.

The Adoption Connection
Signe wants to understand an element of herself. She believes that knowing the truth about her grandmother will help her understand herself, but she is frustrated when people seem to try to hide the truth. Ultimately, she does learn enough about her family history to be helped. Although Rocks in My Pockets isn’t an adoption story, it does capture the importance of honest information about one’s genetic family.

Strong Points
Baumane has said that animation can provide a window into thought and emotion that live action can’t provide. She’s right; the film is successful in conveying to the viewer the characters’ dark, confused feelings that made suicide seem like an escape.  By the end of the film, Signe has shared that she is able to stay alive and sane each day by connecting with the people around her. Talking about difficult topics – including mental illness and suicide – can help make the feelings manageable, and this film brings those topics into view and also offers insight about what they feel like, a story of how they can be present in multiple generations of a family, and hope that people can survive the destructive impulses they feel.

Baumane has also said that animation isn’t only for children, and she’s right. Rocks in My Pockets isn’t for kids. Characters plot their suicides aloud, a rabbit’s throat is slit, and a character leaves his wife for his young secretary, once she attracts his attention by wearing a low-cut dress to work. The film might be too heavy or dark for some viewers.

Rocks in My Pockets could be helpful for professionals or other adults who want to develop empathy for the inner world and inner experience of people who struggle with depression, schizophrenia and suicidality.  It opened earlier this month in New York and Los Angeles. Screening locations and dates are listed at http://www.rocksinmypocketsmovie.com/Screenings.html

Questions for Discussion
What information might adoptees want to know about their birth families? Why is it important for them to have that information?

How comfortable are you talking with others about depression? About suicide? How can we create a culture where it is OK and not shameful to talk about these feelings?
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