Friday, October 2, 2015

The Martian Adoption Movie Review

When a colossal storm threatens the Ares III manned mission to Mars, the team evacuates. They believe that they are leaving behind the body of their colleague, botanist Mark Watney. However, Watney is alive. He must use his knowledge, bravery, and resilience to stay alive on a barren planet. He knows that another mission is set to arrive four years from now; can he last until then?



The Adoption Connection

Mark Watney is left behind by his colleagues. The fear of being left behind might be particularly real to foster kids, or to children who have been (or who have been referred to) as abandoned. However, also like many kids in foster care, Mark is resourceful and resilient. He explains that, when faced with dire odds, you can choose to give up and die, or keep fighting in the hope that one day you will be able to go home.

It’s a stretch to connect this to adoption, but I’m struck at how powerful it is to Mark to receive communication from faraway friends. It reminds me of the value of communication with birth family members for those who have been adopted. Before he hears from people, he seems to use video-journaling to manage his emotions and keep his thoughts in order.

Strong Points

I am struck by how determined, humorous, hopeful and resilient Mark is on his own, and at the same time, how much support he draws once he is able to develop an emotional connection with others. We can be strong on our own; it’s easier to be strong with the support of others. Both are true.

Mark’s colleagues, the NASA team back on Earth, and foreign space administrations all work together for a worthy purpose. We see that people who disagree can put their differences aside to try to do good.

Mark rightly expects that his colleagues will be brokenhearted to know that they’ve left him behind. He firmly asserts that it’s not their fault, and they try devotedly to right the situation once they’re made aware.


There is a wince-inducing scene of life-saving self-surgery that might be a little intense for some viewers.
Mark realistically acknowledges that he will run out of food. Although he works towards solving this problem, I wondered if some kids who’ve experienced unstable access to food might find this to be emotionally triggering. Some kids who are in foster care have come from environments where their need for food was not dependably met. The line was said in passing, so some kids won’t catch it, but some may.

The grief one character shows at losing another might be particularly painful for parents who have lost children to adoption voluntarily or involuntarily.
Mark asserts near the end of the film that you get to return home if you solve the problems in front of you. This might be hard for those viewers who have been adopted and wish to return to their birth families. In general, though, it’s a strong encouragement to never give up in the face of great difficulties.

Weak Points

No glaring weak points.


I liked this one. The Martian is well made, engaging, and powerful. Gravity was a good space movie, this one is, I think, better. The Martian will probably most appeal to some adults, but some teens might also enjoy it. It is a strong portrayal of the heroic ability to survive that is innately human. For some teens and young adults who’ve been in abusive, neglected, lonely, or dangerous situations it might uncomfortably remind them of where they’ve been, but it could also be a reminder to celebrate how strong they have been in order to get to where they are.  Recommended for adults and for teens 14 and up, with their parents.

Questions for Discussion

Are you ever scared of being left behind?

What about Mark helped him to survive? Which of those traits do you have?

If you ever were left behind somewhere, who would you trust to come and get you? (This is a good chance for parents to assert that they would!)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hotel Transylvania 2 Adoption Movie Review

The unlikely couple of Mavis, a vampire, and Johnny, a goofy human, have married and are now expecting a baby. They live together with Mavis’ family in the hotel run by her father, Dracula. Dracula is excited about the thought of a new vampire being born into the family. Mavis cautions her father that, since Johnny is a human, their baby might not be a vampire. Dracula ignores these concerns, certain that his grandchild will be a vampire like he is.

When Dennis is born, Dracula is upset that he does not show immediate signs of being a vampire, and is terrified that his own father, the human-hating Vlad, will be dangerously angered. As Dennis continues to grow into toddlerhood, he still seems decidedly non-vampire. Dracula begins to feel tense as Dennis approaches his fifth birthday, because that’s the latest he might be revealed as a vampire.

The Adoption Connection

This is a movie about genetics. Mavis and Johnny are about to have a child, and Mavis’ family wants the child to take after them. Johnny’s family distrusts the people that Mavis considers family, and implies that it would be better for Dennis to be around “normal” people.  Dracula takes Dennis on a secret trip in an attempt to turn him into a vampire.

Vlad seems likely to reject Dennis because Dennis is not genetically similar enough to Vlad. 

Adoptive families who have experienced negative reactions to the adoption by members of their extended family might resonate.

Characters wonder how Dennis will be accepted in the monster culture if he himself isn’t a monster. 

Mavis and Johnny consider moving to be near people “more like” Dennis.

Strong Points

Dracula obviously loves his daughter Mavis, and reminisces about her as a young girl. She’s still his little girl in his eyes. He’s also come to accept Johnny as part of his family, and shows that he loves Dennis as well.

One character defends Dennis, telling another character “You can’t just make somebody something they’re not.”

Mavis and Johnny have a strong relationship. They express their love to each other as well as their need for attention from each other. One affirms, “As long as we’re all together, we’ll be happy anywhere.”
Insensitivity gets corrected. One character asks, “Can we stop using the world “normal?” Didn’t expect this one to have implications for cultural sensitivity, did you?

A family member sticks up for Dennis, telling another, “If you can’t give him the love he deserves because he’s half-human, then you’re the fool.”

There are a lot of laughs in this one.


Vlad hates humans. Dracula jokes that, instead of embracing Johnny into the family, Vlad (who Dracula describes as “old school”) simply “would have eaten him.”

** SPOILER ALERT – After Dracula tries to make Dennis into a vampire, Dennis ultimately shows himself to be one. I think the movie might have had a better message if Dennis wasn’t a vampire but Dracula came to love him anyway. The way the film is, there’s still some pressure on the child to live up to his family’s cultural/genetic expectations, and that might be hard for some kids to see. It’s almost like the film is saying “You can’t make somebody something they’re not… but they might end up being what you hope for anyway.” And although that’s true, it feels like it kind of undercuts the message of true acceptance. What’s the difference between acceptance of who your (grand)kid is and a disappointed tolerance of who they are? I feel like this film might have confused one for the other. END SPOILER ***
There are some frightening scenes where children are in peril. One is tied into Dracula’s determination for Dennis to be revealed as a vampire – he throws Dennis off a high tower, anticipating that Dennis will fly. He waits until almost the last minute to rescue him. Another character tells Dracula, “I can’t not report child endangerment.” Mavis responds by telling her father “I don’t think he’s safe around you,” and challenging him that, although he lets humans sleep in his hotel, “I don’t think you’ve let them into your heart.” This scene could be rough for kids who’ve been hurt by a parent or caregiver, but it also shows the abuser getting reprimanded by a fiercely loving mom.

Dennis wonders if his family’s potential move is his own fault.


This is a good one. There are some scary scenes, and I do have one reservation that I explained in the spoiler above, this is a movie that depicts parental love in the face of an extended family failing to accept a child who is genetically different from them. In the long run, everything turns out OK. This one will be scary for very young kids who might also be triggered by some scenes of kids being endangered by family members, but kids ages 8 and up should be able to enjoy it, and parental “debriefing” could help make sure that any potential triggers are processed.

Questions for Discussion

Whose fault was it that Vlad was unhappy?

How do you know that you belong in a particular family?

If you could turn into any animal, what would you choose? 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Smurfs 2 Adoption Movie Review

Gargamel reminds me of Gru from Despicable Me. They’re both quirky, black-clad villains intent on taking over the world. They’re both shown in parental roles. They both enter their parental roles initially because of a desire to use children to further their own interests. But there’s a difference. Gru comes to care for the children. He has a change of heart, and by Despicable Me Too, Gru is a good dad – one in whom young viewers can see a remediated father. Gargamel’s not that. Gargamel remains selfish, cruel, and bad-intentioned. 

He has his fingers crossed. 

Gargamel, an evil wizard, makes “Naughties,” which are small, greyish troublemakers.  Gargamel derives his power from Smurf essence, which can be extracted from Smurfs – small, blue-colored do-gooders. Once, one of Gargamel’s creations was captured by Papa Smurf. Papa Smurf changed her hue, made her good, and renamed her Smurfette. She has been well-accepted by her new community and fits in well as the first female Smurf. However, Gargamel hopes to capture Smurfette in the hopes of having her reveal the secret of how Papa Smurf turned her into a Smurf – with that information, Gargamel could create his own Smurfs, and then use them to power his evil schemes for worldwide domination. Smurfette is feeling sad because it seems that the Smurfs have forgotten her birthday; this makes her more susceptible to Gargamel’s plan – he sends Vixie, a female Naughty, to capture Smurfette, and then tries to win her over with claims of love and acceptance. All along, he’s trying to alienate her from the Smurfs and reclaim her for himself.  

How is This Relevant to Adoption?
The film intends to send a positive message, “The parents that you have – the ones that love you – they are your real parents.” Unfortunately, the film also says, “Your birthparents aren’t your real parents.” It’s an unnecessary dualism.

Rob Watson (@JandJDad) brought this movie to my attention, and I’m glad he did. There are a lot of adoption themes in Smurfs 2, and although adoption language isn’t used the adoption-esque themes in the film are pretty central. I’ll be using adoption language in this review – although the movie spoke more in terms of step-parents, it told more of an adoption story. Gargamel creates the Naughties. One of them (Smurfette) ended up with Papa Smurf; he changed her appearance, her name, and her behavior.  Smurfette has “horrible dreams about where I came from and who I really am.” We see her dream – she imagines her blue pigmentation washing off, revealing her to still be a greyish Naughty after all this time. When she shares her dream with Papa Smurf, he dismisses her fears saying, “It doesn’t matter where you are from; it just matters who you choose to be.” Later, when Smurfette is kidnapped by her birthfamily, they try to convince her that her roots do matter more than anything else, and that her adoptive family doesn’t actually care about her. She listens and is won over – and then we see that Gargamel really only intended to use her for his own gain. Smurfette and her two Naughty siblings are rescued by Papa Smurf, and all three of them return to live as Smurfs in the Smurf kingdom.

Here are some themes that you’ll see: Smurfette has nightmares about not actually being a part of her adoptive family. She is kidnapped by her birthfamily. They appear to be loving towards her, but they really intend to use her for their own gain. I have mixed feelings about the film – Some kids in adoptive families do have fears of being kidnapped and mistreated by birth family members. For kids who experienced abuse prior to their adoption, the fears are sometimes even grounded in reality. Many kids who have been adopted do probably struggle with questions of identity, wonder whether they’ll fit in, and wonder who they really are. Smurfette does those things, and Papa Smurf and the rest of the Smurf community continually reaffirm their acceptance of Smurfette and their belief that she fits in. That’s great.

But what I don’t like is the dualism inherent in the film. Smurfette’s family of origin is bad. Evil, even. Her new family is good. She needs to be completely cleaned of one in order to become the other. And I think that’s a thought that might be familiar to adopted kids, too. It’s not helpful, accurate, or healthy – but this movie presents it as true.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from” in the context of this film means, “Yes, your birthfamily is horrible, but that doesn’t mean you will be.”  Even in this, Smurfs 2 is difficult to evaluate. I like the hope that it extends – you don’t have to repeat the mistakes that your birthfamily made. But I think it’d be easy for young viewers to miss the nuanced statement of hope, and go straight to “Your birthfamily is bad; you can’t be like them.”

Strong Points

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials Adoption Movie Review

Thomas and his fellow young heroes have escaped from a controlled environment and are now in the care of Mr. Janson, who assures them that in a short while, he will bring them to their new home. When the teens start to think Mr. Janson might be hiding malicious intentions, they run away in search of safety while Janson and his forces set off in pursuit.


The Adoption Connection

There are lots of scenes that might remind some viewers of aspects of foster care. There are spoilers 
ahead in this section.

As the film begins, we see an event that Thomas is remembering from his childhood. As a toddler, he is being taken away from his mother by a uniformed soldier. He cries and reaches out to her, but the solider takes him away. This might be a jarring trigger for kids who have been separated from their parents. Later, another character remembers when their brother was taken away.

Thomas and his companions have escaped from an abusive environment that has left many of their peers dead. They find themselves in the care of Mr. Jansen who describes his base as “a sanctuary, a way station, a home between homes” and himself as “the reason you’re all still alive.”  He promises them, “We have a place for you, a refuge outside the scorch.” When he turns out to be untrustworthy, 
Thomas and his friends run away, like many kids in foster care have done when they have felt they’re in an undesirable situation. Some kids might also find this aspect of the movie to touch on their fears or experiences of not being safe when they should be able to feel safe. Thomas’ initial mistrust of Jansen isn’t initially shared by his peers. One of them defends his trust of Jansen, “They rescued us, gave us new clothes, food, a bed; some of us haven’t had that in a long time.” However, this trust is misplaced.

The teens learn that there are others who have been in abusive environments similar to the one they’ve been in, and some new relationships are forged.

Thomas has a close relationship with Teresa, but finds that they are separated from each other while in Mr. Jansen’s care. This reminded me of how some sibling sets are separated in foster care.

When asked whether the man who cares for her is her father, one teen says, “Close enough. I don’t know what he is, he’s just always been there and I’ve always done whatever he’s asked me to do, no matter how stupid.”

Strong Points

Thomas does show great loyalty to his friends.


There are lots of “jump-inducing” scream scenes that could be hard for sensitive viewers.

Weak Points

In the film, teens cannot trust the adults who are caring for them, because even the adults who seem to have rescued them from dangerous situations are themselves dangerous. Kids in foster care might be troubled by this. Kids who have been abused by their foster family might resonate with it. The apparent caretakers actually have particularly sinister plans. When the teens do run away, they connect with another adult who pretends to be their friend, but uses drugs and alcohol to trap them for his own financial gain. There are parallels between this film and some teens’ experiences of foster care. Watching this reminds me of the importance of a safe home for kids who’ve been mistreated.

One teen commits suicide, and it is portrayed as somewhat heroic. We hear the gunshot off-screen. Teens don’t need a “heroic” suicide by a teenager who calmly chooses suicide because life is bad.

As we look towards the future, one of the heroes is motivated by the thought of gaining revenge by killing someone who has wronged them.


For many teenage viewers, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials will be a fun action/sci-fi movie with some zombie-ish scenes. But for some viewers who have been through foster care, there are some uncomfortable themes of being saved from abusive situations by untrustworthy adults who intend to profit from the harm of the teens they’re supposed to be caring for. This one might be best for teens ages 14 and up, and parents might want to screen it first.

Questions for Discussion

How can you tell when someone is trustworthy?

What makes someone trustworthy?

What adults in your life have been untrustworthy even though they shouldn’t have been?

Friday, September 18, 2015

Man of Steel Adoption Movie Review

Clark Kent has lived a peculiar life. His superhuman strength has attracted the attention and fear of his neighbors and peers. His father, Jonathan Kent, encourages him to keep his powers hidden for fear that others will not understand him; Clark tries to make sense of his unique traits. Eventually, he learns that he is stronger than humanly possible because he is not human; he was sent to Earth as an infant from the planet, Krypton. Now, thirty-three years later, enemies from Krypton have come to Earth to extract their revenge on Clark’s family and to transform Earth from a human to a Kryptonian planet.

How is This Relevant to Adoption?  
Man of Steel opens with a birth scene. As Jor-El watches, Lara finishes her labor and gives birth to an infant, whom they name Kal-El.  Jor-El and Lara know that their planet, Krypton, is in imminent danger of destruction, and that Kal-El cannot be kept safe there. They intend to send Kal-El to earth in order to keep him safe, but their plans are not made without trepidation. Lara worries that Kal-El will be unaccepted by those different from him, and that the provisions she and Jor-El have made will not be sufficient to keep him safe. She mourns that she will “never get to see him walk or hear him say our names.” Jor-El seems to acknowledge the risks, but affirms that this is Kal-El’s only chance. His parents do decide to send him away, without knowing who will find him. He reaches Earth safely, and is found by Jonathan and Martha Kent who adopt him and name him Clark. There are plenty of adoption- and identity-related moments in the film,  

Strong Points
Jor-El and Lara’s decision to send their son to Earth is depicted as a true act of sacrificial love. They are not coerced into their decision by anything other than their honest (and accurate) assessment of their son’s prospects in their world.

Clark’s adoptive parents eventually affirm and support his need to explore his history.

Clark is able to meet Jor-El. He explains, “I have so many questions.” Jor-El answers his questions. When Clark learns that his home planet has been destroyed, he wonders if he is alone. Jor-El responds, “No; you’re as much a child of Earth now as you are of Krypton. You are the best of both worlds.” Jor-El affirms that the differences between humans and Kryptonians are not necessarily bad.

Clark was adopted by a human family; one character observes (albeit cynically) that Clark has also adopted humans. Adoptees are often unable to make an initial choice about their adoption; however, they have an eventual choice to accept or not accept their second culture and family.

Key Conversations

Jonathan eventually shows Clark the vessel which brought him to earth. It took Jonathan a long time to get over secrecy, but I love his dual affirmation that he is Clark’s father, and that Clark must explore his heritage.

Jonathan: We found you in this. It’s not from this world, and neither are you. You’re the answer to “are we alone in the universe?”

Clark: I don’t want to be.

Jonathan: I don’t blame you, but you were sent here for a reason.

Clark: Can’t I keep pretending I’m your son?

Jonathan: You are my son, but you have another father who gave you another name, and he sent you here for a reason, and you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is.


Clark returns home after learning about his Kryptonian heritage, and is greeted by his mother.

Clark: I found them, Mom, my parents, my people. I know where I come from now.

Martha: Wow! That’s wonderful. I’m so happy for you, Clark. (She seems sad.)

Clark: What?

Martha: It’s nothing. I worried all the time.

Clark: You worried the truth would come out?

Martha: No. The truth about you is beautiful. We knew that from the moment we laid eyes on you.

(Martha goes on to explain that she worried that society would take Clark away from her due to their fear of his differences.)


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos Adoption Movie Review

When his owner’s farm is on the verge of being sold due to bankruptcy, a scrawny young rooster named Toto agrees to attempt to save the farm by fighting a champion rooster at the cockfighting arena in the big city. He must overcome insurmountable odds and his own lack of confidence in order to save the day. He is trained by the father of his girlfriend – a former prizefighter who has was disgraced in a fight with a duck, and by the son of that duck.

The Adoption Connection

There is no specific adoption connection. However, the plot of the story is driven by the stability of the characters’ home being threatened, and that might be especially resonant with kids who’ve been in foster care.  There’s also a “coming of age” theme as we follow Toto from egg to chick to young rooster to an emerging adult. The farm could be seen as a positive depiction of a cross-cultural family, as the farmer’s widow, chickens, dogs and eggs all work together to keep the farm together. 

On the other hand, kids who identify with the characters might be bothered that the widow has tearfully put the farm up for sale, including all of the animals. One character has been told that his father has been eaten by a crocodile, but persists in believing that his father will come back.

Strong Points

Toto benefits from the unconditional support of his mother, girlfriend, and girlfriend’s father. This film demonstrates the value of emotional support from others. It also highlights the importance of self-confidence. One character tells Toto, “Your thoughts create action.”


The film does seem to glorify fighting as a way to solve problems and as a mark of manhood.

Parents and kids might be misled by the film’s friendly animation style. It’s a PG-13 film with quite a few sex jokes that might be uncomfortable for parents with young kids. However, the film is in Spanish with English subtitles, so kids who can’t read English or speak Spanish wouldn’t be able to follow the story.

Weak Points

In an attempt to rattle Toto before the fight, a villain attempts to have Toto’s mother and girlfriend kidnapped.


In spite of its animated appearance, Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos (English title: Little Rooster’s Egg-cellent Adventure) is mostly geared towards teens and adults. The story isn’t particularly compelling, and some viewers might find it boring. At its core, this one is the story of an unlikely hero coming of age in an attempt at saving the day. There’s some adoption relevance in that a diverse family works together, and also in the fact that the permanency of Toto’s home is threatened. This might be a good choice for teens ages 13-16 and their parents.

Questions for After the Film

What makes someone an adult?

What other ways could Toto have come up with to save the farm, besides fighting?

When have you done something that you were scared to do? How did it turn out?
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