Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Good Dinosaur Adoption Movie Review

This review is sponsored by Bethany Christian Services. We believe every child deserves a loving family. Learn more about our adoption, counseling, and post-adoption services:

Henry and Ida have welcomed three new hatchlings into their Apatosaurus family. Buck is wild, Libby is mischievous, and Arlos is very, very timid. Henry and Ida have built a silo to keep other animals from eating their corn. They have each placed their footprint on the silo. Their children want to do so as well, but they are stopped. Henry and Ida say that they each have to prove themselves before they can leave their mark. Buck and Libby succeed quickly, but Arlo’s timidity keep him from earning a mark on the wall. He is dejected. Henry tries to create a successful situation for Arlo, and together they set off to track down the animal that has been eating their food. Arlo experiences loss on this journey, and then must work to process his loss, establish his identity, and make his mark.

*SPOILERS AHEAD The rest of the way*

The Adoption Connection

While Arlo and his father are out on the quest to earn Arlo’s mark, Arlo’s father is killed by a torrential wave. Arlo eventually ends up journeying, alone, with his only friend being the boy who he blames for his father’s death. He must avoid unscrupulous strangers who mean him harm in order to make it back to his family. Near the end of his journey, Arlo sends the boy, Spot, to go be with other humans; he implies that family means being with your own kind. They tearfully separate.

Before sending Spot to live with other humans, Arlo starts to lead Spot away from them, promising Spot food and a bed, and a place on the farm.

Strong Points

Both Arlo and Spot have lost family members. They powerfully symbolize what they’ve experienced by creating an artistic definition of family, and then howling their grief. It is a powerful scene, and a pretty accurate representation of a healthy way to acknowledge loss and mourn.

Arlo receives good advice from his father, “Sometimes you’ve got to get through your fear to see the beauty on the other side.” Another character affirms that, “You can’t get rid of fear. But you can get through it.”

Arlo is able to befriend the person he had previously blamed for his father’s death


The film seems to imply that family is only determined by genetics; even though Arlo and Spot have been through much together, Arlo sends Spot to live with other humans with whom Spot does not have a relationship because they’re humans.

Arlo has been traumatized by seeing his father’s death, and he is bothered by intrusive visions of it. My wife, a psychologist, noted that this is a pretty accurate portrayal of PTSD.
In a way, Arlo’s dad did die because Arlo hadn’t earned his mark. Also, it’s very easy to imagine Arlo feeling excluded by being the only family member not allowed to add their mark to the family silo, and kids who’ve been adopted might be particularly sensitive to feeling excluded, or themes of conditional love.

Arlo seems to take responsibility for his family’s survival. He promises his mother that he won’t let the family starve.

Arlo becomes lost, separated from his home and his family. His feelings of fear might be familiar, but also might be troubling, to kids who’ve been in foster care.

One macho character recounts his acts of bravery; one story is a bit gruesome as he boasts of a time when he defeated a crocodile, “I drowned that croc in my own blood.” It’s exaggerated for humorous effect, but some kids might take it literally and be bothered by it.

Weak Points

Arlo’s brother calls him a coward, and it’s obvious that this cuts Arlo to the heart.

Some animals are eaten on screen by others; one insect’s head is ripped off.

Arlo’s life is threatened a couple times, as is the life of Spot.


The Good Dinosaur shows a young character experiencing, mourning, and recovering from loss. It shows the place of fear much as Inside Out showed the place of sadness. Elements of separation from family might make the film too sad for kids who remember being separated from loved ones, or for kids who have been in foster care. The film is emotionally intelligent, though, and captures grief and PTSD pretty well. If kids aren’t triggered by what they see, this film could provide a good opportunity for parents to talk about some powerful emotions regarding loss and fear. The scene of Arlo’s father dying might make this one better suited to kids 10 and up, with parents present.

Questions for Discussion

Who is in your family circle?

Were Spot and Arlo family, or only friends? How can you tell?

This review was sponsored by Bethany Christian Services. We believe every child deserves a loving family. Learn more about our adoption, counseling, and post-adoption services:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Creed Adoption Foster Care Movie Review

Donnie Johnson is in trouble. The pre-teen is in a juvenile hall and continues getting in trouble for fighting other boys. When a kind woman takes him into her home, he begins to learn about his history; he never met his father, but he finds it powerful to learn about him. Donnie grows into a young man who follows in the footsteps of his father, a famous professional boxer. All the while, Donnie struggles with what it means to have a father he doesn’t know; he tries to create his own identity and wrestles with what it means to inherit rather than create some of his identity.

The Adoption Connection


This movie has lots of adoption relevance.

Donnie Johnson quickly learns that he is the son of Apollo Creed, perhaps the greatest boxer in history, whose matches with Rocky were legendary. Donnie did not know this for the first several years of his life, and upon meeting someone who knew his father, quickly asks what his father’s name was. Donnie was born after his father died; his mother is a woman with whom Apollo had a brief affair. After Donnie’s mother died, he bounced around the protective services system, and lived in foster homes and group homes. Donnie is visited by Apollo’s widow Mary Anne. She offers to take him in, and he accepts. She becomes a mother to him and raises him, although she temporarily rejects him when he insists on leaving behind a good job in order to pursue boxing.

Donnie struggles with what it means to have a father that he never met. *SPOILER ALERT: He ultimately embraces his heritage and changes his last name to his father’s last name. He is able to express that he is proud to be a Creed. However, prior to this, he reacts negatively when people call him by that last name. END SPOILER **

Donnie also finds a sense of family in Rocky; he begins to call him “Uncle.”

Mary Anne tells Donnie, “You are your father’s son, and you’re part of him, but it doesn’t mean you have to be him.”

Donnie leaves a life of privilege to pursue a life in line with what he knows of his heritage.

Rocky suggests that, even though Donnie’s father died before Donnie was born, Donnie is angry at his father for abandoning him, and that Donnie needs to forgive him.

Many characters comment on the similarities between Donnie and his father. One character refers to him as “the living embodiment” of his father.

Strong Points

Mary Anne is a very loving mother to Donnie. She brings him into her home, life, and heart. She is not scared away by his negative behaviors, and empathizes with his sense of loss, “I’ve lost, too.”

Donnie initially tells Mary Anne, “I don’t have a father.” She corrects him, noting that not having met his father does not mean that he did not have one.

Donnie finds a sense of family from two people who knew his father. By learning about his past, he found relationships to guide his future.

At one point, Rocky is asked, “Apollo Creed’s son looks at you and says family?” Rocky responds, “I’m a lucky guy.”

One character asks Donnie what he would tell his father if he met him. Donnie’s words convey a healthy acceptance of his history, heritage and identity.  **SPOILER ALERT: He says, “I love him. He didn’t leave me on purpose. I’m proud to be a Creed. It’s excellent.   END SPOILER ***


This is a movie about a boxer; there is some on-screen bleeding and one unsettling injury.

*SPOILER ALERT – although Donnie considers Rocky an uncle, their relationship is strained. Rocky has received some harrowing news. In a moment of stress, he tells Donnie that they are not really family. Although Rocky immediately regrets what he says, it takes time to repair that relationship and Donnie accuses Rocky of “getting my real family killed.” END SPOILER **
One character faces a life-threatening illness. People who have watched a loved one undergo a similar experience might find these scenes hard to watch – however, the characters involved demonstrate courage and love for each other.

Some characters comment on the fact that Donnie was conceived of an affair, and refer to him as “an embarrassment” to the Creed family and a “mistake.” He fights to correct this conception.

One character makes a very insensitive comment about Donnie’s father being dead.

One character calls Donnie a “fake Creed.”

Weak Points

For a while, Mary Anne does not communicate with Donnie; he continues to call her. This does feel a little like parental rejection, which could be rough for some viewers.


I wasn’t expecting this – but Creed is one of the best adoption-relevant movies of the year. Creed approaches issues of identity and unmet parents with honesty and integrity while telling an inspiring story and depicting very clearly that family is created where love exists. There is a sex scene which earns the film its PG-13 rating, and the boxing violence is bloody, but with parental guidance, most teenagers could enjoy and benefit from this one. Strong recommendation.

Questions for Discussion

How can relationships recover after hurtful words have been said?

What makes a family a family?

What would you tell your first parents if you could?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 Adoption Movie Review

At the end of the previous film Katniss was attacked by Peeta, whose mind has been altered by the government. She is recuperating in District 13, and slowly works to regain her ability to speak. She is now determined to get revenge against President Snow for all of the cruelty and destruction he has brought to Panem. Katniss is assigned to a unit that is invading the capitol city, and her maybe-maybe-not once-boyfriend and now enemy Peeta is assigned to her unit. Katniss continues to face danger and loss on her quest to extract revenge and to liberate the people of Panem. Meanwhile, the leader of the rebel forces, President Coin, seems to have her heart set on liberating the people of Panem but also gaining power.

This review is sponsored by Bethany Christian Services. We believe every child deserves a loving family. Learn more about our adoption, counseling, and post-adoption services.  

*Spoiler Alerts Ahead the Rest of the Way*

The Adoption Connection

The Hunger Games series centers around Katniss, a 16-year-old girl who is taken away from her family by the government. Initially, her 12-year-old sister Prim had been selected, but Katniss volunteered to be taken in her stead, in order to save Prim from a government-mandated barbaric fight to the death. Katniss grieves her separation from her family, and continues to feel protective towards her sister. In the later events of the film series, Katniss is reunified with her mother and sister, and continues to protect her sister. ** BIG SPOILER ALERT:  But Katniss’ sister is eventually killed, and Katniss sees it happen. ***

Strong Points

By the end of the film, Katniss has been able to develop a happy life. She shares with a child that she still has nightmares, but she appears to function well in spite of the trauma she has experienced. For kids and teens who have experienced profound trauma, this could be very hopeful. Even if life has scarred you, you can still create a good and happy life. Even so, there is a challenge connected to one element of Katniss’ happy ending, and I’ll share that in a spoiler in the Challenges section below.

Some characters do express the need to stop treating others as enemies.

Katniss is brave.  


Katniss expresses a deep sense of felt guilt for the loss of her friends. Kids who have experienced trauma and loss often feel as though they blame the guilt for the loss and trauma they have suffered. Katniss’ friends assure her that they were voluntarily involved in the risk and that the loss is not her fault.

** BIG SPOILER:   Katniss is involved in a love triangle. One of her suitors may be responsible for the death of her sister. The other (while in a mind-altering condition), has brutally tried to kill Katniss twice, and has also tried to get someone else to kill her. Katniss ultimately does marry one of them, and they live happily ever after. Here’s my concern with this, though: Kids who’ve been in foster care have often experienced abuse. Kids who have experienced abusive relationships often – for whatever reason – end up with abusive partners. Teens will identify with Katniss, and teens – especially those who have been in abusive homes – might not need a love story that encourages you to stick with someone who has tried to kill you – offering as an excuse only that they weren’t themselves because their mind was altered. That’s dangerous thinking.   END SPOILER **
**SPOILER: Katniss’ sister was killed by a bomb. Katniss had dedicated much of her life to protecting her sister. We see her scream with grief on screen. END SPOILER **

Weak Points

The Hunger Games series involves lots of violence by and against children and teens. **BIG SPOILER: Katniss is reunified with her younger sister, Prim, but Prim is ultimately killed by a bomb.**

Revenge is a huge motivator for Katniss. She wants her enemy to “see my eyes when I kill him.” It also seems that her vengeance might even extend to the children and grandchildren of her defeated enemies. It’s concerning that even the virtuous victors are bloodthirsty for children.

There is a terrifying breed of mutated humanoids who appear to eat one of Katniss’ friends.

One character implies that he would have been better off had he let Katniss starve to death years ago.

Katniss encounters seeming protectors whom she cannot trust. When she finally does find a trustworthy adult, he is killed.

Children are ripped away from their parents in a scene of chaos. One screams for her mother.

Almost no one is trustworthy.

There is a public execution, and another character is killed by an angry mob.

The film, although entertaining and engaging – is almost entirely cheerless except for the final few moments.

There is a pervasive sense of never being safe, which could be troubling for kids who've lived in that fear.


Katniss suffers a couple profound losses and quite a bit of trauma in this last chapter of the Hunger Games series. She also makes a couple troubling decisions. This film seems likely to be best for viewers ages 15 and up, and it might be painful for kid who have experienced violence or the loss of relatives. Parents should be cautious with this one.

Questions for Discussion

If you were Katniss, would you have chosen Peeta or Gale, or neither?

How can Katniss know that she is safe with the man she chose?

How can you tell whether people are safe to be around or not?

Do you have any nightmares? How do you deal with them? Do you think most people have them?

This review is sponsored by Bethany Christian Services. We believe every child deserves a loving family. Learn more about our adoption, counseling, and post-adoption services. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Free Birds Thanksgiving Adoption Movie Review

Reggie the turkey has been skeptical of farmers for a long time. But on the whole farm, Reggie is the only turkey who doesn’t blindly accept the farmers’ corn as a free gift. Because of his eccentricity (and perhaps also because of his scrawniness), Reggie is excluded from his community (see Turbo and Ratatouille). Good fortune finds Reggie, though, and he is selected by the President of the United States to be the pardoned turkey. He enjoys his newfound life of luxury for a short while, but is quickly kidnapped by Jake, who has come to take Reggie to the past in order to stop turkey from becoming a Thanksgiving staple.

The Adoption Connection

There’s no real connection to adoption in Free Birds, but there are themes of the importance of babies; a group of eggs are rescued from disaster by a team made up of some relatives and some non-relatives.

Strong Points

Characters sometimes exemplify courage and determination. One explains, “never give up, ever, no matter what stands in our way.”

Characters do eventually learn the importance of depending on – and being dependable for – others.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 Adoption Movie Review

In anticipation of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 which will be released later this week, Adoption at the Movies is taking a look at The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Come back soon for a review of the sequel!

After being rescued from the Hunger Games arena, Katniss Everdeen recuperates in District 13, the headquarters of the rebellion against the oppressive government of President Snow. The leader of District 13, President Coin, has asked Katniss to serve as the symbol for their revolution. Katniss initially declines because District 13 failed to rescue her dear friend Peeta, another combatant in the Hunger Games. However, when she realizes that the oppressive government has captured Peeta and is using him for propaganda, she agrees to be the figurehead that will rally the rebellion, so long as Peeta is spared.

The Adoption Connection

Some kids and teens who have been in foster care might resonate with Katniss. She was taken from her home (and her very low-income community) by the government. She was initially placed in an abusive and dangerous situation. Now, she has been rescued from that environment and placed into another new location. She is welcomed by an understanding person who tells her, “I’m sorry for what you’ve been through. You are welcome to us. We’ve known loss, too.”   

Katniss also returns to her former home, and sees that it has been destroyed.

People wrongly believed that Katniss had been pregnant. Rather than correcting their misconception, she tells them that she lost her baby.

Strong Points

Katniss is brave and loyal.


District 13 initially accepts Katniss, and some kids who have been through foster care might initially see President Coin as an analogue for a kind foster parent given how warmly and understandingly she greets Katniss. However, she makes it clear that Katniss’ welcome into their lives is conditional; if she does not do what they want, she will not be held in esteem, and her friends will be allowed to die.
It would be possible for a viewer to leave this film resonating with the fact that the government destroyed Katniss’ home and separated her from her family.

Weak Points

A lot of destruction in this film – and the bombing of a hospital – could upset viewers who have experienced trauma, as could a scene where a trusted friend unexpectedly chokes Katniss into unconsciousness.


The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is engrossing and has successfully created a wide world for its characters to inhabit. Viewers can rally along with the courageous Katniss. However, the destruction, violence, and themes of government-caused separation from family could make the Hunger Games series particularly difficult for kids who have been taken into protective custody. This film has a PG-13 rating, and the rating does seem like a good guideline. Most kids 13 and over might be able to enjoy the film without being overly distraught by the violence, and they could talk over their concerns with their parents. Kids under that age might have a rough time with this one.

Questions for Discussion

How did Katniss feel when she was separated from Peeta? How did she feel when she had been separated from her mother and sister in the first movie? Is it the same feeling, or are there differences?

How can you tell whether it is worth taking a risk to right a wrong?

What makes it likely that Katniss will succeed?

What does Katniss most want?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

You Have His Eyes Adoption Movie Review

Throughout his childhood, Christopher Wilson had only one letter from his birthmother Neomi. The letter was heartfelt and honest, and in it, she expressed her mixed feelings, her fear that she would never see him again, and her contentment and gratefulness to know that he is safe. Neomi had hoped to receive regular updates about Christopher’s life, but shortly after his adoption, the agency that facilitated his adoption and that was to facilitate the ongoing contact was forced to close. Christopher and his birthmother were lost to each other.

In 2010, Christopher’s family worked to track down his birthmother, and two years later, he moved in with her for a season. There, he learned some of her history, some about his birthfather Lionel, and the way in which he came to be adopted. Christopher then decided to seek for Lionel. Although he has found some of his relatives, Lionel hasn’t been heard from in over a decade. Christopher hires a private investigator and sets out, camera in hand, to find Lionel.

The Adoption Connection

Christopher was adopted as an infant. His adoption was intended to be semi-opened, with contact being facilitated by an agency; however, the agency closed unexpectedly. Christopher appears to have a positive and supportive relationship with his adoptive family, and they support – and even assist – him in his quest to find his birthparents.

Strong Points

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