Thursday, December 19, 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Spoiler Adoption Movie Guide

Adoption issues have been present throughout the Star Wars series – Luke Skywalker lives under misconceptions about his birth father, then believes he must oppose him, and finally reconciles with him. Luke and Leia meet as strangers (and love interests) and later learn that they are siblings. In the most recent movies, we meet Rey, a young woman with no family connection, and no last name. We meet Kylo Ren, who has turned away from his birth parents and birth name in favor of the destiny he believes awaits him because of his ancestry. In Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the galaxy faces an ultimate threat, while Kylo and Rey both wrestle with deep questions of identity. What determines someone’s identity? Is your future determined by your ancestry or by your choices? The age-old question of nature between nurture is explored among lightsaber duels and starships in a galaxy far, far away.

(Spoilers ahead the rest of the way – I’ll try to avoid fully disclosing important plot points, but it might be impossible to analyze the movie without alluding to any plot points.)

The Adoption Connection

Several prominent characters in the Star Wars universe are either adopted or are dealing with issues relevant to adoption. In this movie, Rey and Kylo struggle with parallel questions of identity: who are you? Does knowing your heritage determine your future? How important is a name?
And how important is your story. One character appears to hold information over Rey, saying “I need you to see who you are; I know the rest of your story.”

The question of Rey’s full name is raised twice in the movie. Her initial answer is that she doesn’t have a last name. When the question resurfaces later in the film her answer is incredibly powerful.
One character was badly mistreated at home; he finds himself surrounded by safe people, but initially backs away from them nervously. A friendly character assures him, “Someone treated you badly; you’re with us now,” and he makes some improvement, but his fear appears to remain constant.
A character struggles with whether broken relationships can be restored. Another character’s family loyalties are tested in a way that could be relevant to some adoptees.

Strong Points

In several ways, the adoption-relevant story elements are resolved in ways that seem positive and affirming for most adoptees.

“Some things are stronger than blood” could be a validating statement for some adoptees.
Although Rey has spent much of her younger years without family, it’s clear that she has found a new family made of the friends that have grown to love her. Some of the closest bonds don’t depend on genealogy.

Characters make good decisions when faced with hard, impactful decisions. Characters act selflessly.


I can imagine that some children who are fearful of abusive relatives that they lived with in the past might see some of their deeper fears reflected in some aspects of this movie. Families in the Star Wars universe are often plagued by separation and violence. Luke was estranged from his father, then fought him, each badly injuring the other. Earlier in this trilogy, Kylo Ren killed his father. In this film, there is potential for estranged relatives to cause each other serious physical harm.

A child calls after their departing mother, screaming in terror.

A common theme in movies is parents separating themselves from their child for the child’s own good. In many movies, this is a plot device which portrays the absent parent as noble, but also leaves the child relatively free to make complete, whole attachments to their new family. In this movie, a child has been “sold” away from their parents. For real life adoptees, this is probably an oversimplification of most stories, and it’s certainly different from the experience of kids adopted from foster care after experiencing abuse or neglect.
Rey believes for a time that no one truly knows her.


Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a fitting, satisfying end to the recent trilogy of films, and does a moderately fair job of concluding the saga.  The action, violence, and struggles of the film seem to suit it best for an audience of ages 11 or 12 and up. Preteens and teens might also notice the parallels between the film and their own story, and it could be helpful to them to have parents ask what they thought about elements of the film that seem most relevant.

Questions for Discussions

What do you think of the last question and answer in the film?

What part does ancestry play in someone’s life? What parts are free will? How do you see that in Rey and in Kylo? How does that match up to what you think about real life?

Welcome to Adoption at the Movies. If this is your first time, I’m glad to meet you. If you’ve been a longtime reader, you probably know that this is our first post in a long time. I'm not sure how often I'll post, but it's good to be back, and thanks for sticking around!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Ralph Breaks the Internet Adoption Movie Review

When Vanellope’s arcade game is damaged, and her arcade gets WiFi, Vanellope and her friend Wreck-It Ralph go online in hopes of saving her game, but when exposed to a whole new world, Vanellope starts to wonder if she really does want to reclaim her past.


The Adoption Connection

A scene lasting a few minutes makes light of adoption; When Vanellope’s game is unplugged, she declares that she and the other characters of her game are homeless. A married couple from other games express that they will adopt 15 of the young characters. One expresses that the children are “feral,” and another describes them as “lost lambs in need of parents.” Another expresses that parenting will be easy, since it just requires you to “give them everything they want.” A character describes the children as “lovable scamps destroying my sanity.”

Strong Points

The film shows that friends can stay friends, even when circumstances change, and even when friends move away. It shows that hurt feelings can be overcome. It offers an opportunity to explore how clinginess could be harmful to friendships, while also helping to understand where clinginess might come from.


For a moment, it appears that Ralph’s clinginess has cost him his best friend. This could be hard for some sensitive young viewers.

The adoption scene is mostly played for laughs, but could be bothersome to some families.

Aside from some scenes that could frighten young viewers, and an adoption scene that seems a bit out of place, Ralph Breaks the Internet is a fun movie. It should be good for most kids ages 9 and up.

Questions for Discussion

How will Ralph and Vanellope stay friends even though they live far away?

How can you stay friends with people that you don’t see very often?

What video game would you like to live in?

Other Ideas

The Grinch Adoption Movie Review

The furry, green hermit known as The Grinch hates the boisterous Christmas celebrations in Whoville. They rub against sore memories from his own childhood. And so, the Grinch has an idea, an awful idea – to stop Christmas from coming. Can the joy of Christmas break through the Grinch’s pained hatred of the holiday?


The Adoption Connection

The film opens by teasing the fact that The Grinch felt upset around Christmas time, but wasn’t sure of why he felt that way. Over time, we see clips from The Grinch’s childhood. He was abandoned, alone, rejected, and lived in an orphanage. Although he dreamed of spending Christmas with loving friends, his Christmas was spent alone in an undecorated room. The pain from the letdown of that Christmas in the prisonlike orphanage has led to The Grinch’s lifelong hatred of the holiday. The love of his neighbors eventually warms his heart and helps him find the healing he needs to embrace the holiday and embrace his neighbors.
Cindy Lou Who (who in this film is quite older than two,) cares deeply about her mother. Cindy Lou’s mom is a single mom who cares for Cindy Lou and her two infant siblings, and Cindy expresses “Mom works, cares for us, and it’s not fair. She acts like it’s fine, but it’s really hard, and if anyone can fix it, it’s Santa.” I admire Cindy Lou’s empathy, but it does seem like a lot of emotional insight for a five(ish) year old. I also would want to make sure that a kid who’s been abused or neglected wouldn’t hear Cindy Lou’s words and then start to wonder if caring for them might be too big a burden for their parents to bear.

Strong Points

The film’s orphanage scenes could be hard for children, but they also offer significant insight into how a seemingly happy day or occurrence can be triggering for kids who’ve had hard experiences. The Grinch hated Christmas every year, because he was very sad on a Christmas as a child and “he feels these feelings every year.”

The film also shows how love and acceptance, and not rebuke, is what finally helped the Grinch overcome the pain of his past.

The Grinch does honestly explain to the Whos, “I stole because I thought it would fix something that happened a long time ago.” He expresses surprise when they invite him into their homes anyway. Finally, he discovers, “It wasn’t Christmas I hated; it was being alone,” and adding that Cindy Lou’s “kindness changed my life.”


Although the film only spends two minutes in the orphanage, it could be quite difficult for some kids – especially those who have unresolved grief regarding childhood experiences of abuse, neglect or loss. In rhyming verse, the narrator reflects on The Grinch, who was “isolated and sad, with no home of his own, no mom, and no dad” and who “remembered Christmas where nobody cared, nobody showed.”


The Grinch is surprising in two ways – it could be very triggering for young kids with unresolved grief regarding familial loss, and it could be very insightful for parents of kids from hard places. For some kids, the orphanage scene will push it out of the bounds of comfort; for others, it could be a helpful tool to talk about the times when we’re sad, but don’t really know why. It's a judgment call on whether the orphanage scene will be hard for your kiddos, but I'd guess it's most likely to be hard for kids ages 9 and under.

Questions for Discussion

What made the Grinch hate Christmas? Why did he think he hated it?

What can help someone feel better when they’re sad about something from long ago?

Other Ideas

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Adoption Movie Review (Spoilers)

A powerful dark wizard, Gellert Grindelwald, intends to create a new world order which will see wizards rule over non-wizards. Grindelwald gains followers through his persuasive speeches, but he believes that for his plan to succeed, the great wizard Albus Dumbledore must be eliminated. Grindlewald cannot fight Dumbledore, but he believes that he knows a wizard who can. The forces of evil and the forces of good both pursue a disturbed teenage orphan, believing that his pre-adoption history is key to their victory.


The Adoption Connection
Credence Barebone was violently abused by his adoptive mother, and now is free from her control. He has a magical parasite which can cause great destruction, and because of this he is feared by many, and desired by power-hungry wizards who hope to exploit him. Credence has a strong desire to know who he is. An evil mind reader advises Grindlewald to speak gently to Credence, and Grindlewald exploits his knowledge that Credence is desperate for a sense of family. It’s explained that Credence was abused by the woman who raised him, and now seeks the woman who bore him.
Credence travels to find his birth mother; he does find the woman whose name is on his adoption papers, but she affirms that she is only a servant of Credence’s parents. She embraces him; however, shortly after Credence meets her, she is murdered by one of Grindlewald’s followers.
Credence aches to know his history. Facing death, he asks someone, “Tell me my story before you end it.”

Strong Points

Newt Scamander is affirmed, “You do not seek power or popularity; you ask if a thing is right, and do it no matter the cost.”  

One character affirms that Credence’s identity is more than just his history – his history is not the only thing that defines who he is.


An infant is murdered off-screen.

One character confesses that, when she was a young girl during a ship voyage, she became frustrated by her infant brother’s constant screaming. Hoping for a brief break, she switched her brother with another infant, intending to reverse the switch in a little while. However, while the babies were switched, the ship sunk, and the girl’s mother rescued the baby she incorrectly believed to be her own. Years later, this character blames herself for her infant brother’s death; this also complicates Credence’s questions regarding his own identity – Credence was the baby who was taken in the switch, and the girl who took him knows nothing about his previous identity.

The film has a very dark tone with several frightening scenes.

Characters refer to Credence’s pre-adoption identity as “who he really is.” One character corrects this, telling Credence that there is a difference between “who he was born” and “who he is.”

A character has sworn a vow to avenge his father by killing the child of the man who seduced his mother away from his father.

A young woman is told – and believes – that her father never loved her.


Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is entertaining, but it also seems darker than most of the other films in the Harry Potter world. Adoption is profoundly woven into the story, but in a way that seems likely to be troubling, confusing, or upsetting for most young viewers touched by adoption. 
This one seems best left to adults and older teens who are mature enough to process the film’s adoption elements without embracing them as fact.

Questions for Discussion

What do you believe determines Credence’s identity?

Grindelwald says that Credence is desperate for family, and this leaves him vulnerable to 
Grindelwald; what would help Credence stay safe?

Which characters seem like the safest people that Credence could trust?

Other Ideas

Friday, November 16, 2018

Instant Family Adoption Movie Review

Pete and Ellie have enjoyed their lives as a childless couple. They develop houses and have freedom that others might envy. Each believes that the other has no intention to have children, but they have not talked deeply about it. After a conversation with relatives, Ellie starts thinking about having children. Pete makes an offhanded joke; he is too old to have an infant – but if he adopted a five-year-old child it would seem like he started having children at a reasonable age. Pete gives no further thought to his joke, but Ellie begins researching adoption, and her heart is touched by the profiles of children on AdoptUSKids, a website geared towards recruiting adoptive parents for children waiting in the foster care system. Pete’s heart is also eventually touched, and Pete and Ellie begin their journey towards certification as foster-adoptive parents; they ultimately meet Lizzy, Juan and Lita at a matching event. The film follows them through a very realistic experience of the California foster and adoption system, through their certification, matching process, and placement.

The Adoption Connection
Filmmaker Sean Anders based this film on his journey through the foster-adoption system. The challenges, processes, doubts, and joys that Pete, Ellie, and the children experience are very realistic. The film captures the foster-adoption experience thoroughly without being exploitative. Pete and Ellie express the real doubts that many foster-adoptive parents experience; Lizzy, Juan and Lita encounter and present challenges that are realistic to many children in foster care. Instant Family is honest without being overanxious.

*Spoilers ahead throughout the rest of the review*

Strong Points

Instant Family accurately, compassionately and optimistically captures the foster-adoption experience. It will resonate with many that have adopted from foster care, and will be helpful for those considering adoption from foster care.
Although Lizzy, Juan and Lita – and Pete and Ellie – all have mixed feelings at times about the placement, they work through their motivations, feelings and doubts responsibly, and ultimately finalize their adoption.

Instant Family provides a lighthearted opportunity to explore and challenge several of the misconceptions that people have about adoption; the film explores peoples’ fear of adopting teenagers, unrealistic expectations of adopted children, fear of openness with a child’s birth family. It also challenges the unfortunate connection that some people make between pet adoption and the adoption of children. It explores questions of identity (Pete and Ellie temporarily feel as though they’re “babysitting someone else’s kid.”) They stand up against the insensitive comments made by their extended family. They don’t give up when their kids are resistant to bonding. This has the potential to be such a helpful film. The agency that Pete and Ellie go through is the real-life agency most closely connected to defining the Seven Core Issues in Adoption (Grief, Loss, Rejection, Guilt, Identity, Intimacy, Control). The film is very theoretically sound and healthy in its approach to adoption.


When Pete and Ellie express their doubts and fears, they appear to consider sending Lizzy, Juan and Lita back. Other prospective adoptive parents talk insensitively about their expectations of the children they hope to adopt. These are realistic conversations, but would likely be triggering to children and pre-teens touched by adoption, as well as some teenagers.   


As a long-time foster-adoption social worker, I love Instant Family. I don’t recommend it for kids; I think there’s a lot of material that could be triggering for children touched by adoption because it’s so real – but for adoptive parents or people considering adoption, this is a perfect opportunity to explore many of the real-life aspects of foster care adoption. It’s funny and entertaining, and has the potential to help prospective adoptive parents be more thoughtful and better-prepared. Because of this, it can have a positive impact on kids waiting to be adopted. Instant Family has Adoption at the Movies’ strong recommendation.

Questions for Discussion

How did Pete and Ellie end up with three kids? What challenges did this bring, and how did they overcome the challenges?

How helpful was the support group for Pete and Ellie? How do you think the support group impacted their parenting?

Which do you think would have been the hardest moment for Pete and Ellie? How did they remain committed to their kids?

What growth did Pete and Ellie need within themselves to be able to be the parents that their children needed?

How does Lizzy feel about her birthmother Brenda? How can Pete and Ellie best honor that moving forward?

What moment most touched your heart?

Monday, August 13, 2018

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again - Adoption Movie Review

A year after her mother’s death, Sophie intends to re-open her mother’s hotel. Sophie’s mother, Donna, was never sure who Sophie’s father was, but all three possible fathers took an active role in Sophie’s life, and continue to serve as supportive fathers to her even now that she is grown. As Sophie deals with the stress of reopening the hotel, we see interspersed scenes of Donna’s life when she was Sophie’s age, settling on the island, dreaming of opening the hotel, and dealing with an unexpected and largely unsupported pregnancy.

**SPOILER ALERT**** By the end of the film, Sophie learns that she is pregnant – and although this helps her feel closer to her mother, she realizes that, unlike her mother, she is supported by a boyfriend and her three fathers, and she will not have to do this alone. ***END SPOILER***

The Adoption Connection

Some people, including people touched by adoption, may relate to Sophie’s situation; several people have entered her life as supportive parental figures, but she is not certain who her biological father is. However, all of her father figures have learned to work together and have become friends in support of Sophie. This is an ideal outcome, and a similar outcome, although more specific to adoption (and more likely to appeal to kids), was presented in Kung Fu Panda 3.

Strong Points

I really like how supportive Sophie’s three dads are of her, and how they have generally learned to treat each other as family as well; they are united by their care for Sophie. This models a very positive outcome for any blended family, whether formed by remarriage or adoption.  


This film doesn’t seem likely to appeal to a young audience, but it doesn’t seem likely to pose many challenges for a mainstream adult audience.


While this isn’t an adoption film, adoptive parents could enjoy watching it, paying attention to the positive relationship between the three dads, and reflecting on what a healthy, open relationship could look like with their children’s birth family.

Questions for Discussion

What do you think made it possible for Sophie’s dads to function so well together?

How important is language or terminology for Sophie in referring to her dads?

Which songs did you like best?

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