Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Justice League Adoption Movie Review

(There are spoilers throughout this review)

In the wake of Superman’s death, the ancient villain Steppenwolf returns to Earth, intending to use three Mother Boxes to transform the earth into a desolate place. Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash eagerly join forces to save the world, and are later joined by Cyborg and Aquaman. When it is apparent that their combined efforts will not be enough to defeat Steppenwolf, they consider a frightening solution – they must use the chaotic power of the Mother Boxes to resurrect Superman. 
Superman is reborn, and his powers do return immediately, but he does not remember who he is. To be effective for the forces of good, Superman must first remember who he is.


The Adoption Connection

One character visits his father in prison; his father expresses, “I want you to stop coming to see me; I am a drag on your life.” This deeply hurts his young adult son, who continues to try to vindicate and impress his father.

Aquaman does not know his mother. Another character tells him that she knew her; Aquaman replies, “That makes one of us. Mom left me without a second thought.” The other character replies that his mother “left you to save your life,” and then says that because he is related to her, he must fulfill the role his mother once filled.  


Strong Points

Superman expresses a good sentiment, “Hope, like car keys, is easy to lose, but if you dig around, it’s usually close by.”

Superman does eventually remember who he is when he is greeted by Lois Lane. His mother also finds him and tearfully embraces him.

Cyborg had questioned whether his life was worth living, after it had been badly altered due to an explosion. He ultimately realizes, “I really like being alive.”


Challenges

Some frightening monsters, violence (a character appears to have his robotic leg ripped off,) and an attempt by a terrorist group to plunge the world “into the dark ages” could scare some viewers. The resurrection of Superman, and a scene in which two heroes dig up his coffin, could be uncomfortable for some, and it could be triggering for viewers with issues of unresolved loss.

Aquaman says that he was abandoned by his mother; this is left unresolved.

A character’s father is kidnapped.


Recommendations

Justice League captures that hope is real, and that life is worth living even after loss or trauma. Some frightening aspects might make it a bad choice for young or sensitive viewers, and certain aspects of the story could brush up against issues of abandonment (Aquaman briefly says that his mother abandoned him) or loss (Superman’s casket is dug up). This film could be good for teenagers who won’t be bothered by the scenes mentioned in the Challenges section, and seems best suited to ages 13 and up. 

Parents could use the film as a springboard into conversations about hope and healing from loss and hardship – Superman’s childhood house has been sold, Batman has lost his parents and lives a relatively isolated life, The Flash’s father is in prison and he has few friends, Aquaman was abandoned as a child, Wonder Woman lives far from her family, and Cyborg’s body has been badly damaged – yet in spite of these losses and pains, each character joins with the others to work together effectively for good.


Questions for Discussion

Which character had the hardest loss? How did they recover from it?
Why did the Flash join the team?

Which character do you think is the bravest?

How have the experiences you’ve faced in your life shaped you? What strengths do you have?

If you could have any super power, what would it be? What powers do you already have?



Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Top Posts of 2017

Thanks for another great year of watching movies through the lens of adoption.

Here's our top ten most-viewed posts of 2017:



10. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2   

9. Born in China

8. Anne with an E

7. Despicable Me 3

6. Beauty and the Beast

5. Smurfs: Lost Village

4. 2017 Adoption at the Movies Awards

3. Boss Baby

2. Coco

1. The Lego Batman Movie 

I'm also grateful for two big landmarks this year: the Adoption at the Movies book was published, and we've reached over 1,000,000 visits to our site!


Here's to many more movies and memories in 2018!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Ferdinand Adoption Movie Review (Spoilers)

All the young bulls at Casa del Toro aspire to grow up strong and brave so that they can go to the glorious arena where bulls fight matadors. Well, almost all of the young bulls aspire to that. Ferdinand doesn’t want to fight; he is more invested in watering a beautiful flower that has captured his heart. One day, Ferdinand’s father is selected to go to the arena; he proudly goes off, promising Ferdinand that he will return – but he doesn’t return. Ferdinand is grief-stricken to lose his father, but he finds no sympathy from the other bulls; some are jealous that they were not selected for the arena, and one says that Ferdinand’s dad died because he was “soft.” In his sorrow and fear, Ferdinand runs away.

(THERE ARE MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD THROUGHOUT THE REST OF THE REVIEW)



Ferdinand finds himself at the house of a florist and his daughter. He grows up there, well-loved, and very much part of the family. One day, however, Ferdinand leaves the home without permission because he wants to attend a flower festival. His trip is a disaster, and Ferdinand is misunderstood to be a wild animal. He is captured and taken away, even though his new family protests.
One of his animal-control captors sees an opportunity to make a profit, and delivers Ferdinand back to the Casa del Toro, where Ferdinand is cruelly welcomed by his former penmates. Because Ferdinand is large, he is presumed to be a likely candidate for an upcoming major bullfight – but Ferdinand still does not want to fight. He learns, however, that if he does not fight, he will be sent to a meat factory. He decides to try to escape again, but in his attempt to escape, he learns that any bull who fights in the arena is killed; whether it’s the meat factory or the arena, every bull is destined to be killed. Ferdinand forfeits his chance of escape in an attempt to save all of the other bulls, including the ones who treated him poorly. He saves them, but he himself is recaptured, and for a third time finds himself as the property of Casa del Toro. Now there is no escape, and Ferdinand is taken to the arena, where he must fight the greatest matador, in his final bout.

A full arena watches as Ferdinand constantly eludes the matador, and when Ferdinand’s family sees him on television, they rush to the arena. While they are en route, the matador manages to slash Ferdinand. It’s a surface wound, but it enrages Ferdinand. He attacks the matador, and uses his horns to lift the matador off the ground. Ferdinand locks eyes with him, and then remembers his compassionate nature, and lowers the matador to the ground. The matador backs away, but then returns, intend on killing Ferdinand. Ferdinand stares at him, and then sits down in protest, not defending himself, but not looking away from the matador. The audience erupts and demands that Ferdinand be allowed to live, and ultimately, the matador nods and walks away. At this point, Ferdinand’s florist family arrives, and the young girl runs out and embraces him. Ultimately, Ferdinand is able to return home, and brings new friends with him, who are now also free to live in safety.


The Adoption Connection

Ferdinand loses his father in a traumatic way, and his grief is palpable.

Ferdinand’s experience is a fear that some kids have after leaving an abusive home: Ferdinand escapes, is basically adopted by a loving family, but then is recaptured and taken back to the abusive environment, where the abuse is even worse. Ferdinand’s nonviolent character saves himself and others, but his experience certainly seems likely to trigger many viewers who have been through foster care.

Ferdinand is basically adopted by the florist’s family. The daughter tells him, “This is your home now.” The family dog feels somewhat displaced by Ferdinand (Ferdinand is called “good boy,” and the dog says, “I thought I was ‘good boy.’”) However, the dog also likes Ferdinand. Ferdinand tells the dog that they’re brothers; the dog responds, how can a bull and a dog be brothers, but Ferdinand notes “Your tail wagged when I called you my brother.”


Strong Points

Even though there’s a lot of trigger potential in this one, it’s a good movie, and Ferdinand himself is a gracious hero who is a breath of fresh air. He is forgiving, brave, courageous; he is not vengeful, and he refuses to be violent. For kids who won’t be triggered by the film, Ferdinand is one of the best cinematic role models that a kid could pick.

For much of his life, Ferdinand lives in safety, surrounded by a very loving family in a beautiful, peaceful environment. When he first arrives, timid and fearful, his new sister, a young human girl, tells him “This is your home now.” Ferdinand also finds a new brother in the family’s dog.


Challenges

Ferdinand’s dad is killed in a bullfight. We don’t see the fight, but we do see Ferdinand’s grief when his father doesn’t come home; Ferdinand is not treated with sympathy by the other bulls.

Ferdinand escapes, but is recaptured and returned to his abusive environment. His recapture is at least in part due to him disobeying his adoptive family and acting out in public, which could also be troubling for some kids, who might worry about being sent away or “sent back” if they misbehave.

As Ferdinand is being taken away from his family, he cries out, desperate to get back home. Ferdinand tries to return home, but an electric fence is in place to prevent him from escaping.

For a few minutes, it seems that two bulls have been sent away to die at the meatpacking plant.


Recommendations

Ferdinand is a positive film with a laudable hero, but for viewers who have experienced abuse, neglect, parental loss, or removal from an abusive environment, it also seems very trigger-heavy. For a general audience, this film should work for most kids, but for an audience touched by foster care or adoption, parents should be cautious.


Questions for Discussion

Why did Ferdinand try to save the other bulls?

How can Ferdinand feel safe with the florist’s family, now that he’s back there again?

What do you like best about Ferdinand?



Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Star Adoption Movie Review

(There are spoilers throughout this review)

Mary is surprised when an angel announces that she will become pregnant and give birth to the Son of God. She tells her betrothed, Joseph, and in time he accepts this. Together, they travel to Bethlehem for a required census, while a hunter is sent by the king to “end” them. Meanwhile, a mill donkey has escaped from his mill; he hopes to join the royal procession, but instead ends up travelling with Mary and Joseph. The familiar Nativity story is told largely from the point of view of Bo the Donkey.  





The Adoption Connection

This is the Nativity story. Joseph struggles to know whether he can raise the Son of God when he himself is “only a carpenter.”
Mary names Bo; that helps him feel more connected to her.


Strong Points

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An older donkey that Bo works with decides to help Bo escape and chase his dreams.

Bo shows loyalty to Mary and Joseph.

A sheep values loyalty to her friends because “flocks stick together.”

This is a friendly way to re-tell this story to your kids.

Two villainous dogs have a change of heart and decide that they need to try to be good.

One of Bo’s friends is a very loyal dove.



Challenges

A wicked king is willing to kill all of the newborns in the land to ensure that a newborn king does not dethrone him. His willingness is mentioned, but nothing is shown or confirmed.

A menacing villain is sent by the king to kill Mary. He ultimately falls, apparently to his death.
When Joseph misunderstands Bo’s efforts to save him and Mary, he initially tries to send Bo away. Bo does leave in anger, but then goes back, realizing that he belongs with Joseph and Mary. The brief scene of rejection could be hard for some viewers.

Near the end of the movie, Bo’s former owner finds him and recaptures him. Bo is ultimately reunited with Mary and Joseph, but the surprising return of the miller – and Bo’s recapture – could be frightening to children who fear being returned to abusive situations.

Two scary dogs, who are in pursuit of Mary, could frighten young children.


Recommendations

The Star is a fun retelling of the Nativity story. There are a few frightening scenes – the ongoing pursuit of Mary and Joseph by a large hunter and two dogs could scare young children, and Bo’s recapture could frighten children who fear being returned to abusive situations. Joseph’s temporary rejection of Bo could also be a trigger for some kids. Because of the potential for triggers for some kids who’ve been in hard places, I’d recommend this one for kids ages 9-14, although many younger kids will not be bothered by the potential triggers.
 

Questions for Discussion

How did Bo help Mary and Joseph?

How did the dove help Bo?

Which friends help you a lot?

If animals could really talk, what do you think they would say?


Had you ever heard this story before?

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (SPOILERS) Adoption Movie Review

There are spoilers throughout this review. Turn back now if you want to avoid them!


The rebellion is in danger of being crushed by the First Order. Rey has located Luke Skywalker and hoeps to have him join the rebellion to infuse their efforts with hope. Kylo Ren struggles with the implications and obligations that his ancestry have on his destiny. Supreme Leader Snoke has the military and aspects of the Force at his command. The rebellion has been reduced to only a few fighters, and though hope is what they need to reignite their efforts, Luke’s grief and guilt over a past choice leave him unwilling to join.

(SPOILERS AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY)






The Adoption Connection

The Star Wars films are immersed in questions of family relationship. Kylo Ren continues to try to live up to his image of his grandfather, Darth Vader, and in a previous film he kileld his father. Now, he is given the opportunity to kill his mother.

Rey has been seeking for her parents for her whole life. In this film, her search is coldly addressed in a manner that could be rough for some pre-teens and teens with issues connected to unknown parents. (SPOILER ALERT): Kylo Ren tells Rey that her parents are no one important, just “filth” and “junk traders.” He says they sold her for drinking money. Kylo tells Rey that she is nothing and that she has no part in the grand story of good and evil; she has no familial connections to the great people of history – but he would let her join the story. Kylo tells Rey that her parents left her, and so, Kylo says, Rey looks for her parents in everyone that she meets.  (END SPOILER)


Strong Points – SPOILERS AHEAD

Luke acknowledges that “no one is from nowhere.”

The film shows several misunderstandings, and it can underscore the importance of not making assumptions. Luke misjudged Kylo. Kylo misjudged Luke. Poe misjudged one of his leaders. These misevaluations were all uncharitable, and all led to dangerously broken relationships. Luke and Kylo each give Rey their understanding of the same event, and we see that neither is lying, but one initially held back some information, and the other misunderstood the situation – his telling is true from his perspective; he is not lying, but he is sadly mistaken. There are some good teaching points here!

Luke asks Rey a question that catches my imagination – why are you here? He’s not asking why her errand needs to be accomplished – but instead, why she is the one to do it? It makes me think about life: sure, I’m a social worker and I do Adoption at the Movies because there is important work to do – but why is it me doing it? Sure, you’re a foster parent because there’s a need – but why is it you? Why do we do what we do? What fuels our mission? I wasn’t expecting this film to be such an opportunity for introspection!

Luke genuinely expresses shame and sorrow for misjudging Kylo. He understands the impact of his error. Rey communicates, “You failed by thinking his choice was made.”

Luke is advised that failure is the greatest teacher. He ultimately finds peace and purpose, and the rebels find hope.


Challenges – SPOILERS AHEAD

Kylo Ren has an opportunity to kill his mother. Kylo’s uncle thinks about killing Kylo. Kylo tries to kill his uncle. Kylo believes he sees his mother die.

Kylo speaks unkindly about Rey’s unknown parentage and its impact on her. He tells her, “Your parents threw you away like garbage, but you can’t stop needing them. It’s your greatest weaknesss. You can’t stop looking for them everywhere.” He advises her, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become who you were meant to be.”

Rey desperately wants  to see her parents; for a moment, she thinks she sees them behind obscured glass, but when it clears, she is disappointed. She says, “I thought I’d find answers here; I was wrong. I’ve never felt so alone.”


Recommendations – SPOILERS AHEAD
The Last Jedi is one of my favorite Star Wars films. It is a well-made, engaging story that is worth revisiting. I like the messages of hope, peace, and understanding that can be drawn from it. Kylo does say some hurtful things to Rey that could be particualrly painful for some viewers who are touched by adoption, although the lines might go over the heads of younger viewers. Kids ages 7-14 could have challenges with what Kylo says to Rey; parents might choose to skip this on account of those lines of dialogue. There might be value in watching it first and then watching it with your kids, and at the very least, parents should watch it with their kids. I’ve tried to capture most of the relevant, concerning dialogue in the Concerns section. For kids for whom this isn’t an issue, this film does have some violence (one character gets sliced in half by a lightsaber), but it should be fine for pre-teens and teens.


Questions for Discussion – SPOILERS AHEAD

What do you wonder about your parents? What do you imagine about them?
What was Luke’s biggest mistake with Kylo Ren? What was Kylo Ren’s biggest mistake?

What do you imagine about Rey’s parents?

Rey is from Jakku – where are you from?


What failures have you learned and grown from?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Wonder Adoption Movie Review

(There are spoilers throughout this review)

August “Auggie” Pullman has been home schooled all his life, but he surprises his parents by saying that he is ready to go to a charter middle school. Auggie has Treacher Collins Syndrome; it has taken many surgeries to help him breathe and hear, but some facial abnormalities suggest the medical difficulties he has had in his life. His parents and his sister are worried; will the kids at school see past his physical appearance and embrace him? One fellow student, Jack Will, becomes a friend to Auggie, but when Auggie overhears Jack speaking very unkindly, their relationship seems threatened.
Auggie’s older sister, Via, has not resented the fact that her parents’ lives have revolved around her younger brother; she has joined them in their care of him, and she loves him deeply, but as a high school student, she feels neglected by them, and the effect of their relative inattention to her is amplified when her longtime best friend Miranda stops returning her calls.

Wonder takes turns following Auggie, Jack, Via and Miranda as it explores the social and emotional experience of life for each of these young people, who each struggle in their own way. It’s a compassionate and heartwarming film which captures the kindness and cruelty of kids and adults.






The Adoption Connection

There is not an adoption element to the story. Many kids can relate to the other children in the film, whether it’s relating to Auggie as he is bullied, Via as she feels neglected by her parents and abandoned by her best friend, Miranda as she feels insecure  and ashamed of her family circumstances, or Jack as he feels torn between doing the right thing and caving to peer pressure.


Strong Points

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Jack shows kindness to Auggie, and realizes that over time, he has come to like Auggie – he now wants to be his friend genuinely, rather than just as a kindness.

The principal, Mr. Tushman, shows compassion and wisdom. He does not overreact when kids misbehave, understands their motivation, and appears to care for each of his students. With regard to Auggie, he challenges a complaining parent, “We can’t change the way he looks; maybe we can change the way we see.”

Auggie’s main bully, Julian, expresses genuine remorse when he is expelled; Mr. Tushman acknowledges that Julian’s remorse is genuine.

Auggie’s parents love him, and struggle to find the balance between protecting him from hardships and supporting him in the midst of them.

In a powerful scene, a distraught Auggie asks his mother, “Why am I so ugly?” She says that he isn’t, and he says it doesn’t count because she has to say it, because she is his mother. She replies, “Because I’m your mother, it counts the most, because I know you the most.” She admits to him that she doesn’t know if kids will start treating him better, but acknowledges that “the face shows us where we’ve been, and it’s never ugly. Your heart shows where you’re going.”

Via’s parents and friend eventually do find a way to connect with her and help her feel supported. Via also had the memory of her grandmother’s support – her grandmother confided in her that, “your brother has lots of angels watching after him – but you’re my favorite.” It’s a memory that Via has cherished when she feels overshadowed by Auggie’s needs.

I rejoiced in my heart when Jack and Auggie reconcile their friendship.

Auggie’s parents and sister always have loved him. We get to rejoice along with him as he is triumphantly accepted by his teachers and peers.



Challenges

Several characters bully or ostracize Auggie. One is particularly cruel, and leaves a note telling Auggie to die. He has photoshopped Julian out of a class photo, and written “no freaks allowed” on it. Later, that child’s mother says that she photoshopped Auggie out of the photo because she wanted her friends to notice her son rather than Auggie. The bully was suspended, and his parents decided that he would not be returning to the school – not as a punishment to their son, but in protest of the school punishing their son at all.  Auggie also overhears his only friend say that, if he looked like Auggie, he would kill himself. It takes a long time for their relationship to heal, but it does. It could be hard for some kids to see Auggie bullied or in peril.

Via briefly says that she is an only child. She regrets this, and later admits this. The friend to whom she lied is understanding of her situation.

It is sad to see Via’s time with her mother cut short by Auggie’s needs, but Via recovers from her pain and uses it as relational currency to talk to Auggie about what he’s going through, and what she’s going through. She tells him, “Right now, we’re each other’s best friends.”
The family dog dies, which could be sad for some viewers.

Miranda wishes for a loving family; her own family does not pay much attention to her. She has gained a sense of belonging in the Pullman family, but over the summer she told her new friends about her life – but pretended that she had Via’s life. Now, she is ashamed and tries to avoid Via, but she misses the Pullmans.
 

Recommendations

Wonder is a compassionate, thoughtful film that examines the same days through several sets of eyes. It’s much easier to view others with compassion when we understand their experiences, and Wonder accomplishes that several times over, while capturing some of humanity’s worst moments, but also some of the best. This one seems best suited to teens and their parents, although some older grade schoolers and preteens might find it worthwhile as well, if the scenes of bullying aren’t too hard.


Questions for Discussion

What do you think Auggie was feeling when he walked to school the first time?

Why did Miranda not talk to Via for a long time? Why did she pretend to be Via?

Why do you think Jack said the mean thing about Auggie? How do you think he felt when he said it?

How does Via feel about her brother?

Which kid do you think is most like you?

Have you ever been bullied – or are you being bullied?



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