Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature Adoption at the Movies review

The critters of Oakton City have been living large. Under the leadership of Surly, a grumpy purple squirrel, the interspecies community of moles, groundhogs, squirrels and a pug dog have loved their life in an abandoned, but fully stocked, nut factory. Red squirrel Andie believes that the animals are getting soft in the nut factory, and she encourages younger critters to learn how to forage in the local park. The question of feast or forage soon becomes replaced by a shared struggle for survival; the nut factory explodes, and the park (which had been a surefire backup plan) is scheduled for demolition to make way for a theme park. Now, the animals must join together to save the park.





*SPOILERS AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY*

The Adoption Connection

There is no mention of adoption in the movie. A cruel girl does take a dog into her home against the dog's wishes, but the dog escapes. The animals do lose a home, and are threatened to be run out of another. They worry about not having access to food, and one animal repeatedly asserts, “We’re all gonna die,” sometimes in response to the scarcity of food. It’s not an adoption connection, but kids who have experienced neglect or kids who remember being removed from their home of origin might find these themes to be difficult.  


Strong Points

The squirrels, pug, and other animals show a strong sense of loyalty to each other.
Andie encourages the other animals not to despair even in the face of a very difficult situation. She assures them that they will be able to survive. Earlier, she had implied that the animals can build character by surviving in difficult circumstances (well, actually, foraging for food instead of eating prepared food that was stockpiled in a factory.)

Surly has a lifelong friend named Buddy; each has saved the other. They came together during a major storm that threatened their lives, and have stuck together since then.


Challenges

A repeated refrain of “we’re all gonna die,” and the themes of loss of home and scarcity of food could be hard for some kids who’ve been through the foster care system. One cute little animal ass, “How will we get food?”

A child is cruel towards animals, and her father threatens to mount their heads on his wall.
Surly has a lifelong, loyal, mute friend named Buddy. For a couple minutes, it seems as though Buddy falls to his death due to Surly’s brief moment of showboating. Buddy is laid out on a slab with all the somberness of a funeral, but he does recover.

A community of mice reflect on a time when they were cast out of their home, and “nobody was there to save us.” They have grown strong, but bitter. However, when they learn of Surly’s plight, they decide to prevent the same displacement from happening to Surly’s friends. A character comments that, although individually they’re very tiny, “together we’re giants.” They are able to work together to save the park.


Recommendations

The Nut Job 2 has moments of silliness, moments of grossness, and some themes that could be difficult for kids who’ve experienced insecurity of home or food. It also depicts the loyalty of friends, the resiliency of people who have been vulnerable, and the power that even small people have if they work together. Except for kids who would be bothered by some of the themes I’ve mentioned, this one seems generally good for an audience around the ages of 6-10. After watching it, considering talking to your kids about the things that make them feel safe, their close friends, and the power that they have to accomplish great things while working in conjunction with friends.


Questions for Discussion 

Who are some of your closest friends?

What things about home make you feel the safest? What things about home do you like the best?
If you were a squirrel, and if you were given the choice, would you live in a nut factory or would you 
forage for nuts in the park?

When have you seen tiny people (or kids) work together to do something big?



Twinsters Adoption Movie Review

Samantha was adopted from Korea in 1987. In 2013, she received an unexpected letter over the Internet from a girl named Anaïs, who believes that they might be sisters. Samantha and Anaïs develop a friendship over the internet, and eventually, Samantha travels from the US to Europe to meet with Anaïs. There, they receive the results of a DNA test: they are not only sisters – they are identical twins.  Together, Anaïs and Samantha travel to Korea and connect with others who were adopted from Korea. They are not able to find their birthmother, but they are able to find a sense of community in each other, in their earliest foster parents, and in the Korean adoptee community.



The Adoption Connection

This is an adoption story, all the way. Anaïs and Samantha are sisters who were adopted as infants, and who reunify as young adults. It’s a positive, worthwhile film.


Strong Points

Anaïs and Samantha are sad that they are not able to find their birthmother; she refuses to acknowledge that she had children. The girls express their feelings, “I feel sorry for her… I feel bad that she has to hide it.” And they comment on the experience they have of “unconditionally loving someone I’ve never met.”

Anaïs always wanted siblings; Samantha includes her as part of her family, and tells her “You’ve got two older brothers now.”

Samantha shares the news of her newfound twin with her relative, who exclaims, “I’m so happy for both of you, and for me too.

Anaïs’ and Samantha’s parents both travel to London and all of them are able to meet together.
It’s hard for Anaïs and Samantha to go back to their everyday lives, continents apart, but they maintain a friendship with each other. Each travels to see the other.

Anaïs beautifully captures the power of having a sibling for someone who has been adopted apart from them, “Sam represents so much… We have the same story.”

Samantha and Anaïs are able to meet their former foster mothers, and it’s very nice to see that their foster mothers remember them and show care and love towards them.

At the Korean adoptee convention, a special video message reaches out to the adoptees, “I humbly ask you to love your mother country.” Anaïs and Samantha feel encouraged that their mother country cares about them.

For Anaïs, connecting with her former foster mother is a sign of proof that she was loved and cared for, even before she was adopted into her loving family. Previously, she had thought of her life before adoption as a void. She used to say that her life started at the airport, but now she is able to see the value and the love that existed even before she came to her parents. She can move towards having a fully integrated understanding of her life story, rather than having two separate life stories. She explains, she thought that her parents stopped loving her, but now she realizes that people loved her from the very beginning.  

Anaïs and Samantha have added to each other’s families, but have not replaced each other’s families. One says “Family is what you make of it; there’s no definition,” and then lists their family: adoptive family, foster families, each other, their birth mother, their sister’s parents. One says it’s like having “five different types of mom, and it’s OK.” For Anaïs, who felt lonely as an only child, having such a large sense of family is a very positive experience.

Together, Anaïs and Samantha write a letter to their birthmother expressing that they are happy to have each other, and expressing that they love her.


Recommendations

Twinsters gets Adoption at the Movies’ very strong recommendation. This one should be good for adoptive parents, people considering adoption, and adoptees ages 11 and up or so. If you watch it with your children, be prepared to talk with them about their feelings regarding openness and their feelings of grief regarding relatives with whom they’ve lost contact. This one is wroth seeing.


Questions for Discussion

Why do you think Anaïs and Samantha were separated? What would it mean to discover an unknown twin?

How can Anaïs and Samantha maintain their relationship even though they’re separated by an ocean?
How did their families react to them finding each other? How can their families support their relationship?

How can adoptee conventions, like the one Samantha and Anaïs attended, be helpful to adoptees? What are the nearest ones to your home?

What feelings do Anaïs and Samantha have towards their birthmother? What feelings do you believe your children have towards their birthparents?

Do your children have siblings that they don’t live with? Can those relationships be pursued?
How can you help your children find the honorable, good, and healing aspects of their pre-adoption history?










Tuesday, August 8, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes Adoption Movie Review

As apes have become increasingly intelligent, a virus has evolved which renders humans mute. In an effort to avoid the spread of this disease and to preserve the human species, a renegade branch of the military, called Alpha-Omega, has taken it upon themselves to kill all of the apes, and also to kill any infected humans and any humans who would work against them. A tribe of apes led by Caesar intends to escape from Alpha-Omega, and they have released captured Alpha-Omega soliders as a sign of peaceful intentions, but the Colonel of Alpha-Omega raids Caesar’s hideaway anyway and kills Caesar’s wife and son. Caesar sends the other apes off to escape, but he sets off to kill the Colonel. Caesar and his companions encounter an Alpha-Omega soldier and kill him before he can shoot them; then they discover his daughter who cannot speak; they keep her with them and care for her. However, Caesar learns that his tribe has been captured by Alpha-Omega. He must set them free, but he is captured by Alpha-Omega, and his capture brings him face to face with the Colonel. The Colonel knows that the rest of the Armed Forces are being sent against him because of his willingness to kill other humans – including his own son – and he is using the captured apes to perform forced labor to prepare his compound for the impending Armed Forces attack.






*SPOILERS AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY*


The Adoption Connection

Caesar and his companions care for Nova, the mute daughter of the solider they killed.


Strong Points

The apes show a willingness to forgive, and they show care for a human child who is left alone after her father, an enemy soldier, is killed.

Caesar’s friends challenge him when he intends to act out of anger.

Nova repays the apes’ kindness to her by giving them food and water; however, it is a strange dynamic that she is travelling with the ones who killed her father.


Challenges

The Colonel shot his own son in the chest and left him to die, in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus that infected his son. When he learns that he himself has been infected, he kills himself.
It is difficult to see the apes forced into labor. They are starved and not given water. When Caesar attempts to defend an ape who is being whipped, he himself is beaten at the Colonel’s order. Others are left to die of exposure.

Even though Caesar achieves a peaceful future for his tribe, he dies from wounds he receives in the battle.

The Colonel tells Caesar that, although he hadn’t intended to kill Caesar’s wife and son, he is glad that he did.

An ape who had betrayed his tribe and sided with Alpha-Omega ultimately changes his mind and saves Caesar’s life, and a human responds by shooting him; the scene is graphic.


Recommendations

War for the Planet of the Apes is a well-made movie and tells a gripping story. There isn’t much of an adoption connection, and the only adoption connection I do see is a problematic one but it’s not a particularly strong connection. The film is heavy and violent, and so probably isn’t a good choice for kids. Many teens will be OK with this one, however, for kids who have experienced familial loss or domestic violence, it might not be a good choice, because Caesar’s wife and child are killed, Caesar dies, and a Colonel kills his own son.


Questions for Discussion

Why did Caesar ultimately choose not to shoot the Colonel?

Have you ever seen someone respond to a crisis in a way that made the situation even worse?


What are some other ways that the Colonel could have tried to save the human race from the virus?






Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (spoilers) Adoption Movie Review

Valerian and Laureline are special agents of the human police force in the distant future, in a time when many alien races live together on a large space station. In a dream, Valerian saw than an idyllic world was destroyed by warfare. The world possessed items of great power, and Valerian and Laureline have been charged with retrieving the items for the human government. When they return to their space station, they find things amiss: there is a mysterious radioactive area in the station, several soliders have gone to investigate but have not returned, and it seems that the race that lived on the idyllic world may have come for revenge.

*SPOILERS AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY*





The Adoption Connection

There is no adoption theme. The spirit of one alien has chosen to reside for a time in the body of Valerian. The alien’s mother is able to recognize the spirit of her daughter in Valerian, and finds peace in seeing her again, after seeing her daughter die some time earlier.


Strong Points

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a visually beautiful film.

The aliens that the humans fear are not out for revenge; they are only trying to recreate what the humans were responsible for destroying.

The film shows the power of forgiveness. The young heroes are courageous.


Challenges

It is hard to see the alien princess stuck outside of the shelter when space war debris is falling on the planet. Her parents look on grieving as she turns to face her inevitable death.

One of the aliens is being tortured; the government official who ordered the destruction of their planet is trying to cover his tracks so that no one learns that he gave an order to decimate a populated planet. To protect this secret, he is willing to kill all of the surviving aliens and any humans who know what he did.
A life form has been held in slavery and forced to perform seductive dances. Valerian frees it.
A large alien intends to kill and eat Laureline. He prepares to sever the top of her skull, before he is violently killed by Valerian. I found this scene disturbing.


Recommendations

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is an imaginative science-fiction story that seems more likely to appeal to fans of Star Trek than fans of Star Wars. It doesn’t seem likely to appeal to very young viewers, but should be OK for kids 12 and up, so long as they’re not disturbed by some of the violence, and the scene where a young woman was almost eaten by an alien or the scene where a young adult alien faces her death.
 

Questions for Discussion

Which character was the bravest?

How do you define love?


What makes it possible for people to forgive?



Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Emoji Movie Adoption Movie Review (SPOILERS)

The bustling city of Textopolis lies hidden in your smartphone, waiting to help you communicate. Each app is its own little world; Textopolis is made up of the emojis that live in your text app. One of the emojis, a young “meh” face named Gene, is very excited for his first day on the job, but he gets nervous and causes a disaster that leads their phone owner to decide to erase his phone. In an attempt to save their world, one of the emojis attempts to have Gene deleted, which sends him into flight.  
All the emojis are supposed to have one face, one emotion, and one thing that they do very well. Gene feels multiple emotions and shows multiple faces, which a leading emoji believes is a malfunction. The other emojis eventually see the value in Gene’s range of expressions when Gene is able to create a unique emoji to help the phone’s owner (a preteen boy) communicate his complicated feelings of shyness and interest to his crush.






The Adoption Connection

There is no adoption connection in the movie. The film does highlight the value of different and complex emotions, and that could be helpful for kids who have a hard time owning and expressing their feelings. Inside Out did it better, and with more complexity, but if your kids are begging to see the Emoji Movie, you could put it to some degree of good use. (In Inside Out, a character’s emotions help her navigate her feelings of ambivalence after moving to a new state; in The Emoji Movie, a character’s emojis help him tell a girl that he likes her).


Strong Points

Gene’s parents love him even when he falls out of favor with the community.

Gene’s unique emotions are a positive, not a negative.

Girls aren’t limited to being princesses and brides; they can be computer geniuses, too.

A character acknowledges that “looking out for number one” isn’t so great if there aren’t any other numbers – we need each other.

Gene’s dad is eventually able to express his loving emotions towards Gene.


Challenges

The animated short before the movie features a very large dog who pees a lot.

Gene’s parents do care about him, but his mom has a hard time showing it because she is a “meh” emoji and is unable to express any emotions other than a vague disinterest. Her words convey her true feelings of concern, but they’re not matched by her tone or facial expressions.

A leading emoji basically tries to kill Gene; their whole world is nearly destroyed when their owner tries to erase his phone.

One of the emojis is cruel; she hopes to delete Gene in front of everyone.

Gene sees his parents deleted; they are quickly restored, however.


Recommendations

You know how some board games have an app version, and how the app version is sort of like the real thing, but not quite as good? So, this movie is kind of the app version of Inside Out. It’s got a similar message about the value of emotions (and anthropomorphized emotions; and a memory dump place; and a forgotten old favorite), but it’s not as strong, not as far reaching, and not as well done. This movie isn’t as bad as its reputation; it’s just not great. There are plenty of nods to today’s culture that might appeal to preteens, and some of the concepts seem helpful for the age: your emotions are all valid; you might be ready for things that your parents might not think you’re ready for; failing doesn’t mean you’re a failure; people “knowing” you is different from people “liking” you on Facebook (that one isn’t really unpacked); parental love is dependable. This one should be OK for kids ages 7-11 or so.


Questions for Discussion

What are your favorite emojis?

If you had to be an emoji, what would be your top 3 picks?

What do you want to be?




Tuesday, July 18, 2017

K9 World Cup Adoption Movie Review

The Mexicanino Canine Soccer Team is hoping to win the Canine World Cup, but to do so, they’ll have to overcome interpersonal pride on their own team and the imposing Doberweilers of the Herdmany team. Years ago, the Mexicanino team made it to the finals, but two players’ desire or personal glory caused conflict which got in the way of the team’s victory. Now, a veteran player Bernardo is the new national coach; he has built a team of talents from around the country, including the sons of both of the players who caused Mexicanino to lose years ago. Bernardo hopes to lead them to victory, but a greedy player agent tries to rekindle old feuds to line his own pockets.

(SPOILERS AHEAD)





The Adoption Connection

There is no strong adoption connection in K9 World Cup. There is a general theme family; two players may live out a feud that their fathers started years ago. One player’s father does not support his dreams to play soccer.

Bernardo’s daughter Maite is a soccer reporter. Together, Bernardo and his daughter remember the wife and mother that they have lost.

One player befriends a young orphan. The player complains that his father doesn’t like that he is a soccer player; the young dog replies that his father was run over and his mother left him. The young dog explained that if he had a dad, he would give up football. The soccer player’s heart is warmed, and he agrees to spend time with the youngster and teach him how to play soccer.


Strong Points

Maite encourages him to pursue his dreams, now that she has achieved her own dreams.

Juancho is very kind to the young orphan he meets, and it appears that he will continue to care for him and spend time with him – although it is a bummer that he didn’t provide the youngster tickets to the game (the youngster is seen trying to crawl under the stadium fence).


Challenges

One character’s father tells him not to bother coming back home if he leaves to play soccer. Some kids might find the threat of parental rejection difficult. Another character’s father doesn’t share that he himself had been a soccer player, instead wanting his son to “write his own story” without feelings as though he had to follow after his father.


Recommendation

K9 World Cup is an English-language remake of the Spanish-language film Seleccion Canina. The version I saw was an English-subtitled Spanish-audio version, but an English language version is accessible online. This is a simple film with Saturday-morning quality computer animation. It probably won’t appeal to kids much older than 8 or 9, but for kids 4-9 who love soccer and dogs, this could be a pleasant way to spend a morning. Although a young dog discusses having no parents, the conversation is short, and his words are met with compassion and friendship. The film’s primary message is that teamwork and camaraderie is more important than selfishly pursuing one’s own glory. Consider this one for young kids; older kids and teens will probably find it a bit boring, but young kids might enjoy the story and benefit from the positive teamwork that the characters eventually exhibit.


Questions for Discussion

When have you been the most competitive?

Are there any “wrongs” that someone has done against someone else that you’re angry about?

Do you like sports, or are other things your favorite way to have fun?

Do you think your parents support your dreams?

What are your dreams and goals?

Do you think Juancho is like a dad, a big brother, or a good friend to the young dog he met?


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