Friday, May 26, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (SPOILER FILLED) Adoption Movie Review

There are lots of spoilers ahead, but this film is definitely relevant to adoption. Want to avoid the spoilers? In a nutshell: Probably good for most kids 12 and up; parents should be  there to watch it with them. Caution for kids ages 9-11. Probably best to skip for kids ages 8 and under.

As a young boy, Henry Turner longed for his father, Will. Will has been cursed to a pirate ship; he can never return to land, but Henry promises to one day free him. Years later, 19-year-old Henry is aboard a British naval ship which is boarded by ghost pirates. The captain leaves Henry as the only survivor, and sends Henry with a message to give to the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow. On his journey, Henry meets Carina, a brilliant young scientist who has been sentenced to death for witchcraft because the community has misinterpreted her knowledge. Both on the run from the law, Henry and Carina seek a relic which will break the curse which plagues Henry’s father, and which Carina believes will bring her closer to the father she has never known.
The ghost pirate initially started hunting other pirates to avenge the deaths of his father and grandfather.


The Adoption Connection


Henry’s father has been absent for much of his life. Henry longs to free his father from a curse which has kept them separated, and his father sends Henry away, not wanting Henry to endanger himself. Henry does eventually free his father. Some viewers who have been separated from their parents will relate to Henry’s plea to Will, “I want you to come home,” and might be saddened by Will’s reply, “My curse will never be broken.”

Carina Smyth was found on an orphanage doorstep with only a first name and a small book, her only links to her father. She has never known either of her parents. The book her father left her is the diary of Galileo, and from this Carina believes that her father was an explorer who has a quest for her. In following his steps and finding a treasure that he had sought, Carina believes that she will grow closer to him. She explains that she has to find it because it is “the only link to who my father was.” She later refers to the diary he left her as “my birthright.” Another character offhanded comments, “So you’re an orphan.”   Through her quest, Carina meets her father. He is a famous pirate. Before she realizes that he is her father, he comments to another charater, “I placed her in an orphanage and never thought she’d make a life of her own… that leads her back to me. A woman like that would never believe that a swine like me could be her blood.” and shortly after Carina realizes that he is her father, he sacrifices his life to save hers. Carina decides to take his surname as her own.

Carina’s father knew that he had had a daughter, but he believed that it would be better for her not to know that her father was a pirate. He believed that she would want nothing to do with him. However, she longed for him, and each found meaning in their brief relationship.  

Strong Points

Even though a father and a son, and a father and a daughter, are separated by years, their love for each other is evident. I particularly loved the warmth that Carina’s father showed for her; it was surprising, given other aspects of his history. Carina and her father are able to share the discovery of something they each had long sought. As Carina realizes that this pirate may be significant n her life, she asks, “Who am I to you?” He responds, “Treasure.” It’s quite a beautiful response, and just after it, he gives his life to save hers. Carina is very happy to know her true birth surname. Some viewers may relate.
Henry is very happy to see his long-lost father return.


The leader of the ghost pirates looks grotesque, and many sailors are killed. Sexual innuendo, the threat of a guillotine, a frightening witch, and a bloodthirsty crowd hoping to see executions could all make this movie particularly scary to young children who might otherwise be drawn to this Disney franchise. Jack Sparrow’s dependence on alcohol may also be concerning to some viewers.

Carina’s father dies shortly after she meets him; he does so to save her, and she honors his memory, but the quick loss of something that she had desired for so long could be hard for viewers who have also longed for missing parents. Henry appears likely to remain in relationship with his parents, and his parents will likely fill a parental role for Carina as well.


Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is not a kids’ movie – but in many ways, it is an adoption-relevant film. Characters have lost parents, and long for them. Distance does not squelch love, but love does not erase the pain of distance. Well-intentioned secrets still have cost. Violence and parental loss will probably push this one out of bounds for most kids touched by adoption, but pre-teens and teens ages 12 or so and up could both enjoy this film and benefit from the conversations that the film could invite. If your pre-teen or teen is going to watch this, it’d be good for you to see it as well; there’s plenty of stuff to talk about, and there are a few points which could trouble a pre-teen if they don’t have someone to talk it over with. For what it’s worth, I also found the film quite entertaining. Should be good for 12 and up, caution for 9-11, and probably not a good fit for most kids 8 and under, especially in families touched by adoption issues.

Questions for Discussion

What do you think Henry felt like when he saw his father return? What did you feel like watching it?

Why was Carina so intent on reading “the map that no man can read?”

Why did Carina’s father intend to keep her a secret? In what ways do you think he was thinking well? In what ways do you think he might have thought this out poorly?

What links you to your past? What links you to your future?

More Resources

Was this review helpful for you? I’ve got a year’s worth of them in my book, ADOPTION AT THE MOVIES. Check it out on Amazon!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (SPOILERS) Adoption Movie Review

Two brother, Greg and Roderick, convince their parents to take a four-day-long road trip to their grandmother’s 90th birthday party, but secretly plan to divert the trip to a nearby video gaming convention; Greg hopes to increase his esteem in the mind of his middle-school peers while teenage Rodrick hopes to win a video game competition in order to earn money to fix his van. The road trip gets off to a rough start when their mother decrees that the trip will have no technology. Along the way the family runs into disasters that might feel at home in a Chevy Chase film.

 The Adoption Connection

There is no adoption connection. The film draws much from family relationships in general

Strong Points

There is a statement that parents set guidelines because they love children. Greg’s mom affirms that she’ll never give up on him and will always love him.

There’s a strong sense of the importance of family and family history.

Greg affirms that time with his family is “really not that bad.”


Greg jokingly says that he likes his family, but that he’s “not sure we should live with each other… Maybe see each other a few times a year.”

Greg and Rodrick hold up a sign in their car saying that the drivers (their parents) are kidnapping them.  A police officer briefly yells at them for this stunt.

Greg and his dad each discover that the other is secretly using technology. They conspire to keep the secret from the mom, but she eventually finds out. She accuses Greg of not caring bout family, and Greg accuses her of not caring about the things he loves. Ultimately, she says that she gives up on trying to guide Greg, but he reconciles with her.

Greg is pursued by the eccentric Mr. Beardo. On one occasion, Greg accidentally slips into the wrong hotel room and crawls into bed next to Mr. Beardo. They spend the night asleep next to each other, and panic when they realize that Greg is in the wrong hotel room. Later, Greg sneaks into Mr. Beardo’s room, but when Mr. Beardo comes back, Greg hides behind the shower curtain and has to listen to Mr. Beardo relieve himself. There are some other gross bodily-fluid scenes.  


Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is a family road-trip disaster that reminded me of the Vacation movies I remember from years ago. The family gets into some far-fetched, sometimes gross situations, but ultimately sticks together. This film is told from the perspective of twelve-year-old Greg, who ultimately decides that spending time with his family is alright. Some parents won’t appreciate the gross scenes of the film or Greg’s and Rodrick’s attempts at deceiving their parents, but ultimately the film shows that parents are forgiving and persistent in their love for their kids, and that the boundaries they set are set with the kids’ best interests in mind. This one seems like a good fit for kids ages 9-12 or so.

Questions for Discussion

Why did Greg want to outgrow the name that his classmates teased him with? Do you think it’s realistic that, ultimately, the name gained him popularity?
What’s the craziest trip we’ve ever been on? If you could design a trip for us, where would we go?

How much time should someone spend on a smart phone? Do smartphones help or hurt friendships and family, or is it a mix?

Greg felt that he had no control over his life. Was he right or wrong? What ways do you control your life? Which things don’t you get to choose? In what ways is that different for adults, and in what ways do you think it’s the same for adults?  

What do you like best about family time? What activities would you like to do as a family?

What’s the best way to sew together two family histories?

Why do you think parents make rules for kids? What rules make the most sense to you?

If you made rules for other kids, what would they be?  

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

As You Are Adoption Movie Review

When Karen and Tom move in together, their teenage sons Jack and Mark become stepbrothers of sorts. Karen and Tom split up due in large part to Tom’s anger, which rips Jack and Mark apart. Jack and Mark are questioning their sexuality; they each date Sarah, and also experiment with each other. 

(SPOILER ALERT) Jack feels betrayed when Mark starts dating Sarah; he tries to seduce Mark, but when his efforts fail, he and Mark go out into the woods, and he kills him. Much of the film is told in retrospect as various characters are being interviewed by a detective. (END SPOILER)

The Adoption Connection

For a short while, Karen, Tom, Jack and Mark form a blended family.

Strong Points

As You Are can provide parents with insights into the possible emotional experiences of teens who are exploring their sexuality, being bullied, experimenting with marijuana, or who are in abusive or tense homes. After watching it, parents could have some idea of what their children and their children’s friends might be feeling and might be experiencing.


I found the film to be uncomfortable. It’s well-acted, and it accomplishes something important in that it does capture realistic experiences for some teens; however, it’s hard to enjoy a film that ends with one teen murdering another. It’s also difficult to watch Tom striking his teenage son. It could also be uncomfortable for many viewers to see two pseudo-stepbrothers kissing passionately. One character brutally kills a squirrel for fun. Tom swears at Karen. Tom also calls the long-haired, slender Jack a “girl” and says that Jack should be in the Marines to become more like a man.


 As You Are isn’t an easy film to watch, and it doesn’t seem like a good fit for teens, and certainly not for kids. For parents, it’s probably not a movie to watch for fun, but it could have value as a source of exposure to real issues that many teens experience.

Questions for Discussion

How does Tom’s anger impact his son?

Which of Jack’s and Mark’s experiences have you experienced? Which of their experiences do you believe are common for teens, and which are rarer?

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Hanji Box Adoption Movie Review

Hannah is recently divorced and is in the process of downsizing her home. Rose, the young adult daughter that Hannah adopted from Korea, is helping Hannah pack, and seems distressed by the situation. When Hannah accidentally damages a special box, Rose is distraught, believing that she brought the box with her from Korea. Hannah sets off to a Korean district of her city to try to repair the box. Her journey brings her into contact with a visiting Korean artist. Together, they talk about the complexities of adopting from Korea, and the artist shares a perspective that Hannah had not previously considered. Their meeting is short, but influential, and he invites her to come visit him in Korea one day.

The Adoption Connection

Rose appears to have some unsettled emotions connected to her adoption. She confronts Hannah about the broken box, saying “my real mother gave this to me,” and also accusing her of “always wreck[ing] things that are important to me." The complexity of emotions is realistic, as Rose’s distress regarding her parents’ divorce and her father’s impending remarriage interact with her experience of being an adult adoptee.

The artist and Hannah have a very interesting and thoughtful conversation about cultural identity in international adoption. The artist also explains one Korean perspective of the international adoption of Korean babies. He asks some interesting questions.

Strong Points

The artist raises some very poignant thoughts and questions regarding international adoption and identity. When Hannah suggests that her daughter is American, the artist replies, “You raised her like an American because you are American,” and then asks whether Rose really was turned from Korean into an American. He also asks whether Hannah adopted Rose “for her, or for you?” Hannah honestly acknowledges that she isn’t sure. The artist’s questions are deep, but kind and not judgmental. This is a very thought-provoking film.  


Adults touched by international adoption may find The Hanji Box to be very thought provoking. It should be part of the preparation process for adults considering international adoption, particularly from Korea. This is a very thoughtful, 59-minute film.

Questions for Discussion

What motivated Hannah to adopt? Was it one main thing (infertility or a desire to give love to a baby 
that seems to be without a nurturing family), or a combination of both?

Is Rose Korean or American, or some combination of the two?

What would Hannah gain from going to Korea? What might Rose gain?

Friday, May 5, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2: SPOILER-FILLED Adoption Movie Review

Star-Lord and the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy must work to save the universe from a new threat that could end life as the universe knows it. There are themes that will be very relevant to adoption audiences; Star-Lord’s mother died at the beginning of the first film, and that is revisited here. The rest of the review will have spoilers, as many of the relevant themes are also central to the plot.



The Adoption Connection

Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord, never knew his father. Peter is asked about his heritage, and he is at a loss for an answer; a character comments that he is sensitive about his father, and Peter replies that he just doesn’t “know who he is.” As a young boy, Peter watched as his mother died of a brain tumor. He was abducted by a Ravager named Yondu; Yondu raised Peter, but was abusive, and as a young adult Peter has feuded with Yondu.


In this film, we learn Peter’s history. His father is Ego, a godlike being who sired Peter, but who abandoned Peter’s mother because he did not want to lose his own immortality. In fact, Ego’s quest for immortality has led him to create many children of many different species, hoping to find one that could help him become immortal. He has killed all of his other children, but believes that Peter can help him be immortal. Ego reveals that he also killed Peter’s mother by implanting the brain tumor into her. We also learn that Yondu was hired by Ego to bring Peter to Ego, but Yondu could not bring himself to turn Peter over to Ego because he knew what Ego had done to his other children. Yondu ultimately dies in an effort to save Peter, and Peter decides that Yondu was his father figure, and that the other Guardians of the Galaxy are his family.

Yondu has a heart-to-heart conversation with Rocket, a Guardian of the Galaxy who is often sarcastic and caustic. Yondu says that, like himself, Rocket pushes people away because he is scared of being loved, and his fear of love comes from past rejection.


The Guardians of the Galaxy form a family of sorts.

An alien race called The Sovereign genetically manufacture their offspring, and produce them in birthing pods. 

One character cries for his lost daughter. Another laments the fact that, “my own damn parents sold me into slavery.”

When he finds his father, Peter tells a friend, “I finally found my family.” She had considered him family and says, “I thought you already had.”

Strong Points

BIG SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH: Yondu acts honorably, and also expresses his thoughts and feelings to Peter and to Rocket. After being very disappointed after meeting his father, Peter realizes that he has had
 a father figure, albeit an imperfect one, in Yondu, and he is able to celebrate his life and mourn for him. Before his passing, Yondu tells Peter that Ego “may have been your father, but he wasn’t your daddy. I’m sorry I didn’t do any of it right… I’m damn lucky you’re my boy.” Peter later reflects on the possibility that, “the thing you’re searching for your whole life is right beside you all along.”  (END BIG SPOILERS, BUT SPOILERS CONTINUE THROUGHOUT THIS REVIEW)

The Ravagers expel Yondu after coming to believe that he kidnapped Peter; although they’re a rough crowd, they have a moral code.
We’re able to understand the factors which underlie different characters’ behaviors.


Peter’s relationship with his father Ego could be very hard for kids and teens who long for parents that they have not known, or with whom they’ve lost contact. Peter has longed to know his father. Peter is told that his father “lies awake worrying about you.” When they meet, Peter is enthralled by him, and for a short time he learns from his father; his father teaches him how to use some powers, and tells Peter, “you’re home.” However, Peter ultimately finds out that his father is manipulative and has very sinister motives for seeking him out – and finds out that (BIG SPOILER) his father killed his mother by planting a brain tumor in her, and has killed many of his offspring who failed him. He eventually attempts to impale and imprison Peter, and Peter decides, “I have to kill Dad.” In his quest to kill his birth father, Peter is supported by his adoptive father figure. Yondu dies in front of Peter while saving Peter – it’s the second time that Peter has a parent figure die in front of him.  (END OF BIG SPOILER, BUT OTHER SPOILERS CONTINUE THROUGHOUT THE REVIEW)  One of the Guardians had commented earlier that if Peter’s dad turns out to be evil, “We’ll just kill him.”
Peter initially denies that Yondu could have been his father because he’s not a blood relative. Peter also reports that Yondu threatened to beat him and also threatened to eat him.

Before getting to know Ego, Rocket crassly says to Peter, “Hope daddy isn’t a big a dick as you, orphan boy.”

One character, who was forced to compete with her sister and tortured by her father, now plans to murder her sister and tear her father apart; the abuse she suffered has turned into hatred. The sisters mend their relationship, but one still sets off to kill her father, who is a supervillain.


Guardians of the Galaxy 2 may be the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. I loved the first Guardians movie, and this one is better. But wow, is there a lot of heavy stuff that can bristle against sensitivities towards parental loss, abusive parents, and fantasies about absent parents. This movie has the potential to be painful for viewers, but could also be very cathartic for others. It’s probably best left to pre-teens and teenagers, and their parents.

During Guardians of the Galaxy 2, I found myself unexpectedly thinking of another adoption-related film, which might be a better choice for younger viewers. Ego asks Peter to “come home” so that he can teach Peter his heritage and be a father to him. This reminded me of Po’s offer from his father Li in Kung Fu Panda 3, (click here for that review), but the comparison falls apart; Peter’s father is only self-seeking, while Li actually wanted to be a dad to Po.

Questions for Discussion

If you had empathic abilities like Mantis, what would you use them for?

In what ways was Yondu a good dad to Peter? In what ways wasn’t he? What do you think of him overall?

Who do you think Peter’s family is?

Why is Rocket so sarcastic at times?

Did you feel like this was a heavy movie, or mostly just a fun one?

More Options
Check out our book for more movies to use to help your family talk about adoption!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

May the Fourth Be With You! Star Wars and Adoption

Confession: I watch a lot of science fiction. I debated over whether I watch enough of it to call myself, in this introduction, a "sci-fi geek," and then realized that, the fact that I'm writing a post titled "May the Fourth Be With You" probably answers the question. "May the Fourth" sounds like "May the Force be with you," which was a favorite line from the Star Wars films.

The Star Wars films collectively tell the story of Anakin Skywalker and the children he loses. He reunites with one of them. The series covers his birth, his marriage, the birth of his kids, his anger which drove his children into hiding, his children's upbringing, and eventually reconciliation. The most recent Episode jumps forward some time after Anakin's death. and one of his descendents still wrestles with questions of identity.

I've reviewed all seven of the Star Wars films over the past few years (well - eight, if you count Rouge One. I haven't done the Ewok movies yet. Or the Christmas special.) and wanted to share those with you again. May the Force Be With You!

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
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