Tuesday, March 21, 2017

My Life as a Zucchini Adoption Movie Review

Several young children share life at a French orphanage while they wait to be adopted in this French-language, English-subtitled clay animation short film. My Life as a Zucchini was a nominee for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and is a beautiful, gripping, and – for me – a simultaneously heart-wrenching and inspiring story. It’s probably not good for most kids – which might be surprising, given that it’s an animated film about kids. It’s definitely worth seeing for adults who are considering becoming foster or adoptive parents.


The Adoption Connection

Zucchini is in an orphanage because his father left at a young age, and, in defending himself from an alcohol-induced beating by his mother, Zucchini accidentally killed her. Zucchini learns that the other kids in the orphanage have similarly painful histories. One is there because her mother was deported. Another’s parents had drug issues. Another’s parent had OCD. Yet another is there because her father killed her mother and then himself. Another is there because her father molested her. This is heavy stuff. Eventually, Zucchini and another child are taken as foster placements by the policeman who had initially taken Zucchini to the orphanage; Zucchini and his new sibling still maintain their friendships with the kids at the orphanage.

While it isn’t really a kid’s film, it is worthwhile viewing for people considering becoming foster parents. The kids that you’ll care for have likely experienced significant trauma of one kind or another, and there might be value in exposing yourself to some of the extreme things that kids in foster care have experienced. Like Mister Rogers said, “anything mentionable is manageable.” Films like this can help you develop the ability to talk about abuse, neglect, and loss, and this ability may help you better meet the needs of some kids in foster care.

Strong Points

My Life as a Zucchini provides an honest look at some of the harder-to-hear circumstances that bring kids into foster care. This could be important viewing for prospective foster parents.
The kids in the orphanage form a sort of family for each other, and the relationships do not end just because a child leaves the orphanage.

The police officer speaking to Zucchini shows warmth and concern, and uses the name that Zucchini prefers.


In the interest of balance – and while acknowledging that every entry into foster care is arguably traumatic – it’s important to note that every kid’s journey into foster care is unique, and many journeys into foster care do not involve these particular circumstances.

Zucchini’s mother dies on her way to give him what she calls “the spanking of his life.” Zucchini had accidentally made a loud noise.

A rather crude, childish explanation of sex might surprise some parents, and makes the film even less likely to be a good choice for young kids.

One child tries to understand Zucchini’s circumstances by prodding him unkindly, saying “your parents threw you out because they don’t want you anymore.” After Zucchini fights the boy, they share their stories and become friends. It’s interesting to see that as they move away from secrecy, they’re able to find healing.

Zucchini and Simon sneak into the orphanage’s office and read another child’s file.

One character’s aunt speaks abusively to her, and seems interested in taking placement of her only for the money she would receive; her efforts are thwarted through the efforts of the kids. Before the girl is saved from her aunt’s home, she says that if she has to go, she’ll either kill herself or kill her aunt.  


My Life as a Zucchini isn’t for kids, but it’s certainly worth seeing for adults. It’s a well-made, intelligent film that may break your heart, pull at your heartstrings, and help prepare you to meet the needs of kids who’ve been through some very painful circumstances. As you watch it, think about how you might be able to help kids with similar histories.

Questions for Discussion

How would you help a child who’d experienced what Zucchini experienced?

Which kids caught your heartstrings? Why?

What would you need to do ahead of time to prepare to serve kids with histories like these? If you’re 
already caring for a kid with a history like this, how can you help them feel comfortable talking about it?

How did Simon and Zucchini become friends?

How do you think it would have gone if the orphanage director insisted on calling Zucchini by some other name?

One child was very hurt when a stranger called him a liar. Why do you think that was?

Simon says “it’s rare or people to adopt kids as big as us.” Why do you think this is? Could you adopt a kid “as big as us?”

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Beauty and the Beast SPOILER-FILLED Adoption Movie Review

Belle and her father live in a simple, French provincial town. While the town lives its normal, everyday life, Belle and her father Maurice are noted for their peculiarity. Belle always has her nose stuck in a book, and most of the townspeople seem to think she’s strange. Belle is also particularly beautiful, and has attracted the unwanted attention of Gaston, a boorish and narcissistic military Captain who has the admiration of many of the local ladies. Gaston swears that he will marry Belle. She’s not interested, and so he will try to find a way to make the marriage happen.

Meanwhile, Maurice is captured by the Beast, a prince who has been cursed to take a horrific form on account of his unkindness; the curse will only be broken if the prince can learn to love, and earn love in return, and his time is running out. The Beast agrees to free Maurice if Belle stays with him, and Belle chooses to make that sacrifice. As Belle and the Best start to develop feelings for each other, Gaston decides that his next course of action is to storm the castle and kill the Beast.  


The Adoption Connection

Belle and Maurice moved to this small town some time ago; Belle knows that she and Maurice left her mother while her mother was sick, but she doesn’t know any more; and Maurice can’t seem to tell her why it happened. At one point, Maurice said that he lost his wife, and he can’t bear the thought of losing his daughter. Eventually, Belle learns what had happened; her mother had contracted the Plague, and told Maurice to leave with Belle before Belle caught the sickness.

Some viewers might share the experience of having a missing parent and not knowing why. It appears to have been helpful for Belle to understand the reason for this aspect of her childhood.  
The Beast lost his mother as a young boy, as well.

Strong Points

Several of the main characters get more backstory than they had in the original – we understand not just that the Beast had been an unkind prince – but we find out why. We find out what happened to Belle’s mother. But many of the songs are very, very close to the songs in the original animated film, so it will have the nostalgia element for many.

Several people take responsibility for not stepping in to help stop a young boy from being turned cruel by his cruel father.

Although Belle does not remember her mother very much, Maurice does tell her that her mother was “fearless.” It’s a good word for Belle to carry, and she in turn acts fearless later in the film.

One character offers very sage advice, “People say a lot of things in anger; it is our choice whether to listen.” Sometimes it’s hard not to believe hurtful things that have been said, but it might help some children to hear that it’s OK to not believe everything an angry person has ever told them.


The Beast is pretty scary, and might frighten some young children.

It seems unfair that the enchantress who punished the prince by turning him into a Beast also extended her curse to everyone that lived in the Beast’s castle.

When Maurice tells Gaston that Belle will never marry him, Gaston knocks Maurice unconscious, and ties him to a tree, intending to leave him there for wolves to eat him. Gaston explains that, if Maurice dies, Belle will have no one to support her, and that will make her more likely to turn to Gaston. He has already told Belle that women who don’t marry before their fathers tie turn into beggars. Maurice escapes and returns to accuse Gaston, but Gaston has him locked up, and will send him to an asylum unless Maurice gives over Belle’s hand in marriage.

Gaston shoots the Beast three times, including twice from behind after the Beast had shown him mercy. It’s surprising, sad, and could be frightening for kids who’ve experienced violence.
The townspeople are unkind to Belle because she’s different from them. At one point, they throw her clean laundry onto the street.

Some kids might have a hard time with scenes involving Belle’s mother’s sickness and death. One of the kids I watched with was also frightened by the appearance of the plague doctor, who wore a frightening birdlike mask.

One of Gaston’s friends is conscious-stricken but ultimately lies, saying that Gaston did not try to kill Maurice.


The new version of Beauty and the Beast feels to me like the 2015 Cinderella remake. It’s live-action, but quite familiar. It’s a musical, but it’s got dark, sad, and scary parts. I recommended 2015’s Cinderella for kids ages 10 and up, and suggested that parents should be present when their kids watch it. I’ll stick with the same recommendation for this one; it’s got some sad and scary parts that might be too hard for some younger viewers; kids 10 and up will probably be fine, but it’d be best for parents to be there to help their kids process some of the hard moments, and the theme of parental loss. The 11-year-old that I watched this with suggested that it might be good for 8 or 9 and up, but that younger kids might find it scary.  

Questions for Discussion

Why couldn’t (or wouldn’t) Maurice tell Belle what had happened to her mother? How was it helpful to Belle to know?

What made the Beast so cruel? Why do you think Gaston was cruel?

What could have turned Gaston into a good guy?

When has someone shown you grace?

Belle liked to read, and that made her unique. What are some ways that you’d like to be unique?

What are your favorite stories?

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Rock Dog Adoption Movie Review

The village of Snow Mountain is a peaceful place; nearly all of its citizens are sheep, and the town devotes itself to making music and making yarn. The town’s peace is based on its two Tibetan Mastiffs – Khampa, who protects the village from a nearby gang of wolves, and Khampa’s son Bodi, who is expected to follow in his father’s footsteps as the next protector of Snow Mountain.

Khampa’s strength comes from a fire that he has found within himself; his hatred of wolves helps him defend the village from them. Bodi does not have that fire. Bodi’s fascination with music has left him disinterested in defending the village, and in response Khampa has banned music from the village. When a radio falls from the sky, Bodi becomes interested in Rock and Roll. His father reluctantly sends Bodi to the big city to follow his dreams, on the condition that if Bodi’s efforts to become a rock star fail, he will return to the village.

The wolves notice that Bodi leaves the village; they believe that if they can capture him, the village will be theirs. Meanwhile, Khampa trains an army of disguised sheep in hopes of keeping the wolves away.


The Adoption Connection

There are no adoption themes. Rock Dog does feature the “teen breaking away from their parents to become their own person” theme that seems so common in films for young audiences; Bodi is expected to follow in his parent’s footsteps but doesn’t want to. His father resists but then gives in, Bodi finds his own passion, and then reconciles his passion with his father’s expectations.  

Strong Points

Khampa lets Bodi pursue his own dreams, and in fulfilling his dreams, Bodi finds a way to fulfill Khampa’s mission. Now that I think of it, in this respect, it’s kind of similar to Moana.  

Some enemies appear to have reconciled with the heroes by the end of the film.


Khampa tries to scare Bodi into responsible behavior, but it goes disastrously wrong.

In a surprisingly twisted scene, the wolves invade Snow Mountain; they tie up Khampa, and prepare to feed him some of the sheep he has lived to protect.


Rock Dog feels a bit familiar; the theme of a kid distinguishing themselves from their parents is pretty prevalent in kids’ films. The newer twist of the kid using their own dreams and skills to accomplish the very goals about which their parents were anxious is positive, but it’s also seen some recent airtime in Moana and, to some extent, in the recent Jungle Book remake.  It’s a bit scary when the wolves invade Snow Mountain – they prepare to barbecue some still-living sheep, and intend to feed some of them to Khampa in a cruel act. Outside of this, Rock Dog is a pretty light hearted movie that should be fun for most kids ages 8-10 or so. Kids 4 and up might like it, too, if the scary scenes aren’t too scary for them.  

Questions for Discussion

How can parents and their kids find a balance between the kids’ dreams and the parents’ expectations?

What expectations did Khampa have of Bodi? Do you think they were fair?

What are you dreams?

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Family Rewritten Adoption Movie Review

Camilla was a bright teenager. She never expected to end up in foster care. However, her father was an alcoholic, and her mother lost her job. The family was unable to keep food in the home. Camilla also had cystic fibrosis, and when the family could not keep their electricity on, it meant that Camilla couldn’t receive her treatment. Camilla remembers that her mother told her that she didn’t know how to make sure Camilla would get the treatment she need.

Family Rewritten is a powerful short film from Yasmin Mistry, who adds it to her growing body of work of short films capturing the stories of young adults who have travelled through foster care. Camilla is very honest in Family Rewritten – she was initially ashamed to ask for help, but she found help through her friends, a teacher, and the system. She found a new sense of family in the home of a close friend whose parents decided to take her into placement, and she learned not to be ashamed of her story.

Camilla candidly shares some of her deep pain – her father died before she was able to tell him all that he had accomplished, and she reflects on the lack of communication between her and her mother. In spite of what she has experienced, Camilla has found perspective and peace. She has learned that she is not alone, and that she does not need to be ashamed.

Family Rewritten is a gripping, impactful film. Camilla’s bravery and perspective could be helpful to foster parents, teens in foster care, and people considering becoming foster parents. To learn more, check out http://www.fostercarefilm.com/familyrewritten  You can also Preorder it!

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Newsies Musical - back in theaters - Adoption Movie Review

In the Broadway musical Newsies, it’s 1899 and the nation’s newspapers are sold by freelance kids and teenagers who buy a stack of papers hoping to sell them for a small profit. Many of the newsies are orphaned and homeless, but the meager profits they earn from selling papers helps them avoid The Refuge, a children’s detention center which is unsafe because of how poorly it is run. When the publisher decides to raise the cost of the papers, further cutting in to the income of the young boys, they initially despair, but later decide to strike. Inspired by real-life events, Newsies tells the story of how the children and teens banded together to form a union to fight the powerful publishing conglomerate.

Newsies returns to theaters for one more day on Saturday, March 4 at 12:55 PM local time. For more information, check out FathomEvents.com

The Adoption Connection

Many of the newsies are orphaned, homeless children and teens. The Refuge could provide housing for the boys, but it is more of a detention center, and children there are underfed, underdressed, and forced to sleep three to a bed.  Two of the new newsies have a family, and are resorting to this work 
to help their family, as their father has been injured and lost his job. They’re surprised to learn that not every kid has a family.

Strong Points

When children work together, they are able to improve their situation, even against the intentions of powerful adults.

The kids and teens have strong loyalty for each other.

The show is pretty upbeat.


Some kids who have been neglected might find the refuge troubling. Kids who have been appropriately detained by social workers might still find it frightening when these kids and teens are 
chased by adults who want to bring them to the Refuge.

A teen who walks on a crutch is sometimes mocked by others, and is given the unfortunate nickname “Crutchie.”

A cruel adult threatens to remove two children from their family.


There are some ways in which Newsies might brush painfully up against the experiences of some kids who have been neglected and taken into foster care. At the same time, it is a powerful and uplifting depiction of the power that even kids can have when they join together for a right cause. Consider watching this one with kids 8 or 9 and up.

Questions for Discussion

When have you spoken up against something that you felt was wrong? How did it go? 

What causes do you believe in? What changes would you like to make in the world? What things do you think are going really well already?

What made the Newsies’ strike successful?

Who are your best friends?

Do you think social workers and police officers are generally nice or mean?

Newsies returns to theaters for one more day on Saturday, March 4 at 12:55 PM local time. For more information, check out FathomEvents.com 

Love Adoption at the Movies? Check out our book, or support us on Patreon!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The 2017 Adoption at the Movies Awards

It’s time for the 2017 Adoption at the Movies Awards! Each year, the adoption community votes to honor those films which best portrayed adoption in a healthy light, and those films which were most useful to adoptive families.

Adoption at the Movies is based on the belief that adoptive parents want to talk to their kids about adoption, but that sometimes, they don’t know how to get the conversations started. Movies can be easily-accessible bridges into those important but hard-to-start talks. With some planning, intentionality and a little help, movies can become both a fun family activity and a helpful tool for building healthy communication about adoption.

This year, many adoptive families cast their votes in five categories: Best Depiction of Reunion, Best Foster or Adoptive Family, Best Adoptive Parent, Best Animated Feature, and Adoption at the Movies Film of the Year.  

Best Depiction of Reunion

The category of Best Depiction of Reunion honors the films that capture the complexities, wishes, and process of reunion in adoption. The nominees are:

Father Unknown – After retiring from a career as a teacher, Urban Quint travels from the United States to Switzerland in hopes of learning about his birth father. Urban is accompanied by his son, filmmaker David Quint, who captures his father’s journey. Urban learns about his father and meets a brother that he never knew he had.

Finding Dory – A happy, forgetful blue fish remembers that she has been separated from her parents. Accompanied by other fish who have become like family to her, Dory travels to California in hopes of finding her parents. Although she fears that she will forget them or that they will forget her, she is able to find them – and finds that they have been looking for her since she disappeared. Dory’s parents do not replace Marlin and Nemo, friends who have become family to Dory; instead, they collectively form a new, large, caring family for her.

Kung Fu Panda 3 – Po the Panda, his adoptive father Mr. Ping, and his birth father Li Shen must navigate their relationships with each other while Po also must discover his own identity. Mr. Ping and Li Shen are skeptical of each other at first, but ultimately realize that they do not need to compete – they can co-exist and collaboratively love Po – and they do so effectively with what they charmingly name a “Double Dad Defense.”  

Lion – Saroo Brierley was lost as a young child, and was eventually adopted internationally from India by an Australian couple. As a young adult, Saroo began to remember his early childhood and became driven to find the village and the family that he lost. Saroo’s adoptive parents are supportive of his journey, and his birthmother is overjoyed to see him. Saroo notes that his birthmother does not replace his adoptive parents – but finding her brings closure and answers to him and to her.

Moana – After being abandoned by his human parents, the demigod Maui is adopted by the gods; however, he runs afoul of them as well. With courage, and with Moana’s help, Maui reunifies with one of the gods – and he also has found a friend among the humans.

Storks – When the storks were unable to deliver baby Tulip to her family, they raised her as their own. In her early adult years, though, Tulip is able to find her family. When she finds them, they embrace her – and the storks who have cared for her.

And the winner for Best Depiction of Reunion is….   

Filmmaker David Quint commented, "We are honored to receive this recognition by Adoption at the Movies.
While the search for identity and the longing for connection is a universal story, it is one that holds specific significance for those within the adoption community.
We hope Father Unknown can continue to help audiences and families more deeply understand the adoption experience."

Best Foster or Adoptive Family

The category of Best Foster or Adoptive Family honors the characters (and the films) that capture the sense of belonging, love, and true family that exists in families formed through foster care or adoption. The nominees are:

 Finding Dory (Marlin, Nemo, and Dory) – While Dory searches for her birthparents, she is supported by Marlin and Nemo, who themselves remember what it feels like to be separated from loved ones. Marlin and Nemo help Dory find her parents, and when she finds them she declares that Marlin and Nemo are also her family.

Kung Fu Panda 3 (Mr. Ping and Po) – Mr. Ping adopted Po when he found Po as a young cub. Although Po is a Panda and Mr. Ping is a goose, it took twenty years for Po to realize he was adopted. However, Mr. Ping eventually gave Po the full story – as much as Mr. Ping knew – of Po’s adoption. When Po’s birth father arrived, Mr. Ping eventually found that a shared love of Po allowed him to make space in his life for Po’s birth father.  
Lion (Mr. and Mrs. Brierley, Saroo, and Mantosh) – Saroo was adopted internationally from India by the Brierley family. A year later, they adopted Mantosh. Although there were difficulties and stressors in the Brierley family, the sense of family held them together. When Saroo found his birth family he still claimed membership in the Brierley family, and the Brierleys were supportive of him in his search.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (Splinter, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo) – Splinter found the turtles and raised them into socially responsible ninjas. He has taught them that they are capable of doing good, and he has instilled a strong sense of loyalty to each other.

And the winner for Best Foster or Adoptive Family is… 

Finding Dory (Marlin, Nemo, and Dory).

Best Adoptive Parent

The category of Best Adoptive Parent honors the characters that love and nurture the people they’ve adopted, especially those who healthily respond to the unique complexities of adoption. The nominees are:

Kung Fu Panda 3 (Mr. Ping) – Mr. Ping has loved Po for years, and has shared Po’s full adoption story with him, or at least, as much of the story that Mr. Ping knows himself. When Po’s birth father arrives, Mr. Ping wrestles with the implications that Po’s birth father’s presence has for Mr. Ping’s role in Po’s life, and ultimately realizes that more than one dad can love Po.  
Lion (The Brierleys) – The Brierleys adopted Saroo and Mantosh, loved them through challenges, and, once they knew about it, supported Saroo in his efforts to find his birth mother.   

Moana (The Gods) – Maui has stolen something very precious from one of the gods, and he has been exiled. However, when Moana helps him return what has been stolen, the gods smile on him and restore his powers.

Pete’s Dragon (Grace) – As a young child, Pete loses his parents in a car accident; he spends several years in the company of Elliot, a friendly dragon. Pete is fascinated when he sees a human girl, and eventually her mother Grace brings Pete into the family. Grace is able to connect with her own history of loss in orcer to be helpful to Pete.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (Splinter) – Splinter has adopted four turtles, raised them into responsible teenagers, and has taught them above all else to be loyal to each other.

And the winner for Best Adoptive Parent is…

Lion (The Brierleys)

Best Animated Feature

The category of Best Animated Feature honors the kid-friendly, animated films that have been useful to therapeutically-minded adoptive and foster parents. The nominees are…

Finding Dory – A forgetful, friendly fish finds that her friends have become her family, even as she wrestles with questions, doubts, and self-guilt about her separation from her parents. Her parents have never forgotten her, and her friends have become her family as well.

Kung Fu Panda 3 – A young adult, his adoptive father, and his recently-reintroduced birth father skillfully navigate their relationships with each other while the same young adult – the legendary dragon warrior Po the Panda – must also figure out his own identity.

Moana – A young woman balances her heritage and familial responsibilities with her desire to follow her own heart; she doesn’t have to choose one and neglect the other – she finds a way to embrace both. She also helps an adopted demigod realize that his unique identity is his own creation, rather than being something given to him or forced upon him.

Trolls – Although most Trolls are happy, Branch refuses to sing; we learn that it’s because of a traumatic event that he experienced. Branch later does find happiness; he provides a way for kids to understand how trauma from their past can impact their present day emotions, and also provides hope that the sadness a child feels now doesn’t have to last forever.

And the winner for Best Animated Feature is…   

Adoption at the Movies Film of the Year

The Adoption at the Movies Film of the Year is the film selected by readers of Adoption at the Movies as a film that is entertaining, relevant to adoptive families, healthy and helpful in its portrayal of adoption or adoption-relevant issues, and useful for striking up important conversations. Past winners include Man of Steel, Big Hero 6, and Inside Out. The nominees for this year’s Adoption at the Movies Film of the Year are:

Finding Dory – Dory finds her long lost parents – and forms a large family including her parents and her very close friends – in this beautiful, mostly underwater world.

Kung Fu Panda 3 – Po figures out that his identity is shaped by his birth family, his adoptive father and his friends; his two fathers learn to collaborate with each other because of their mutual love of Po.

Lion – Based on a true story, a young man who was adopted internationally as a child, returns to the land of his birth to try to find the mother he lost, and the answers to questions that plague him.

Moana – A young woman navigates between her own individual desires and her cultural heritage and obligations, while an adopted demigod wrestles with aspects of his own identity.

Pete’s Dragon – A young boy loses his parents, is raised by a dragon, and finally finds a home with a caring human mother, who is able to connect with him because of her own experiences of loss.

Queen of Katwe  - A young girl from a very poor area of Uganda rises through the ranks of the world of international competitive chess with the help of a very kind coach.

And the Adoption at the Movies Film of the Year for 2017 is…


Thanks for visiting us for this year’s awards! Four things you might want to do:

See you at the movies!

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