Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Pacific Rim Uprising Adoption Movie Review

The monstrous Kaiju are back, and Jake, the son of war hero Stacker Pentecost, is pressed into service. Using large robots, Jake and his team must defeat the Kaiju before they destroy the world.


The Adoption Connection

In the first Pacific Rim movie, we learn that Stacker Pentecost adopted Mako. Mako offers her adoptive brother Jake a way out of going to prison. Their relationship isn’t very developed, and Mako does die before the film ends.  

Strong Points

Many characters act bravely. Some characters are able to resolve interpersonal differences.
Jake reflects on Mako, “My dad took her in. She was my sister, my family.”

A character is told, “It doesn’t matter who your parents are, who believed in you and who didn’t. We are a family now. You need to confront your past [in order to bond with others and function in the present.]” It’s quite a stretch to apply this to adoption, but it was, I think, a good line.


Mako’s death isn’t really processed. It’s also sad in context; in the first film, Mako was in danger and so Stacker took her in to protect her. Ultimately she died in a similar war – but as a hero, not as a victim.  


Watching Pacific Rim Uprising feels like watching a Transformers movie. Big, mechanized creatures fight on screen for much of the runtime of the film. There are some interesting moments of dialogue, and some good lines which I’ve highlighted in “Strong Points.” The adoption connection is present, but very thin. The film seems likely to appeal to most teens 13 and up, and parents could potentially make some conversation after the film about the concept of sharing one’s mind with another.  

Questions for Discussion

Why did Amara need to confront her past? How could confronting her past help her function in the present?

Is there anyone with whose mind you think you’d be compatible enough to “drift”?

What made Jake and Mako a family? How did their family connection show up?

Other Ideas

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Foster Parents Speak

Foster Parents Speak is a short documentary from PhotoSynthesis Productions which features several real-life foster parents speaking candidly about their experiences serving kids in the system. Although the film does appear dated, the content of the interviews continues to be relevant and valuable to incoming foster parents, without falling into cliché. One foster parent advises that there’s an important shift for foster parents to make away from “that’s mine” to “that’s ours.” One reminds new parents that foster parenting “takes more than love.” One reassures that the good “always outweighed the negative.”

The film covers a range of important topics for incoming foster parents to consider; birth parent relationships, a child’s reunion with their birth family, empathy for the birth parents, monitored visitation, and cooperation with other foster parents and family service professionals are all thoughtfully discussed. One foster parent reflects on her time as a foster parent with gratitude, “I have grandkids and children that I’d never thought I’d have.” Foster parents are encouraged to know that experienced foster parents believe that it is worth it, and they’re promised, “You will get your joy!”

Foster Parents Speak is part of a trio of foster-adoption training videos that will find a home in the training curricula of foster and adoption agencies. The other two films are Gay Parents Speak and Struggle for Identity. Gay Parents Speak features several foster and adoptive parents speaking candidly and optimistically about their experiences. Struggle for Identity features a group of young, transracially-adopted adults sharing honestly about the difficult aspects of being adopted transracially, and has been a part of the trainings I’ve presented to prospective foster and adoptive parents for the past decade. These videos are worth considering as part of a foster family agency’s onboarding training for new foster and adoptive parents.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Phoenix Wilder Adoption Movie Review

Phoenix Wilder is 13 years old. His parents have died, and he lives in an uncaring foster home until he is able to fly to Africa to live with his Aunt Sarah and her husband Jack. While on safari with Jack and his company, Phoenix is separated from the party and is lost in the wilderness. He frees a bull elephant, and Phoenix and the elephant travel together. Together they work to try to stop elephant poachers while Sarah, Jack, and government forces try to locate Phoenix.


The Adoption Connection

Phoenix’s parents have died. He is briefly in an uncaring foster home, and then travels a great distance to live with his aunt and her husband. Phoenix and his aunt mourn their loss together.

Strong Points

Phoenix and his aunt are able to grieve together. Sarah assures Phoenix that she misses her sister, and affirms “You and I will be OK. We’re gonna get through this and be a family.” Phoenix is brave in the face of adversity. His loss of his own parents causes him to demonstrate empathy when he perceives that another character has suffered a similar loss. Phoenix’s uncle ultimately decides to be trustworthy.


There are some elements that could be troubling for some young viewers: Phoenix is separated from Jack and spends a considerable amount of time alone in the wilderness. He is kidnapped by poachers, but manages to escape. Then, Phoenix learns that his aunt’s husband is in league with the poachers. Although Uncle Jack finally sees the error of his ways and saves Phoenix, Phoenix has still faced the danger of death due to poachers and due to prolonged exposure to the wild. At one point, it seems that Uncle Jack has information that could save Phoenix, but he chooses not to pass it on to the other searchers because it would compromise the poachers. Kids who have been neglected, kids who have experienced or witnessed violence, and kids who have had untrustworthy guardians or foster parents, and kids who have been separated from their caretakers could be triggered at certain points in the film.


Phoenix Wilder could be triggering for some younger viewers, and it’s written in a way that might not appeal to many viewers over age 14 or 15. For kids ages 9-12, with parental guidance, it could be a positive picture of a young teenager perseveres in the face of adversity even after losing his parents. When coupled with the love of animals that is common in this age group, Phoenix could be a sympathetic hero for some.

Questions for Discussion

What is the bravest thing Phoenix did?

Moving forward, what needs to happen for Phoenix to be able to trust Uncle Jack?

Why did Phoenix love his elephant so much?

Other Ideas

Friday, May 4, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War (SPOILERS) Adoption Movie Review

Thanos is pursuing powerful artifacts known as Infinity Stones. If he can collect them all, he will destroy life throughout the universe. In an attempt to stop Thanos and save lives throughout the universe, dozens of heroes from other Marvel movies join forces, but this may be the toughest challenge they’ve ever faced.



There are two adopted characters who are murdered on screen; in one case, the killer is the adoptive father, in another, an adoptive sibling watches helplessly as the murder happens.

Thanos has been killing large numbers throughout the galaxy in an attempt to stop other planets from experiencing the overpopulation that decimated his own world. With a new weapon, Thanos believes he will be able to kill in a more merciful manner, but in the past, he killed through warfare. Thanos has two daughters; he took Gamora into his life after he killed her parents while waging war on her planet. Thanos seems to care deeply for Gamora, but she tells him that she does not love him and that he has never been her father. Thanos ultimately sacrifices her, hurling her off a cliff to satisfy what he believes is a higher purpose. Thanos’ other daughter, Nebula, has tried to kill him. Thanos tortures Nebula to manipulate Gamora into giving him information. Thanos’ adoption of one of his daughters came after he killed her parents, and his treatment of both of his daughters is brutal. This could be a trigger for some viewers.

In one scene, Gamora attempts to kill Thanos, and believes she succeeds. She is tearful as she does this, though, reflecting that although she says she hates him, she also has conflicting feelings towards him. This could reflect the conflicted feelings that some viewers might have towards parents who have neglected or abused them.

Nebula and Gamora managed to build a collaborative relationship with each other in spite of the feuding that characterized their relationship in earlier films.

Thor and Loki are brothers by adoption. Thor watches helplessly as Thanos strangles Loki to death. They appear to have developed some level of care for each other, as opposed to the rivalry that characterized their earlier interactions.  

Strong Points

This is a very full film. Characters form new relationships, and old broken relationships appear to be reconciled. Characters act heroically in the face of dire odds. It is a thought-provoking and engaging film.


**MAJOR SPOILER ALERT ---------------------------------------- For kids who’ve experienced violence or who have unresolved grief regarding loss, this could be a difficult film. Many heroes appear to die. Some are brutally murdered on screen.***

Gamora has a pseudo-adoptive relationship with Thanos, but is presented as his adopted daughter, and some of the history, dialogue, and actions between them could be difficult for some families touched by adoption.

Gamora fears falling into Thanos’ hands, and pleads with her boyfriend, “If THanos takes me, promise to kill me.”

***MAJOR SPOILER ALERT -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Some viewers, particularly young viewers who’ve identified with favorite heroes, could be left sad or shaken at the end of the film, because the good guys are left decimated, many of the superheroes (including Black Panther and Spiderman, who might be characters that kids have identified with recently) appear to have died, and the villain appears to have triumphed. ***


Avengers: Infinity War has succeeded in creating a powerful, memorable film that flies through its 160-minute runtime. There are definitely elements to the story that could pose challenges to (particularly younger) viewers who have identified with superheroes or who have unresolved issues with regard to grief, loss, violence or death, as well as for those who struggle with memories of an abusive father or distrust of an adoptive parent. For most teenagers, the film will probably be enjoyable.  I’ll stick with the PG-13 MPAA Rating of this film, and recommend it for ages 13 and up.

Questions for Discussion

Have you ever had a part of your personality that didn’t want to come out?

What do you think will happen in the next movie? How can the heroes recover from the losses they’ve experienced?

Do you think Thanos is Gamora’s father? Why or why not?

Why is Thanos trying to kill so many people? Why does he think he’s right? Why do the Avengers think he’s wrong?

Other Ideas

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Dark Crystal

When a magical crystal shattered, two new species came into existence on the planet Thra; the evil Skeksis and the kind Mystics. A third species, the Gelfling, are thought by the Skeksis to be extinct, but one – a young male named Jen – has been taken in and raised by one of the Mystics. The Mystics are growing older, and to save the world, Jen must go on a quest to repair the magical crystal. On his quest, Jen meets Kira, another Gelfling. Together, they must escape the hunters sent out by the Skeksis, and bring healing to their world before it is too late.


The Adoption Connection

Jen’s parents and Kira’s parents have died, and Jen and Kira were raised by kind members of other species.  Jen is surprised to learn that there is another Gelfling – someone who looks like him and who has had a similar history.

Strong Points

Jen and Kira act bravely and sacrificially for the good of their world, and they are rewarded.

The film provides an opportunity to think about the good and evil that are within all of us.

Jen reflects on the Mystic that adopted him, saying he is “family and friend.” A character reflects on the family that adopted them by saying that from them, “I learned the shapes of kindness.” That’s a great phrase.


The Skeksis, and the monsters they send out, are frightening. We learn that Jen’s parents were killed by Skeksis.

Jen’s adoptive father-figure dies in front of him, of old age.

A conniving character attempts to earn the trust of Jen and Kira, but intends to betray them. This could be triggering for children who have been exploited. The evil characters attempt to drain the essence out of Kira.

Kira is killed on screen. Although she is resurrected, she is a sympathetic, childlike character and her death could be traumatic for some young viewers.


The Dark Crystal is an interesting film. Every character is a puppet, and the world created in the film is one with a deep sense of history, but the tone is dark, and it seems likely to be frightening for most young viewers. Additional aspects could be make triggering for young viewers who have been abused, exploited, or who have unresolved issues regarding the death of parents or friends. The Dark Crystal could be an interesting film for older teens who could reflect afterwards on the spirit of adventure and the shape of kindness – but even they might experience some challenges with the fact that Jen’s adoptive parent does die.

Questions for Discussion
Who has shown you “the shapes of kindness?” What does kindness look like?

Jen and Kira are able to see each other’s thoughts and dreams. What dreams do you remember having? Would you like to see anyone else’s dreams?

If you could go on any adventure, what adventure would you want to go on?

Other Ideas

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Ponyo Adoption Movie Review

Fathom Events recently brought Ponyo back to the big screen as part of this year’s Studio Ghibli Fest. For more information on upcoming dates,click here.

When young Sosuke finds a goldfish trapped in a glass jar, he rescues her, takes her home, and names her Ponyo. This is a magical goldfish, though; she has healing powers, loves eating ham – and learns how to talk. Ponyo decides that she loves Sosuke, and she would be content to live on land with him. However, her father, Fujimoto, wants to get her back. Fujimoto is a wizard and scientist who was once human, but now lives underwater. He is eager to reclaim Ponyo. Ponyo desires to return to Sosuke, and the strength of her desire combines with her magical abilities to create a great storm – and to turn Ponyo into a human. Will she be able to stay that way?


The Adoption Connection

Sosuke finds Ponyo in a dangerous situation. He provides her safety, and names her Ponyo. When Ponyo returns to her home, she refuses to allow her father to call her by her birth name. Sosuke, Ponyo, and their families must make sense of what has happened, and Ponyo’s parents must decide whether Ponyo can remain a human.

Strong Points

Sosuke and Ponyo are both brave.

We learn that Ponyo’s father is caring – even though he seems creepy and even though Ponyo describes him in frightening ways.

Sosuke and Ponyo become friends in spite of their differences. Aware that Ponyo has been a human and a fish, Sosuke says that he loves Ponyo, “whatever she is.”

Some frightening storm images could be unpleasant for young viewers.

The uncertainty that surrounds whether Ponyo can stay with Sosuke or if she must return to her birth family could be difficult for some viewers who have had instability of family status.

For a season, Sosuke is separated from his parents. Even though he is only five years old, his mother leaves him and Ponyo alone during a storm while she goes off to check on the seniors at the center where she works.  


Ponyo is a charming but sometimes scary story about an unlikely, magical friendship. Some viewers who have been touched by adoption may find parallels as Ponyo adjusts to being in a new world and as she takes ownership of her new name. Although some frightening scenes could make this one uncomfortable for some young viewers, Ponyo seems likely to be OK for most kids ages 10 and up.  

Questions for Discussion

Why did Ponyo love Sosuke? Why did Sosuke love Ponyo?

What do you think it was like for Ponyo to be in a new home?
Do you think Ponyo will miss Fujimoto and Granmamare? Do you imagine that they’ll find ways to see each other?

Other Ideas

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