Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Adoption Movie Review

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In 1926, wizard Newt Scamander is passing through New York City, carrying a case of magical creatures. When some of them escape, he is discovered by a disgraced Auror, a wizard named Tina who hopes to reclaim her police-like position by arresting Newt for being an unlicensed wizard. She is dismissed by the wizarding congress’ President Piquery and an Auror named Graves. Tina and Newt leave and work to repair some of the damage caused by Newt’s escaped creatures. A dangerous dark force known as an Obscurus has been unleashed in the city and has killed a Senator. Believing that the Obscurus was one of Newt’s creatures, Tina brings him back to the magical Congress. The Auror Graves proclaims that Newt and Tina are both working in allegiance with an evil wizard. He orders their executions, but they escape and try to figure out what’s really going on.


Meanwhile, there’s more to Graves than meets the eye. He is hoping to find the Obscurus for his own reasons. He believes that the Obscurus will be found in a large home where a cruel woman has adopted several children and makes them participate in her anti-witch propaganda. Graves has promised a teenager there, named Credence, that if Credence helps locate the Obscurus, Graves will free him from his abusive adoptive mother Mary Lou Barebone.

When the true Obscurus is revealed, it kills nearly everyone in the Barebone home and threatens the much-valued secrecy of wizards. Newt and Tina will have to act quickly to ensure that non-magical people do not learn about wizards, and to ensure that everyone is safe from the dark power being unleashed on New York.

The Adoption Connection

Mary Lou Barebone has adopted several children, and she treats the cruelly. The children live in a drab, orphanage-like setting. Mary Lou is active in the community speaking against witches, and she requires her children to attend her rallies and to distribute her literature. She physically abuses at least some of the children. Her teenage son, Credence, has learned that if his mother is upset with him, he must remove his belt and hand it to her so that she may beat him with it. We see the evidence on Credence’s hands of the whippings he has received. One child refers to Mary Lou as mom, and she replies, “I’m not your mother. Your mother was a wicked, unnatural woman.” It’s pretty brutal. A villain later tells Credence, “You’re mother’s dead. That’s your reward.”
A young girl was adopted out of a family of 12 siblings, and still misses her brothers and sisters.

*Spoilers the rest of the way*

Credence is the host of the Obscurus. He has magical blood, and he hides his magical powers because the public does not accept wizards, and because his adoptive mother has made her life’s work to be the decrying of witches. The Obscurus exists because Credence has tried to control and hide his true nature. Towards the end of the film, the Obscurus kills Credence’s adoptive mother and nearly all of his siblings.

Strong Points

Even when Credence is in a rage of anger and depression, he is able to be reached by the kind words of trustworthy adults.  

The wizarding community fears magical beasts, but Newt sees their potential and tries to educate the community on their beauty and worth.  


A Senator hands some of Ms. Barebone’s children her leaflets, and tells a child to “go put that in the trash where you all belong.”  

Credence’s adoptive mother is horribly abusive to him. He turns for safety to an adult who has taken an interest in him – Graves – but Graves is trying to use Credence for his own purposes, and betrays him when he believes Credence no longer is of use to him.

Credence is physically abused by his mom; a scene in which she prepares to strike him with his own belt – and another scene in which she prepares to strike a small girl – could be triggers for kids who experienced abuse.

An Obscurus is a dark force that arises when a child tries to conceal their true (magical) identity. Nearly all children with an Obscurus die by age 10, and before their death, the Obscurus can cause much harm to the world around them. I do see a potential analogy here – keeping your identity secret causes pain – the scenes where the Obscurus causes harm and death are awfully dark and could be scary to some kids.

Newt has a small creature that he describes as having “abandonment issues.” Newt appears to sell the creature to a villain, and although he recovers the creature, it is obvious that the creature is mad at him.


While it is interesting to revisit the Harry Potter world, this film has a darker feel than you might expect.  The adoption connection is hatred and abuse by an adoptive mother who would hate her son even more if she knew his true birth heritage. Mary Lou may be the most hateful and most abusive adoptive parent I’ve seen in film. So, while Fantastic Beasts is an interesting and sometimes charming film – and I did enjoy revisiting the Wizarding World – it’s hard to recommend it for families touched by adoption, and for adoptive families that really do want to watch it, it should probably be reserved for kids 16 and up, and parents will want to process it with their teens after watching it.  

Questions for Discussion
What secrets led to kids having an Obscurus? What do you think would have happened, if the kids had been able to embrace their magical identity?

Which characters would Credence have been able to trust?

Why would someone want to keep part of their identity hidden? What’s the difference between secrecy and confidentiality?

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Inner Workings Adoption Movie Review

Moana is accompanied by a six-minute animated short. Inner Workings introduces us to Paul, an employee of the large company Boring, Boring and Glum. Paul lives a regimented life, waking early each morning, walking to work, and dutifully entering information into his computer. He wants to live a freer life: to sing in the shower, to flirt, to swim in the ocean and to laugh, but his anxious mind sees danger around every corner, and keeps his heart on a short leash. Inner Workings shows both the external circumstances of Paul’s life and the internal interplay between his brain and heart. 

(SPOILERS AHEAD): Paul’s brain is trying to keep him safe – it continually imagines the ways that Paul could die from the activities he wishes to do, however unlikely those ways might be. This keeps Paul safe, but leaves him depressed. Paul’s brain realizes that, even if Paul avoids all risks to stay perfectly safe, he will one day reach the grave. Not wanting Paul to waste the days he has been given, Paul’s brain returns some control to Paul’s heart; Paul runs into the ocean, finds a girlfriend, and dances at work – he does not die, and his newfound joy catches on with his coworkers and bosses.
Inner Workings is a welcome reminder that we can find joy in our day-to-day lives, that some risks are worth taking in order to have a vibrant life, and that sometimes, joy is just waiting to enter your life.

Questions for Discussion
Why was Paul so depressed?

How important is it to be safe? How important is it to be happy? How do you find a healthy balance between the two?

Do you think your brain or your heart has more control in your life? Do they share?

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Moana Adoption Movie Review

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A long time ago, Te Fiti, the Mother Island, rose from the ocean. Her heart could create life, and she blessed the world with beautiful islands. Legend says that some creatures wanted to steal the heart of Te Fiti in order to have the power to create life, but the demigod Maui managed to steal it, and he intended to use it to create good things for humans. However, Te Ka, a monster of earth and fire struck down Maui. The Heart of Te Fiti was lost to the sea, and Maui has been stranded for a thousand years on a small island.

A thousand years have passed, and young Moana lives on the island of Motunui where her grandmother Gramma Tala keeps the island’s lore and her father, Chief Tui maintains safety for his people. Moana will be chief one day; she longs to go to the sea, but her father forbids her – or any islanders – to sail past the reef. Beyond the reef, the seas are unsafe. No one has left the island for generations. However, the island’s vitality is draining away. Gramma Tala tells Moana that the ocean has chosen Moana to travel far, to find the demigod Maui, and with him, to find and return the lost Heart of Te Fiti. In doing this, Moana would bring back vitality to her island, and to all islands.
Moana’s grandmother falls ill. On her deathbed, she tells Moana to leave the island and carry out the task for which the Ocean has chosen her. Moana does so against the will of her father, but with the knowledge of her mother. Moana finds Maui, stranded on an island. He initially intends to trap Moana in a cave and use her boat to reclaim his glory. Moana catches up with him, and he is compelled to work with her to reclaim his own greatness and to strive to return the Heart of Te Fiti. 
To do so, he and Moana must reclaim Maui’s magical fishhook, and find a way past Te Ka, who still guards the way to the place where Moana must go to return the Heart of Te Fiti.

The Adoption Connection ** MAJOR SPOILERS IN THIS SECTION **

Moana learns from her grandmother that her ancestors were voyagers. Fear has kept them trapped on their island, and ignorant of their history and heritage. As part of her journey to return the Heart of Te Fiti, Moana also helps reinstitute the heritage of her people as voyagers, constantly in search of gloriously beautiful new islands.

This is a huge adoption connection, and a major spoiler: the demigod Maui was born to human parents. Maui says that his parents treated him “like I was nothing.” They took one look at him and threw him away into the sea, believing that they wanted nothing to do with him and leaving him for dead. The gods rescued Maui. They made him into a demigod and gave him the ability to shapeshift. Maui stole the heart of Te Fiti because he wanted to give it to humans; he wanted to do this, however, because he wanted the love of humans that had been denied him by his parents. Although he devoted his life to making humans love him, he explains, “it was never enough.” A thousand years later, Maui doubts his worth; his parents disowned him, and his new identity was given to him by the gods, but he believes it is not his own. Maui’s understanding of his situation is not an uncommon telling of adoption. Abandoned by one set of parents, he was rescued by another and given a new identity, but questions his worth and questions the validity of his identity. Moana offers him a wonderfully helpful answer. He himself has created his identity. It is true that the gods looked at him and saw someone worthy of rescue and help, but the person that Maui is – Maui himself has created. This appears to encourage Maui, and it represents a healthier understanding of adoption as well. You needed help and love, and you were worthy of help and love. You were given help and love – but you yourself create your own identity; that is something you develop, and it is truly yours.  Understanding his own value allows Maui to return the Heart of Te Fiti; he does not need to win the love of humans; he knows his own value. Being sure of himself allows him to do the right thing, where needing to strive after the love he was denied led him down destructive paths.   
Referring to wayfinding, Maui tells Moana that you can know “where you’re going by knowing where you’ve been.” That statement proves to have deeper meaning to both Moana and Maui as the story progresses.

Strong Points

When he was able to find meaning within himself rather than seeking for it in the adulation of others, Maui was able to do wonderfully brave, meaningful, and right things.

Moana is kind, brave, and persistent. She is dutiful, adventurous, and courageous and strives to find a way to be true to herself, to her culture, and to her responsibilities. She does not shirk one to follow the others, but finds a way to incorporate everything. As I reflect on the film, I think that’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment for any hero.

Moana and Maui must each make individual decisions about their identities and their actions; both must decide individually who to be and how to live, but to accomplish great things, they do need each other. Much as Moana herself finds a balance between self-development and service to others, the film finds a balance between independence and interdependence.

Moana’s father is strict and forbids her to adventure past the barrier, but his motivations are explained. Even though he is wrong, he is not a typical strict cinematic royal father who just “doesn’t get it…” He himself has an adventurous spirit like Moana, and he has reined it in to help provide safety to her. His mother explains to Moana, “He’s hard on you because he was you.”

As she is dying, Moana’s grandmother encourages Moana to pursue her destiny. Moana does not want to leave, saying that she does not want to be away from her grandmother. Her grandmother assures her, “There is nowhere you can go that I will not be with you.”  

Maui wears tattoos that tell his life story. One of his tattoos serves as his conscience.

Moana encourages Maui to share his story of abandonment. He does not want to tell her about it, telling her that it is none of her business. Instead of pressing, Moana honors his need for confidentiality, telling him “You don’t want to talk? Don’t talk…” and perhaps surprisingly, this makes Maui feel free to talk.

Even after times of great growth, Maui and Moana both turn away from the right path – but they both eventually come back.

Moana’s grandmother apologizes for putting a great burden on Moana, and she assures Moana that regardless of the outcome of Moana’s quest, her family is proud of her.

Maui takes responsibility for a past wrong, and his apology is straightforward, “What I did was wrong. I have no excuse. I’m sorry.” His apology is accepted.

Moana’s father realizes the good that Moana has done, and gives her his approval.

I love it when films show that villains are sometimes understood; this is one of those films, but I’ll leave that for you to figure out!


Maui’s story of abandonment may be bracing – and terribly upsetting – for some young viewers and families touched by adoption.

It could be hard for some viewers to see Moana’s grandmother near death.

Moana is threatened by a huge storm; the darkness, lightning, and loud crashes of thunder could scare some young viewers.

Although Maui grows in character, he initially comes across as arrogant and dishonest. Even after a heartfelt discussion with Moana, he abandons her for a time.

Moana is almost eaten by a creature.

A villain insensitively refers to Maui as “far from those who abandoned you, chasing love of humans.” The villain is quite precise with the line, but it’s cutting and it might be particularly hard for kids with abandonment issues.  

In a battle scene, Maui chops the arms off of a monster.


There is so much good in Moana. There’s bravery, loyalty, duty, and a wonderful blend of discovering self and discovering heritage. The adoption connection is huge and perhaps as challenging to navigate as a major storm. Maui’s understanding of himself mirrors an unfortunately conventional, unhealthy understanding of adoption in which the adoptee was unwanted by one set of parents, and remains a helpless recipient of grace. By the end of the film, Maui has been told that, yes of course he received the help of others, but that he has crafted his own identity; he is not helpless nor is he worthless. I do wish that the film addressed the abandonment he suffered; it isn’t really explained away – it happened, and it isn’t explored in detail, and that could it be hard for some viewers. Younger viewers might get capsized by the abandonment narrative and might not be able to right their boat in order to benefit from Maui’s later understanding of adoption – but older kids and teens could make much of it, with the help of their parents. For most audiences, Moana will appeal to kids of all ages. For adoption audiences, because there is a higher potential for abandonment to be a trigger, I’d recommend it for audiences starting at ages 10 and up, with parents along for a healthy discussion over pineapple sorbet afterwards. For kids younger than that in adoptive families, parents should watch it first to decide how it is likely to impact their kids. However – please do check it out, because there is so much to admire about this film. 

Stick around for a fun, short, post-credits scene that will remind you of a previous Disney film.

Questions for Discussion

Who are you? The voice inside you, your heritage, or something else?

How did you feel about Maui’s story of himself as a baby? How can he have a happy life, even though that happened to him? What might help him when he is sad?

What did Moana tell Maui that did help him?

How do Moana and her dad get along? How does she get along with her grandmother? Why was it good that she had each of them in her life?

Who guides you? Who influences you?

What do you know about your heritage? What do you wish you knew? What do you imagine?

What are some of the stories that Maui’s tattoos tell? Have you ever used art to tell your stories? 
What stories would be the most important for you to tell?

An Activity

Think about making a collage or a tower to represent each member of your family. As each new person comes into your family, allow them to add to the art.

Thanks for reading our review! Please help me make Adoption at the Movies even better by supporting Adoption at the Movies on Patreon, and I'll be sure to make it worth your while :) ! http://www.patreon.com/user?u=4057141

Doctor Strange Adoption Movie Review

If you’ve ever wanted to support Adoption at the Movies – now you can! Please check out our Patreon page here, and learn how to get our reviews before they’re posted on Adoption at the Movies, or how to get cool stuff like a signed copy of our book or an official Adoption at the Movies T-Shirt! http://www.patreon.com/user?u=4057141

The brilliant neurosurgeon Stephen Strange is injured in a horrific car accident. In order to regain his mobility – and to find direction in his life – Strange travels to Kamar-Taj, a secret compound in Nepal where the high sorcerer known as the Ancient One uses her mystical powers to defend the world. Strange benefits from her teaching and joins her cause.

Strange and the Ancient One use dark power to good ends; they combat Kaecilius, a sorcerer and former student of the Ancient One who has summoned the dark being Dormammu in an attempt to bring eternal life to earth. The Ancient One’s disciple Mordu has a more rigid personality than Strange; Mordu becomes disillusioned with his teacher and his compatriot when he learns that they are using dark power; unable to believe that they could be using it for good, he leaves and becomes an adversary. Kaecilius kills the Ancient One before Strange and his team are able to force Dormammu to take Kaecilius and his disciples away from Earth. With the world safe from Dormammu, Strange can now try to protect the world from other threats, one of which may be the offended Mordu.

The Adoption Connection

There is no adoption storyline. The Ancient One does take in broken people and helps them find wholeness. In one scene, we see that Stephen has pursued medicine to extreme ends in an attempt to regain his functioning. A character says that this “isn’t medicine; it’s mania.” Folks who have spent years and fortunes on infertility treatments might relate to Stephen; it’s sometimes hard to judge how far to pursue medical solutions to emotionally important problems.

Strong Points

Somewhere in the course of learning from the Ancient One, Stephen trades in his overinflated ego for a sense of duty and bravery.  Stephen defeats a powerful evil being because of his own willingness to face death; meanwhile, the main antagonists (like many cinematic antagonists) are motivated by a deep unwillingness to accept death and loss. Loss is a part of life, and being able to accept and process it is necessary in order to functioning in life.  One character says that life gets its meaning from death. Life also draws meaning from relationships, religion, love and many other things (not just death), and perhaps the line could have been phrased a bit differently to be more accurate, but most viewers seem likely to take the positive message from the line without taking it as overly gloomy. For many kids who have been adopted or in the foster care system, coming to terms with loss is an important part of processing their experiences and moving into a healthy adulthood. Some aspects of Stephen’s journey could be inspirational to some teenage viewers who have experienced loss or trauma.  


There is quite a bit of darkness and violence in the film. A librarian is decapitated by Kaecilius. A huge, surprising car accident leaves Strange bloodied and broken.  A mentor character dies after being stabbed. (More spoilers here)… Stephen is killed multiple times, but uses his mastery of time to continually revive himself.

Stephen seems to gloat in sending his enemies to an eternity of despair.


Doctor Strange seems a bit dark and a bit violent for younger viewers, but teens 13 and up seem likely to enjoy it. The film presents an opportunity to reflect on loss, death, and how we let them impact our lives. Good for most teens 14 and up, and their parents.  

Questions for Discussion
In the wake of a traumatic event, Stephen felt like he had no direction and no purpose. How did he find a new purpose? How can other people find meaning and direction in their lives after experiencing trauma?

Mordu says that we “never lose our demons; we only learn to live above them.” What does he mean by this? Do you agree or disagree, and why?

If you could turn back time, would you?

Have you ever had to do something that others would think was bad in order to achieve a good outcome? The Ancient One and Stephen believe it is possible to do that; Mordu disagrees. Who do you agree with, and why?  

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet (short review)

Fathom Events brought to American cinemas Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance of Hamlet in London’s National Theater. In a classic tale, Prince Hamlet is disgusted at his recently widowed mother’s quick remarriage to his late father’s power-hungry brother. Cumberbatch’s acting is energetic and solid, although many young audiences members  might lose much of the plot to the Shakespearian language. To spoil the story (but it’s such an old story) – A ghost reveals to Hamlet that Hamlet’s father was murdered by Hamlet’s brother. Fearing Hamlet’s revenge, his uncle tries to get Hamlet killed. The ghost of Hamlet’s father orders Hamlet to kill his uncle. Almost everyone dies, including Hamlet, his mother, his uncle, some of his friends, and a girl he loved. The royal crown is claimed by someone outside of Hamlet’s family. And that’s really it. Hamlet’s a classic, sure – but it doesn’t seem particularly kid-friendly, especially not for kids who have experienced violence or instability in their families. This doesn’t take away from the excellent performances on stage by Cumberbatch and the rest of the cast.

 Fathom Events focuses on special theatrical events including sports, concerts, theatrical plays, and cinematic presentations of classic movies and TV events – Adoption at the Movies’ previous coverage of Fathom Events has included our reviews of Space Jam and The NeverEnding Story. For more on Fathom, check out www.fathomevents.com

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Doctor Who: Power of the Daleks review

Fathom Events brought Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks to theaters Monday night before it was released to the world for home viewing. Using original audio from 50 years ago, Power of the Daleks was animated to allow for the story to be shared in spite of the loss of the live-action video. The dreaded villains of the Doctor Who universe try to take control of a remote human colony; to do so, they take advantage of a power-hungry official and a foresight-lacking scientist. Only the Doctor can see the threat that the Daleks pose, and he must work to stop them from exterminating human life from the colony.

There is no adoption connection here, but kids might enjoy getting to know Doctor Who, who has taken a special interest in the human race and serves as a brave and creative protector. The Power of the Daleks is an engaging story, although the animation style was a bit choppy, and teens might find the current series of Doctor Who more interesting than the vintage series.

Doctor Who: Power of the Daleks is available for order on Amazon. Fathom Events focuses on special theatrical events including sports, concerts, theatrical plays, and cinematic presentations of classic movies and TV events – Adoption at the Movies’ previous coverage of Fathom Events has included our reviews of Space Jam and The NeverEnding Story. For more on Fathom, check out www.fathomevents.com
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