Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ice Age: Collision Course Adoption Movie Review

Earth’s future is endangered when several asteroids are directed to Earth. An adventurous weasel named Buck finds an ancient hieroglyph which reveals that the asteroids’ impact might be predictable and preventable. Buck must convince his peers to act, but they face a couple obstacles: preventing the asteroids’ impact might cost one community of animals their access to perpetual youth, and a group of flying dinosaurs want the asteroids to hit, believing that because of their ability to fly, they alone will survive.   (Spoilers ahead the rest of the way)

Meanwhile, a ground sloth named Sid is lamenting being single. Manny and Ellie, a wooly mammoth couple, are preparing for their daughter Peaches’ wedding to Julian and are upset when they learn that she intends to travel abroad after the ceremony.

The Adoption Connection

This movie isn’t about adoption. It’s possible that the concept of leaving home might connect with kids who have experienced instability of home (Peaches intends to head out into the world against her parents’ wishes; the whole herd of animals is threatened by the destruction of their global home). A trio of villains steal an egg from an expectant parent, but the villains are thwarted and the egg is returned.

Julian believes he is part of Peaches’ family, but Manny asserts that he is not part of the family yet. 
Although this conversation is about marriage rather than adoption, it could catch the ear of some kids who do not yet feel secure in their family.

Strong Points

A group of characters decide to put their individual interests aside in favor of saving the world.

One character convinces his father to do the right thing, when his father had planned to do something cruel.

In one scene, an elderly character becomes young again; it could be fun for young viewers to imagine what their parents must have been like as children.


It appears briefly that Sid’s grandmother has died, but later she is revealed to have survived.  

A saber tooth tiger couple feels that they cannot be parents because small animals are afraid of them; after they help to save the world, kids come to them freely, and they begin to believe that they would make good parents. It might be good to ask kids what makes someone a good parent; the tigers' thoughts are a bit oversimplified.

Weak Points

A father tells his son that, apart from having his mother’s eyes, he is “completely useless.”
Manny and Ellie scheme to manipulate their daughter, rather than telling directly telling her their wishes.

A father dinosaur encourages his son to kill a protagonist.


Ice Age: Collision Course seems most likely appeal to younger viewers, ages 4-9 or so. There are some rather clumsy and ill-fitting innuendo jokes that appear to be thrown in for parents, but I imagine that they’ll fly over most kids’ heads. There are a couple scenes that could be scary for some viewers, but the film also presents a few decent conversation starters. Most adults and teens will probably find the film boring, but younger kids might like it, and parents could use the film as a way to have conversations about selflessness, accomplishments, change, how parents and kids can talk to each other, and what parents were like as kids.  

Questions for Discussion

What was a time when you chose to do something for other people, even when you wanted to do something else?

When was a time when you did something that other people thought you couldn’t do?

One character says that it is important to embrace change, sometimes. What do you think?

What do you think your parents or grandparents were like when they were little kids?

One character convinces his dad to do the right thing. What would you do if you thought your parent was wrong about something important?

How should Ellie’s parents have told her about their fears? Should they have been more supportive of Ellie?  

The Legend of Tarzan Adoption Movie Review

John Clayton’s mother had already died of natural causes when apes killed his father. He was an infant, alone in the jungle of Congo, but was noticed and raised by an ape called Kala. The apes knew John as Tarzan, and he grew up close to Kala and her son Akut, who became Tarzan’s brother. When Tarzan met Jane, he decided to return to England where he reassumed his birth name, and the title of Lord Greystoke. An invitation arises for John to return to Congo, and although he initially declines, he is persuaded to go by George Washington Williams, who wants to investigate his suspicions that Congolese people are being enslaved. When John returns to the Congo, he finds that the government of Belgium is enslaving people – and he learns that a local chief holds John responsible for the death of his son, and wants John dead.

The Adoption Connection

John was raised by apes, and known in his adopted homeland as Tarzan. He reclaims his birthname and birthright, and obviously struggles with reconciling the two parts of his identity – he initially refuses to acknowledge the name Tarzan. He is asked whether his mom was a monkey, and although he was raised by Kala and considered her his mother, he replies “of course not. My mother was Anne Clayton.” Circumstances bring him back to the Congo, where he reencounters his tribe of apes, who now view him as a traitorous deserter; their relationship is only mended after Tarzan receives a brutal beating from Akut.

Tarzan and Jane lost their first pregnancy, and the grief colors their relationship. After their adventures, Jane is able to carry a pregnancy to term.

Strong Points

Tarzan is welcomed back by the humans in the Congo who knew him when he was young.

Tarzan eventually appears able to reconcile his life as John and his life as Tarzan into one cohesive life.


Tarzan experiences much loss; his human father is killed by apes, his ape mother is killed by a human, and a fatherly tribal chief who cares about him is shot dead by a villain.
There is quite a bit of violence in the film, making it unlikely to be a good fit for most kids. An ape bites a man in the neck. A man is eaten by crocodiles. A man shoots another dead.

A local chief wants Tarzan dead because Tarzan killed his son; Tarzan killed the chief’s son because the chief’s son had killed Kala. Eventually, Tarzan and the chief reconcile to some degree.

Weak Points

Tarzan does not want Jane to come to the Congo with him; he tries to prevent her coming by locking her in her room.

Scenes of people being enslaved and Rom’s racist talk will be uncomfortable or disturbing for most viewers, but could be particularly difficult for kids who have been abused or subjected to overt racism.


The Legend of Tarzan has violence that earns its PG-13 rating; it doesn’t seem likely to be a good choice for kids. Teens and adults might enjoy the action scenes. Tarzan being caught between two identities will certainly be relevant to some people touched by adoption, but the issue is resolved without much discussion. For teens 14 and up or so, this one could be OK, but Disney’s animated 
Tarzan might be a better choice for most families.

Questions for Discussion

Is the Congo John’s home, or is it England? Can it be both?

Is his name John, or Tarzan – or can it be both?

What makes it difficult to live with two histories, two homes, and two families? What could make it easier? 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Secret Life of Pets Adoption Movie Review

Max was a small, friendly puppy alone in a cardboard box when Katie found him and brought him to her Manhattan apartment. Now, Max and Katie have formed a happy owner-dog family, and Max is very content to share his life with her. But one day, Katie brings home Duke, a large, shaggy dog who also needed a home.

(SPOILERS THE REST OF THE WAY) Max hates the thought of sharing his home with a new brother, and Duke resents Max’s attitude – Duke has come from the pound, and can’t afford to be taken back in. Max conspires to get Duke in trouble so that Katie will get rid of him, and Duke conspires to get Max lost far from home. While trying to get rid of each other, they encounter animal control officers and a dangerous gang of human-hating mistreated animals. Facing this mutual danger brings Duke and Max closer to each other; their friends help them find their way home, and with their newfound friendship, they are able to begin life as brothers.  

 The Adoption Connection

Katie brought Max into her home, because Max needed a home. Later, she sees Duke’s need for a home, and brings him in as well, telling Max that they are now brothers. We don’t know why Max needed a home – Katie found him in a box labelled “free puppies” – but Duke needs a home because he got lost; he had chased something, and lost track of his elderly owner. Katie’s home reminds me of a foster-adoptive home. The initially unaccepting feelings that Max and Duke have towards each other might be familiar to kids who have viewed new siblings with reluctance and skepticism. Duke feels desperate – he needs this home to work out. Max feels displaced – Duke literally takes Max’s bed and leaves him in the trash.

Duke does try to go home to his original owner, but finds that his original owner has died; his initial response is anger towards Max, but he and Max quickly repair their relationship.
The dangerous gang of human-hating animals calls themselves “The Flushed Pets.” They have become embittered because they were discarded or mistreated by the humans that had cared for them. They are bent on revenge against the people who “said they love us, then throw us out.”

Strong Points

Max and Duke overcome a rough start to become friends and brothers.

There are many more potential strong points covered in the next section.

Potential Strong Points, Possible Triggers

Max and Duke express realistic feelings; Max does not want a new brother, and seems to fear being displaced. Duke acts out aggressively in response to Max’s cold welcome, Max tries to get Duke in trouble, Duke escalates his behaviors. Most behaviors make sense within a certain context – and for Max and Duke, the context of their behaviors is that each wants a place in Katie’s family, and they do not initially see how they can both fit. For some young viewers, and for kids who have issues regarding rejection, some aspects of this story could be very hard. For older kids, this film could be very helpful for allowing them to talk to their parents about their feelings regarding being new in a home, or about accepting a new sibling into the home. I think Secret Life of Pets has the potential to be a triggering film for some, and potential to be very helpful for others. Parents, you know your kids best, so you might want to screen this one first to decide how it will likely impact your kids. It’s definitely worth taking a look, and depending on your kids’ needs, it might be worth screening yourself before bringing your kids.  

There’s a parallel to Finding Dory here (double spoiler alert!!) Dory and Duke have both wandered away from their homes, and have been lost for a long time. They both find their homes, and in both cases, their loved ones are gone. Dory is able to find her parents, and incorporates her new family with her original family. Duke’s situation plays out more painfully (although some would argue, more realistically). He can’t reconnect with his original family; he grieves this, and eventually bonds to his new family.

Weak Points

It would be possible for kids to focus on Max’s and Duke’s attempts to get rid of each other; it might take intentional guidance from parents for kids to view the whole story in context – Max and Duke have normal feelings which they followed into damaging behavior, but were able to be friends and brothers even though they initially didn’t think it would be possible.

To try to impress the dangerous gang, Max and Duke fabricate a story about how they used a blender to kill their owners. The gang howls approvingly.


Secret Life of Pets probably isn’t a good choice for families who have just recently added a new child into their home through adoption or foster care; kids who do not yet feel secure about their place in their new family might find this one very scary. It could also be rough for kids who have known insecure home situations, who might have fears (even unexpressed fears) of being taken from your home. However, for families who are considering adding another member to their family, this would be an excellent film to use to invite conversation about your kids’ worries, fears, and ambiguities about a potential new family member.  Think about this one for kids ages 7-12, but think about waiting on it if your family has recently added a member who might feel insecure about their place in the family. 

Questions for Discussion

Why was Max unhappy to have Duke come to his home? Was it OK for him to feel that way?

What are some other ways that Max could have treated Duke?

If Max had been kind to Duke, how do you think Duke would have felt?

At what point did Max and Duke become brothers?

What parts of having new people in our family are exciting? What parts are scary?

What does it feel like to be new somewhere (like in a family, or in a class?)

The BFG Adoption Movie Guide

Sophie lives in a London orphanage. Each night, while the other girls are sound asleep, Sophie explores her surroundings. One night, she sees a giant roaming the streets. The giant notices that he has been seen, and quickly snatches Sophie from the orphanage. He takes Sophie to his home, introduces himself as the Big Friendly Giant (or BFG), and declares that she must live in his home for the rest of her life, since she has seen him. The BFG is a dream-catcher; although he gives good dreams to children at times, he gives Sophie a nightmare to discourage her from leaving. The BFG has captured Sophie because he fears what humans will do if they learn about Giant Country, but he also fears the other, much larger, giants, who kill and eat humans. The BFG once had a boy who came to live with him, but that boy was eaten by the other giants. The BFG tries to protect Sophie; at first, he hides her. When he realizes that hiding her will not work, he tries to return her to the orphanage. Sophie protests, and is able to continue living with the BFG. Together, they appeal to the Queen of England, hoping both that she will receive the BFG kindly, and that she will use her forces to defeat the cruel giants. (SPOILERS AHEAD) The Queen complies; Sophie is able to live at the Queen’s home, and she continues to maintain contact with the BFG, who thrives with his newfound peace.

 The Adoption Connection

As the film opens, Sophie is living in an orphanage. She is taken from the orphanage by the BFG, and originally protests. After she has grown fond of him, he tries to return her to the orphanage for her own safety. Eventually, Sophie finds a home at the Queen’s residence. We learn that Sophie dreams of family and of good times.

Strong Points

Sophie gets to visit a beautiful place where dreams live; in one scene, she is surrounded by a collection of pleasant dreams. That concept could be a helpful one for kids who are scared of nightmares.

The BFG has long been guided by his fears, but he finds his bravery in order to help Sophie, revealing himself to the Queen, even though he does not know whether it is safe for him to do so.

The Queen is a trustworthy and helpful adult; Sophie is able to find help by asking an adult for it. It is important for kids who have been abused or neglected to know that other adults are still trustworthy and safe to ask for help.


The BFG has some very nurturing qualities; he feeds Sophie, tries to protect her, creates a home for her, and lets her accompany him on a wonderful adventure. However, he snatched her from her home, and intends to keep her in Giant Country even though another child under his care was killed and eaten by the giants.
The BFG and Sophie find a nightmare that contains the harrowing thought, “Look at what you’ve done, and there will be no forgiveness.” Although this dream comes in handy when Sophie directs it at the villainous giants, the thought of no forgiveness could be troubling to some viewers, especially young ones.

Weak Points

While their relationship does develop into a positive, meaningful friendship, the BFG and Sophie meet because he snatches her from her home in order to protect himself. It seems for a moment that he intends to eat her (he does not intend to eat her, but other giants intend to do so.)

The threat of being eaten by giants is frequently revisited in this film; young children might find it quite scary.

The orphanage where Sophie lived is abusive; she explains that she was “punished a lot” by being locked in a dark cellar with rats. This could be a difficult reminder for children who were abused prior to coming into care.

Sophie demands that the BFG takes her home, and he flatly refuses. This could be a hard scene for children in foster care who are unable to return home.

Later, when the BFG does decide to return Sophie to the orphanage, he tries to abandon her there, apparently leaving her alone outside.  


From one point of view, The BFG is a heartwarming story of a young orphan girl who makes an unlikely friend, encourages him to be brave, and finds a place to call home. From another point of view, it’s the story of a girl being snatched away from her home by a (very) grown man, subjected to danger, and ultimately only able to find safety when her abductor has a change of heart. The former interpretation is the one that the film intends, and is likely the one that most audience members will leave with, but the second interpretation is not impossible, and it is hard to predict how the film will be interpreted by a child who has been abused or neglected, or a child who remembers being taken from their home. 

Scary scenes where Sophie’s life is threatened by man-hungry giants could be too much for some young viewers, and other scenes might trigger kids’ specific fears of abduction, abandonment, neglect or abuse. The film does lend itself to discussions about how bravery is helpful for virtue, how people can change, and how some adults are safe people to turn to for help. The BFG also presents a delightful, imaginative portrayal of the substance of dreams. In general, The BFG seems best suited for kids ages 9-15 and for adults. 

Questions for Discussion

What have been some of your favorite dreams?

If you could catch any dream, what dream would you catch? What dreams would you give your parents? Your friends? Your siblings?

How can you tell whether an adult is a safe person to ask for help?

What did you like about Sophie’s friend, the BFG? What didn’t you like about him? 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Approved for Adoption - Adoption Movie Review

Jung wandered the streets of Korea, homeless, young, and alone. He was eventually taken to an orphanage. From there, he was adopted and raised by a Belgian family. Approved for Adoption shares the perspective of a now-grown Jung, looking back at his childhood and adolescence. He struggles with so many real-life adoption issues – belonging in a family, belonging in a culture, exploring other cultures – and he ultimately makes a return visit to Korea (reminiscent of The Invisible Red Thread), and in doing so seems to understand his story even further. Approved for Adoption is an insightful and enlightening exploration of the experience of an adoptee; I’ve worked in adoption for several years, and this film introduced perspective and thoughts that I’d never had before.

The Adoption Connection
Jung was adopted internationally, joining a Belgian family after beginning his life in Korea. Approved for Adoption addresses the adoption process (Jung notes that he easily could have ended up American or Danish), it addresses issues of belonging to a family, and it also presents pictures of Jung’s acceptance into (and lack of acceptance into) both his new and original communities of origin. Approved for Adoption looks beyond Jung’s individual story and also comments on some deep, internal struggles that are shared by many internationally-adopted individuals. Approved for Adoption is powerful and touches on so many aspects of adoption in a relatively short time.

Strong Points

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mixed-Remixed Festival: Short Films About Mixed Ethnicity

The third annual Mixed Remixed festival took place earlier this month at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. The festival provides a safe place for people to express, share, and explore their experiences as people of multiple cultures. My introduction to the festival came two years ago when I attended to support Brian and Angela Tucker, whose film Closure was screening that year.

Each year, the festival features stories, workshops, panels and films on a range of topics. As a film reviewer, I spend most of my time in the theater. This year’s festival included short films and a couple web series which be interesting to parents of multiethnic or mixed-ethnicity children. Children who have been adopted might also resonate with feelings of mixed ethnicity, and while these films aren’t geared towards kids, parents might use the films for some informal self-education to prepare for challenges their kids might eventually face, and identity-development work that their kids may eventually do.

Some of the highlights from this year’s films:

Almost Asian is a YouTube comedy series following Katie Malia’s daily life in Los Angeles as a woman of half-Japanese, half-German ancestry. (Find more here)

Maya Osborne: Confessions of a Quadroon introduces Maya Osborne, a spoken-word artist who has powerfully captured her thoughts on her biracial identity. (Hear Maya’s poem performed here). The documentary centers around Maya’s poem, and also asks her parents for their thoughts on their daughter’s developing identity. (See the 11-minute documentary here).

Good Luck Soup documents a grandson’s exploration of his famliy’s Asian heritage. (see the trailer here).

Invisible Roots interviews members of three families of African descent who have roots in Mexico but have moved to Southern California (find more here).

The festival happens each year, around June, in Los Angeles. Stay tuned on Twitter @mixedremixed or check out their website (mixedremixed.org) to learn about the next one; and hey, if you decide to come to LA for the festival next year, reach out and let me know. Maybe I’ll see you there! 
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