Monday, July 22, 2013

Adoption Movie Guide: Monsters University

The sun rises in a suburban town. On this beautiful fall day, a pigeon pecks the ground for fallen seeds. It’s a very peaceful and comforting scene – except the pigeon has two heads. We’re in the world of Monsters, Inc., maybe twenty years before the first film.  Mike Wazowski is a round, green, somewhat geeky and unpopular grade school kid. His class takes a trip to a scare factory, which in Monstropolis is a combination of industry, power generation, and sport. He is awed by the professional scarers and dreams of joining their ranks. One kind scarer recommends that he attend Monsters University. Several years later, he does.

How is This Relevant to Adoption? 
Monsters University doesn’t feature adoption in its plot points. Many kids – not just kids in foster or adoptive families – will relate to Mike’s desire to fit in with peers and with his being ostracized for his differences. Mike’s eventual best friend, Sully, is heralded for his membership in a famous family. It is mentioned several times throughout the film, with some characters trying to enter his good graces, and others telling him that he is a disgrace to his family name.

Strong Points
There’s a lot to like about this film; Pixar has made a thoroughly entertaining film that also manages to convey several worthwhile lessons.

Randall is the main antagonist in Monsters Inc. Here, we see him as a college freshman. Nerdy, outcast, and gifted. He gets in with the popular crowd, and they influence him very negatively. It reminds me of Bowler Hat Man in Meet theRobinsons. Kids who feel outcast can let their pain become anger or can let their loneliness drive them to bad company. But Randall and Bowler Hat Man were not the only lonely ones in their film. Meet the Robinsons’ hero, Lewis,  and this film’s Mike Wazowski both were hopeful and perseverant and were able to come through difficult childhoods to become people (or, rather, a person and a monster) of good character.

Students at Monsters University are encouraged to realize that the best way to succeed in life isn’t to be just like everyone else – it’s to embrace your uniqueness and find ways to use it to your advantage.
Mike and Sully develop a strong friendship. They apologize to each other.

Mike suffers disappointment when he is unable to become a great scarer. He reflects, “I thought if I wanted it enough,” I could make it happen. This is a surprisingly realistic contradiction to the “wish hard enough and you’ll get it” theme that often shows up in kids’ media. And Mike doesn’t wallow in self-pity. He commits to a long road, doesn’t shrink from starting in menial positions, and eventually finds himself in a job that he loves. I’m really surprised to be able to commend an animated green eyeball as a role model – but here I am doing it.
My wife really liked this: Sully tried to cheat on an exam. He apologizes, but is expelled from college. He suffers the consequence he earned, but does not despair. He works hard, and still manages to have a successful life.  Just like with Mike – there’s no magic, just perseverance and hard work.

 Weak Points

An older college student has joined a fraternity and has become engaged to the mother of one of his fraternity brothers. He tells the younger student to think of him as “a brother who’s marrying your mother.” The line generated laughs in the theater, but might be confusing or troubling for children whose families of origin have been disrupted.   

This one’s worth seeing in the theaters, and maybe buying too. It’ll probably be the biggest hit with kids up to age 9 or 10.

Questions for Discussion after the movie

Which character do you feel most like?
Mike and Sully were punished, and suspended (actually expelled) from school. Has that ever happened to you? How did they make their life turn out OK, anyway?

Have you ever really wanted something and didn’t get it? Were you OK afterwards, anyway?

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  1. I completely agree with you on this one. I actually LOVED the Mike DIDN'T have a 'fairy god mother' moment. He (and Sully) made mistakes, and had to work hard to work through them. They suffered the consquences, but still moved forward. They proved that sometimes the path to making your dreams come true isn't a striaght line, and doesn't lead where you think it will, but that just makes the journey all the more valuable.

    1. Hi J! I really love your comment. I think I'm gonna share it on Facebook and Twitter :) You loved the same things about the movie that I did!


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