Thursday, August 29, 2013

Gru vs. Gargamel - Who's the Better Supervillain Dad? (The Smurfs 2: Adoption Movie Guide)

Gargamel reminds me of Gru from Despicable Me. They’re both quirky, black-clad villains intent on taking over the world. They’re both shown in parental roles. They both enter their parental roles initially because of a desire to use children to further their own interests. But there’s a difference. Gru comes to care for the children. He has a change of heart, and by Despicable Me Too, Gru is a good dad – one in whom young viewers can see a remediated father. Gargamel’s not that. Gargamel remains selfish, cruel, and bad-intentioned. 

He has his fingers crossed. 

Gargamel, an evil wizard, makes “Naughties,” which are small, greyish troublemakers.  Gargamel derives his power from Smurf essence, which can be extracted from Smurfs – small, blue-colored do-gooders. Once, one of Gargamel’s creations was captured by Papa Smurf. Papa Smurf changed her hue, made her good, and renamed her Smurfette. She has been well-accepted by her new community and fits in well as the first female Smurf. However, Gargamel hopes to capture Smurfette in the hopes of having her reveal the secret of how Papa Smurf turned her into a Smurf – with that information, Gargamel could create his own Smurfs, and then use them to power his evil schemes for worldwide domination. Smurfette is feeling sad because it seems that the Smurfs have forgotten her birthday; this makes her more susceptible to Gargamel’s plan – he sends Vixie, a female Naughty, to capture Smurfette, and then tries to win her over with claims of love and acceptance. All along, he’s trying to alienate her from the Smurfs and reclaim her for himself.  

How is This Relevant to Adoption?
The film intends to send a positive message, “The parents that you have – the ones that love you – they are your real parents.” Unfortunately, the film also says, “Your birthparents aren’t your real parents.” It’s an unnecessary dualism.

Rob Watson (@JandJDad) brought this movie to my attention, and I’m glad he did. There are a lot of adoption themes in Smurfs 2, and although adoption language isn’t used the adoption-esque themes in the film are pretty central. I’ll be using adoption language in this review – although the movie spoke more in terms of step-parents, it told more of an adoption story. Gargamel creates the Naughties. One of them (Smurfette) ended up with Papa Smurf; he changed her appearance, her name, and her behavior.  Smurfette has “horrible dreams about where I came from and who I really am.” We see her dream – she imagines her blue pigmentation washing off, revealing her to still be a greyish Naughty after all this time. When she shares her dream with Papa Smurf, he dismisses her fears saying, “It doesn’t matter where you are from; it just matters who you choose to be.” Later, when Smurfette is kidnapped by her birthfamily, they try to convince her that her roots do matter more than anything else, and that her adoptive family doesn’t actually care about her. She listens and is won over – and then we see that Gargamel really only intended to use her for his own gain. Smurfette and her two Naughty siblings are rescued by Papa Smurf, and all three of them return to live as Smurfs in the Smurf kingdom.

Here are some themes that you’ll see: Smurfette has nightmares about not actually being a part of her adoptive family. She is kidnapped by her birthfamily. They appear to be loving towards her, but they really intend to use her for their own gain. I have mixed feelings about the film – Some kids in adoptive families do have fears of being kidnapped and mistreated by birth family members. For kids who experienced abuse prior to their adoption, the fears are sometimes even grounded in reality. Many kids who have been adopted do probably struggle with questions of identity, wonder whether they’ll fit in, and wonder who they really are. Smurfette does those things, and Papa Smurf and the rest of the Smurf community continually reaffirm their acceptance of Smurfette and their belief that she fits in. That’s great.

But what I don’t like is the dualism inherent in the film. Smurfette’s family of origin is bad. Evil, even. Her new family is good. She needs to be completely cleaned of one in order to become the other. And I think that’s a thought that might be familiar to adopted kids, too. It’s not helpful, accurate, or healthy – but this movie presents it as true.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from” in the context of this film means, “Yes, your birthfamily is horrible, but that doesn’t mean you will be.”  Even in this, Smurfs 2 is difficult to evaluate. I like the hope that it extends – you don’t have to repeat the mistakes that your birthfamily made. But I think it’d be easy for young viewers to miss the nuanced statement of hope, and go straight to “Your birthfamily is bad; you can’t be like them.”

Strong Points

One character is chastised, “Stop blaming others for your pain, and don’t teach your son that love is conditional.”

Unfortunately, the movie seems to think that
"Both" can't possibly be the answer.
The Smurfs 2 touches on some legitimate issues, and it might be helpful for families to see them acted out on screen and then discuss them. For instance – Smurfette’s questions of identity appear especially heightened around her birthday; she also becomes very sensitive to feeling forgotten.  The Smurfs play a joke on her, pretending to forget her birthday, and it backfires horribly, causing Smurfette great pain. The film might help young kids talk about their fears. But………

Weak Points

I think it’s more likely to cause triggers than to cause helpful discussion. Smurfette is kidnapped by her birthfather (actually, he sends one of Smurfette’s birthsiblings to do the work, making use of an Oz-like portal.) He tells her that she is not a real Smurf. She is almost compelled to defend herself by screaming at him, “you’re not my father.” Her birthfather tries to cast doubts in her mind about Papa Smurf’s love for her. Smurfette’s great betrayal of the Smurfs is to tell one of their secrets to her birthfather.

Gargamel is bad. He resents feeding his children, complaining that they should be providing for him, rather than vice-versa. He kidnaps one of his children who has been raised by another family, but his intention in doing this isn’t love, or even the desire to reclaim what he believes is his. It’s worse than that. He wants to harvest her.


For what it’s worth, Despicable Me Too is a more entertaining movie, and it will probably appeal to the same age groups. I’d suggest making a substitution, especially for kids who’ve had bad experiences with father figures. Man of Steel and Kung Fu Panda might be better choices.

Questions for Discussion After the Film
Have you ever felt like Smurfette, not knowing whether you fit in? Did Smurfette fit in with the Smurfs or the Naughties?

Could Smurfette be both Smurf and Naughty? What was good about the Naughties? (This question is important, but it might take some imagination to help your kid come up with good things about the Naughties.)

How do you feel about meeting your birthfamily? Have you ever been scared that they would be mean like Gargamel? Or do you think they’d be more like the kind parents of Superman?

Thanks for checking out this adoption review of The Smurfs 2. Click Here for reviews of other recent films.

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