by Kathie Otte, M.S.W.
We may have read all the books, talked to other adoptive parents, and done everything we could think of to prepare ourselves to talk to our children in a positive, sensitive way about adoption. But nothing prepares us for the film industry and their sometimes insensitive, uneducated treatment on the subject of adoption. It is true, there are times that they do get it right, but sometimes they are way off the mark.
And you never know when a portrayal of an adoption theme may trigger some strong emotions in your child. My best advice is to take the time to sit down with your child and watch an adoption-themed movie with them. That way you can see what kind of a reaction your child is having and you will be immediately available for questions and clarification.
The following is a list of some of the more popular movies with an adoption theme in it. If it is in the Thumbs Down category, that doesn’t mean you need to avoid it altogether. Just be there to point out the issues, and how the movie makers got it all wrong.
Because of Winn-Dixie
This is a heart-warming story of a little girl who learns to deal with the fact that her mother has chosen to leave the family, never to return. Feeling lost and alone, ten-year-old Opal seeks out to make connections with others who become her friends-the librarian, the town drunk, a shadowy ex-con, and four local children who also are looking for a friend to confide in. This story is about forming families in other ways than the one you are born into.
In the first few minutes of this movie classic, we see a young couple and their baby shipwrecked on a jungle shore and building a tree house. Then a mother ape hears the baby crying and goes to investigate, finding the parents dead and the child alone. The mother gorilla adopts the baby as her own, names him Tarzan, and raises him as a gorilla.
As an adult, Tarzan meets other humans and must decide where he belongs. At the end of the movie, he is with the human Jane but living with the gorillas as their new leader. The opening scenes of the abandoned, orphaned baby and the later scenes of Tarzan struggling with issues of family are incredibly poignant and touching. This is one of my favorite adoption themed movies, one that the whole family should watch together.
In this 1995 hit movie, the main character is a piglet who is separated from his birth family when Farmer Hoggett purchases him. Fly, the Hoggett’s sheepdog, shows kindness to the lonely newcomer. The piglet Babe adopts her as his new mother and in a rather understated moment asks, “Can I call you mom?”
There are times when Babe isn’t allowed to do things with the sheepdogs because he is a pig, but mostly he finds his place in the dog family and on the farm. He goes on to become a sheep pig and does great things. The adoption related theme is that you can be a part of a family even if you weren’t born into it.
The Tigger Movie
In Walt Disney’s The Tigger Movie, Tigger, the happy, bouncy, lovable character from Winnie the Pooh, longs for his family. He embarks upon a quest to find them that leads him to the Hundred Acre Wood and his friends who truly love him. Tigger learns that family, more than looking alike or being related by blood, is really about the people who are closest to you and who really love you through good times and bad. Both young and old will come away with something special from this film.
Ironically billed as a family film, this movie does everything wrong from beginning to end. After visiting an orphanage, Santa discovers that one of the babies had crawled into his sack. One of Santa’s elves takes the baby home to raise and calls him Buddy. As the child grows up it becomes obvious that he is not of elf lineage. He’s about 6’5” tall and not nearly as dexterous at making toys.
Finally Papa Elf, his adoptive father, takes him aside and explains that Buddy is really a human, his mother is dead and his “real” father lives in New York City. Buddy immediately heads off for New York where he bursts in on his biological father, declaring “Daddy I love you!” I am really tired of the media invalidating our role as the parents of our children and giving other people, most importantly our children, the idea that we are not the “real” parents of our children. This is one film to definitely avoid, especially on Christmas Day.
The Country Bears
Here we go again. This is another story of an individual of one species ending up in a family of a different species and being raised by them. This time it is a bear named Beary who is being raised by humans, unaware that he is adopted. Beary realizes he is different and tries to figure out why.
His human brother teases him about it and, in some very insensitive and offensive dialogue, the A word is mentioned. Discovering the truth about his heritage, Beary sets out to Tennessee to seek out his family and purpose in life. Unless you want to get your adoptive parent blood boiling, stay away from this one.
Unlike the movie version of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, the Stuart Little movie goes far from White’s original story. One day, Mr. and Mrs. Little drop son George off at school on their way to the orphanage to adopt a child. They fall in love with Stuart and adopt him instead, despite warnings against “inter-species” adoption. This will make you cringe a bit, but the really disturbing part comes in the middle of the film.
Stuart receives a visit from some mice claiming to be his birth parents. They tell Stuart’s adoptive parents that they have been having a rough time when they placed Stuart for adoption, but now they are doing well and want him back. Mr. and Mrs. Little decide it is best for Stuart to return to his birth family and send him off. It turns out to be a scam, but no one even thinks to check the identity of these two mice!
Many people have loved this movie because there are some great action scenes during the boat race and appealing characters, but for adopted children it could be upsetting. Parents will need to explain that the process of adopting was very different for them, not the way it was depicted in the movie.
And they will also need to emphasize that they would never let anyone take their children away. Adoption is forever. While this movie can be the springboard for some good family discussions, it should be avoided unless there is preparation with your child done beforehand, and follow-up afterwards.
When Miami dentist Ted Brooks receives a court summons, he goes into a tailspin when he learns that 1) he was adopted 2) his birth mother has just died and 3) he had never been told of his adoption by his adoptive parents. Ted then travels north to Alaska to “find” himself and to learn what he can about his birth parents.
He hooks up with a woman named Barb who eventually tells him that his birth father is Thunder Jack, the town tough guy. To prove himself to his newfound dad, Ted decides to take up dog sledding. This leads to all kinds of hair-raising adventures with the dogs, including a rescue, and ultimately the forming of a close bond with his birth father, albeit phony and contrived.
This movie is most offensive because of its outdated attitude of adoption. The most pressing question adopted children may come away with is “Why wasn’t Ted told of his adoption when he was younger? Is adoption bad in some way?” Be ready. You’ll have a lot of explaining to do.