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Adoption Movie Guide: Despicable Me 2 – Gru as a Surprisingly Good Adoptive Dad

DespicableMe2A

The Plot (spoilers ahead If you haven’t seeing yet)
Former super-villain Gru has changed his colors. He has adopted Margo, Edith and Agnes, and has begun to put their needs in front of his own. Noting his newly-found ethics, the Anti-Villain League recruits Gru to go undercover to stop other villains. He signs up and goes along for the ride. Meanwhile, Margo becomes interested in boys, Edith thinks boys are gross, and Agnes wants a mom.
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How is This Relevant to Adoption? 
In the first Despicable Me film, Margo, Edith and Agnes were adopted from a horrible orphanage; the director only cared about the girls’ ability to raise money for her program. When Gru adopted them, he was not carefully screened, and he intended to use them to help him commit villainy. I treated DespicableMe harshly in my review. But this film has done much better. It shows a single-parent adoptive family that has moved on with life; the girls know about their adoption, but they’ve resumed a fairly normal life. So has Gru – at least, his life is as normal as it can be for a Steve Carrell-voiced reformed supervillain. Gru acknowledges that his new fatherhood requires him to modify some parts of his life. Also, Agnes is required to recite a Mother’s Day poem for school; as she rehearses it with Gru, she explains, “I don’t even have a mom.” Her confusion – about not having a mom, and about being expected to participate in a school project that isn’t sensitive to her life circumstances – will connect with some viewers.
Strong Points
Gru has become much less selfish, and much less self-centered. He has become a good dad. He even dresses up as a fairy princess for his daughter’s birthday party. Not too many films feature single adoptive or foster dads. Two other good examples: Admission and Mr. Monk and the Kid.
Margo, Edith, and Agnes all appear to be thriving, and their life seems remarkably normal (for having Gru as their dad.)
The movie raises an interesting situation. Gru’s oldest daughter is starting to date. Gru is particularly overprotective. Are adoptive parents more or less likely to be overprotective when their children start dating, or would you expect there to be no direct connection? Weigh in with your thoughts.
 Weak Points
Gru notes that Agnes is having difficulty rehearsing her Mother’s Day lines. She explains, “I don’t even have a mom.” His advice is rushed, and a bit insensitive, “Well, you don’t need one to do the show. Use your imagination.” Agnes suggests that she can pretend she has a mom.
 ***SPOILER ALERT:
(agnes does get a mom by the end of the film.)
***** END SPOILER
Recommendation
This film is much better than its predecessor. Despicable Me 2 is a fun and enjoyable film that will probably appeal to kids in the same age group as Gru’s kids – probably about 4 to 12. While adoption themes are not overt in this film (as they were in the first), they are handled much more healthily. This one is worth seeing.
Questions for Discussion after the movie
What makes Gru a good dad?
How do you think Gru is doing at letting Margo date? Is he too protective? Not protective enough?
How do you think Agnes felt when she was rehearsing her lines? What school projects have felt that way for you?
What could Gru have told Agnes when she seemed sad about not having a mom?
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Adoption Movie Guide: X-Men: First Class

by Addison Cooper
Your story is unique, and you didn’t get to choose it. You do get to choose how it influences your world view.

Sometimes you feel like an outsider. Charles Xavier reads other people’s minds. Erik Lensherr moves metal with his mind, especially when he’s angry.  Hank McCoy has prehensile feet. Raven often disguises the fact that her skin has a particularly bright shade of blue. Do you view your uniqueness as a curse or as a blessing? Does it help you live a fulfilling life, or does it create a sense of “You against the world?”

Sebastian Shaw is a unique person (unfortunately, the movie’s term is “Mutant”) who tries to use his uniqueness to rule the world. Charles tries to stand in his way by gathering a group of differently-gifted people to oppose him.


How is This Relevant to Adoption? 
A person touched by adoption has a life story that differs from the experiences and expectations of many others. Some view their unique story as a building block for community: like Charles, they find joy in their story and seek out others with similar experiences. Some experience it with a level of distress: like McCoy and Raven they fear being ridiculed or misjudged by others, wish that their story was hidden, and struggle to come to accept themselves. Some, like Lensherr, view their story with pain and anger and are uncertain how to direct their lives in light of their experience. All are on a journey of processing.
 X-Men: First Class is an excellent study in choosing what to do with the hand you’ve been dealt.
 
 
Strong Points
X-Men: First Class shows the value of community. When a young Charles first discovers Raven he is glad, “I always believed I couldn’t be the only one in the world… the only person who was different.” Later, it’s affirmed that there are “far more” unique people “than you would guess.”
Erik consistently affirms to Raven that she is beautiful in her natural, blue state. He sees the value in her uniqueness before she does. He also cautions her, “if you’re using half your concentration to look normal, then you’re only half paying attention to whatever else you’re doing.”  Raven is eventually given the choice to “become normal,” and she chooses to remain as she is. She encourages another character to make the same choice, “You’re beautiful. Everything you are, you’re perfect. We are different, but we shouldn’t aspire to fit in.”
A fun scene shows several “Mutants” enjoying their newfound sense of camaraderie and showing off their special talents
Challenges
There are really three schools of thought espoused by the characters in this film. Charles Xavier believes that “Mutants” and normal people can live together in peace. A villain believes that “Mutants” are superior and should eradicate humans. And then there’s Erik.
Erik learns to embrace and value his uniqueness but he is fueled by anger, harbors grudges, expects people to treat him unkindly, and holds himself in opposition to society. His pessimistic expectations of others are not without basis; various governments try to use, control, and eventually destroy the “Mutants.” At the same time, there are people who are kind to them. Because of his expectations though, his experiences of mistreatment serve as proof to him that almost everyone is against him. Other characters reach different conclusions. The movie seems to show that preconceptions and expectations have as much impact on one’s worldview as the actual events one experiences.  This is a powerful thought; it gives each person some responsibility – and control – over how they view the world.
Charles doesn’t leave Erik’s anger unchallenged. In a powerful conversation, Erik explains that he needs his anger in order to function. Charles counters that his anger is dangerous and uncontrollable. Charles affirms, “there’s so much more to you than you know; more than pain and anger. There’s good in you, too, and you can harness that.”
 
Weak Points
Some scenes in this film could be troubling for some young viewers: Erik’s mother is killed in front of him by a Nazi officer trying to make Erik exhibit his metal-moving gift. Erik harbors a grudge for decades. He finally finds the officer and murders him in cold blood, in full view of the camera. Charles has tried to convince Erik not to do this, but in a powerful scene Erik symbolically and literally shuts Charles’s voice out of his mind.
 There is gun violence in the film and a major character is paralyzed by a bullet wound.
 
Recommendations
X-Men: First Class doesn’t mention adoption, but the questions of self-acceptance, expectations of others, and orientation toward the world are relevant for all teenagers, and perhaps especially adopted ones. The violent scenes make this movie a bad choice for younger kids, especially those who’ve experienced trauma. The movie’s best audience is probably 12-17 year-olds and their parents.
 
Questions for Discussion after the movie
Your story is unique. Do you view it as a good thing, a bad thing, or something else?
What does it mean to accept your story? What does it mean to accept yourself?
What will you do with the adoption connection in your life? What other parts of your story make you unique?
What have you experienced of others in relation to your uniqueness? What do you expect of others?
How do you view the world? Is it a good place, or a bad place? Who gets to choose how you view the world?
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You might also like these Adoption Movie Guides:
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Addison Cooper, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker in California and Missouri. He has six years of experience in adoption, and has participated in the adoptions of over 90 children who were adopted from foster care. He’s working on a book about adoption in the movies. Visit his website, and follow him on Twitter @AddisonCooper for the most current information about his work.
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Adopted

About the Movie: We’ve seen them in grocery stores, playgrounds and at our children’s schools– little Asian girls with their loving white parents. Of the 1.5 million adopted children in the United States, international adoptees are the fastest growing segment, of which most are Asian girls. While many of their stories are heartwarming … [See more]Watch Now!

Struggle for Identity: Issues in Transracial Adoption

About the Movie: Produced in collaboration with the New York State Citizens’ Coalition for Children. A starkly realistic account of the transracial adoption experience. Narrated by young adults who were adopted as children, this documentary examines the effects of trans-racial adoption on individuals, families, and society.Watch Now!

Resilience

About the Movie: Cheongju, South Korea 1977. A young struggling mother leaves her son with relatives while she looks for work. When she returns, her baby is gone—taken away for adoption. South Dakota, USA 2005. A single father seeks medical records for his young daughter. His journey leads him to the place of … [See more]Watch Now!

Opening the Bird Cage

About the Movie: Opening the Bird Cage is an experimental short documentary about a Filipino-American adoptee’s journey into her adoption and reunion in her birth country. It opens with old photo albums and personal mixed media, layered with her own vocals and music to encapsulate her childhood isolation. A montage of video follows, … [See more]More Info

Roots: Unknown

About the Movie: Roots: Unknown is a 30-minute documentary examining the lifelong impact of adoption. This educational and informative film will focus on the emotional influence adoption has on the adoptee and their families. Interviews and sound bites with adult adoptees, their families and children will be mixed with artistic images of their … [See more]Watch Now!

Running Dragon

About the Movie: Separated near the end of the Vietnam war, an ‘Americanized’ young man discovers the painful truth about himself when his Vietnamese biological sister finds him and arranges for them to meet for the very first time with her family in Little Saigon. Running Dragon was featured in Movie Maker Magazine … [See more]Watch Now!

Living Adoption: Gay Parents Speak

About the Movie: The video follows in the style of PhotoSynthesis’ previous award-winning DVDs, STRUGGLE FOR IDENTITY and FOSTER PARENTS SPEAK, with a compelling cast of adoptive parents who tackle issues ranging from the process of adoption, to being a conspicuous family, parenting teens and helping children develop their identity.Watch Now!

http://www.adoptedforthelifeofme.com/ Movie trailer for the award-winning documentary “ADOPTED: for the life of me” which will be airing on PBS stations this fall and winter.

The Forty Year Secret (2009) Can be viewed here – Coming soon on DVD

Butterbox Babies (1995) Set in the late 1930s in Nova Scotia, this shocking true drama chronicles the activities of Lila and William Young, the proprietors of an unscrupulous orphanage. Charging exorbitant amounts of money to women and adoptive parents, the Youngs’ horrific treatment of unwanted infants is made all the more chilling as they invoke divine justifications for their actions.

The Magdalene Sisters (2003) Set in 1960s Ireland, this drama was based on the true stories of young women sent away by their families for perceived sexual offenses–from flirting with boys and out-of-wedlock pregnancies to being victims of rape–to prison-like laundries run by the Catholic Church. The film follows three girls who seek to escape from the “sanctuary” and its head nun’s harsh discipline.

Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) Set in early 1930s Australia, this heartfelt and compelling drama tells the true-to-life story of three young half-Aborigine girls who, in accordance with national policies concerning mixed race children, are taken from their families and sent to a special school to prepare for a life of manual labor. Escaping their confines, the girls embark on a 1,500-mile trek towards home.

August Rush (2007) Escaping the orphanage, young musical prodigy Evan (Freddie Highmore) makes a living on the New York City streets working as a busker for the Wizard (Robin Williams), the colorful caretaker to a group of other homeless kids. Hoping to reunite with the parents he never knew, Evan–renamed August Rush by the Wizard–trusts in the miracle of music to guide him.

How About You (2007) A charming British comedy about four grumpy aging residents of an up-scale British group home. Vanessa Redgrave is stunning, as always, as one of the residents. Although the movie is about aging and the relationships between the residents and their caretakers, there is a touching sub-plot about adoption.

Dalva (2005) Stars Farrah Fawcett as Dalva, Peter Coyote, Powers Booth and Rod Steiger. This is a mother’s dream-of-a-movie that tells it like it is. 15-year-old Dalva loses her son when her father whisks the baby away at birth, telling her it is to protect her from pain. The story is interwoven with Navajo, Sioux and Lakota ancestry, which adds to the intrigue. An excellent movie. Keep tissues handy.

The Italian (2005) In a small Russian village, a six-year-old boy spends his days living in a run-down orphanage. When an Italian couple decides to adopt him and take him to their country with them, he embarks on a life-changing journey as he attempts to find his mother. In Russian with English subtitles.

Loggerheads (2005) Issues of regret and redemption are explored in this contemplative drama featuring three interconnected stories set during different time periods. Through the experiences of a young gay drifter who encounters a kindly motel manager, a woman haunted by her decision to give up her child for adoption and a small town preacher’s wife who begins to question her conservative ways.

Casa de los Babies (2003) The stories of six white American women, all but one over thirty, impatiently waiting out their residency requirements in an unidentified South American in order to bring home a baby. The picture shows two sides of international adoption: the unhappy maid who gave up her baby and tries to comfort herself imagining her daughter’s happy life in El Norte and the squeegee kids who have been abandoned by their impoverished parents. Excellent cast with Marcia Gay Harden, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daryl Hannah, Mary Steenburgen, and Rita Moreno.

Antwone Fisher (2002) In his directorial debut, Denzel Washington delivers a powerful portrait of Antwone Fisher (Derek Luke), an enlisted man in the U.S. Navy whose angry outburst leads him to a compassionate psychiatrist (Washington). The initial friction between the two turns to trust as Fisher relates his troubled life story. Eventually through finding his  natural family he can move forward.

The Lost Child (2000) A Hallmark Hall of Fame original film, a true story of an adoptee raised by Jewish parents who discovers her Navajo heritage. She, her husband, and their two daughters move to the reservation and become part of her Navajo family. The film is a powerful work that explores adoption and interpersonal issues, as well as these cultural conflicts.

Secrets and Lies (1996) The story of a working class family already in conflict when a successful black woman Hortense Cumberbatch (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) contacts her white mother Cynthia Rose Purley (Brenda Blethyn). After the initial shock, the two women develop a strong relationship which Purley initially keeps secret. Eventually she introduces Cumberbatch to her family and the family begins to resolve its conflict.

To Face Her Past (1996) Made for TV movie.  Beth Bradfield is a wife and grandmother with a seemingly perfect life. But her world is turned upside down when her adult daughter, Lori, is diagnosed with leukemia and in need of a bone marrow donor. Beth must seek out Megan, the daughter she abandoned many years ago, as a possible match.

Buffalo Girls (1995) stars Angelica Huston as Calamity Jane and Melanie Griffith as her best friend and saloon madam, Dora. Although the movie isn’t about adoption specifically, it is certainly a very interesting look into the life of Calamity Jane who describes herself as half-man, half woman. The story is set in the waning days of the Wild West. Calamity Jane is a different kind of natural mother, but like all mothers, she grieves and searches for the daughter she gave away, thinking she could not take care of her given the unusual life she led of roaming the West, trapping, fighting and hard-drinking. Other actors are Peter Coyote, Sam Elliot, Jack Palance, and Reba McEntire (in a small part as Annie Oakley). An interesting piece of Old West history that isn’t widely known.

The Other Mother (1995) Made for TV movie based on Carol Schaefer’s memoir of the surrender of her son for adoption and her search for him when he turned 18. The film stays close to the book, and Carol (Frances Fisher) is portrayed honestly and sympathetically. [not available on DVD or through Netflix; shown occasionally on Lifetime channel.]

Stolen Babies (1993) Made for TV movie starring Mary Tyler Moore. Loosely based on the story of Georgia Tann. A 1940s Tennessee welfare worker learns that the charismatic head of a local adoption agency, is actually running a profitable black-market baby ring aided by corrupt public officials.

Delinquent Parents (1938) The problem of juvenile delinquency is explored in this provocative melodrama. After a young girl gets pregnant and marries the baby’s father, her lover’s parents annul the couple’s nuptials and she is forced to put the child up for adoption. Growing up to become a judge, she is forced to face her past when a case brings her now-adolescent daughter into her courtroom.

Gone to a Good Home An award-winning documentary which exposes how Australian authorities forced many unmarried mothers from the 1950s to the 1970s to give up their babies for adoption.   The dramatic story of Origins Director Lily Arthur.  (52 mins) Can be ordered from:

Screen Australia
ABN 46 741 353 180
Sales Office | GPO Box 3984 Sydney NSW 2001
T 1800 213 099 or +61 2 8113 1064 |
F 1800 077 471 or +61 2 9357 1392
Email sales@screenaustralia.gov.au |
Website:  http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au


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