Despicable Me's Despicable Theme

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The movie Despicable Me has an adoption theme. Apparently it handles it in a “good” way, though I hesitate calling it good when we teach our children that you need someone or something else to make you act like a good human being. Anyway, we’re not seeing it, whether or not the message ends up on the good side.

Univeral Pictures Despicable Me
Image courtesy Universal Pictures

Here’s why.

My oldest son is struggling enough with some of his feelings after our most recent visit with my daughter and her adoptive family. We’re working through it, and I’ll share some more of that with you when I get over myself. I don’t think adding some adoption-related drama on top of the ordeal is exactly necessary right now. Fictional and animated or not. Especially considering the children who are adopted by the initially-mean-dude name Gru are orphans.

My kids haven’t yet had the word "orphan" introduced to them. They’re aware that my daughter was adopted and that she grew in my belly like they did. Watching this movie, I have no doubt my oldest son, an inquisitive child, would ask me to define "orphan," and then he’d ask, “But you were alive, so why is the Munchkin with Dee?” Now that’s a question and a half. There’s been far too much death in our family this year, and I’m not quite sure I’m ready for him to realize that parents are mortal. Grandparents, aunts and uncles -- and most recently, beloved aunt-dogs -- but not mommies and daddies.

I’ve been informed that I should be grateful for movies that address the topic of adoption in a way that isn’t overtly negative. I should focus on the fact that "love wins out in the end." (Which we all know isn't always the case.) But, really, we’re just not in a place right now where we can watch such a movie. In fact, I’m a big scrooge and my children haven’t even seen Up, though we were given it as a gift at some point. Though that one has no adoption related specificities, I’m not interested in the infertility/miscarriage/mortality line right now either.

It’s not that I don’t discuss these topics with my children. I do. You know I do. I also know where they are emotionally and how they respond to bits of information. Now? Is not the time. I do hope that the movie is actually a good one, and we can add it to our library in the distant future. For now, we stick with Toy Story.

The truth is that I vacillate between understanding that television shows and movies are just that -- fictional representations of a theme -- and being overwhelmed with the constant onslaught of negative adoption portrayals. (Orphan, Juno, anything on Lifetime.) Most of the time, I give these things a pass. I’m an adult. I can separate fact from fiction. But my kids are kids. Sure, they know movies aren’t real, but I’m careful with what I let them put in their minds. And this movie is not something they’re ready for right now. Nor am I.

While the average movie-going public seems to be enjoying the film, others are not so sure.

Kelly thought the movie itself was cute and fun (with exclamation points), but did not take her daughter to see it. In fact, she offered up a warning.

Warning: Because the plot deals with orphans and adoption, sometimes in an irresponsible manner, I didn't take Rosie. I think she is too young to understand that it was done with a sense of humor and true adoption is nothing like it is portrayed in the movie. If your children have any issues about adoption, make sure you talk about it before you go see the movie.

In case you’re not believing me that the movie doesn’t really handle adoption well, take a look at a few scenes described by Kidology in their review.

The orphanage the girls come from is not a nice one. When the girls do not meet their cookie quota they are put in the “Box of Shame.” When the girls arrive at Gru’s house it is not much better. Their food is in dog bowls on the floor. There is newspaper nearby labeled “poo-poo and pee-pee.” In response to this, one of the girls, Edith, says, “When we got adopted by a bald guy I thought it would be more like Annie.”

I’m sorry. Did you just say “Box of Shame?” Shame?! And dog bowls? I’m not really certain that I care if the movie ends up on the good side of the fence. I cannot imagine exposing my children to such atrocities.

Movie reviewer Leah Rozen explains why movie-makers are playing up this theme.

You don’t have to have boned up on Bruno Bettelheim to understand what’s going on. Moviemakers are tapping into that most primal fear of all kids: that Mom and Dad are going to disappear. (I have a friend whose young daughter is adopted; she refuses to take her child to animated films for just this reason.)

It’s true. She listed all of the Disney movies that play on this theme, though she left out Toy Story 3, which could be triggering for children dealing with abandonment issues as Christine from Welcome to My Brain found out... the hard way.

What about you? Have you seen or will you see the movie? Are you a family touched by adoption? What are your thoughts on the way the concept is being handled in this children’s movie?

Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom), from Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land, is a freelance writer and newspaper photographer.

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