Despicable Me – Movie Review for Foster & Adoptive Families

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From the Cover of Despicable Me by [studio]:

A man who delights in all things wicked, supervillain Gru hatches a plan to steal the moon. Surrounded by an army of little yellow minions and his impenetrable arsenal of weapons and war machines, Gru makes ready to vanquish all who stand in his way. But nothing in his calculations and groundwork has prepared him for his greatest challenge: three adorable orphan girls who want to make him their dad. Problem is, Gru’s intentions are not as pure as one would prefer. He recognizes his ability to use the girls to further his mission to steal the shrink ray Gru needs from his rival super-villain, Vector.”



Movie Info:

  • Rating:
    PG
  • Genre:
    Family Comedy
  • Runtime:
  • Studio:
    Universal Studios

Grade:

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Transfiguring Adoption awarded this book [#] Hoots out of 5 based on how useful it will be for a foster/adoptive family. [Learn more about our Hoot grading system here]


Transfiguring Adoption’s Overview:

This movie is one to be extremely popular in the general population of young children, middle schoolers, and teenagers. The popularity of it’s voice actors along with it’s humor and marketing allows many families to enjoy this movie together.

This movie was really easy for me to sit back and enjoy. I found myself laughing a lot throughout the movie and as a professional that works with children on a regular basis, I could easily see why this movie is loved by so many. It had just the right amount of silly with serious moments intertwined to keep the viewer engaged. There were many moments that I cried not only from laughing, but also from the heartwarming moments between Gru and the girls.

At first glance, this movie is great for foster and adoptive families. The three girls are in an orphanage and desire to have a family of their own. Many of our children can relate to some of the events and feelings portrayed in this film. This scenario hits home to a lot of our kiddos and helps them identify themselves with these characters, something that a lot of other movies fail to do. This movie can also used as a tool to facilitate discussions after family movie nights to not only help learn about each other, but connect on a deeper level. However, there are some concerns about the girl’s experiences with their orphanage and Gru that could be triggering for many children.


** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **


How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?

Margo, Edith, and Agnes are three young, spunky girls who are currently living at Miss Hattie’s orphanage. This orphanage is ran by a woman who is abusive towards the girls named Miss Hattie. Like most children in foster care, they dream of being adopted together into a loving home. Gru, in typical villain fashion, recognizes the advantages of adopting the girls and is manipulating the situation to meet his own needs. Gru adopts them, regrets his decision and returns them. After the girls are back at the orphanage, he then changes his mind again and takes them back to his home, attempting to earn back their love by writing them a book to show that he is remorseful of his actions.

This movie may connect with your children and family in many ways. Unfortunately, some of our children have had multiple placements and even adoption breakdowns. Match events, although wonderful, sometimes set up unrealistic expectations with children that they will be finding their forever family that day and they experience great disappointment when it does not go as planned. Watching the girls in the movie be excited at the prospect of a forever family and having that dream ripped away can be something all too familiar to our children.

As a parent you may find that you relate to Gru, even if you did not go as far as he did to return the children to foster care. Parenting is hard. You of all people understand how difficult it is to parent children, let alone children that have experienced a lot of trauma. Gru became overwhelmed with the idea of being a dad and was easily swayed by his “friends” opinion and turned the girls back in. So many parents that I talk with are burnt out and do not have a strong support system. They have friends and family telling them to give up and just return the children to care. Well meaning people in our lives give us unsolicited advice on how to parent without recognizing that typical discipline is not effective on our children. As caregivers and parents, we know that this is not in the best interest of the children and keep persevering. Gru eventually realizes the error of his ways, but not before the damage was done of breaking the girls trust. Our hope is that you are able to find a strong support system to help you navigate these difficult, yet rewarding times of stepping in to be a family to our children who need it.


Discussion Points:

  • A lot of the children that we interact with have lived in either a foster home or a group home.This concept will not be unfamiliar for children from the child welfare system. Having our children recognize their prior living situation on the movie screen can be an empowering event as it helps them understand that they are not along in their experience. This allows them the opportunity to talk about what their experiences are versus what the girls experiences are.
  • They are able to see that despite the challenges the girls and Gru might have faced, they do get to experience the happily ever after of receiving a forever family at the end of the movie. Seeing the girls experience a similar living situation and find their own family can be encouraging to children who are familiar with the uncertainty of their situation. A lot of times children have a hard time expressing their emotions in a way that feels genuine to them. A lot of our children do not have what we call a feelings vocabulary. They may understand the basic emotions of being happy, sad, mad, etc. but struggle to communicate that they feel shame, guilt, jealousy, etc over having a forever family like so many others in foster care do not have. They may feel guilty that they found a family but a friend in their foster home did not. These feelings are expected, but complicated and will evolve over time as the children get older.
  • This movie was also not written exclusively for foster and adoptive children, allowing other communities to enjoy the movie and become more empathetic towards children in similar situations.Too often people that we encounter do not have an accurate understanding of how our child welfare system works. Until someone has been a foster or adoptive parents, it is hard for someone to empathize with the challenges that not only the parents are dealing with, but also the children. Too many people disregard the experiences that our children have and do not realize how important it is for our children to be seen as they are- survivors. Foster care is not easy and it is hard for children to explain their situation to classmates who may not have an understanding of how foster care works. This movie helps normalize adoption and allows children to reference this movie when describing themselves.

Cautionary Points:

  • Miss Hattie’s treatment of the girls is abusive. She forces them to sit in a cardboard “Box of Shame” as punishment. She requires that the children go to work in the city alone to sell cookies in order to make money for her. She tells the children that they will never be adopted. When Gru tells Hattie that he would like to return the girls, Hattie picks up with girls without any questions and then makes them spend their first few hours back at the group home in the same Box of Shame. This can be triggering to many children who have had caregivers who utilized similar discipline like Miss Hattie.
  • It sets unrealistic expectations on how easy it is to adopt a child When Gru expresses interest she shows little interest in whether his statements are true or not and allows him to adopt the children without any type of investigation into who he is as a person, when many of the children have been waiting for years for a family due to all of the red tape and paperwork requirements. This may not be much of an observation for younger children, but for older children that have heard many times “this person needs a background check” or “we haven’t completed a homestudy”, it can cause frustration to release about how their individual case was treated. Of course, the movie would not be able to necessarily include the intricacies of the legal foster care/adoption process, however some effort in Miss Hattie’s part by a simple home visit could help justify the delays experienced to the children in our homes.
  • Gru struggles to connect with the girls. Gru maintains his distance from them and acts very coldly. He has no parenting skills and expects them to eat, drink, and use the bathroom on the floor. He does not play with them, implements unrealistic rules, and lies to them. He is not sensitive to their experiences and is unwilling to bond with them. Over time, they start to enjoy activities together such as going to an amusement park and the girls start to form a close relationship with their grandmother. They are finally represented in the family by having their photos added to a family tree displayed in the home. Unfortunately, the happiness is short lived as Gru allows another crime colleague to change his mind and sends the girls back to the orphanage. As soon as the girls started to feel safe, their trust was broken and it reinforced the idea that they will never have a family. This can be scary for many of our children who live in fear of being returned back into foster care. Our children can be triggered by the idea of being returned to care, despite their feeling of safety and security in their current home.
  • Requiring trust before it is earnedAs you know, many of our children come to us not trusting that we have their best interests in mind. Often times they will try to push us away as a test to see if we are invested in them and can be trusted. During the climax of the movie, Gru has to catch one of the girls, Margo, during a rescue mission to save her. This requires Margo to trust that he will not let her get harmed. This is hard for Margo to do, as he recently proved to not be able to keep her safe by allowing her to go back to the orphanage. Margo does eventually allow Gru to protect her, but it does not feel authentic. Margo did not jump because she trusted Gru, Margo jumped because her will to live overpowered her will to fall. Hopefully you never find yourself needing to convince your child to jump to you arms to survive, but we expect them to trust that we will keep them alive by providing them food, shelter, medical care, and love. This is something a lot of our kids have never experienced and it takes time to build that trust between yourself and them. The way to do that is to consistently be there to meet their needs.

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It’s Your Turn:

These are just a few questions that can be used to connect with your children after the movie. These questions are not meant to be used in a therapeutic manner, but will help your child talk about some of the experiences they have that they may not have thought about before. You may find out new people, new experiences, and new feelings that you never heard about before. This is a great time to validate their experiences and provide positive praise for how they handled everything that they have been through.

  1. Have you ever experienced a “box of shame”?  What was it like?
    This question is great to assess what a child’s view of shame is. Often time as adults we forget that children do not have the same emotional vocabulary we do and it can be hard for them to put it into words. This can allow you to explain shame in a safe manner and identify what caused your child shame in the first place. It may be helpful for you to share a time that you personally felt shame so that your child knows that it is a normal emotion.
  2. Do you know someone that is like Miss Hattie?
    Hopefully your child had a much more positive experience with their child welfare workers and previous placements, but there are so many more adults involved in their life that could be like Miss Hattie, whether it be a teacher, a guardian ad litem, a classmate, a relative, etc. If they do disclose someone was like Miss Hattie, allow them to talk about it without trying to explain the reasoning behind such views. Children do not possess the same viewpoint on situations that adults do, and regardless of the situation, their narrative is that this person may be like Miss Hattie. It’s important to validate their feelings but not push too hard if they appear uncomfortable when talking about this person.
  3. What fun activities do you think Gru should have done with the girls to help them feel comfortable and safe when they first moved in?
    This is a great question to help identify things that make your children feel comfortable and safe. Knowing what they need to feel loved and safe is helpful as caregivers and parents because it allows us to implement what our children need. Every child has a different need and being flexible to meet those needs not only helps them feel comfortable, but can increase attachment.
  4. Why do you think Gru wanted to impress his mother so much?
    A lot of our children are pleasers. They want to please their parents, their siblings, and their friends. Often times, our children feel rejected from being in foster care. A lot of the kids that I work with often ask what they did wrong to cause their parents not to want them anymore. This is a great opportunity to talk to your child about what impresses you as a parent. Keep these statements simple and preferably something they already do. Do they fold their own laundry? Help with cooking? Walk the dog? Praise them for it- not just when talking about this movie but consistently over time. Our children can never receive too much praise and it helps them feel connected to you.
  5. How do you think the girls felt when they had to go back to the orphanage?
    This question allows you as a parent to understand what your child is feeling in regards to being returned to care. This may be a non-issue for children who were very young when adopted, however a lot of our children have memories about being in care and what it was like. This allows them to talk about their fears about having to go back and allows you as a parent to provide comfort in how this will not happen to them and why.
  6. What would Gru need to do in order to prove to the girls that they are forever family?
    If there is one thing that working with children has taught me, it is that no two children are the same. What one child requires will be completely different than another. Knowing how to create trust between yourself and your child is invaluable knowledge to have as a parent. By allowing them to express what a forever family means to them, it allows you to not only attempt to meet those expectations but gives you the ability to talk about what a forever family means to you as well.

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