The two top films at the box office this past weekend were Blades of Glory and Meet the Robinsons, two films aimed at the younger set. The only thing the two films have in common, other than being moneymakers, is that they have characters who were orphaned and then adopted. What’s interesting about that is how few children’s movies deal with that percentage of our youth who are awaiting adoption, or those in foster care.
Blades of Glory, the hilarious send-up of the skating world, is about nothing other than how funny Will Ferrell and John Heder are. They really are beyond funny, truth be told. Even counting the steady stream of inappropriate sexual humor and guy-on-guy sight gags, it’s still a cleverly written and executed buddy comedy. That one of the characters is adopted doesn’t mean much to the plot, really, other than making the character all the more pathetic.
Not so in Meet the Robinsons. It’s almost startling that Lewis, the main character, begins the story in foster care. His mother can’t afford him so she leaves him at the doorstep of a nice foster mom who then raises him in hopes that he’ll be adopted. He eventually ends up finding his own family but not in the way every other kid in foster care does.
Families are portrayed in films to be this side of ordinary, that is, within the realms of acceptability. Even when the family is made up of super heroes they are, for the most part, “normal,” as in mom, dad, bratty sibling, usually a family dog or cat. What makes Meet the Robinsons unique is that there is none of that. The message is about reinventing oneself out of a rough start. Not a bad lesson, that.
It’s hard to imagine that adoption is such a taboo, off-limits subject matter for mainstream kids movies. Disney is sort of known for killing off the mom figure early on, but usually that is a shortcut to sympathy for the main character. In this case, the main character has to accept that sometimes a parent simply can’t care for a child, and maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s not such a tragedy. Maybe it’s possible to find happiness anyway. For that reason, and probably that reason alone, Meet the Robinsons is one of the best kids movies to come along in a while.
In all other ways it is mediocre to irritating in its treatment of the plot. Every silly scenario that gets set up to cause conflict is quickly resolved. The story seems to be made up as it goes along, which is too bad. With a less hyper sensibility and ADD-like approach to the action, this could have been a great film.
Nonetheless, in a culture where all different types of families are going to the movies, it’s refreshing to see one that doesn’t follow the “normal family” protocol. I was reminded suddenly of kids in foster care watching this movie and thinking, maybe for the first time, that someone out there in media land was thinking about them.
Meanwhile, your more familiar approach to adoption-as-joke is alive and well in Blades of Glory. The story follows two star skaters as they ruin each other’s future but then join together to create the first-ever male/male pair skating team. Ferrell’s belligerent, Jim Morrison-esque sex addict is one of his funniest characters ever, and that’s saying a lot. It’s the kind of movie that makes you laugh in spite of yourself. You know it’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen but you can’t stop laughing at it. Equally satisfying is how John Heder transforms himself from Napoleon Dynamite into Meg Ryan’s evil twin.