Mutant Turtles, An Elf and Tigger what do they all have in common?

What could possibly connect Mutant turtles, an Elf and A.A.Milne’s Tigger?
Adoption and more specifically according to The Huff Post Entertainment article

The Top 15 Family Films About Adoption

As with any piece which looks into an art form it’s going to be subjective. It’s a matter of perception, opinion and taste.

I personally have a different take on the films that make up the list of fifteen. But that isn’t my main concern. What struck me when I first looked at this article was how many of these films were animations about non-human characters and real life renditions of cartoons.

No it doesn’t matter what medium you use to explore the themes of adoption, but it’s the message that you convey, especially to the younger adoptees, the more vulnerable. And in an era where our visual understanding is heightened, I wonder what such images allied to the idea of adoption is doing silently to the younger adoptees in society.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle front coverSure the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are heroes – but they are also outcasts from Supermanconventionality and mainstream society. Superman, he’s a good’un and whilst he may look the same as everyone else he knows he’s not. He has to suppress and hide his real nature, his culture, his roots. They citizens of Metropolis applaud him as he saves them from destruction and mayhem, but they also fear him. Superman isn’t one of them, he’s an outsider, he’s “other.”

Pooh_meets_Tigger,_illustration_by_EH_ShepardThen there is Tigger.
The ‘bouncy, fun, fun, fun, I’m the only one.’ As a cartoon character great fun and a long time favourite with many generations of children. But as a portrayal of an adoptee? As an instrument and focal point to help adoptees cope with their lives and the challenges of coming to terms with who and what they are not?

I’m not so sure. Think about it. We see someone who comes from the “outside” literally bouncing their way into the one hundred acre wood community. He’s destructive, he’s positively anarchic. He does things differently. He’s wild, disruptive, a danger to himself and those that surround him. Do you ever see Christopher Robin holding Tigger’s hand at the end credits?

Tarzan, another fictional character that has found many artistic realisations, including real life and Tarzan_of_the_Apes_in_coloranimation. It is the archetypal tale of a feral child being raised in the African jungle by the Mangani great apes. Tarzan does return to civilisation. He is able to walk amongst those in society. But many reject him. They fear what he has become. In the end Tarzan rejects his birthright, he despises the hypocrisy of the civilised society.  Like Superman, Tarzan may look like those about him, but he is different. Tarzan isn’t really one of them.

So what are these films re-enforcing, albeit as ostensibly entertainment?
The impact and the power that visual representations have on society. The underlying, subliminal influence that images have on the human mind, on our society. Children are taken to see these films and have been for generations (maybe that goes towards why adoption and adoptees are perceived in the way that they are). I suspect that new re-tellings of Tarzan and Superman will continue. Children will also continue to be adopted, transracially adopted and fostered. They will continue to be challenged in their lives over and above the standard hurdles that any child and young person encounters and they grow up. Until our culture stops portraying the adopted child as some kind of a mascot, pet, as an outsider, or wild animal that needs to be tamed and re-civilised; adoptees will continue to have their feelings of marginalisation and alienation validated. They will equate their difference to segregation and isolation from all those around them, even the family into which they have been taken into. Adoptees have secrets that they need to hide. Personality or traits that they need to suppress, if they are to gain some semblance of acceptance.

It is interesting, to me at any rate,  that the top two films on this list, of the 15 best films about adoption, are both animations.
The number one film is Kung Fu Panda 2 and number two film is Despicable Me 2.
As films, as entertainment, I really enjoyed both of these films.
But as the best family films that deal with adoption, that’s where I take a different view.

The true story feature film, The Blind Side, I personally have huge problems with. Not just on the theme of adoption but also on race. For starters when the Tuohys take Michael back to their opulent home. The bastion of white privilege for a Thanksgiving meal; I was struck by the similarity, of what Thanksgiving celebrates and what the first settlers did to the indigenous people; the Tuohys seem to be doing exactly the same to Michael as the Pilgrims did to the Native Americans. Which ultimately led to the Native Americans being disposed. It’s a double whammy in that Michael a black American, from a poor family in the south whose connection to a white American family like the Tuohys would only have been through slavery and servitude. For me the Tuohys take on Mike as project. They brow beat, threaten and intimidate (all in the nicest possible way) using the privilege of their status and the superior financial clout that they have to win over Mike’s mother. To beat down prying African-American eyes that question why the Tuohys have adopted Mike. They even joke that they have a black son before they have met a Democrat.  If this is supposed to be a positive adoption story, a positive transracial experience then in my humble opinion we’re doomed. Culture and identity can be brow beaten out of you. You can be tutored out of your birthright and that’s fine if you have the backing of someone whose white and of “good standing.” Because surely all of us people of colour who are down on our luck, come from damaged homes, we all essentially want to be white don’t we. We can only succeed if we allow ourselves to be re-modelled in their image. The only successful adoption will be if we submit whole-heartedly to being transformed into something that actually we are never going to be.

Some might say I’m reading far too much into this. After all it’s a film (based on a true story) and it is a success story, a feel good factor film. Well, my feel good factor settings must run on a different gauge. But then again, like most things in life, I see things very differently from those who are naturally privileged in most western societies, because I don’t and never will belong to that socio-racial group.



2 thoughts on “Mutant Turtles, An Elf and Tigger what do they all have in common?

  1. You’re not the only one who sees things differently, Lucy. Thanks for writing about this. This is probably why I don’t like a lot of these “feel-good” films anymore.


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