help4yourfamily

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Is Chimpanzee good for your child to see if they are adopted or have lost a parent?

See description on File:Chimpanzee mom and bab...

See description on File:Chimpanzee mom and baby.jpg. I cropped it slightly to remove the original black frame. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by Kate Oliver, LCSW-C

Just from watching the commercials, we can easily see that  the new Disney movie, Chimpanzee, is going to be all about adoption.  While it is predictable that the movie will have warm fuzzy messages about adoption overall, if you have an adopted child, or any child who has lost a parent through divorce, abandonment, death, etc. it is a good idea to take a moment to consider whether this is a good movie for your child.  Of course we know all children are different and only you can decide what is right for your child so please do not use my post as a replacement for your own judgment since obviously you know your child way better than I do.  Also, spoiler alert, you will know all about the movie by the time I’m done with the post.  My hope is to attempt to address the adoption related issues in the movie so you can make the best decision for you and your family and to be ready for any conversations or feelings it might bring up for your child (and you).

First, let me say, the movie was pretty entertaining for the children seven and up in our group, the youngest (5) got bored half way through and I saw several younger children leave during the movie.  The parents were thoroughly entertained and there were quite a few “aww’s” and chuckles throughout.

The movie starts in an idealic world where little monkeys are taken care of by mommies (no mention of daddies).  Little Oscar and his mom, Esha, are the focus.  Children who were not taken care of by their first mommies or whose first mommies have left them in some way may have some feelings about the portrayal of moms in this part as the idea of mommies taking care of babies is presented as the only way things can go.  I can see how a child who feels bad about having a mommy who did not take care of them might be triggered if they carry residual feelings of guilt or believe it was their fault their birth mother did not take care of them.  Additionally, the mention of dads is not just downplayed, it is completely non-existant in this part of the movie.

Soon, the idealic world of the chimps is threatened by another group of chimpanzees who want to take over their territory.  Esha keeps Oscar safe during a particularly scary time when this group attacks and the movie continues to highlight Oscar’s reliance on his mother and her role in keeping him safe, fed and protected.  Sadly, the other group of monkeys attacks a second time and it is during this attack that Esha and Oscar are separated and Esha disappears forever with the assumption being that only death could keep her away.  It continues to be quite heartbreaking as we see Oscar get harshly rejected by several other female chimpanzees who already have children (triggering for children who have been in multiple foster care placements).  During this time, Oscar tries, and fails, to find his mother.  Obviously, no one is able to explain to him where she is and he is left to fend for himself.  Oscar is sad and lonely and experiences difficulty finding food and caretaking.  Do I need to point out the many opportunities for adopted children and/or children who have a parent that is not in their lives will have to identify strongly with this section of the movie?

After suffering for an intense ten minutes or more during the movie, Oscar begins to follow the alpha male, Freddy.  He begins gently befriending Freddy (there is a good conversation to be had about shadowing adults and learning from thier modeling behaviors here).  Freddy, who it was earlier emphasized in the movie, had no interest in the younger chimps, slowly also begins turning toward Oscar and teaching him to get food.  Over time, their friendship grows and, in a particularly heartwarming scene, Freddy grooms Oscar and lets him ride on his back.

During this portion of the movie, there is no mention of moms and, knowing that I see children with attachment disorder in my practice who work pretty hard to come between their parents and who often punish the mom and complian to the dad (because moms are scary for them since they represent the original abandoning mom), I can see this particular part of the movie reinforcing that behavior a bit.  Additonally, I can see how children who have struggled to bond with an adoptive parent would be triggered to wonder what it is about them that caused them to be first rejected or abandoned by other parents if that is their emotional experience.  Those children who struggled to bond with an adoptive parent may also wonder why it is so easy for Oscar (no internal loyalty struggle here, also no negative behaviors from Oscar) to bond with Freddy and just what must be wrong with them that they have difficulty bonding.

While Freddy and Oscar are bonding, however, trouble lurks nearby, the narrator, Tim Allen, says that while Freddy and Oscar have been building their relationship, Freddy has neglected to protect his area and the other chimpazee group is closing in for another attack.  Freddy senses this and begins to do some team building again.  Oscar feels ignored by his new dad and we see him again feeling lonely because he does not understand why Freddy is turning away from him to take care of other chimps.  This made me think about moms or dads taking care of new babies or other siblings and the triggers that has for many of my adopted children, not to mention kids in step-parent families.

I can see this movie being especially nice for single and/or adoptive dads as it reinforces that dads always protect their children even if they didn’t always know how to parent at first.  I can also see it being an issue for moms and other primary, nurturing caregivers (including dads) who, like I said before, have a child that uses them as a representation of all abandoning people in their lives, and for children who did not have a mother that took good enough care of them before entering an adoptive family.  I would also recommend it for children who are able to articulate their feelings about adoption, parental loss, etc. over children who are still unable, or unwilling to discuss those issues.  Ultimately, it is up to parents to decide what is right for their children.  Either way, in the end, the movie has a happy ending where Freddy and Oscar get to be together and Freddy focuses on Oscar again.

I see multiple opportunities for parents to bring up good conversations for kids about: whether Esha’s disapperance was Oscar’s fault; how Oscar must have felt when the other mom’s rejected him; how Oscar befriended Freddy and whether they loved each other right away; how dads and other parents protect children even though sometimes it is hard to see how (like when they go to work or pay attention to other kids); and why Oscar had an easier time of bonding with Freddy (because his first mom was good at teaching him how to love other chimps).

Have you taken your child to see this movie?  What did you think?  Did I miss anything?  I would love to hear how the experience was for your child.

April 23, 2012 - Posted by | attachment, resources/ book reviews | , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. It sounds like a great movie, but maybe we’ll wait for the DVD.

    Comment by shannon2818 | April 24, 2012 | Reply

    • It was, but having the advantage of a pause and fast forward button is a good thing depending on your child. Thanks for sharing my post with your twitter followers 🙂

      Comment by help4yourfamily | April 24, 2012 | Reply


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