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Storks adoption and foster trigger warning…. “Orphan Hurts My Heart”

Disclosure: We saw Storks at a media pre-screening. Opinions are my own.

Families formed through adoption may want to think twice about seeing the animated cartoon Storks. Storks hit theaters in 2016, but this post continues to be relevant and many readers and strangers continue to ask me what our family thinks of Storks. As an adoptive mom I wanted to share a trigger warning for children via adoption and those in foster care.  Jokes made at the expense of orphans can be hurtful and trigger traumatic memories and feelings.  While the message is Storks is overwhelmingly positive and heartwarming, there are pieces of the storyline that are mean spirited towards orphaned children.  If you or your child are at all sensitive to this part of your adoption story, it is worth reading and deciding if Storks is the right movie for you.

storks movie and adoption triggers

Storks flies into theaters on September 23rd and it is sure to be a hit. Storks comes from the hysterical geniuses behind The LEGO Movie and it is just as charming in many ways.  The animation and character design is incredible.  Storks has an inventive story line, great characters development, and jokes for days. The message overall is sweet and positive.  There were also some problems that I have to point out.  As a mother by way of adoption, it had some stuff. Heads up, there are spoilers ahead.  I hate to criticize movies, especially animated films but I need to share for families like mine specifically. I want other adoptive and foster families to be aware of some legit triggers.  For those that do not have a personal adoption story, I just want to share a bit.

Many here know our family was formed through adoption.  In 2007 we adopted our son as a toddler from Eastern Europe.  We also adopted our youngest daughter domestically at birth.  The reasons for a child losing their first family vary greatly.  When this happens, it is never the child’s fault.  Family is the most obvious of birth rights. While our kids now have families, there are lots of children that are still orphans. It just isn’t funny that millions of children through no fault of their own don’t have a family. It isn’t funny, it’s devastating. I lost my sense of humor over ‘you’re adopted’ jokes decades ago; so I am obviously a hard sell in this area.

Adoption and foster triggers are plentiful in “Storks”, I want to talk about two in particular. And if worrying about a trigger for a family member isn’t a concern of yours I still think that there are some teachable moments for any child.

We are introduced to one of the main character’s Tulip by being called ‘The Orphan Tulip’, even in her presence. At one point she responds “Tulip is just fine; ‘orphan’ hurts my heart.”  *theater erupts in laughter* Now maybe I just have lost all my chill; but can someone explain to me why that’s funny?  Unpack the joke for me. She’s an orphan, meaning she has no parents. Her heart hurting because she has no family and is actually labeled ‘Orphan’ and that….. is funny?  It’s apparently so funny that even in a movie with hundreds of hilarious jokes, this is the one they chose to put in the trailer….

So as I sit watching this unfold my brain is trying to process it.  I thought to myself “This is part of the message.  They made a shocking statement that they knew would get a nervous laugh.  They know this is going to get a laugh, but they are gonna make it a teachable moment.”  I was wrong.  “Orphan Tulip” is ostracized because she is human in a world of storks for the better part of the movie.  Tulip is gawky, accident prone, and overly optimistic…. all hilarious character traits.  I don’t know why they need to emphasize the orphan label. Characters call her “Orphan Tulip” nearly as often as they call her “Tulip” throughout the entire movie.  No other characters are named Tulip so the title is not ‘necessary’ to differentiate her from a different character.  Did the other characters accept her eventually? Yes.  But there is no ‘sorry for all that ostracizing and labeling before’, the story just moves along without ever mentioning it. My brain just kept short circuiting at the continued realization that there was an opportunity for learning moment about compassion and human dignity in a children’s movie that just didn’t happen. That was hard for me as a mom to kids who were once orphans and whose heart hurts for current orphans. I know I am not alone.

Here’s the other big trigger.  The actual tagline and even hashtag for Storks is “Find your Flock”.  Some might argue that (Orphan) Tulip found her flock in her friendship with a bird and a baby not biologically related to her.  True, but the story wraps up in a pretty bow when she finds her long lost family. Long lost daughter is welcomed home to a loving family who all have big, poofy, red hair just like her.  They were all just perfect and happy and without problems and she was welcomed with open arms as if that is how it always should be. And the whole theater was like “That was SOOOO sweet.”, and it was.  Problem though….. there are a lot of kids in foster care that might go see this movie. This ‘happily ever after with my biological family’ scenario is a hope for so many children who do not live with their biological family. Whether kids have been adopted, are waiting for adoption, or hoping for reunification; this is a hope that is far more often than not simply impossible. A child or even adult trying to navigate that difficult journey should just know that part of the story might be an emotional trigger.

My two youngest kids (by definition of this movie) do not live with their ‘flock’, my son has asked questions about his birth parents that we simply do not have the background information to answer. It’s a hole in his heart we can never fill this side of heaven. That is hard for us, and it is really hard for him. My kids (and millions like them) will never find their flock.  While my kids know our flock is their flock, that they are 100% our own; they have a first family.  They have unanswered questions and longings because of their history that will simply always reign in their hearts.  Does it control them all the time? No. Have we had tearful nights because of the injustice that is their actual history? Yes. And my kids were adopted before their conscious memory. If you or your child have an adoption, foster, or unresolved abandonment issues I hate to say it, but this movie will very likely trigger some unpleasant feels.

Side note, but worth mentioning. I appreciate the possibility that not all adoptive families feel the same way.  It is important to note Ty Burell voices a main character in the film.  Ty Burell is a father through adoption.  To say I am a huge fan of his both professionally and personally is putting it mildly. My husband and I discussed at length after the film how he as a dad through adoption could be a part of this movie.  We went rounds and never came up with an answer that made since to us …. we settled on something we often do. Maybe we are just more sensitive than others.  My husband and I both were accused as children of being over-feelers.  While I have come to a place where I don’t feel the need to try to feel things less, I have also learned that just because others don’t, doesn’t mean they are wrong. All that to say, there will undoubtedly be people even within the adoption tribe that say “It wasn’t a big deal.”.

A friend of mine, another family entertainment blogger saw it too.  She asked how I liked it and I said some of the above. She said with nothing but compassion “See I never would have picked up on that because I don’t live in that space, but now it sounds so different.  It makes me want to talk to my kids about it.”  I responded “That’s all I really ask.”

Again, I hate to say anything uncomplimentary about a movie. The weird thing is there is plenty that I love about this movie, and I know it is going to be really popular.  I just feel like I would be doing my kid’s hearts a disservice to say nothing.  I wanted families formed through adoption to know about the potential triggers before they visit the theaters.  And to those that might not have our same experience, just know my kids are people with hard starts and anything that hurts someone’s heart shouldn’t be the source of a joke.  So obviously it sent off some triggers in our house, but I always suggest reading other reviews and making that decision as a parent.

storks adoption


Until Next Time ~ Kate
Categories:  Entertainment, Family
  1. Sabrina Paul says:

    Thanks for the review Kate! I am bummed that the makers of this movie were not more sensitive these topics. They had a huge opportunity to use this platform to shine light on the beauty of adoption; or simply that not all “flocks” are the same… Good job on the write up 🙂

  2. Angie says:

    I haven’t seen this, but I don’t understand why that would be funny either. Anyone’s heart hurting isn’t funny. Rude.

  3. Lisa says:

    Thank you for the review and warning us adopted families. This is one movie I would now skip!

  4. Tessa says:

    Really interesting outlook. I have a foster parent friend who said she took her kids to see Finding Dora and thought it was kind of rough to watch as an adoptive parent and for adopted kids.

    • Lindsey says:

      We took our foster-to-adopt daughter to see Finding Dory, and she ran away that night. Not saying that happens to everyone, as every child/family is different, but that film was absolutely a trigger for our daughter. We just have to look at it through trauma lenses, and unfortunately, most Disney/animated films these days just don’t cut it for our family.

      • kate says:

        Oh I am sorry – that is so awful! And what is weird is Finding Dory didn’t register to me in that way – but I know it did for others. Storks is really hard for many adoptive families – I hope the entertainment world maybe is able to change things up a bit. Prayers for your daughter on her journey! I am glad she found you!

  5. As a fellow adoptive parent I want to thank you. The triggers in this movie would have been horrific for my son especially who was adopted from Ethiopia at age 4 and absolutely hates the word orphan and as you mentioned sometimes dreams of being able to live with his birth family again. I find the orphan theme used WAY too often in kids movies. Most times I am blind sided by it like in Toy Story 3. And, while some may say we are being sensitive I assure you I am not. My son goes to various therapies to try and help him through understanding that his adoption plan was not his fault, he did nothing wrong in his first family and then also to help him become more comfortable in our forever family since reunification for him isn’t a viable option. So, thank you for the warning and for sharing your perspective for other non-adoptive families so that maybe this type of humor (which is extrememly hurtful) can someday be removed especially from kids films.

    • kate says:

      Thank you for reading! I hate to say anything uncomplimentary about animated films but I knew there are families like ours that really need to know that it is best to simply avoid. My son and daughter are not in therapy, but we know they were adopted younger and even still – they have questions and heart ache. We have friends who hace children who have nightmares, dreams, hopes, and are also in therapy…. this movie would not be helpful in that difficult process. It’s weird to me that certain things are still OK, that society doesn’t deem mocking kids without parents as wrong yet….. but I hope it starts some conversations. I love your blog by the way =)

  6. Cindy says:

    Thank you so much for your review. We too formed our family through adoption. My children were domestically adopted at birth. I often feel when I express the same feelings that you just did that I am called too sensitive. It is nice to see that there are others that feel the same way. I also agree that each person is entitled to feel how they want and disagree as long as we respect each other’s viewpoints it’s okay. There is room for both. I appreciate your review because for our family this movie would be a problem. My daughters have autism and through therapy have learned how to be sensitive and understand other people’s feelings. This movie would confuse them because they would not understand why it was funny if someone is sad. I know it would make them sad that Tulip is called an orphan after she says it makes her sad. I like to read reviews so we can make an informed decision for our family. My hope is that one day more movies can be used to teach and educate in a caring and thoughtful way how adoption impacts children and their families.

    • kate says:

      Thank you so much for your comment. Your family (and so many others like it) are exactly why I wrote it. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you are too sensitive (or at least don’t let it change who you are) – those who feel more than others can often articulate things that others might be slightly bothered by but they don’t know why. Thank you for reading! I promise I will have some movies appropriate for all audiences in the line up too! =)

  7. Lindsey says:

    Thank you for this review! As a parent about to adopt a child out of foster care, we are having to constantly be vigilant about the films we see, and it looks like we will not be seeing this one. I so appreciate your candor in this review.

  8. Joseph says:

    Thank you for this writeup. I just got done watching this movie with my wife and I completely fell apart at the ending. I am 29 years old and was adopted at 5 months, I’ve always known I was adopted and it was always presented as a positive thing by my parents. I have never once seeked out my biological parents and still do not wish to find them as I feel like I won the adoption lottery since my parents are amazing!

    The way the story wrapped up really hit me hard, my wife had to calm me down as I was crying my eyes out. I never think about my adoption, but this movie triggered some deep emotions I didn’t think i had. Immediately after the movie I felt a sense of sadness, however after calming down I feel a sense of anger. Why did this movie not have a warning? Why did it affect me so much? And why did the writers have to make me feel so insignificant? I do not recommend for other adopted people, adults and especially kids. It is a good movie, but not for families with adoption.

    • kate says:

      Thank you for sharing and I am so sorry you were upset by it. I think it is really odd that a movie with such a large production team never had someone say ‘this is going to be difficult for many with an adoption story’ – it also just perpetuates the ‘you are adopted, hahahaha!’ joke – I just don’t get how it got that far personally. I agree that it is such a cute movie in so many ways – but so much of it is just unfortunate.

  9. Jennifer Zahn says:

    Comedy = tragedy + timing : it’s her character’s delivery that makes it humorous. I am “orphan” Tulip, and it endeared me to her character. Learning how to make light of human condition is how to make life more enjoyable. Sometimes I believe we are taking everything way too seriously. We all have “holes” in our hearts and lives. Life will never be perfect, humor is to help us heal and grow. Perhaps that’s the lesson that should be taken out of this.

    • kate says:

      Thank you for sharing your perspective Jennifer. I completely agree that perhaps for this character and you that tragedy + timing can make this funny – that being said, not everyone in the audience has has had the proper timing – wouldn’t you agree? I have friends with children who said that based on what their kids are working through it was good for them to wait. I felt it made a joke of something that for some (not all) of those in the orphan/adoption community might be hurt by – and for those with emotional hurt from not being able to reunify (but wanting to) I thought the end might be problematic. I so appreciate you coming and lending your opinion!

  10. Katherine says:

    Thank you for this write up. I have noticed that quite a few movies lately have had adoption themes and this one was not the best example.

  11. […] Storks note – (As a family through adoption, we weren’t fans of this movie – read why) […]

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