My son has decided that Disney's Tarzan (1999) is a new favorite...and frankly, though I am not a super crazy fanatic, I love most things Disney.
Tarzan, however, is not my favorite...actually I think I hate it.
In case you have missed the basic plot-line of any Tarzan movie, it's pretty straight forward - A man raised by gorillas must decide where he really belongs when he discovers he's human (tag-line straight from Internet Movie Database).
Did you catch it? Right there in the brief description of this beautifully produced, award winning movie?
"...when he discovers that he is human."
I know, I know, this may not seem like much, but I have been in a deep emotional and philosophical struggle with this movie for the past couple of months as my toddler is enthralled with it and we watch it with him up to five times a week.
In the words of Phil Collins song, You'll Be In My Heart, my son is "one so small" who "seems so strong." And my son, much like Tarzan, was adopted...no, not by gorillas (though I'm sure some days he sees me as one) and no, his birth parents didn't get eaten by a leopard.
(And side note here: Seriously, can this movie be any more depressing and/or emotional?!? In the opening scene, baby Tarzan and his parents are shipwrecked, they build an amazing tree house to start a new life, only to have his parents eaten by a leopard, the same leopard who eats the baby of the mama gorilla. Then mama gorilla finds abandoned baby Tarzan. All scored by a super moving Phil Collin's song. Way to set the scene, Disney.)
However, the fact that my son is adopted is the reason why I hate this movie so much.
The mama gorilla, Kala, finds baby Tarzan and brings him back to the band of gorillas and claims, amidst questioning by the others, that she's his mother now. In this scene I am cheering for her - good job, Kala! Way to claim your child! Even though he is clearly not your biological offspring, there is no question in your heart that he is yours. Way to go!
Kala raises her son to be one of the band of gorillas, which in and of itself is not a bad thing...but Kala NEVER tells her son the truth about who he is. There are scenes throughout the movie where Tarzan notices how he is physically different, but Kala never addresses the why of those differences. It is left up to strangers (Jane and her Father) to help Tarzan discover and claim his human identity when he is a grown man. I repeat, it is not until Tarzan is an ADULT that STRANGERS help him figure out HIS STORY. This is something his mother should have been doing all along.
Now I realize that this is a movie about action, adventure, tree swinging, and the discovery of self. Disney did not intend this to be a commentary about families formed through adoption and best practices to care for children who are adopted. However, I tend to take it very personally and be very emotional when adopted children (even fictional adopted children) are lied to/not told the truth about their biological past.
Every family who has come together through adoption is different. Every family will choose to share details differently and will choose to answer questions differently, but most families, these days, are pretty honest and open with their children about their adoption.
Kala did none of this. She, at one point in the movie, helps Tarzan to see how they are the same (they both have eyes, ears, hands, and beating hearts), but she never affirms that "yes, you are different, because...(story however Kala wants to tell it)...but you're still my son and I will love you forever."
My son, physically looks a lot like me and my husband, but we have never hidden from him that he was adopted. We tell him about the day we met and we tell him about his adoption day. We also tell him that any time he has questions or wants to know more about his biological past, we will do our best to answer those questions.
My son is three years old, but I want him growing up knowing that his adoption story is one for him to embrace. My son also knows that his daddy and I love him "forever and ever and ever and always" and nothing will change that.
For now, I will deal with my anger and frustration over the poor parenting choices by a fictional gorilla mother by crying silently while we watch the movie together and over-eating chocolate while hiding in the kitchen...and I'm breathing a sigh of relief that I think we have moved onto Finding Nemo.