The Good Dinosaur
This post is from our friend and colleague Jamie Lee Evans, director of the Y.O.U.T.H. Training Project. She writes a review of Pixar’s new movie The Good Dinosaur from the perspective of a former foster youth. Watch the trailer here.
I am not embarrassed to say that I loved The Good Dinosaur. Normally I am not a fan of animated kids movies, since – well – I’m 48, with no kids. But this time I had a kid in mind and a desire for fun.
I had plans to spend time with chosen family and I suggested to my chosen sister, another former foster youth like myself, that she and I and her two sons go see it. A few snags in our plans happened and while we were in the car driving to go shopping (and not to the movies) I heard a sound coming from the back seat of the car – it was my 5-year-old nephew, K. K was crying silently to himself because he was so disappointed to not get to see the movie. He didn’t throw a fit; he didn’t protest; he didn’t kick or scream. He quietly expressed his little broken heart with (near) silent tears. Right then I said, “Oh heck no,” and begged my sister to allow me to keep the little one overnight and take him alone to see the movie the next day. She agreed and the next day K and I and my dear friend Ipo went to see this little movie that could.
There we sat, Ipo and I, former foster youth who know very well what it is like to be “lost” from our parents (a theme in the movie) and my nephew, who has two very loving parents, a little brother and an extended family of aunties and uncles and cousins and grandparents of biological and chosen variety.
What struck me the most about our experience together were the moments that found us, three generations, crying at the same time. Ipo started it off from the beginning, weeping about 15 minutes into the movie. Then came my waterworks and finally my nephew’s. I sat in awe that all three of us could be moved to tears from the same story.
Throughout my childhood, in and out of foster care and other non-family-related placements, I mostly believed that I would make it out.
I believed that I would make it out of poverty, escape my family heritage of alcoholism, and not take up residence with an abusive person. I also believed that I would get an education and have a meaningful life. I never had grand ideas that I would be rich or famous or that I would even have a partner. And I never saw myself as someone who would have a family.
As I think about this now, I wonder about how much a kid can imagine success if they have little to no examples of emotional stability. It’s as if I could only allow myself to dream of two-dimensional success. The heartbreak of my unstable family life made the dream of partnership and children an impossible dream.
Fortunately, regardless of my inability to dream up a family, I was able to build one, though not in any traditional way whatsoever.
As the movie came to a close, emotions rose from the storyline of: dino/caveboy bromance, family finding, courage, loss and yearning for connection and belonging. I have no idea what touched K so much that his face was wet with tears; I know exactly how Ipo felt because she has full brain development and the tongue of a poet, and I know what struck me: I was crying with joy because Spot (caveboy) had such loyalty and the ability to love despite his traumatic loss of family and because I understood and cheered for Arlo (the good dino) to find his mother and siblings and no longer be lost.
The Good Dinosaur was not exactly about foster care, but it certainly covered some related themes.
And moreso, it serves as a wonderful launchpad to start conversations about connection, family, loss, bravery, sibling relationships, emotional needs, expressions of care and love, and our need for care and love. The conversation can get deep and involved or it can be something like: “You know that I love you as much as Arlo loves Spot?” or “If I am ever lost from you, nothing would keep me from searching for you,” or “I love you so much that even when I die my love will live on.”
For me, The Good Dinosaur gave me the chance to think about what I have built, how I have surpassed my dreams, what I still need in terms of love and connection, and how I will keep working to maintain and build new loving connections in my life. For a movie to inspire that level of thought and feeling, it has to be good.