Please Note: The screen shots used here are taken from the DVD portion of Approved for Adoption.
The 2012 French feature Approved for Adoption accomplishes the nifty hat trick of taking a specific, highly personal story and making it universal. Combining traditional and CGI animation, documentary footage and evocative live action shots, it tells the story of Jung, a Korean-born graphic artist who grew up as an adoptee in a Belgian suburb. While it failed to bowl me over like similar adult-oriented animated fare such as Waltz with Bashir and Persepolis, it's impossible not to be charmed by the impressionistic collage of thoughts put forth by Jung and co-director Laurent Boileau.
Our subject Jung is a man in his young 40s, who as an infant was found abandoned in the streets of Seoul in 1970. As part of a massive program adopting out Korean war orphans to various Western families (started by a well-intentioned American evangelical couple, Harry and Bertha Holt), Jung ended up getting shipped to Belgium to be taken in by a loving family. Taken in by a nice couple who already have four of their own biological children (apparently, adopting Korean kids was considered chic at the time), Jung comes to be accepted as part of the family despite lingering questions of identity and belonging. In the town where he lives, he learns to speak French and grows up as more or less the same as his non-Asian peers. Curious, playful, interested in art and girls, Jung comes to be a well-adjusted kid despite a few oddities. He's strangely resistant of the other Korean adoptees at his school, including the infant girl who is eventually added to Jung's own brood. While Jung is accepted at home, his stern mother occasionally makes it clear that he isn't considered one of her "real" children. This cycle of nurturing and rejection instills in Jung a rudderless, searching quality - caught between two worlds without feeling entirely comfortable in either.
Approved for Adoption is Jung's statement of yearning to connect with his origins, and perhaps a realization that things turned out better for him in the long run being brought up in Belgium. The scenes from Jung's childhood, done with autumnal colors and watercolor textures, contrast with live action passages showing a present-day Jung going back to Seoul to try and find any information on his birth mother. If all this soul-searching sounds like a massive downer, the film on the whole actually ends up sweetly observational, funny, and insightful on the quirks of childhood. I especially liked the part where the young, animated Jung - eager to find any aspect of Asia to latch onto - becomes obsessed with Samurai, manga and other bits of Japanese culture, much to the amusement of his adoptive siblings.
In adapting Approved for Adoption from graphic novel to film, Jung and Boileau have expanded the print version's simple autobiography into something more ambitious that deals broadly on adoption and how it affects kids. While the merging of animation, documentary footage (including Super 8 home movies from Jung's childhood) and new stuff isn't completely successful, it's a fairly intriguing experiment and Jung comes across as genuinely interested in how people like himself deal with growing up in a culture they weren't born into. The animation, which combines CGI with traditional hand-drawn methods (in the film's dream sequences), tends to be hit-or-miss. The childhood scenes have a warm, properly '70s brown-on-brown feel, and the characters' faces are wonderfully expressive. The designs of the character's bodies have a rudimentary, CGI-generated ball-on-cylinders structure, however, and their limited movements come across as clunky.
The Blu Ray:
Cinedigm's home video edition of Approved for Adoption comes as a dual-format package housed in a Blu-sized snap-case. The film and bonus features are included in both Blu Ray and DVD format.
Approved for Adoption's unique visual style is well-served in Cinedigm's Blu Ray edition. The 1.85:1 anamorphic image is directly transferred from this digitally shot production, resulting in excellent, muted color and a rich palette of lights and darks. The live-action footage is perhaps less impressive, yet even those scenes have a sharp, pristine look.
The disc's sole audio option is the film's original French-language soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with optional English subtitles. The mix doesn't use surround effects too often, but it's a good, clean sounding track with clear dialogue and atmospheric, sometimes jarring use of music.
Besides the Theatrical Trailer, the only extra is a 30-minute featurette, The Making of Approved for Adoption. Jung, writer-director Laurent Boileau and several of the film's crew talk about the challenges of adapting the graphic novel to film, the decision to do both animation and live footage, and the production history. The package also lists "Original French Audio Track with English Subtitles" as a bonus - but we all know better, don't we?
Animated graphic novel, or documentary? Approved for Adoption is a little of both. The 2012 film deals with the consequences of growing up as an adoptee, transplanted half a world away from one's home country. Told from the viewpoint of Korean-European graphic novelist Jung, the result is a diverting, highly personal visual collage for adult animation fans. Recommended.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.