Tip Sheets

How animated Oscar nominees can spark meaningful family discussions

Media Contact

Gillian Smith

The family-friendly Oscar nominees for Best Animated Feature (Encanto, Luca, Raya and the Last Dragon, and The Mitchells and the Machines) focus on families that are fractured or in danger of fracturing. These films also involve the heroic efforts of one or more members to hold the family together and bring about reconciliation.

Karl Pillemer

Professor of psychology and of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine

Karl Pillemer, a family sociologist and professor of human development, recommends families use these films as a springboard for discussions about their family histories and relationships. Pillemer’s recent book, Fault Lines: Fractured Families and How to Mend Them, explores family estrangement and reconciliation. Based on his research, here are three issues that may prompt a meaningful family discussion.

Pillemer says:

Why Don’t We Talk About Our “Bruno?”

“My research shows that more than one-quarter of Americans report an active estrangement. My guess is that almost all these families identified with the hit Encanto song ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno.’ In real-life families, a build-up of tensions sometimes is resolved by the stinging words: ‘I never want to speak to you or hear from you again.’ Estrangement solves the problem of difficult daily interactions with a family member, but leaves a hole in the family that is impossible to overlook.

“Children are deeply affected by their parents’ estrangements (just as Mirabel is in Encanto). Considering the impact a long-term estrangement may have on others in the family can be one pathway to reconciliation. Open discussion of an ongoing family rift – or at least explaining to children how and why it occurred – can be very valuable.”

Can We Get Over our Expectations for One Another?

“A powerful theme in all four films is the power of expectations and the damaging effects in families when they are not met.

“Encanto is all about the danger of expectations and how they pigeon-hole family members. Indeed, the family’s beloved house begins to crack under the power of expectations. In Raya and the Dragon, Raya is expected actually to save the entire world.

“Families might bring some of their expectations out in the open in response to the prompting of these films.”

How Do We Bridge the Generation Gap?

“Back in the late 1960s, society became obsessed with what was called ‘the generation gap.’ Parents and children were thought to have become irreconcilably different. Although this theme no longer dominates, the films show how parents and children see the world differently, and what can be done about it.

“‘The Mitchells and the Machines’ highlights how parents may be baffled by their offspring’s dependence – bordering on obsession – with technology. Luca focuses on the drive for independence and the attraction of a different world, which parents struggle to understand as they try to keep their child safe. All the films endorse what research shows is a fundamental feature of parent-child relationships: ambivalence between dependence on the family and the drive for autonomy felt powerfully by emerging adults. Families can take a look at how generational differences affect their own lives – and how powerful similarities can help bridge any generational rifts.”

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.