Kids' cartoons are 'hotbeds of murder and mayhem': study
Don’t let the bright colours, talking rabbits, and catchy songs fool you: children’s animated movies can be just as horrific as any R-rated film for adults, a new study says.
Children’s cartoon characters face “rampant horrors” and live in “hotbeds of murder and mayhem,” according to Dr. Ian Colman and Dr. James Kirkbride, the lead authors of a study published in the British Medical Journal on Tuesday. Colman and Kirkbride examined the 45 highest-grossing animated films since 1937, and compared them to the top-grossing dramas over the same period of time to see which genre portrayed more violence.
The results paint a gruesome picture of some of the most beloved animated films in history. Colman and Kirkbride found that cartoon characters die 2.5 times as often as characters in adult dramas, and they are frequently killed in brutal, dramatic fashion. Animated characters are also three times more likely to be murdered than characters in films for adults.
“We were really stunned,” said co-author Ian Colman, a professor of mental health epidemiology at the University of Ottawa. Colman said he and Cambridge University professor James Kirkbride began the study thinking the death rates might be equal, but they were shocked when they fully grasped the violence that’s rampant in animated films.
“They kill people off in all sorts of fantastic ways,” Colman told CTVNews.ca by phone on Tuesday. He said villains die most often by falling, while friends and family members of the main character will regularly die near the beginning of the film, often in an animal attack. In fact, parents die five times more often in children’s films than in adult dramas, Colman said.
But that should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen a Disney film, for example.
Disney accomplishes much of its violence off-screen, but the raw details are still pretty horrific. Bambi’s mom gets shot by a hunter; Nemo’s mother becomes fish bait for a barracuda just four minutes into ‘Finding Nemo;’ Tarzan’s parents get mauled by a leopard four minutes into that film, and Simba’s father Mufasa is thrown from a cliff and trampled by stampeding wildebeests in ‘The Lion King.’
But the evil Scar is eventually punished for killing Mufasa with a gruesome death of his own. In fact, cartoon villains generally suffer some pretty nasty deaths. Scar gets devoured by hyenas; the villainous Syndrome gets shredded by a jet engine in ‘The Incredibles;’ evil Clayton is hanged by a tangle of vines in ‘Tarzan,’ and ‘Little Mermaid’ villainess Ursula gets a ship rammed through her stomach. Then, she’s electrocuted.
But perhaps the most overwrought death comes in 1937’s ‘Snow White,’ when the evil queen is struck by lightning, knocked off a cliff, crushed by a boulder, and then devoured by vultures.
Colman and Kirkbride studied the top 45 highest-grossing animated films of all-time, from classics like ‘Snow White’(1937) to modern hits like ‘Frozen’ (2013). They then tallied the death toll and compared it to the number of deaths in the top two highest-grossing films from each of the years the animated movies were released. Colman and Kirkbride wanted to strike a clear division between kid-friendly and adult-friendly films, so they excluded action-adventure films like ‘Star Wars’ from their results, since those films are targeted at both age groups. They also adjusted their results to account for inflation at the box office, and the different run-times of the films.
They found that there was no shortage of death and destruction in animated films, and no evidence that children’s films have grown more or less violent since 1937.
Colman says he finds the deaths of villains particularly problematic because they may give kids the wrong impression.
“What kind of message are we sending kids, that the best way we can deal with conflict is to kill off the people we’re in conflict with?” he said.
Colman said he’s not too concerned about the psychological impact these deaths might have on older children, but he says traumatic cartoon moments can have a lasting effect on younger kids.
For instance, Colman said he watched the Disney mega-hit ‘Frozen’ with his young children in the spring, at about the same time he was training for a dragon boat race.
“My kids didn’t want me to go to dragon boat practice, and I couldn’t figure out why,” he said. But eventually they told him: “They were afraid my boat was going to sink, just like the parents’ boat sank in ‘Frozen.’”
Colman and Kirkbride recommend parents watch these movies with their children, so they can offer emotional support in the tough moments.
Or, given that most parents die early in kids’ movies, it might be wise to skip the first five minutes of the film.