Picking a children’s animated movie to keep the kids quiet on a rainy Sunday afternoon could involve exposing them to 2.5 times the number of deaths found in films aimed at adults, according to new research.
A study for the BMJ – headlined Cartoons kill – which was carried out by researchers from University College London and the University of Ottawa found that two-thirds of animated films aimed at children featured the on-screen demise of a major character, against just half of movies aimed at older filmgoers. Deaths were more likely to occur early on in children’s films: in Pixar’s Finding Nemo, the titular clownfish’s mother is eaten by a barracuda just four minutes and three seconds in, researchers noted, while in Disney’s Tarzan the feral child’s parents are killed by a leopard after four minutes and eight seconds. Parents were five times more likely to die in children’s animated fare than in adult-orientated movies.
“Rather than being the innocuous form of entertainment they are assumed to be, children’s animated films are rife with on-screen death and murder,” concluded the study, which examined 45 of the highest-grossing animated films in history, from 1937’s Snow White to last year’s Disney animated musical megahit Frozen. Researchers also found that characters in children’s animations were more likely to die as a result of animal attacks and falls, while adult movie deaths tended to be as a result of gunshot wounds, car crashes or maladies.
Study authors suggested parents might want to ensure they viewed animated movies alongside their offspring “in the event that the children need emotional support after witnessing the inevitable horrors that will unfold”. But they also pointed out that movies such as The Lion King, in which lion cub Simba forgives the evil Scar for murdering his father, might help foster the concept of catharsis in young minds.
“Films depicting death in this more nuanced way could provide a valuable resource for initiating discussions about death between children and adults,” wrote the study authors. “Indeed, cinematherapy is sometimes used to facilitate counseling with grieving adolescents, a therapeutic practice that might be extended to younger children.”
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