[by Dean Smith] If you are looking for films with a bit of death and gore, you may find exactly what you want in the cartoons set aside for your children.
According to a report released in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) this past December, children’s cartoons and movies are full of death often surpassing levels found in adult dramas.
The research team, led by Ian Colman, associate professor of epidemiology at Canada’s University of Ottawa, used a “Kaplan-Meler survival analysis” to compare when the first death occurred in a group of top 135 grossing movies — 45 considered children’s entertainment and 90 adult-themed.
For the children’s movies, they only used “G” and “PG” rated shows where humans or animals were the main characters, disqualifying such movies as Toy Story. Children’s movies studied included the classic 1937 version of Snow White and the more recent Frozen.
On the adult side, they looked at horror flicks such as Exorcism of Emily Rose and thrillers such as Pulp Fiction. Action or adventure films often geared towards children were not part of the comparison.
What they discovered is that children’s shows not only matched but often beat the adult-themed movies with deaths coming earlier and more often.
60% of the children’s movies had a major character killed off compared to only 50% for the adult movies. The deaths also came earlier in children’s shows. Both of Tarzan’s parents were killed by a leopard at the 4 minute 8 second mark and in Finding Nemo, a barracuda killed Nemo’s mother at 4 minutes 3 seconds.
This is disturbing when you consider children shows, with “G” and “PG” ratings, were competing against adult movies, many with “R” ratings.
In their report, the researchers stated:
“Exposure to on-screen death and violence can be frightening to young children and can have intense and longlasting effects.”
As I pointed out in an earlier post, many children’s shows feature the death of a parent. When you ask yourself what would be a child’s greatest fear — losing a parent — then some of these are little more than thinly disguised horror movies. In fact, I nominated Bambi as one of the greatest horror flicks of all time because Bambi’s mother was killed by a hunter and his father was distant and uncaring.
As I pointed out in that article, Disney cartoons often portray a parent, particularly a mother, being killed. Why do they do that? One Disney executive suggested it was the untimely deaths of Walt Disney’s parents that led to this — deaths Walt blamed himself for.
Between the ages of 2 and 5, children watch an average 32 hours of media/movies a week and often view the same shows repeatedly.
The researchers said, “children’s animated films, rather than being innocuous alternatives to the gore and carnage of American films, are in fact hotbeds of murder and mayhem.”
“Recent evidence suggests that media exposure to real life traumas (such as terrorist attacks) can trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress among children. Although older children are more likely to be frightened by witnessing media coverage of real events, children under 7 are just as likely to be frightened by unrealistic and even impossible events on screen and could therefore experience similarly deleterious consequences after watching such events in animated movies.”
Simply at a young age, children are unable to separate fantasy from reality. If your children are reluctant to take part in certain activities, the study suggested movies and cartoons may play a role. Research shows children were less willing to participate in boating activities if they saw a movie/cartoon involving a drowning.
So those innocent little shows that babysit our children for hours a day may be having more influence than we like.