TORONTO – When it comes to violence in films forget about the works of Scorsese and Tarantino. A new study suggests children’s animated movies can be just as rife with murder and mayhem.
Researchers studied animated classics from Snow White to Frozen and dubbed them as “hotbeds for murder and mayhem” that could traumatize children who may not be prepared for characters dying, sometimes in horrible fashion.
The study, entitled “Cartoons Kill!” was published in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal on Tuesday by lead authors Dr. Ian Colman and Dr. James Kirkbride. The annual issue usually focuses are more offbeat or light-hearted topics.
Colman, an epidemiologist with the University Ottawa, said he got the idea for the study after watching a popular animated classic with his own children.
“I’ve got two young kids and we’ve watched or tried to watch a lot of animated films and they became really scared by what they saw,” Colman told Global News. “A great example is The Land Before Time. In the first five minutes the mother gets killed by a Tyrannosaurus Rex and quite violently. My daughter was begging me to turn it off.”
Colman and Kirkbride’s research team viewed 135 top-grossing North American films since 1937 — 45 children’s animated movies and 90 dramatic films for adults — to determine in which genre the risk was greatest for a main character or a significant family member or friend to die.
“When we started this study we thought, wouldn’t it be funny if there were just as many deaths in children’s films as there are in films for adults?” Colman said.
The results painted a grim portrait of some of the most beloved animated films since Snow White graced the screen in 1937.
“We found the death of significant character was 2.5 times more likely to die in children’s animated films compared to dramatic films for adults,” said Colman.
The study also found that when a death occurs, it’s 2.8 times more likely to be a murder in children’s animated films and the victim is five times more likely to be a parent.
Colman and his fellow lead researcher James Kirkbride of University College London in the U.K. also analyzed how soon into an animated kids’ film a significant character gets killed off.
Bambi’s mom gets shot by a hunter, Tarzan’s parents get mauled by a leopard, and in The Lion King Simba’s father Mufasa is pushed from a cliff and trampled by stampeding wildebeests.
The record for fastest death is held by 2003’s Finding Nemo, where Nemo’s mother – and dozens of his siblings – are massacred by a vicious barracuda four minutes into the film.
Other notable violence included three gunshot deaths (Bambi, Peter Pan, Pocahontas) and two stabbing deaths in Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid.
While the study doesn’t say if the onscreen mayhem has any psychological damage, the violence may be problematic if children aren’t prepared.
“Exposure to on-screen death and violence can be frightening to young children and can have intense and long-lasting effects,” the authors wrote. “This might be particularly problematic when children have not been prepared.”
The paper concludes by encouraging parents to watch movies with their kids to offer emotional support after the viewing for “the inevitable horrors that will unfold.”