Children’s cartoons contain more death than films for adults, according to recent research.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, compared the time it took for major characters in cartoons and films to die. They found that main characters in animated films died much more quickly than their counterparts in grown-up films.
“What we’ve just found in our research is that [cartoons are] actually hotbeds of death and murder” says Dr. James Kirkbride, one of the team who carried out the research.
The team watched the 45 highest-grossing children’s cartoons and compared them to the two highest-grossing films for adults from the same years.
Using a method known as “survival analysis”, they recorded the time of the first death. They also noted the cause of death (for example stabbing, animal attack or drowning) and the relationship to the main character (such as parent, friend or nemesis).
Kids’ major characters were twice as likely to die, and more than two and a half times as likely to be murdered than their adult counterparts. Their parents were most at risk, with 5 times the mortality of parents in grown-up films.
This amount of death, particularly violent death and the death of parents, could be rather upsetting for children and is certainly something to take into account when choosing a film for the whole family. Most of us remember either Bambi’s mother, Simba’s father or Nemo’s mother (perhaps depending on our age).
However, there is little solid evidence of cartoon death causing lasting trauma. “Does watching cartoon deaths equate to some real-life trauma? We simply don’t know,” says Dr. Kirkbride.
However, there is a positive side to all this death and killing, if handled correctly. “In terms of positive impacts, we can think about preparing children for dealing with difficult concepts, such as death, that they’ll have to face at some point in real life. These films offer a way into that conversation with your child,” reasons Dr. Kirkbride.
“We wouldn’t discourage anyone from watching these films. They’re wonderful sources of entertainment and they hopefully can be used in a positive way to start conversations about difficult topics.”
If you’re uncertain about whether a film might be suitable for your children one resource available is www.commonsensemedia.org, an online directory of films, television programmes and games with users’ reviews based on content such as violence, language, educational value and more.