A study of Violence in G-rated Animated Feature Films!

Maybe I’m a total geek but I found this very exciting, even though it’s over 10 years old. First I found a reference to the study in this book:

The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for Your Kids, by Dimitri A. Christakis and Frederick J. Zimmerman (New York: Rodale, 2006),

and then I found the actual study online:

Yokota, F. & Thompson, K. M. “Violence in G-rated Animated Films” in the Journal of the American Medical Association 283 (May 24-31, 2000): 2716-2720.           (see the full study here)

It covers animated films of feature length (at least 60 min.) that were rated G, released theatrically in the U.S. and which were “available for review on videocassette” by September of 1999, including 74 titles.

Their methods:

“We define violence as intentional acts (eg, to cause harm, to coerce, or for fun) where the aggressor makes some physical contact that has potential to inflict injury or harm. We do not include accidental actions that lead to unintentional physical contact or harm or natural calamities such as earthquakes and storms if they are not attributed to the action of a character. An incident of violence was defined as an uninterrupted display of a character or a group of characters engaged in an act of violence, or the result of a violent offscreen action (eg, a shoe thrown offscreen by a character is seen hitting the target character on-screen). For each incident of violence, we recorded the name of the character(s) engaged in a violent act, their character quality (ie, good, bad, or neutral), the starting time of the incident (hours, minutes, and seconds from the beginning of the video), ending time of the incident (to allow calculation of the duration of the incident), and the type of weapon(s) used in the violent act(s). We noted whether the incident was a unilateral act where the victim did not physically retaliate against the character(s) inflicting harm or the violent act(s) was reciprocated (ie, a fight between characters). We also recorded whether the acts of violence resulted in any injuries, whether any character celebrated the violent acts, and whether any character verbally urged nonviolence. For each injury, we recorded whether the injury was fatal and whether the treatment or the pain of the injury was shown.

In addition, we made 2 subjective judgments to characterize the violence. First, we described the tone of the incident as light (or funny), dark (or sinister), neutral, or some combination of the 3. Second, since we have a broad definition of violence that may include both malicious acts to cause serious harm and physical comedy, we attempted to characterize the intent of the violent act. In our analysis, we divided the total screen time into violence with intent to injure—where at least 1 character acted with an intent to cause injury (ie, to hurt, to eat, or to kill)—or without that intent. For example, during an incident of violence, the hero may be defending himself against an attacker who is trying to kill him. This type of incident would be coded as having both “to defend” and “to kill” intentions, and in our analysis, it would be categorized as violence with intent to injure.”

After doing the analyses, they found that every single film contained at least one act of violence.

“The total duration of exposure to violent acts ranged from only 6 seconds (My Neighbor Totoro) to 24 minutes (Quest for Camelot) with a mean of 9.5 minutes. Thirty-six films (49%) showed at least 1 character celebrating an act of violence by cheering or laughing, and only 24 films (32%) showed at least 1 character voicing a message on nonviolence.”

They concluded that “a significant amount of violence exists in animated G-rated feature films. Physicians and parents should not overlook videocassettes as a source of exposure to violence for children.”

And: “A G rating does not automatically signify a level of violence acceptable for very young viewers.

So says the study. Keeping in mind that this is only one study, I was still very interested to see how various films ranked, and I reordered their list (which was chronological by release date) into a list from least to most violent, in terms of time spent in depictions of violence. The big winner? My Neighbor Totoro, which I was glad to see, because it’s such a fantastic film. However I am still scratching my head over the 6 seconds of violence they claim for it… I can’t think of anything at all violent in it.

Other tidbits:

Only 15 films had a character conveying a message of nonviolence.

46 films showed characters being injured, but only 11 of those films showed anyone experiencing pain from an injury.

5 films showed 3 fatalities: The Last Unicorn, The Secret of NIMH, Oliver and Company, All Dogs Go To Heaven, Happily Ever After.  All the rest had fewer.

Below is the list in ascending order of violence by length in time (seconds).  Of course measuring violence in seconds doesn’t convey the intensity or realism of the depiction, but it’s an interesting starting point for comparisons between films.

I’ve bolded all the films that are listed as showing no one being injured. Those bolded titles that occur lower on the list, that is to say with a lot of time spent showing violence, yet showing nobody getting hurt… should be regarded warily, as including violence without addressing the consequences of it.

bold = no injuries shown

# of *’s = # of fatalities

sec.

My Neighbor Totoro

6   My Neighbor Totoro
35   Kiki’s Delivery Service
65   The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
75   Dumbo

109   A Boy Named Charlie Brown
127   A Goofy Movie
164   Charlotte’s Web
172   Pippi Longstocking

210   Three Caballeros
221   Jetsons: The Movie
246   Toy Story
252   Bambi *
273   Cinderella *
293   Oliver and Company ***

300   Once Upon a Forest **
307   Fantasia *
311   Cats Don’t Dance
316   Alice in Wonderland
323   Pocahontas *
338   Balto
351   Lady and the Tramp *
354   The Aristocats

410   Thumbelina
428   The Nutcracker Prince **
432   Pinocchio
471   Care Bears Movie
474   Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs *
475   Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest
479   We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story
484   Land Before Time **
492   101 Dalmatians
492   The Rugrats Movie
494   Duck Tales: The Movie *

500   Snoopy Come Home
501   Tom and Gerry: The Movie
517   The Little Mermaid *
522   The Secret of NIMH ***
527   The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
542   Arabian Knight **
552   Fun and Fancy Free
554   All Dogs Go to Heaven ***
578   Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland **
599   Sleeping Beauty *

630   Anastasia **
659   The Princess and the Goblin **
673   The Rescuers Down Under *
675   The Rescuers
676   The Jungle Book

701   An American Tail
704   Babes in Toyland *
717   The Fox and the Hound *
743   The Last Unicorn ***
786   Beauty and the Beast *
788   The Swan Princess **
798   The Great Mouse Detective **

800   All Dogs Go to Heaven 2
814   Robin Hood
836   The Pagemaster
838   The Lion King **
855   The King and I
863   Peter Pan *
873   An American Tail: Fievel Goes West

900   The Troll in Central Park
932   The Swan Princess 2 **
968   Aladdin *
974   Hercules **
986   Mulan **
990   Gumby: The Movie

1006   The Hunchback of Notre Dame **
1012   The Sword in the Stone
1026   The Pebble and Penguin *
1071   Happily Ever After ***
1098   A Bug’s Life *

1447   Quest for Camelot **

All data from the Yokota and Thompson study cited above.

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.