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Yokota F, Thompson KM. Violence in G-Rated Animated Films. JAMA. 2000;283(20):2716–2720. doi:10.1001/jama.283.20.2716
Author Affiliations: Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston, Mass.
Medicine and the Media Section Editor: Annette
Flanagin, RN, MA, Managing Senior Editor.
Context Children's exposure to violence in the media is a possible source of
public health concern; however, violence in children's animated films has
not been quantified.
Objective To quantify and characterize violence in G-rated animated feature films.
Design Violence content was reviewed for all 74 G-rated animated feature films
released in theaters between 1937 and 1999, recorded in English, and available
for review on videocassette in the United States before September 1999.
Main Outcome Measures Duration of violent scenes, type of characters participating in violent
acts (good, neutral, or bad), number of injuries/fatalities, and types of
weapons used for each film.
Results All 74 films reviewed contained at least 1 act of violence (mean duration,
9.5 minutes per film; range, 6 seconds–24 minutes). Analysis of time
trends showed a statistically significant increase in the duration of violence
in the films with time (P=.001). The study found
a total of 125 injuries (including 62 fatal injuries) in 46 (62%) of the films.
Characters portrayed as "bad" were much more likely to die of an injury than
other characters (odds ratio, 23.2; 95% confidence interval, 8.5-63.4). A
majority of the violence (55%) was associated with good or neutral characters
dueling with bad characters (ie, using violence as a means of reaching resolution
of conflict), and characters used a wide range of weapons in violent acts.
Conclusions Our content analysis suggests 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.
Studies on children's use of various media suggest that videocassette
viewing is an important source of entertainment for children. A recent report
by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that 96% of young children (ages
2-7 years) live in homes with at least 1 videocassette recorder, and 16% have
a videocassette recorder in their own bedroom.1
The young children in the study reported spending nearly 2 hours per day watching
television and an additional half hour per day watching commercially prerecorded
videotapes.1 In a similar study by the Annenberg
Public Policy Center, parents of young children (ages 2-5 years) reported
that their children watched an average of 2.2 hours per day of television
and 1.5 hours per day of videotapes.2
In 1998, 5 of the top 10 best-selling videos in the United States were
animated features rated G (for general audiences) by the Motion Picture Association
of America (MPAA).3 Two recent studies of popular
live-action films rated G and PG (parental guidance suggested) and likely
to be seen by children found that firearms are "frequently shown"4 and that injury prevention practices and consequences
of injuries are poorly portrayed.5 To our knowledge,
no analysis quantified or characterized violent content in G-rated animated
feature films. This study systematically compares the violent content of these
The study reviewed the content of all G-rated animated feature films
available on videocassette in the United States. The study covered only movies
first released in the theater, recorded in English, at least 60 minutes in
length, and available for purchase or rental before September 1999. We do
not include the numerous direct-to-video titles such as Lion King: Simba's Pride that were not released in theaters, which
represent only 15% of the total video sales market.6
Seventy-eight films that fit our criteria were identified through searching
the "IMDb: Internet Movie Database"7 and referencing Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guide for accuracy.8 Four of these films were not available for sale or
rental at the time of the study. We believe that the 74 films reviewed constitute
the universe of G-rated animated feature film videos that are currently available
for sale or rental. We recorded the data for each incident of violence using
a standard data collection instrument and a videocassette recorder with an
on-screen time counter.
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.
The data were entered into a database constructed with Microsoft Access,
Version 97 (Microsoft Corp, Redmond, Wash). The descriptive analyses were
performed using Microsoft Access and Excel, Version 97 (Microsoft Corp). Statistical
analyses were performed using S-PLUS, Version 4.5 (MathSoft Inc, Cambridge,
Mass). For consistency, all films were reviewed and coded by one of the authors
(F. Y.). A randomly selected subset of films (n=10) was verified by the second
author, and all particular instances in films that were difficult to code
Table 1 summarizes the content
of violence in G-rated animated films. All 74 films contained at least 1 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. Although the violent content in the films
is highly variable, there appears to be a small positive trend over time (Figure 1). We tested whether characters'
use of violence in films has changed over time using the Spearman rank correlation
and regression analysis. We found a statistically significant positive rank
correlation (ρ=0.35, P=.001), and the correlation
was also significant and positive when adjusted for variation in film length
(ρ=0.33, P=.003). Similarly, we found a statistically
significant positive trend using regression analyses for both absolute violent
content (β=5.38, P=.004) and violence as a proportion
of film length (β=0.099, P=.009).
At least 1 character engaged in a violent act with intent to cause bodily
injury 81% of the time. Looking at the total amount of violence with intent
to injure over time, we found an increase (ρ=0.38, P=.001), while the total duration of violence without the intent to
injure has not changed over time (ρ=0.01, P=.46).
These results also hold when we adjust for the difference in the length of
films (ρ=0.36, P=.001) and (ρ=−0.004, P=.51), respectively.
There were 46 films (62%) where at least 1 character sustained an injury.
In 10 (22%) of these films, at least 1 injury was treated through medical
care such as bandaging or medicine, or through a magic spell. In 11 (24%)
of these films, at least 1 character was shown experiencing pain from the
injury. Of the 125 total injuries, 50 (40%) were suffered by characters deemed
"bad." Of the 62 fatal injuries, 44 (71%) were of bad characters, and bad
characters were much more likely to die of their injuries than good characters
(odds ratio, 23.2; 95% confidence interval, 8.5-63.4).
Fifty-five films (74%) had an identifiable primary antagonist who menaced
the "good" guys. Of these characters, 26 (47%) were killed or presumably dead
by the end of the film. Twenty (77%) were killed by a good or neutral character,
1 (4%) was killed by a bad character, and the other 5 (19%) died accidentally
while engaged in a violent act to harm another character.
In all but 2 movies (My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service), at least 1 character who was
"good" participated in a violent act. Twenty-three percent of the time only
neutral or good characters were seen engaged in acts of violence, and 22%
of the time, bad characters alone engaged in violent acts. Unilateral acts
of violence by good characters were predominantly depicted as light (72% of
incidents), followed by neutral (19%) and dark (9%). In contrast, unilateral
violent acts by bad characters were most often portrayed as dark (51%), followed
by light (27%) and neutral (21%).
A majority of the violence occurred when bad characters fought against
good or neutral characters (55%). We recorded a total of 165 such fighting
sequences with a bad character initiating 122 (74%) of the fights, and a good
or neutral character initiating the other 43 (26%). When a good or neutral
character instigated a fight, in 33 (77%) of the 43 cases, the character was
provoked in some way (eg, to save a captured friend).
In most of the incidents of violence (59%), only the body was used as
a weapon. However, these incidents only account for 29% of the total screen
duration of violence. All films contain acts of violence through direct body
contact, and in all but 1 of the films, some object other than those listed
in Table 1 is used (eg, rope,
broom, stone). In 39 films (53%), a sword, knife, or other sharp metal object
was used; in 26 films (35%), a gun or cannon was used; and in 17 films (23%),
magic was used as a weapon. Only 10 films (14%) contained the use of an explosive,
and poison was used in 3 films (4%).
Clinicians and researchers have warned that exposure to media violence
may stimulate children and adolescents to use aggressive behavior to achieve
goals or resolve conflicts.9-11
By contrast, a recent editorial cautions that it is "inaccurate to imply that
the published work strongly indicates a causal link between virtual and actual
violence."12 On balance, it is difficult to
dispute the potentially powerful role of the media as a teacher of social
norms to many young children.
This article characterizes children's exposure to violence in animated
films, but the results of our study have some limitations. First, coding information
from movies is subjective. Having a single person code the data reduces variability,
but it may have limited the accuracy. However, the use of a timer and recording
actual screen times for incidents provides opportunity for validation. Second,
we use a broad definition of violence that extends from slapstick comedy to
premeditated murder. These actions may influence attitudes and behavior of
children in very different ways. Third, it is not clear how our results for
animated films compare with other entertainment for children such as G-rated
nonanimated films (eg, actions of live actors may influence children's behavior
more, the content of violence in live action G-rated films may be less) or
Even with these limitations, our content analysis reveals a striking
behavioral message implied by many of the G-rated animated films that the
good guys triumph over the bad through the use of physical force. For example,
in The Land Before Time, the baby dinosaurs plot
to kill the Tyrannosaurus rex they call Sharp Tooth
by setting a trap for him. There are, however, some films that do attempt
to convey that killing is not the solution, but with mixed messages. For example,
Aladdin finally defeats Jafar by tricking him and confining him to a magic
lamp, but only after trying with physical force first. In The Lion King, Simba wins the physical fight with his uncle Scar and
refuses to kill him, but he does nothing to prevent the hyenas from killing
his uncle in the end. In only 1 film (Balto) does
the main character resolve conflict with the antagonist without the use of
violence. In addition, bad characters were much more likely to die of injuries
than a good character, sending a message that these bad characters may deserve
death, but that good characters are immune from serious harm when engaging
in a fight. Furthermore, the films send a message that violence by good or
neutral characters are not as serious by portraying them as light or funny.
Surveys show that less than half of parents report "always watching"
television with their children, even though experts emphasize the importance
of parents coviewing television programs and videos with children since parents
can act as a "values filter and media educator."11
In a brochure for parents, the American Psychological Association encourages
parents to watch television with their children and discuss violent incidents
they see on screen to help them understand why a character acted violently
and explore alternative solutions without using violence.13
Coviewing and monitoring may be particularly important with animated films
and television shows since parents cannot rely on the entertainment industry's
rating system for information on violent content. For recent films, the MPAA
lists the reasons for a movie's rating only if the film is not rated G (eg,
"Rated PG for sci-fi violence and brief mild language").14
On television, violence by animated characters are treated as fantasy violence
("FV") by the "TV Parental Guideline" regardless of how realistic the violent
For parents who would like to monitor their child's intake of violence
in movies, there are several Internet sites that review the content of feature-length
films for material that may not be suitable for children. For example, the
Web site "Kids-In-Mind"16 provides a concise
summary of a film's content and a rating, on a scale from 0 to 10, for 3 categories
including violence/gore. Another Web site, "Screen It,"17
provides a thorough yet impartial review of a film's content and a rating
on 15 different aspects of the film such as violence, guns/weapons, and disrespectful/bad
attitude on a scale from "none" to "heavy." This site also lists all occurrences
of potentially objectionable material under each category. Through resources
like these Web sites, parents can review the content of films before children
watch them to determine suitability of the material for their child as well
as prepare to discuss the content of films that a child may see without the
Our content analysis suggests that animated films determined to be acceptable
for the general audience by a ratings board contain a significant amount of
violence. A G rating does not automatically signify a level of violence acceptable
for very young viewers. The MPAA should consider changing the current age-based
rating system to one based on content, which is what an overwhelming number
of parents prefer.15 In addition, parents need
to preview films themselves or use online resources to judge appropriateness
of individual films for their children. Physicians and parents should not
overlook videocassettes as a source of exposure to violence for children.
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