Finding Nemo, Bambi, The Lion King, The Princess and the Frog, The Land before Time- what do all the children’s animated movies have in common? As most made for kids movies, these films are all seemingly innocuous tales of good triumphing over evil. They are inspirational stories that make kids want to be the best person they can be. But what they all also have in common is an impactful death scene. For many children- the fortunate ones anyway- at least one of these movies ranks as one of the biggest tragedies of their childhood.
In 2014 a study was conducted whereby researchers examined the top grossing animated children’s movies and dramatic movies made for adults from 1937 to 2013. According to the study, which was published in the British Medical Journal, characters in children’s animated movies are two-and-a half times more likely to die than in adult-aged films and three times more likely to be murdered. http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/12/why-kids-movies-are-full-of-death/383819
These iconic death scenes were and continue to be traumatizing events in children’s lives. In the movie Bambi, Bambi’s mother falls victim to a hunter’s gun. Though not visible the audience hears the shotgun blasts and sees Bambi running through the forest desperately yelling for his mother. In the Land before Time, the audience sees Littlefoot’s on-screen witnessing of the death of his mother. Nemo’s mother and siblings are killed by a barracuda and Nemo narrowly escapes with his own life in Finding Nemo. In the movie the Lion King, Mufasa is killed by a stampede of wildebeest. The audience has to witness not only the violent death scene, but also the range of emotions that Simba experiences believing the death was his fault.
So the question is why do these films, intended for a young audience have so much death? Perhaps it’s the sympathy that is evoked by a child orphaned by his parents. As an audience we innately want to root for the underdog. What better hero than a kid served up a platter of bad luck and coming out on the other side a well-adjusted, compassionate and generous contributor to society? Or perhaps it’s simply that kids really can’t go on a super cool adventure with his parents reminding him to be home by dinner time, or to wear shoes for fear he might step on a rusty nail. In all truth though, a child would be considered lucky to have his first glimpse of the end of a life be a cinematic event instead of a real-life tragedy. However fictional, these on-screen deaths in the eyes of a child can be an impactful moment in his or her life.