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Children's Movies May Be More Violent Than G Rating Implies

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WebMD Health News

May 23, 2000 -- It's among the most violent children's movies ever released, but A Bug's Life got a G rating from the movie industry. Only Quest for Camelot has more screen time devoted to hurting, eating, or otherwise killing characters. Happily Ever After comes in third.

A new study documents the violence found in 74 children's animated, G-rated movies. Results of the researchers' two-month video-viewing marathon are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Among parents, "there's a general sense that G-rated means it's OK," says the study's author, Fumie Yokota, MS, who is with Harvard University's School of Public Health. "What we found is that it might be providing a false sense of security about content. There's at least one act of violence in every film. We're not saying it's good or bad, but that parents may want to look into violent content before kids watch it."

Yokota and colleague Kimberly M. Thompson, ScD, viewed virtually every children's animated film ever made, dating back to 1937's Snow White. (It contains eight minutes of violence, with two fatal injuries, and four types of weapons, including poison).

Quest for Camelot, a 1998 release, has 24 minutes of violence, with three fatalities. A Bug's Life, also a 1998 release, has three fatalities and contains 18 minutes of violence overall. Happily Ever After (1990) has nearly 18 minutes of violence, with five fatalities.

The researchers define violence as "intentional acts to cause harm, to coerce, or for fun, where the aggressor makes some physical contact that has potential to inflict injury or harm." Accidents or calamities, such as earthquakes and storms, were not included in the definition.

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 off-screen action" (for example, when a shoe thrown by a character off-screen is seen hitting the target character).

The authors admit they made subjective judgments to characterize the violence, whether it was light (or funny), dark (or sinister), neutral, or some combination of the three, they say. And since their definition of "violence" was broad, they also tried to characterize the intent of the violent act -- whether there was intent to injure, or whether it was used to defend against an attacker.

What they found in A Bug's Life, for example, was that "the bad character Hopper, in various scenes, intimidates his own group of thugs by slapping them around and menacing the ant colony in various ways," Yokota tells WebMD. "There are several chase scenes. And when Hopper does get killed, there's a fairly dramatic scene where a bird munches him up. ? There is physical force. And there was a lot of slapstick, pushing each other around, even among the good guys."

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