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Research Christmas 2014: Media Studies

CARTOONS KILL: casualties in animated recreational theater in an objective observational new study of kids’ introduction to loss of life

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 16 December 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7184
  1. Ian Colman, associate professor of epidemiology1,
  2. Mila Kingsbury, developmental psychologist1,
  3. Murray Weeks, developmental psychologist1,
  4. Anushka Ataullahjan, PhD student2,
  5. Marc-André Bélair, MSc student1,
  6. Jennifer Dykxhoorn, MSc student1,
  7. Katie Hynes, undergraduate student1,
  8. Alexandra Loro, undergraduate student1,
  9. Michael S Martin, PhD student1,
  10. Kiyuri Naicker, PhD student1,
  11. Nathaniel Pollock, PhD student3,
  12. Corneliu Rusu, MSc student1,
  13. James B Kirkbride, Sir Henry Dale fellow4
  1. 1Department of Epidemiology and Community Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada
  2. 2School of Public Health, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
  3. 3Division of Community Health and Humanities, Memorial University, St John’s, NFLD, Canada
  4. 4Division of Psychiatry, University College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to: I Colman icolman{at}
  • Accepted 7 November 2014


Objectives To assess the risk of on-screen death of important characters in children’s animated films versus dramatic films for adults.

Design Kaplan-Meier survival analysis with Cox regression comparing time to first on-screen death.

Setting Authors’ television screens, with and without popcorn.

Participants Important characters in 45 top grossing children’s animated films and a comparison group of 90 top grossing dramatic films for adults.

Main outcome measures Time to first on-screen death.

Results Important characters in children’s animated films were at an increased risk of death compared with characters in dramatic films for adults (hazard ratio 2.52, 95% confidence interval 1.30 to 4.90). Risk of on-screen murder of important characters was higher in children’s animated films than in comparison films (2.78, 1.02 to 7.58).

Conclusions Rather than being the innocuous form of entertainment they are assumed to be, children’s animated films are rife with on-screen death and murder.


  • The first author thanks Catherine M Pound, who inadvertently inspired this study by saying “You’re watching Finding Nemo with your children this evening? Take my advice: skip over the first 5 minutes.” The authors also thank the peer reviewer who helpfully acknowledged that the first five minutes of Finding Nemo were comparable with the shower scene in Psycho; and the many film studios that produced the source material for this study. Despite all the carnage, data collection was most enjoyable.

  • Contributors: The study was conceived by IC and JBK. All authors participated in the design of the study, participated in data collection, commented on the implications of the results, and critically reviewed the final manuscript. IC, MK, MW, and JBK designed the analytical plan. MK performed the data analysis and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. IC is guarantor.

  • Funding: This research was supported, in part, by funding from the Canada Research Chairs program for IC. JBK is supported by a Sir Henry Dale Fellowship jointly funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society (Grant No 101272/Z/13/Z).

  • Competing interests: All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form at and declare: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

  • Ethical approval: Not required. No fictitious characters, whether dying during follow-up or surviving, could provide informed consent to participate in this research. Any resemblance of fictitious characters to the authorship team is purely coincidental.

  • Data sharing: The statistical code and dataset are available from the corresponding author.

  • Transparency declaration: The lead author (the manuscript’s guarantor) affirms that this manuscript is an honest, accurate, and transparent account of the study being reported; that no important aspects of the study have been omitted; and that any discrepancies from the study as planned (and, if relevant, registered) have been explained.

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