Kids' Animated Movies Show Drinking, Smoking
June 4, 2001 -- Even in classic children's movies like Pinocchio, characters are smoking cigars, puffing on pipes, and drinking alcohol.
In fact, over half of kids' animated movies show good guys, bad guys -- even neutral characters -- engaged in some pretty negative behaviors, a new study shows.
"Even in the very popular films, it's just sort of there," says Kimberly M. Thompson, DSc, assistant professor of risk analysis and decision science at Harvard School of Public Health. "People don't even notice it."
Her study appears in the June issue of Pediatrics.
"These are movies in the kids' section of your local video store," Thompson tells WebMD. "Our hope is that parents will pay more attention to what kids are watching, talk to them about it, make sure kids get the right messages."
In her study, Thompson reviewed 81 G-rated animated films -- all the way from the 1937 version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to The Tigger Movie, released last year -- tallying up the minutes each showed smoking, drinking, or other substance abuse. They also watched for any messages against these behaviors.
Of the 81 movies viewed, 60% showed alcohol, tobacco, or both, she says. About 40% of the films showed neither alcohol or nor tobacco.
While those are significant percentages, they actually indicate a slight decrease in recent years in what's depicted in movies, Thompson says. "It's slight, but it's encouraging. We think that if parents started demanding that the movie industry do a better job, the industry would be responsive. This is probably a reflection that the industry is responding to some degree."
After all, she adds, "with animated films, the action actually has to be drawn in. So I think it's something that the writer has to believe is an essential part of the character's personality development. I think it's something to think about, particularly with the market of these films getting younger and younger."
A 1945 release -- The Three Caballeros -- showed the most tobacco use (10.5 minutes, which was 15% of the actual film time). More recent releases that showed lots of smoking included 101 Dalmatians (1961), Happily Ever After (1990), and Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1992).
Only three films had messages against smoking: Happily Ever After, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, and An American Tail (1986).
She adds that Sleeping Beauty, released in 1959, showed the most drinking.
"These movies are such a part of our culture -- and some are great stories," Thompson tells WebMD. "We're just saying be aware of what's in them. Help your kids understand what's going on. Talk things over with your kids."
Thompson recommends the web site ScreenIt.com for reviews and smoking/alcohol/drug ratings of children's movies. Her own web site -- www.kidsrisk.harvard.edu -- describes all of Thompson's research in this area.
Thompson's study shows "that the use of substances is so commonplace in our society, we don't even see it anymore," says Michael Rich, MD, MPH, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Rich is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on public education, which assesses the effects of media on children's mental health.
"Kids see [drinking and smoking] as totally normal behavior for grown-ups," Rich says. "They see that being drunk is comical. The behaviors are so commonplace that people don't think they are a big deal."
It's also another reminder, Rich tells WebMD, "that even in what we consider our safest media, there are these negative messages. Yet we put our youngest children in front of these movies without questioning their content."