Objective. To quantify and characterize the depiction of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances in G-rated animated feature films.
Method. The content of all G-rated animated feature films released in theaters between 1937 and 2000, recorded in English, and available on videocassette in the United States by October 31, 2000, was reviewed for portrayals of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances and their use. Duration of scenes depicting alcohol, tobacco, or other substances; type of characters using them (good, neutral, or bad); and correlation of amount and type used with character type and movie type were evaluated.
Results. Of the 81 films reviewed, 38 films (47%) showed alcohol use (mean exposure: 42 seconds per film; range: 2 seconds to 2.9 minutes) and 35 films (43%) showed tobacco use (mean exposure: 2.1 minutes per film; range: 2 seconds to 10.5 minutes). Analysis of time trends showed a significant decrease in both tobacco and alcohol use over time (both corrected for total screen duration and uncorrected.) No films showed the use of illicit drugs, although 3 films showed characters consuming a substance that transfigured them and 2 films showed characters injected with a drug. Analysis of the correlation of alcohol and tobacco depiction revealed several scenes in which alcohol and tobacco were shown in use in the same scene and that bar scenes in these movies depict a significant amount of drinking, smoking, and violence. Three films contained a message that a character should stop smoking but none contained messages about restricting consumption of alcohol.
Conclusions. The depiction of alcohol and tobacco use in G-rated animated films seems to be decreasing over time. Nonetheless, parents should be aware that nearly half of the G-rated animated feature films available on videocassette show alcohol and tobacco use as normative behavior and do not convey the long-term consequences of this use.
Substance use represents an area of critical concern to practicing pediatricians and parents, and numerous studies suggest the prevalence of the depiction of substances in popular media.1–10 Although the link between experiencing media that show a behavior and the imitation of the behavior by youth is limited to correlation, not causation,1 the results of previous content analyses suggest that the media disproportionately show substance use as a normative behavior and that they fail to convey the long-term consequences of substance use.2
Alcohol remains a pervasive drug on television and in movies.2 Anecdotal evidence suggests that some of the depiction may be unnecessary to the plot and be presented humorously or as a rite of passage.3 One study that reviewed the content of 16 of the most popular R-rated films in the mid-1980s reported that all films contained alcohol use with an average of 16 episodes of alcohol use per film.4 A recent study of the 200 most popular video rentals from 1996 to 1997 found that 93% of the films depicted alcohol use, with 43% of films showing the consequences of use, 14% of films showing a character refusing alcohol, and 9% containing messages about not using alcohol.5
With respect to tobacco use, overall rate of smoking appears as a stable and significant presence in motion pictures released in the last few decades.6 The study by Hazan et al6 found that a random sample of top-grossing films made between 1960 and 1990 showed actors smoking at 3 times the rate of American adults. An analysis of the top 25 grossing films of each year between 1988 and 1997 found that 76.4% of the films contained tobacco use.7 Similarly, 89% of the 200 most popular movie rentals of 1996 and 1997 depicted characters using tobacco.5 Studies also suggest that movie depictions of smoking tend to be prosmoking and that smokers in movies tend to be the middle-class white male heroes8 who are sexier and more romantic than nonsmokers.9 A recent analysis of 50 films starring 10 popular actresses released between 1993 and 1997 found that 38% of male and 42% of female actors in lead or supporting roles smoked on screen.10 The likelihood of an actress to smoke did not vary between film ratings; however, a film with a PG or PG-13 rating was less likely to contain negative messages about smoking than an R-rated movie.10
Recently, we reported an analysis of the content of violence in G-rated animated feature films.11 During this content analysis, we also collected data on the alcohol and tobacco use that expanded on an earlier study by Goldstein et al.12 Goldstein et al12 found that 34 of the 50 films in their study (68%) showed at least 1 character using alcohol or tobacco and that good characters were as likely to use alcohol and tobacco as bad characters. Our review includes 35 films not included in the study by Goldstein et al12 and excludes 4 films that they reviewed that did not fit our criteria—3 rated PG (The Black Cauldron,James and the Giant Peach, and Space Jam), and 1 direct-to-video film (Land Before Time, II).13
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 October 31, 2000. Eighty-three films that fit our criteria were identified through searching the IMDb Internet Movie Database,14 and referencing Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide for accuracy.13 Two of these films (Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night and Race for Your Life Charlie Brown) were not available for sale or rental at the time of the study. We believe that the 81 films reviewed constitute the universe of G-rated animated feature film videos that are currently available for sale or rental.
We recorded the data from each incident of alcohol and tobacco exposure using a standard data collection instrument (available from the authors on request) and a videocassette recorder with an onscreen time counter display. An incident of exposure to alcohol, tobacco, or other illicit drug-like substance was defined as each instance of continuous display of an alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drug product on screen. For each of the 81 films that we reviewed, we recorded the year that the film was released in theaters, the title of the film, and the total running time of the film in minutes. For each incident of exposure, we recorded the start and end time of the exposure in seconds (from which we computed the duration of the incident), the type of substance shown, whether and which characters were shown using the substance, and the nature of the character who used the substance. In addition, we recorded whether a physical effect of the substance was shown and whether a health message was verbally conveyed. We computed the total duration of exposure by adding the durations of each of the incidents. For consistency, all films were reviewed and coded by 1 of the authors (F.Y.). K.M.T. verified a randomly selected subset of films (n = 13) and both authors discussed all particular instances in films that were difficult to code. We transcribed all of the data from the collection sheets into a database created in Microsoft Access, Version 2000 (Microsoft Corp, Redmond, WA) to facilitate analysis. The descriptive analyses were preformed using Microsoft Excel, Version 2000 (Microsoft Corp).
We explored 2 main hypotheses. First, we sought to test the hypothesis that the depiction of alcohol and tobacco has increased over time in animated G-rated films. Second, we wanted to test the hypothesis that the presence of substance use would be correlated and that their presence would be correlated with characters committing violent acts. We assessed the inferences about these hypotheses based on the data that we collected using both nonparametric Spearman's rank correlation and regression analyses using S-PLUS, Version 2000(MathSoft Inc, Cambridge, MA).
Table 1 summarizes the content of alcohol use in G-rated animated films. The 38 films with alcohol use had a minimum of 2 seconds of screen time and a maximum of 2.9 minutes. These films exposed viewers to an average of 42 seconds of alcohol use. In a majority of the incidents, at least 1 character was shown drinking an alcoholic beverage (52%). In 15 of the 38 films with alcohol exposure (40%), an effect of drinking such as hiccups, staggering, or flushed face was shown. None of the films, however, contained a health message about the use of alcohol.
For these films, characters drinking wine accounted for the largest share of the total screen duration of alcohol use (39%), followed by beer (24%), champagne (20%), spirits (ie, hard liquor or mixed drinks; 17%), and a combination of drinks were screened together <1% of the time. Good, neutral, and bad characters accounted for 23%, 44%, and 21% of the total exposure of alcohol use, respectively. Characters of different qualities were shown drinking together ∼13% of the time.
Although the use of alcohol varies greatly from film to film, there seems to be a slight decreasing trend over time (Fig 1). We tested whether characters' use of alcohol changed over time using Spearman's rank correlation and found a negative rank correlation (ρ = −0.22; P = .05) for alcohol use, which was also negative when adjusted for variation in film length (ρ = −0.23; P = .04). Using regression analysis, we found a significant negative trend in the characters' use of alcohol over time (β = −0.60;P = .01; R2 = 0.09), which was also significant and negative when adjusted for the variation in film length (β = −0.01%; P = .01;R2 = 0.09). We also regressed a dummy variable (1 = alcohol present; 0 = alcohol absent) to see whether the presence of alcohol in these G-rated films has changed over time. We found a slight negative trend in the presence of alcohol, although it is not statistically significant (β = −0.004;P = .18; R2 = 0.03).
Table 1 also summarizes the content of tobacco use in G-rated animated films. The 35 films with tobacco exposure had a minimum of 2 seconds of screen time and a maximum of 10.5 minutes. The average for these films was 2.1 minutes of exposure to smoking. Ninety-five percent of incidents showed at least 1 character using a tobacco product. In 13 of these films (37%), a physical effect from smoking, such as coughing or turning green, is shown. Only 1 film had a specific health message about the adverse health effects of smoking tobacco (Batso inHappily Ever After says to Scowl “You've gotta stop smoking. It's going to kill you!”). However, in 2 other films at least 1 character urged a smoker to stop smoking (Princess Camille and Nemo in Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland and Digit inAn American Tail).
Characters smoking cigars accounted for most of the total screen duration (67%) followed by pipe smoking (14%), cigarettes (11%), other tobacco products (5%), and some combination of products were shown 3% of the time. Good, neutral, and bad characters accounted for 35%, 26%, and 39% of the total screen duration of tobacco, respectively. Characters with different quality classification were shown smoking together <1% of the time.
Although the use of tobacco varies greatly from film to film, there seems to be a slight decreasing trend over time (Fig 2). We tested whether characters' use of tobacco in films has changed over time using Spearman's rank correlation and found a negative rank correlation (ρ = −0.22;P = .05), which remained negative when adjusted for variation in film length (ρ = −0.22; P = .05). Using regression analysis, we found a significant negative trend in the characters' use of tobacco over time (β = −1.92;P = .01; R2 = 0.08) and when adjusted for the variation in film length (β = −0.04%; P = .01; R2= 0.09). Similar to the results for alcohol depiction, regression of a dummy variable for presence of tobacco in the films over time showed a negative trend that was not significant (β = −0.004;P = .18; R2 = 0.02).
No film contained the use of illicit drugs, although 3 films showed at least 1 character consuming a magical food, pill, or potion that transfigured them (Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, and We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story) and 2 films showed characters using a syringe to inject a substance into another character (The Secret of NIMH and Doug's First Movie). We also assumed that all characters smoking pipes were smoking tobacco, including Lewis Carroll's hookah-smoking caterpillar who appears in Alice in Wonderland and who the rock group Jefferson Airplane assumed to be smoking marijuana in its 1967 song “While Rabbit” by Grace Slick.15
Regarding our hypotheses that the presence of alcohol and tobacco use would be correlated and that they would be correlated with violent acts, we found 10 films that showed drinking and smoking together and in 6 of these films violent acts were also shown with the drinking and smoking. We previously collected data on violent content in 74 films,11 and for these we found a small positive correlation between films that depict both alcohol and tobacco use (r = 0.20), but neither tobacco nor alcohol use was correlated with violence in the films (r = −0.07;r = 0.07). The results were similar when we adjusted for the variation in length of movies (r = 0.24;r = −0.05; r = 0.07).
A total of 13 of the 81 G-rated animated features (16%) contained scenes set in a bar or nightclub. The films with a bar or nightclub scene were much more likely to contain the use of alcohol (odds ratio: 19.4; 95% confidence interval: 2.4–158.0) and tobacco (odds ratio: 10.1; 95% confidence interval: 2.1–49.3). We also found that violent acts were committed within the establishments in 12 of the films (92%) with bar scenes.
Although the amount of alcohol and tobacco use in G-rated animated films seems to be decreasing, nearly half of these popular films do depict alcohol and tobacco use. Furthermore, although these results are encouraging, the trends do not provide a strong indication of a commitment from the film industry to eliminate the depiction of alcohol and tobacco use in G-rated animated films. The presence of a bar or nightclub scene is a significant predictor for the presence of alcohol and tobacco use, and the high incidence of violent acts occurring in the bar and nightclub scenes suggests that bars are exciting and dangerous places.
For the 46 films in our database that were also included by Goldstein et al,12 their estimate of total exposure to tobacco correlated highly with our estimate (r = 0.96), with our estimates for tobacco exposure tending to be slightly higher than their estimates. In contrast, our estimates for alcohol exposure were much less correlated (r = 0.63), with our estimates of alcohol exposure tending to be lower than their estimates. We believe that the primary explanation for the differences in the alcohol estimates relates to slight differences between definitions of alcohol use. We included as exposure only scenes in which an alcoholic beverage was in view. For example, Goldstein et al12 included instances like the screen presence of the drunken character, Uncle Waldo, in The Aristocats. We did not include this, however, because Uncle Waldo is never seen with an alcoholic drink. In contrast, we found alcohol use in 3 of the films in which they did not (Fantasia, Pippi Longstocking, and The Rescuers). The slightly different definition indicates 1 important limitation of content analyses. Specifically, the lack of agreed upon standards for defining what constitutes exposure to particular content means that the results are subject to differences in interpretation.
Other limitations of this analysis include our reliance on classical statistical methods for assessing the probability of observing the data that we collected given the hypotheses, instead of using Bayesian methods to assess the probability that the hypotheses were true given our prior probability and the observed data. We also recognize that the results of our statistical tests hovered at ∼5%, a level commonly used as the basis for determining significance of the findings (ie, the observed data would be expected to occur by chance in 5% or fewer of the samples taken if the hypothesis is true). As a result, we expect that analysts might differ in their interpretation of the significance of our findings. The fact that no uniform commitment by the industry motivates exclusion of alcohol or tobacco content from these films makes our findings of a decrease in alcohol and tobacco use over time more likely to be one that arises coincidentally. Furthermore, the fact that these results contrast with those from other studies suggests the need for additional investigation.
The focus on violence by the Federal Trade Commission's recent report unequivocally concludes that the entertainment industry marketed motion pictures, music, and electronic games to audiences younger than might be expected given its own rating systems.16 Our content analysis, which finds alcohol, tobacco, and other substances depicted in nearly half of all G-rated animated films, suggests that the Federal Trade Commission, parents, and pediatricians should also consider the presence of messages about substances in media marketed to children.
Recent statements by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that pediatricians engage in active media education and encourage parental participation, such as regular coviewing and content discussion, as well as teaching critical viewing skills.17 For parents seeking to review the content of a film before children watch it in the theater or on videocassette, to determine the suitability of the material for their child and to prepare themselves to discuss the content of films that a child may see with or without a parent, Internet sites exist that provide more information. For example, Screen It provides a review of a film's content, including use of alcohol/drugs and tobacco, and indicates a rating for the amount of smoking and alcohol/drugs in each film reviewed on a scale from none to heavy.18
The depiction of alcohol and tobacco use in films seems to be decreasing, but only 3 films contained a message that a character should stop smoking and none contained messages about restricting the consumption of alcohol. No G-rated animated film contained depictions of illicit drug use. Nonetheless, parents and physicians should be aware that nearly half of the G-rated animated films show alcohol and tobacco use and do not convey the long-term consequences of this use.
This research was partially supported by a gift to the Harvard School of Public Health from Mitchell Dong and Robin LaFoley Dong.
We thank Dr Victor Strasburger for his encouragement, suggestions for the literature review, and helpful comments on this manuscript.
- Received July 25, 2000.
- Accepted November 6, 2000.
Reprint requests to (K.M.T.) Harvard School of Public Health, Center for Risk Analysis, 718 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02115. E-mail:
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- Copyright © 2001 American Academy of Pediatrics