Recent study on cartoon violence

Whenever I hear of someone studying violence in cartoons, I immediately get ready to defend the art form.   Here is the latest report from Andrew Weaver, an assistant professor at Indiana University.

Here is a quote:

“Violence isn’t the attractive component in these cartoons, which producers seem to think it is. It’s more other things that are often associated with the violence. It’s possible to have those other components, such as action specifically, in non-violent ways,” Weaver said in an interview. “I think we should be concerned about violent content in cartoons in terms of the potential effect. This is one way that we can get around that from a producer’s point of view.

Do producers think violence is attractive, as the quote claims?  I’m not inclined to agree with that.  I don’t see all that much violence in cartoons anymore.

Research assistants showed each child one of four versions of a five-minute animated short created for the study and then led them through a questionnaire. The short was designed to resemble familiar slapstick cartoons. Four different versions of the cartoon were used. Six violent scenes were added to one version, which was carried out by both characters and in response to earlier aggression. Nine action scenes were added to another version. Two other versions had lower amounts of action or violence.

Two of the videos are on youtube, but have embedding disabled.

If you watch the shorts, you’ll quickly see they are extremely poor representations of cartoon slapstick comedy. They are badly rendered flash animation of unappealing and characterless figures. The violence isn’t slapstick, it’s just punching. It’s presented as actual violence, not cartoon violence. Cartoon violence creates a comic atmosphere that a viewer knows to be exaggerated for entertainment value. To be truthful, I don’t like the violence in these videos for that reason. It’s not playful, it’s mean.

To correct your quote, assistant prof. Weaver, violence isn’t the attractive feature in your cartoons.

The “science” is absolute bunk.  It’s like slapping some paint on a canvas in a haphazard way, showing it to some kids, and proclaiming children don’t like expressionism.  Here is my theory:  People who can’t tell the difference between real violence, and slapstick, and want to prove there is no difference, will produce videos that support their theory.

Now enjoy an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon:



The moment I heard the electro-mechanical hum at the start of this short film, I thought “Tati”

Supinfocom is a school for digital animation, where the students work together in teams to direct short films. Their films have usually impressed me, but this one is so special I have to post it here. It was created by Bertrand Avril, Pierre Chomarat, David Dangin, and Thea Matland. The title “Slimtime” is a take on “Playtime”, the film by Jacques Tati, and the short carries out the Playtime aesthetic beautifully.   The voices and conversations of the women sound like they were taken right from the feature film, and the body animation matches perfectly.

Slimtime from Slimtime on Vimeo.

If this crew could produce more of these, I would pay to own them.

Here is their website

Here is a link to an interview with the filmmakers.

Worth Reading

I’m guessing that most visitors don’t look at the few comments this blog gets. But Stephen Worth, director of the ASIFA Hollywood Animation Archive,  sometimes leaves excellent remarks. So I’m going to post his latest one here, and call it “Worth Reading.”  Hopefully the first in a series.

In response to my THOR post, ( I can’t help putting THOR in capitals ) Stephen brought a valuable perspective on the use of archetypes in animation.

Most super heroes are cardboard cutouts because the focus is on the unimportant stuff… The McGuffin. Superpowers don’t automatically make a character interesting. Specificity of personality does.

Bogart is Bogart and Chaplin is Chaplin. They can be in just about any situation that fits their own internal logic and be interesting. It doesn’t matter if they can see through walls or bounce bullets off their chest. The vividness of their individuality is what makes them compelling.

In The Incredibles, the family were so ordinary and archetypal, they became sym­bols of their characters… Generic dad, generic mom, generic kids… The only thing that made them truly unique was their super powers, which put all the emphasis on the McGuffin. When the one specific and unique personality in the whole movie– Edna walked on the screen, she wiped the floor with every one other character. It was impossible to care about any other character when she was on the screen.

Had the emphasis been on creating specific personalities for the rest of the cast, we wouldn’t be talking about super powers and details of the plot, we’d be talking about the characters and their particular motivations. The personalities would make the whole thing work, regardless of the situational details.

Animation’s most deadly disease is archetypal characters. It was the internal rot that brought down Disney in the 70s, and it threatens to do the same today. We need to look to specific characters like Olive Oyl, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck for inspiration. And instead of building symbolic characters like Father Knows Best and Leave It To Beaver, we need to create individuals like Barney Fife, Fred Mertz and Miss Jane Hathaway.  If the characters were more compelling, we wouldn’t be arguing things like “who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman?”


Earlier I posted about superpowers being a shortcut for creating interesting characters. After seeing Thor recently, I must say that superheroes become most interesting when they are not using their powers.  Since the comic books are such a huge world to themselves, I’m limiting my thoughts to the movie versions.


I saw Thor last week.  When Thor loses his god powers and becomes a mortal among humans, is when he is most entertaining. He’s still a viking, and vikings are cool, especially among scientists and pretty girls. Muscles aside, he’s charming and confident, and that makes him interesting. His vulnerability at that point also makes us have empathy towards him. To the audience, he is now more real.   Superpowers, while spectacular, push characters outside our world.  It’s when they come down to earth, like Thor, that we can experience their real “character.”

It is the same way with Robert Downy Jr. in Ironman. When he is Tony Stark, his cockiness and wit get laughs.  Pepper Potts treats him like a regular guy, which grounds him in reality.   It’s a formula that really works.  I have to say Bruce Wayne (Batman) never held my interest that much.

This is why The Incredibles is a great superhero story.   Their superpowers are constantly used for action and comedy, but it’s their situations that make them relatable.  As a family, they have all the same issues that regular families have.  The fact that society has rejected them and having to keep their nature secret is a pressure way beyond what normal families live with, and we see them dealing with it.  It all works together organically to create a rich story experience.


National Mood and Cartoon Content

Here is something interesting. posted a two part article about national mood, measured in Dow Jones “bull” and “bear” markets, being reflected in the content of cartoons.  In a nutshell, when the markets are up, cartoon content is more positive.  When markets are down, content becomes more serious and cynical.  Here are some of the graphics

The articles are not difficult reading, and offer some interesting perspective on animation history. And it makes sense. When life is good, people do not want to question it, they want to enjoy it. When life is difficult, people like to see stories about others in difficult situations, because they can relate to it.

Here are the links: PART 1 and PART 2

I particularly like this graphic, although I’m not sure I agree with the “art” category.

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