The Lion King
Credit: Disney

Remember that movie where the title character’s parents are mauled to death by a wild leopard four minutes in? Or how about the one where the protagonist, only a baby, is left to fend for himself after his mom is murdered? Those traumatizing bummers would be Tarzan and Bambi, respectively. New research reported by The Atlantic reveals that those films are no exception: According to a study published yesterday in The British Medical Journal, children’s movies are much more morbid than their adult drama counterparts.

A Canadian epidemiology professor and several developmental psychologists conducted the surprising study, ominously titled “CARTOONS KILL: casualties in animated recreational theater in an objective observational new study of kids’ introduction to loss of life.” In it, the researchers compared the prevalence of death among the top-grossing animated kids’ movies (rated G and PG) and adult dramas for every year since 1937. What did they find? “We conclude that children’s animated films, rather than being innocuous alternatives to the gore and carnage typical of American films, are in fact hotbeds of murder and mayhem.” Yikes. Among the mildly disturbing results:

-Two-thirds of children’s movies depicted the death of a main character, compared to just half of adult dramas.

-Main characters in children’s movies are 2.5 times more likely to die and nearly three times more likely to be murdered than main characters in adult dramas.

-Parents of the main characters in children’s movies are five times as likely to die in a children’s movie as an adult movie. Leading cause of death? Animal attacks. (A Bug’s Life, The Croods, How to Train Your Dragon, Finding Nemo, and Tarzan.) Gunshots and stabbings are up there, too.

You might think that the silver lining in all this is that as brutal as these films are, fictional tragedies can help children prepare emotionally for experiencing real loss later in life. According to this study, though, that’s just not the case. The researchers found that “death and/or the grieving process often go unacknowledged in children’s animated films.” The sole exception they note is The Lion King, in which we see Simba undergo “a complex grieving process and eventually arriving at a healthy acceptance of his father’s death, even forgiving his father’s murderer.”