"Nutty" Movies?
Mental Illness in Disney Films

June 4, 2004

Where, when and what do children learn about mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia? Do they learn about these illnesses from their family and friends? Or could it be from... The Walt Disney Company? Do Disney animated movies give children their first glimpse into mental illness?

Researchers Ms. Andrea Lawson and Dr. Gregory Fouts (Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada) counted the number of verbal references to mental illness in 34 animated, feature-length Disney films. Words and phrases such as "crazy," "lunatic," "nuts," "loony" and "out of one's mind" were counted and assigned to different characters in each movie. Comments about characters, not situations, were included in the analysis.

References to characters with mental illness were made in 29 of the 34 (85%) films. Many (21%) of the main characters in these films were referred to as mentally ill. For example, Maurice in Beauty and the Beast, Jafar in Aladdin and Mrs. Jumbo in Dumbo were all portrayed as mentally ill. Mental illness was mentioned more than once or twice in each film. In fact, mental illness was referred to an average of 4.6 times per film. The words used most often to describe mental illness were:

  1. "crazy"
  2. "mad" or "madness"
  3. "nut" or "nutty"

Commonly, these words were used to make fun of a character. Other uses of the words were meant to make people fear or distrust those people who they called mentally ill.

It is clear from this study that children who watch animated Disney movies see many images and hear many negative comments about people with mental illness. Does watching such movies affect or shape a child's attitude about people with mental illness? Further research may provide the answers.

See you at the movies!

Reference and further information:

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