I first observed this personally when my eldest girl, Daisy, was still pretty small. A funny and mild as mild can be episode of Pingu was on. Something bad happened to Pingu (probably because he did something a little naughty, that rascally penguin!) and then it all turned out fine at the end. All Daisy took away from the episode was that Pingu was sad.
Much later, the same effect was observed with Happy Feet. The one part that registered? The scary seal. The happy ending was totally wasted on her.
I was reading some research into educational television that said children take in information best when they’re emotionally invested in the show. It seems so obvious.
So, applying that to general entertainment whether with or without any educational value, when are children going to be most emotionally invested in a film or show? During the ‘relax folks, the world is great and everything is okay’ parts? Or during the ’OMG run, something is going to eat us!!!’ parts?
You might be looking at your child (or indeed your audience) thinking, this is great, they’re really hooked by this show, whereas what they’re seeing is effectively a horror film for kids. The ‘mild peril’ parts may be the only parts that stay with them when they go to bed that night. I am not saying with this post that peril should be avoided or your show must be toned down into nothingness. Not at all. In fact, the more inventive among you may find ways to use this positively somehow. But what children take away from your show at any given point in the episode is always something to consider. Especially when you’re dealing with a younger audience, who might not effectively verbalise what they feel about the show.
More often than not, children remember the scary stuff.