Drawing of children watchin television in a children's room

Musicalised Characters: A study of music, multimodality, and the empiric child perspective on mainstream animation

This PhD thesis discusses how music and characters in popular, animated films can be approached and analysed in accordance with an empirical child perspective.

Project information

Project members: Signe Kjaer Jensen (Linnaeus University)

September 2016 – ongoing

PhD Project 

More about the project

In this thesis, I explore how animated characters are constructed as psychological beings which children can understand and identify with – as if they were real humans. The analysis considers the narrative context of a character but is particularly focused on the musical and multimodal construction of a character, meaning particular attention is put on how character traits are communicated by the use of music, voice, colours, camera perspective, etc. This analysis of the construction of characters is then compared to actual child audiences’ expressions of their experiences and interpretations, obtained through observations and interviews, in order to highlight how children understand and relate to the material they are presented to. 

Understanding and interpreting an animated film is conditioned by the structure of that film, but interpretation is also conditioned by the communicative situation and social position of the audience, as well as personal experiences, and as such no ‘absolute’ interpretation can be made, not even within a uniform group. This does not mean that we shouldn’t aim to understand how people process and relate to media, however, or to understand how children experience the animated films that are so immensely popular, overflowing our mainstream culture. By analysing the multimodal semiotic potential of three selected films, Frozen (2013), Up (2009) and Shrek the Third (2007), and comparing these analyses with children’s multimodal expressions (children often communicate through gestures or by humming or signing, necessitating multimodal interview transcriptions) of their understandings and opinions, it is the goal of this thesis to shed light on the ways that children relate to and use filmic form, particularly music, in negotiating the content, particularly characters, of the film, in a process where meaning is created in the active reception process of a child in a communicative situation.