Screening the Nightmare: Terror Management in Children’s Media

Katie English


Producers of children’s media often aspire to create content that is both entertaining to children and meaningful to adults. This course of action has resulted in children’s literature and other media that challenge the notion of an “innocent child” audience, engaging with often unresolved themes that are more appropriate to adult society. Such instances threaten the traditional notion of purely naïve, tender childhood. This study focuses on Adventure Time, a Cartoon Network series, as a contemporary retelling of “Peter and Wendy” by J.M. Barrie. I will examine the transformation of the distinctly violent “Peter and Wendy,” a stage play (1904) turned novel (1911), into the deceivingly subdued Disney animated film adaptation Peter Pan (1953), and then into the whimsical yet ominous Adventure Time cartoon series (2010-present). It is important to consider the intersection of Adventure Time with these prior iterations of the Peter Pan story, because all of these versions expose seemingly irresolvable conflicts, such as society’s desire for continued growth and its exhaustion of the environment into a post-apocalyptic landscape.

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