If you are anything like me, you really like animation. And, if you like animation, you might have noticed that a lot of animated films and television shows star or include animals. Some are the main characters, some talk but are supporting characters, and some act as animals naturally would. From first til last in that list, the character designs become less and less anthropomorphized. That is, they have fewer and fewer human-like traits. This is mostly because the audience relates more to characters which exhibit human behavior, and also because animators can express emotion and a wide range of movements if they make them more like humans.
In the first category, the animals as main characters, are some of the most famous cartoon characters. Mickey and Friends, Bugs Bunny and almost all of the other Loony Toon characters, Kipper, etc. These characters are all animals, but they walk upright and display human behavior. They live in houses, and wear clothes (well, some of them) and act just as humans would. But they’re animals, which makes them cute and likable.
Big eyes are great at showing emotion and showing the goodness of a character. If you pay attention to it, you may notice that the heroes’ eyes are generally larger and have bigger pupils than those of the villains. And, if you remember, Mickey and Friends used to have solid black eyes, until Fantasia, when Mickey’s eyes were changed to include a pupil, allowing for a wider range of emotions and expressions and also allowing the audience to relate more to him. In movies like The Lion King, where all of the characters are animals but they remain looking like animals, their eyes are drawn more human-like, in order to be able to express emotions well. They also move their paws or wings or hooves in a way to suggest hands.
The second category is animal characters who talk but aren’t the main characters. These characters retain their animal appearances, with the exception of the eyes and sometimes exaggerated features. One of the best examples that I can think of is Sebastian from The Little Mermaid.
I wouldn’t say that he is a halfway point between anthropomorphic characters and fully animal characters, because his design is leaning more towards the latter, but his face is an exaggerated and humanized version of a crab face. Some other good examples of characters in this category are Odette’s animal companions in The Swan Princess and the chicken and dragon characters in The Quest for Camelot.
The final category, that being animals who act like animals, is probably about as common as the other two categories, but those characters don’t stick in our minds as much. Speaking of The Quest for Camelot, the horses are not anthropomorphic. They act like horses in reality would. Thus, they are drawn more realistically. This doesn’t mean that we can’t sympathize with them, though. In particular, Muddy from The Long, Long Holiday stands out, because he acts exactly like a pig would in real life, but I felt exactly as attached to him (maybe more) as I did for all the human protagonists.
Thank you for taking the time to read! Do you have any observations of your own on this topic? Please share them in the comments below! Did you read because you like animals? Head on over to Zazzle and Redbubble, where we have lots of fantastic animal designs. Until then, goodbye, and I’ll leave you with a picture of Djali, an animal character somewhere between the second and third categories, from my all-time favorite movie.
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