Thoughts on storytelling and the world of animation. Caution! SPOILERS!

Blog #7 – Anthropomorphism

I admit, I got a little . . . crotchety last Tuesday in class.  It was Donald Duck’s fault.  Or perhaps the writer’s fault.  In any cause, I was bouncing up and down yelling while Donald did things that went against his very cartoon nature.

Donald is a duck.  If you can’t tell by looking at him, it’s also right there in his name.  You can’t deny it.  Ducks have awesome abilities.  They are at home flying through the air, walking on the ground, or swimming through water.  I can only do one of the three!  I would be quite happy to be a duck.  Donald, however, has no clue that he’s a duck.  He sat and whined while peeling potatoes about wanting to fly, which seems to be a totally understandable thing for a duck stuck indoors on KP duty.  But when he has to jump out of a plane, he balks!  Why?  He’s a duck!  DUCKS FLY!   I had the same reaction when he was struggling with the rubber boat.  You don’t need a boat, Donald!  Fortunately that boat turned out to  be more useful to him than just getting him down a river, but still!

And then, of course, there was the not-duck-related-but-confusing-just-the-same.  Donald walks into an Army recruitment office.  Wearing a sailor suit.  Which should indicate that he’s in the Navy.  Why is a Navy duck signing on with the Army?  Can you even do that?  If he wasn’t in the Navy, why would he go sign up for the Army if he was inclined to wear sailor suits, indicating he liked the sea?

I eventually was able to turn off my mental alarm that screams ILLOGICAL!   ILLOGICAL!  in Data’s voice. I sat and thought about anthropomorphism, the application of human characteristics to non-human items, as they related to animated films.  I felt better once I was able to sort all the types of animal characters I knew into categories.  It allowed me to accept that Donald could be duck shaped but unable to fly on his own.  I am still uncertain about what really happens when an anthropomorphic animal character meets a non-anthropomorphic animal of the same species (like Mickey encountering a REAL mouse.).  It seems to  me I once read a book about it but I can’t bring it to mind.

Still.  Here’s my categories:

1.  Animal characters where they’re totally animals in a human world, like the main characters in Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmations.   We just get to hear their thoughts and conversations, but their behavior is consistent with those of real animals.  No walking on hind legs or driving cars!

2.  Characters who are animals, know they’re animals, but take on more human characteristics, like wearing clothes and owning furniture, but still living in a very human world, like An American Tail, The Great Mouse Detective, or The Rescuers (or The Muppets!).  They live on the outskirts of human life, but imitate it closely.

3.  Animal characters who realize they’re animals and have a mix of animal traits and human traits, but they seem to live in their own world.  Bugs Bunny is an obvious example.  He eats carrots and hops around like a rabbit when it suits him, but can play the piano and operate weapons.  His world is vaguer, as he is generally outside, and doesn’t have a lot of interaction with other characters.  Those he does interact with, like Elmer Fudd, are not at all surprised by his ability to speak and act like a human.  Cars is another example, unusual in that it involves not animals at all but vehicles, who have houses and jobs, but no humans seem to be around.

4.  Finally we have characters who have no clue that they’re animals, like Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, and entire films like Disney’s Robin Hood.  Although I admit that I haven’t seen too many Disney cartoons featuring the original characters, so I’m having to base this observation on memory and what we’ve seen in class.  And even among that set, they fall into different categories!  Pluto is totally a dog, to the extent that we don’t even get to see or hear his thoughts or voice.  Goofy is also a dog, but he talks and wears clothes.  He doesn’t seem to be aware of his species.   Half the audience apparently isn’t even sure!

I could probably include a fifth category, where an animal character only takes on human characteristics around certain people, but the only examples I can come up with are actually from comic strips.  Hobbes is one of them.  Snoopy is another.  The audience gets to see Snoopy’s alternate life, but the rest of the Peanuts Gang either has no idea about his alter egos or doesn’t understand what he’s doing with the sunglasses.  Hobbes is only real and ‘animate’ for Calvin, where he then falls into section 3.

I obviously desire order in even the animated universe.  Now maybe I can watch Donald again.

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6 thoughts on “Blog #7 – Anthropomorphism

  1. cruiz89 on said:

    It’s funny, it never once crossed my mind that Donald had the ability to fly or swim….and he’s clearly a duck. I think I have been so used to seeing him with such human-like characteristics that I accepted his behaviors and actions, just like some of the other Disney characters. Especially when it comes to the debate of Goofy and Pluto, I still question whether Goofy is a dog. In any case, I really enjoyed reading your different categories of how animals are portrayed in animated films. It allowed me to really analyze some of the characters I have grown to love and how often we give them human characteristics rather than have them behave like real animals.

  2. Pingback: Comments for Week 7 « cruiz89

  3. Kendra Prasad- Hist 389 on said:

    Apart from making me laugh, your blog post really did get me thinking. I never even put the pieces together to realize that Donald went against what should have been his natural instincts. It is almost as if he doesn’t need the duck body at all and would be just as well off being a goofy-looking human character. Perhaps this is to make Donald Duck more relatable to the audience, or maybe Disney created it in that way to create humor and knowing that it really didn’t make much sense. Also very interesting was your point on Pluto and Goofy, and the fact that while they are both dogs, they are portrayed as different species. Thanks for the insight.

  4. History of Childhood Memories on said:

    I understand your point but I think they are exactly what MAKE UP the character of Donald Duck. I belive Walt Disney was very tongue-in-cheek when he created Donald! I think the navy suit walking into the army, and the dying to fly but being put on potato duty was the joke in all of it. That’s what made him so funny, was that all of these things that you can’t do he did them proudly like a blithering idiot and as he does so he entertains us!

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