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.