Friday, December 19, 2008

Critter Casts In Cartoons



Has anybody ever traced the history of human characters in short cartoons? I specifically mean the use of humans as supporting characters in cartoons that are about anthropomorphic animal characters.

For many years, if a cartoon was about a talking animal character, then everybody else in the cartoon would be a talking animal as well. Characters were only drawn as humans if there was some specific reason why they wouldn't work any other way. Like Disney's "The Brave Little Tailor": Mickey is a talking animal; every character he meets in the first part of the film is a talking animal; only the giant is a human, because the term implies a giant human being, not a giant animal.



Now look at a cartoon like "No Hunting," which I wrote about a few weeks back (and if you haven't looked at it, buy or borrow the Chronological Donald Duck Vol. 4 and look at it now). In that cartoon, everybody is a human except Donald, his grandfather, and any animals that are actually supposed to be animals: cows, deer and so on. By the '50s, the rule had completely changed for short cartoons: whereas it was once thought that talking animals should live in a world of talking animals, it became the norm to have your talking animal character surrounded by humans.

One thing that led to this was the development of animal characters who were not quite as humanized as Mickey Mouse. Mickey, and Porky Pig, are basically humans who happen to be drawn as animals. They live like humans, they act like humans, they own animals as pets. The cartoon stars who emerged in the '40s were often animals who actually lived like animals: Tom and Jerry acted like a cat and mouse; Bugs Bunny lives in a hole in the ground, eats carrots, and is menaced by hunters. (These characters are, for the most part, naked, whereas Mickey and Porky and Donald wear clothes.) With a character like Bugs, his adversaries have to be human, and when they're not, they have to be animal-like animals, like hunting dogs or Tasmanian Devils. It wouldn't work if Elmer Fudd were drawn as a dog who happens to go hunting with a gun. The whole thing that makes Bugs work as a character is that he is, as he says, "a rabbit in a human woild." Other factors include the rise of the UPA style, making human characters the in thing.





Not that critter casts ever completely went away. I remember seeing "Daffy Dilly" for the first time and being surprised that the butler in that cartoon was drawn as a dog. I guess they felt that since Daffy had a human-type job in that cartoon, other human-type jobs should be occupied by animals; similarly, in "The Stupor Salesman," Daffy is a salesman and Slug McSlug is an animal character. It's fair to say that if those cartoons had been made a few years later, those characters would have been humans. But Tex Avery was still doing humanized animal cartoons like "Magical Maestro" into the '50s. So it didn't go away, it just beame the exception rather than the rule.

13 comments:

Thad said...

Or you had Carl Barks comics, where everyone was either a pig, duck, or dog. Floyd Gottfredson comic strips had a combination of many animals and humans. They were more anatomically correct than those in Barks' world too.

J Lee said...

It's interesting that -- considering how hard it is to draw a human realistically and at the same time keep them from being too rigid -- the studios you would think would handle this better (Disney, MGM, Warners) actually did a lot less of it than the studios with lower drawing skill levels (when you go back and think about it, over half of the Fleischer/Famous main characters were human -- Koko, Betty, Grampy, Popeye, Olive, Bluto, Wimpy, Gabby, Superman, Lulu, Audrey, Casper and most of the better one-shot Noveltoons of the 1950s all used humans instead of funny animals).

Warners had Sam and Elmer, of course, and Hanna-Barbera had at least the lower part of Mammy, but Disney really didn't do a human as a continuing character until Jack Hannah's Ranger in the Donald-Humphrey cartoons in the mid-1950s (and it wasn't as if humans weren't being used in the features by the Disney staff -- they just never felt compelled to use them in the shorts).

Mattieshoe said...

"It's interesting that -- considering how hard it is to draw a human realistically and at the same time keep them from being too rigid -- the studios you would think would handle this better (Disney, MGM, Warners) actually did a lot less of it than the studios with lower drawing skill levels"

"Realistic" humans ARE hard to draw, and defeat the purpose of Animation. That's why they weren't drawn at all in the golden age.

It's not like Only animal characters can be cartoony.

Also, I don't see how the Fleischers had a "Lower Drawing Skill Levels" than any of those other studios.

PCUnfunny said...

I have a theory, animals are alot easier to portray with extreme actions. Most cartoons have "animals", and there is a reason why I quoted that, trying to kill each other at some point in rather vicious ways. Watching humans do that doesn't feel right because we are human. We don't care as much for animals or inanimate objects coming to life.

Now, the reason I quoted "animals" in my last paragraph is because there are no real "animals" in cartoons. They only vaguely look like what they are. Does Bugs really look like a rabbit ? Does Sylvester look like a cat ? Not really at all. Another example is what they lust after. We have seen Porky eating chicken and Bugs wanting to eat a penguin, they are omnivores like humans. Also of course Tex Avery's wolves are not wolfes at all, they are horny men. Red is a human female, not a wolf. Well, that's my two cents.

Mattieshoe said...

Jaime, I don't know if you know about this, but, apperentley, there was another version of Yakko's World done, Completely by Brian Mitchell

http://mitchellsketch.blogspot.com/2007/10/yakkos-world.html

Of course, Tom Rugger, being the person he is, made him tone it down to what it ultimately was, which is still pretty good, but not nearly what it could've been.

J Lee said...

Also, I don't see how the Fleischers had a "Lower Drawing Skill Levels" than any of those other studios.

When you think about critics and historians talking about the well-done animation of humans at Disney, its virtually always in the realm of the features -- the shorts didn't use much of it (Jack Kinney preferred the humanized Goofy). And if you talk about well-animated human designs in shorts, the first stop is always Preston Blair's work on Red for Avery, or Fred Moore's girls in a couple of the Disney featurette segments.

It's not that the East Coast animators were bad; just that they did way more short-form cartoons with humans as main characters, but their designs and work (in part because many of the designs were derivative from their print origins) never really earned the same type of acknowledgment as their West Coast brethren.

Mattieshoe said...

I also had no Idea that Animaiacs was made completely without Layouts in it's first season (Except for the cartoons animated by AKOM, for some reason) As a ploy to save money.

Damn Producers. Tom Ruegger's list of mine is growing.

the spectre said...

Then we have cartoons like "What Makes Daffy Duck", where there's an anthropomorphic fox who is a hunter during Duck Season, and gets hunted by Elmer when they believe it to be Fox Season! That's an interesting "blurring" between human-drawn-as-animal and animal-with-human-characteristics.

PCUnfunny said...

Also notice the authority figures that are animals never command humans. When you see a judge or a boss as an animal, you only see animals as the underlings.

Jenny said...

"I also had no Idea that Animaiacs was made completely without Layouts in it's first season (Except for the cartoons animated by AKOM, for some reason) As a ploy to save money."

It wasn't; Brian Mitchell is mistaken. We went for many episodes--perhaps a year's worth--where we did do character layouts, just as we did on each episode of Tiny Toons.

The character layout department did eventually become a sort of "pool" on Animaniacs--rather than having the individual unit directors each have their own several character layout people(it was my very first job in fact when I started on Tiny Toons in 1989 for Ken Boyer's unit). But the "pool" was in full swing for many months on many of the shows before those "no layout/ship it overseas" measures...and even then, I believe at first it was limited to the TMS shows, who lobbied hard to do the layouts themselves(for more money, btw-though it would mean cost-cutting here in Los Angeles).
Brian may have been not at WB for the earlier days of A!, which is why he'd be misremembering this; IIRC he was off at Bluth or on some other studio for a while. His description of showing the boards for Wakko's World" to the producer is I'm sure exactly as that happened, though. They wanted the thing to be all about the song lyric, that's for sure. The hat idea would have been great to do if done well, but I'm sure that wasn't at all what was envisioned by the writer and the head writer(who was also the producer).

Steve C. said...

Don't forget Mattieshjoe, that in additon to what you'[re saying about "What Makes DFFY" [1948] that a mysterious doggy GAME warden appears..and incidentally I don't really consider that fox anymore than a humanized fox with foxlike tendeicies.:)

Steve C. said...

Sorry, I meant "The Spectre", not "
Mattieshoe":)

Brian Mitchell said...

Animaniacs did begin with a 'pool' of layout artists, however when we worked on Tiny Toon Adventures, we had full crews of artists for each unit. When we started on development for Animaniacs (yes, I was part of that process providing animation cycles and scenarios) a decision was made to create a small crew of layout artists to work on selective scenes for all the units. This lasted a little while until it was practically phased out a year later. Most of the layout crew had already been moved into storyboard positions with the exception of a few. I know some directors were upset by this move as they felt they were losing artistic control over the
cartoons.
Brian Mitchell