Ever since the earliest days of Disney, there has been an incredibly popular trend in animation that we tend to forget is unusual at all – that of anthropomorphised animals. Rather than bothering with regular humans, this idea gives human form and characteristics to creatures from the animal kingdom, with varying levels of realism adopted. This occurs for a wide range of reasons, according to this article by Psych Central, but it is animation specifically which is our focus today.

So why is it that these became so popular, and how widely have they spread into the current social consciousness?

Perhaps the most obvious reason as to why these forms were originally adopted is due to how they relate to the fantastical basis from which animation is derived. Because animation offers a level of flexibility which is not viable in real life, it makes sense to take as much of this advantage as possible. This means fantasy settings, characters, and plots, in ways that tickle that part of the imagination which craves creativity and something new.

This also means that character designs can be simplified or informed in a way which is not possible with human characters, such as Donald Duck’s lack of pants.

There is another issue, more so in the early days than today, concerning depictions of violence. Disney was one of the big ones on this front, with the likes of 1928’s Steamboat Willie starring Mickey Mouse having cartoon violence which older sensibilities would object to if performed on more relatable human depictions.

While the basis for these characters in a historical sense is usually one meant for younger audiences, today this tradition has been abandoned. Instead, modern anthropomorphised animals are used in a wide range of more adult-targeted entertainment, from traditional animation to far beyond.

BoJack Horseman, for example, is a popular still-running adult animated comedy-drama series where many of the characters are portrayed by anthropomorphised animals living freely within an animated version of our world. Covering issues such as depression and hopelessness, this dark comedy is a far cry from the happy-go-lucky cartoons of Winnie the Pooh or SpongeBob Squarepants.

Taking a less than traditional avenue of media incorporation are those from the relatively newer world of electronic gaming. Donkey Kong was one of the earliest representations within this sphere, with later creations like Crash Bandicoot and even many Pokemon taking similar strides in giving human attributes to our friends of the animal kingdom, real or not.

This extends to newer forms of digital gaming media as well, with online operators like Buzz Bingo similarly offering new and unique creations with entries like Good Feathers in their slot game line-up. These offer their success, in no small part, to how accustomed we have become to the admittedly odd creation of anthropomorphised animals, to the point where they are now a central pillar of our worldwide entertainment themes.

Looking at the overall picture, the answer to why these forms of animals are so popular can be focussed to a few key points. Anthropomorphised animals are fantastical, yet relatable. They can take the edge off what is often a harsh real life, yet approach real issues in a way which makes us laugh or smile.

In short, they offer a level of flexibility which strict humanity never could, and this is why they will always hold a place at the forefront of animated entertainment.

Tim Jousma

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