I came across a video by one of my favorite YouTube channels run by Animal Wonders, an educational outreach organization. The video talks about myths created by cartoons when bringing its animal characters to life.
The video goes on to talk about the harmful consequences of these actions, such as people assuming rabbits eat mostly carrots resulting in many getting sick due to improper diets. This simple video made me rethink the importance of being careful about the design and story decisions we, as animators, make even seemingly harmless ones.
Growing up as a child with a particular fascination for the weird and wonderful creatures we share our world with. Birds of Paradise, Hoatzin, Boto and Przewalski horses, I was interested in animals that don’t often show up in common discourse as a child. I would enthusiastically explain what Lemurs were before movies like Madagascar (2005) popularized them. While movements like ‘Save the Tiger’ garnered huge interest in India while countless other species go extinct without so much of a notice. The unhealthy obsession with only a handful of animals leads to problems in perspective. For example the video below talks about how our consumption of primarily four fish is causing devastating effects on marine wildlife.
The discourse around representation of non-human animals in animation is nothing new. Adams argues Disney’s juvenile, anthropomorphized, animated NHAs blur the boundaries between fiction and reality and can easily be adjusted to convey desired meanings. The representation of NHAs is further problematized by racial, gender, and speciesist stereotypes which reflect a hegemonic white, hierarchical, anthropocentric patriarchy and organize the world according to a “sex-species system” (Adams, 2007, p. 203). Sebastian’s ‘Under the Sea’ in The Little Mermaid (1989) and its potent stereotypes of Jamaicans has been talked about in many a discourse.
I would also add to the conversation about the subtler effects the representation of NHAs in films also shapes stereotypes about species themselves, such as The Lion King (1994) propounding that Hyenas are conniving or that Meercats are solitary. Then there are more direct consequences, the Harry Potter franchise for example popularized the notion that Owls are intelligent, resulting in a boom in the owl trade industry. (Alexandra, 2017)
Animation comes with certain liberties like any other art form, but because it is a pervasive form of media and as such influences people’s perspectives of the world more and more. We need to be careful about the choices we as animators and storytellers make.
Leventi-Perez, Oana. (2011). "Disney's Portrayal of Nonhuman Animals in Animated Films Between 2000 and 2010" Thesis. Georgia State University, [online] Pg.64 Available at: https://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1084&context=communication_theses [Accessed 15 Jan. 2018].
McKie, Robin. (2017). Asia’s Harry Potter obsession poses threat to owls. The Guardian, [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/12/owls-fall-victim-harry-potter-asia-obsession-hedwig-india-indonesia-pets [Accessed 15 Jan. 2018].