Anthropomorphism in Animation



Humans have long attempted to portray the natural world as reflections of us, from giving storms names such as Desmond or Katrina to putting tasteful blue clothing on Donald Duck and Peter the Rabbit. But the science of how much humans actually share with other animals is still keenly contested.

Within the human condition, we try to understand life in relation to humanity, whether that be about nature, or in relation to animals. Anthropomorphism allows us to understand animals, with human attributes and emotions.

Brain mapping reveals that the neurological processes underlying what look like emotions in rats are similar to those of what clearly are emotions in humans. As a group of neuroscientists seeking to sum the field up put it in 2012, “Humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures…also possess these neurological substrates.”

Can we ever fully understand animals for what they actually are? How do they think? and how similar are they to us?

Within animations, which is created to appeal to a particular demographic, that of a lower learning ability, or as an educational/entertainment source. We can see how animations revolve around anthropomorphism, its to appeal to this demographic, to simplify the complex nature of animals. Disney has a huge variety of animation films about animals, however the characteristics these animals are of human characteristics e.g. Zootopia, Bambi, Finding Nemo, Finding Dory,  Lion King, 101 Dalmatians, the jungle book, Tarzan, Brother bear, Charlotte’s Web, Chicken Little and the list goes on..

Within the media for decades, we have viewed animals in animation as fluffy joyful companions of humans. Animals with the same tendencies as humans, whether they are pretending to be humans e.g. in Zootopia or having the characteristics of their own animal, but having conversations like humans e.g. Lion King.


I discovered an article from The Economist that discusses the possibilities of a similarity of behaviour between human and animal. The scientific relationship points to some kind of relationship, however, we cannot fuller understand it from an animal’s point of view.

 most scientists now feel they can say with confidence that some animals process information and express emotions in ways that are accompanied by conscious mental experience. They agree that animals, from rats and mice to parrots and humpback whales, have complex mental capacities; that a few species have attributes once thought to be unique to people, such as the ability to give objects names and use tools; and that a handful of animals—primates, corvids (the crow family) and cetaceans (whales and dolphins)—have something close to what in humans is seen as culture, in that they develop distinctive ways of doing things which are passed down by imitation and example. No animals have all the attributes of human minds, but almost all the attributes of human minds are found in some animal or other.

Humans find it amusing and entertainment when animals do things of a human characteristic.

Within the video, we can see that at one point the Lion is trying to get the baby, the mother of the child is under the impression that that lion wants to protect the baby, she ignores the fact that those animals have instincts to kill anything but their own. And the Chimpanzee hitting himself up against the window, may not be an act of playfulness, but a distressed animal locked in an enclosure.

That’s why we find animation so amusing and interesting because it plays on this apparent connection humans have with animals, however Darwin says in the article: Charles Darwin thought the mental capacities of animals and people differed only in degree, not kind—a natural conclusion to reach when armed with the radical new belief that the one evolved from the other.

Personally, I believe its ok to use animation to relate to animals, we need to somehow create that connection in order to understand any aspect of how their brains work, and in turn how they then behave. However, if we force this anthropomorphism on to real animals, or believe that in any way the function like human beings, that’s when we are very wrongly mistaken. Animals have particular instincts we need to respect and leave, and by putting them into cages and poking them and teaching them tricks, we are alienating them from their natural way of living, an in turn their evolution.



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