From Pure Animal to Critical Human. Why Do We Use Anthropomorphism in Animation?

Bachelor Thesis, 2016

37 Pages, Grade: 56.00%




Chapter 1. Animal Farm

Chapter 2. Beauty and the Beast

Chapter 3. The Lion King



List of Illustrations


The subject that will be covered in this dissertation is the use of Anthropomorphism in animated film including Halas & Batchelor’s Animal Farm, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Why do films such as these use animals as the protagonist? The dissertation analyses the research found on anthropomorphism and the authors that have covered the reasons why animals are used so widely in animation. The term anthropomorphism is used when an animal or object is given human characteristics and behaviour. The first implication of anthropomorphism came about in the late 19th century and as independent scholar Nigel Rothfels states:

“It was during the nineteenth century, with the rise of modernism in literature and art that animals came to occupy the thoughts of a culture in transition. As they disappeared, animals became increasingly the subjects of a nostalgic curiosity.” (Rothfels, 2002:124)

Rothfels informs us that the original meaning of anthropomorphism was connected with the use of animal icons in religion. Lecture Robin Allan in his essay European influences on early Disney feature films (1997:245) agrees that anthropomorphism is ancient and from “Aesop onwards (it) has been used for many purposes including social and political satire.” During modernity there was a shift in beliefs and with this change animals represented culture in transition and there was an element of sentimentality to anthropomorphism and in the 20th century the growth of technology saw this expand further. According to evidence gathered from research in sociology covered in more depth in Sun Ping, Teacher of Ideological and Political Theory at a University in Beijing article (May 2015) Animals and humans share many similar traits and that it is possible for humans and animals to interact harmoniously.

“All these suggest that humans and animals are closely interrelated. This may be the reason why in the field of literature, animal images are frequently used to refer to human beings.” (Ping, Sun.2015:2)

Animation as a whole seems to appeal to people of all ages whether they feature animals in or not. There are types of animation that can be serious and usually suit an older audience. Though most commonly they are humorous which could be the reason they are so popular. Animation involving animals seem to be much better than live action animal films, as there is more freedom and control over the animal character. As animals do not speak, and even though animals in live action films are usually well trained, there is only so much real animals can do and many legal regulations to abide by that could hinder a film maker. Using anthropomorphism in animation allows the animator “the impulse that is part of the recurrent mystery by which man, by his artistry, achieves the status of God and remakes creation to his own fancy.” (Lambourne in Allan (1997:245). It also allows the film maker to address taboo and uncomfortable subjects such as death, betrayal, forbidden love, greed, murder and masking them in a similar way to traditional fairy tales, to present to mainly child audiences as a form of entertainment.

The first film discussed however, Animal farm was not intended for a child audience. George Orwell’s novel was adapted into an animation in 1954 by Halas and Batchelor. The first chapter will look at the motive of Orwell’s novel and why he used animals instead of humans. How have the animators given the cartoon a serious approach? With the help of theorists Ping Sun, D.L Ashliman, Paul Wells and the films’ animator John Halas, the film with be analysed and scenes and characters will be linked to Paul Wells Bestial Ambivalence model. Paul Wells Bestial Ambivalence model has been developed to show how animals are represented in animated text. It is a tool to identify the degrees of animal and anthropomorphic within the discourse operating between and within nature and culture.(Wells.2009:50) Which is why the models within it can be applied to animal characters and (or) their narratives.

“(the endowment of creatures with human attributes, abilities and qualities) later inform the work of Walt Disney, and indeed remains the consistent locus of a great deal of animation..” (Wells. 1998:15). As Paul Wells rightly suggests no one is better known for using anthropomorphism in animation than Walt Disney. Lecturer, Robin Allan concurs “Disney was a master of technological and cultural manipulation, taking stories and characters and style and mood from Europe, and recreating them in animated form.” (Allan.1999:1-2) The second chapter will be looking at Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) and seeing how it differs from the original fairy tale with help from psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim and critic Marina Warner. Showing the impact of disneyfication of fairy tales and how postmodern theory ‘death of the author’ is applied. Comparing the Beauty and the Beast animation to the Animal Farm animation to show the differences in how violence is handled and what the film would be like if the Beast was human. The Beast and his traits throughout the film will be linked to Wells’ model and with more theories from John Berger and Steve Baker.

The third and final chapter will be discussing another Disney production, The Lion King (1994). Looking at how Disney has created this image of cuteness through animation and softening stories for a marketing point of view. From which can lead to the importance of the teddy bears in childhood with theories from John Berger and Marina Warner. Disney films are targeted at children and as well as entertain can help to teach them what is wrong and what is right but to adults they can arouse feelings of nostalgia. Useful for this section is associate professor Lee Artz’s essay The Righteousness of self-centered royals: The world according to Disney animation (2004). With more theories from Seth Giddings and Shelly R. Scott. The film will be analysed and see what scenes or characters fit into Wells’ model.

Chapter 1 - Animal Farm

Animal Farm (1954) is an animated film directed by Joy Batchelor and John Halas. Adapted from George Orwell’s novel written in 1945, the story is about the farm animals of Manor Farm. Old Major an elderly pig tells the animals before he dies that men are the enemy and the animals should take action against Farmer Jones. The drunk farmer Jones mistreats the animals and forgets to feed them. So the animals take matters into their own hands, chase the farmer out and achieve freedom calling the farm, Animal Farm. The wisest animals being the pigs start leading the other animals and develop laws of Animalism. The other animals, not as intelligent, follow what the pigs say. George Orwell’s had clear political intentions for writing this novel as satire on the Russian revolution. “..Orwell’s overriding concern was to provide a rounded understanding of totalitarianism.” (Bounds, Philip. 2009:27) And Animal Farm (1945) was one of his famous efforts to exploit totalitarianism.

Totalitarianism is the term used for a political system where the state holds complete control over the society and plans to control life be it private or public. Visually demonstrated in the poster below (see fig. 1.) It shows the propaganda for the Stakhanovite movement which encouraged workers in Soviet Russia to exceed production quotas. It can be believed that Orwell used animals as his main characters as a metaphor for society, to prove people in government don’t always care for the welfare of the everyday citizen and become greedy with power.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 1. Expand the Ranks of the Stakhanovites of the Socialist Fields! (1935)

By casting negative players as nonhumans fabulists distance themselves from the targets of their criticism-who may be ruthless despots-thus gaining a greater degree of freedom to expose human foibles without fear of interference or retribution. (Ashliman 2004:37)

Orwell used animals instead of humans as certain animal qualities can be present in humans as well as human qualities in animals.

It also allowed Orwell to insult political decisions and entertain his audience at the same time. Professor and folklore researcher D.L Ashliman above helps to understand why Orwell might have used animals instead of humans. Orwell is criticizing a ruthless regime which would have been dangerous to malign at the time. However by masking it through the use of animals he is still able to get his opinion across. As Sun Ping Teacher of Ideological and Political Theory at North China Electric Power University Beijing states:

Taking animals as the main characters, most fairy tales can vividly reveal the complex relationships between people or the unique emotions harbored by people. Reading animal stories, we can get closer to the natural world so as to understand the deep inside of the human beings. (Ping, Sun. 2015:2)

What Sun Ping is saying here is by using animals as the protagonists, Orwell is following a long standing fairy tale tradition to help reveal human emotions and relationships that are complex. However Orwell has chosen his animals wisely with categorising the animals in their social statuses. Animal symbolism is applied, pigs are considered intelligent animals although greedy, lazy and dirty and in Orwell’s novel and the subsequent animation they are given these traits. Pigs begin to take the lead, making the other animals work harder with less food, while the pigs do little work and get all the food they want. The picture below (see fig. 2.) brings to mind a past state banquet painting showing excesses for more privileged members of society. This could be a direct intentional comparison between the greed of Soviet leaders and the starvation of the Russian people.

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Fig. 2. Animal Farm (1954)

“The pigs were chosen here not because of the appearance but because of their “greedy, stupid, dirty and noisy” characteristics which are quite similar to the evil natures of human beings.” (Sun, Ping. May 2015:4)

All animals begin as the downtrodden working ‘people’, but with freedom they soon resort to human behaviour and one group becomes dominant; this being the pigs. Snowball the pig wants to push the revolution on to other farms and develop an educated society in all the animals. But Napoleon the pig over throws Snowball and gets his clan of dogs to dispatch of him. He takes Snowballs ideas as his own and a windmill is to be built, but the windmill symbolises the pig’s manipulation of the other animals for their own gain. The animals are shown building the windmill by dragging heavy stones as the pigs watch on, which is rather reminiscent of human slavery.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 3. Animal Farm (1954)

Halas & Bachelor directed Animal Farm in 1954 and knew that by creating Orwell’s novel into an animation it needed a serious approach. When Boxer the horse falls ill from being over worked, the pigs send him off to what the animals think is to a doctors to get better but in fact he’s carted off to the glue factory as shown in the image above (see fig.3.). Animator, John Halas stated:

“To turn this satire into an animated film was to face the issue of dramatizing an animal story in which the characters must be as seriously portrayed as in a human story. No animal could be sentimentalized for the sake of the box officethe idea behind the story would not permit this.” (Wells. 2009:54)

What Halas is saying here is that Boxer isn’t saved as perhaps he would be in a child’s cartoon. When a character falls into trouble and/ or there is a tragedy, they are usually saved or there is some sort of positivity afterwards. "Disney misplaces violence with sweetness" (Mollet.1.4.2013). Which is one of many reasons this animation is so different to the works of Disney. The colours and sounds used throughout show how this cartoon is much more serious than the usual but are vital for Orwell’s novel to be displayed as a social and political critique. There is no room for sentimentally. John Halas continues;

“The shock of straight and raw political satire is made more grotesque in the medium of the cartoon. The incongruities of recognizable horrors of some political realities of our times are emphasized and made more startling by the apparent innocence of the surrounding frame.” (Wells. 2009:57)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 4. Animal Farm (1954)


Excerpt out of 37 pages


From Pure Animal to Critical Human. Why Do We Use Anthropomorphism in Animation?
University for the Creative Arts
Creative Arts for Theatre & Film
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Dissertation on Anthropomorphism. Using examples Animal Farm, Beauty & the Beast and The Lion King.
lion king, beauty & the beast, Animal farm, Disney, George Orwell, animation, Anthropomorphism, culture, toys, children, psychology, sigmund freud, Marina Warner, fairytales
Quote paper
Esme Wells (Author), 2016, From Pure Animal to Critical Human. Why Do We Use Anthropomorphism in Animation?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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