ANIMATION ANECDOTES
August 11, 2017 posted by Jim Korkis

Animation Anecdotes #325

Why So Many Mice in Animation? Different animators told historian Charles Solomon why mice seem to be so popular in animation in an article in the L.A. Times January 3rd, 1987:

Bob Kurtz: “It’s a terrible thing to say, but mice are easy to draw. All you need is a triangular shape with a little black dot for a nose, wide round ears and a tail, and you’ve got it. Once you stick on the big round ears, people will accept anything as a mouse. When you think about how many cartoon mice have been done, it’s amazing that Jiminy Cricket didn’t turn out to be a mouse!”

Glen Keane: “It’s not that we keep coming up with reasons to do another mouse picture. The best stories for animation seem to use mice a lot of childrens books feature mouse characters. Personally, I’m sick of drawing mice.

“When I drew Bernard and Bianca in The Rescuers (1977), I imagined anatomically correct mice. But I didnt think of the characters in The Great Mouse Detective (1986) as mice. They were real people to me.

When you look at Mickey Mouse, you dont think mouse. You think ‘cartoon’. That simple approach to drawing a cartoon character based on a caricature led to the mice in cartoons done today. They dont look like real mice. Theyre caricatures of caricatures of caricatures. It would be nice to start again and see if someone could come up with a new way of doing mice that would be a challenge.”

Frank Thomas: “In folklore and legend, the mouse is never the attacker – those are rats. A mouse is always depicted as a helpless little guy. Since he has no teeth or claws or horns or strength to fight back with, he has to live by his wits which puts him in situations that can serve for Mr. Everyman.

“What other animal could you use? Raccoons are cute but they have teeth and claws. A fox is too smart. Puppies are cute but a dog has too much drive. The success of all the cartoons with mice has reinforced this Mr. Nice Guy concept. In reality, theyre nasty little critters, although they’re cuter than the dickens.”

Ollie Johnston: “For almost any other animal, you have to know a lot more about anatomy. You have to keep the anatomy of most four-legged animals accurate, unless you dress them up in clothes. You can treat mice as little humans.”

Chuck Jones: “It’s odd that mice are perceived so endearing in animation but terrifying in reality. Nobodys comfortable with a mouse in the house. Even grown men will run for the hills if there are mice in the house.”


Unusual Episode. Captain Planet & The Planeteers usually dealt with environmental issues. However, the series also did separate episodes devoted to inner city violence, drug abuse and overpopulation.

“A Formula for Hate” from Season Three in November 1992 dealt with AIDS, in probably one of the earliest attempts to inform young people about the disease. In fact Turner gave the episode extra promotion and an extra time slot that weekend premiere on TNT in prime time in addition to its TBS regular airing. “We are urging parents to watch the episode with their children and discuss the issue of AIDS and HIV as a family,” said Scott Sassa Turner Entertainment Group President.

High school basketball hero Todd Andrews is voiced by Neil Patrick Harris before he revealed his sexual orientation officially in 2006. His mothers voice is provided by Elizabeth Taylor, a long time AIDS activist. “I am delighted to be part of a project like Captain Planet and the Planeteers which teaches children how they can be part of the solution,” said Taylor in a press release.

The day after a big game Andrews gets the bad news from his doctor that he is HIV positive. The doctor even shares that the disease is transmitted from drug needles, blood transfusions and unprotected sex, something pretty daring for a childrens show.

The situation gets worse when Verminious Skumm, a humanoid rat character, produces a ton of flyers with Todd’s face and the warning “AIDS!” printed underneath stirring up the students and their angry parents. Apparently, this is part of Skumms plans to create ignorance and hate and general panic in order to take over the world. Of course, Captain Planet shows up at a basketball game and clumsily convinces the crowd that Andrews is not a threat and the disease cannot be spread by casual contact and for some reason Skumm is taken away by the police.


Thief and Cobbler Voices. In the U.K. magazine article “The Screen Magic of Richard Williams” by Iain F. McAsh it is revealed that for The Thief and the Cobbler the sound track was already recorded. “Although neither of the two pincipal title characters speak, Dick Williams firmly believes that vocal casting is of primary importance for his cartoon characters. Vincent Price was the first major actor to be signed to speak the rhyming couplets for the plummy-voiced Vizier Zig-Zag. The rest of the voices are unmistakably British and youll easily recognize the talents of Joan Sims, Kenneth Williams, Stanley Baxter, Bernard Cribbins, Sir Felix Alymer, Anthony Quayle, Windsor Davies and Donald Pleasence. Hungarian-born Catherine Schell supplies the voice for the winsome heroine, Princess Mee-Mee.

Richard Williams and Vincent Price

“The story has a Golden City in a golden land threatened by an invading barbaric horde. It is finally saved by a poor Cobbler, who also unwittingly outsmarts the evil Grand Vizier and eventually wins the King’s beautiful daughter in time for a happy fade-out. The characters include Zig-Zag, the evil Grand Vizier and his pet vulture, Phido; the Mad and Holy Old Witch; Princess Yum-Ym and Princess Mee-Mee; Prince Bubba; Chief Boodzil and King Nod.”


Paige O’Hara. In 1998 at the Disney Institute, I got to talk briefly with Paige O’Hara, the voice of Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) and she shared:

“They changed Belle after I was cast. They made her more quirky. I identify with her strength and her sense of independnce and the side of her that loves to read. They were struggling with how Belle looked. They would video us during the day-long sessions and then the animators would use our expressions. Belle became quirkier and had brown eyes like me. Then there’s the way Belle keeps brushing her hair out of her eyes. When my sisters saw that, they cracked up. ‘Oh my God,’ they said. ‘That’s you!'”

6 Comments

  • Yup mice were popular characters to animate, other well known mice were Pixie and Dixie,Jerry and Nibbles (later known as Tuffy) Super Mouse (later Mighty Mouse) ,Lilllle Roquefort, Hashimoto San, Gad Mouse and the Martin Moochers, Motormouse Speedy Gonzales and Slowpoke Rodriguez, Hickory and Dickory, Pixie and Dixie, Mushmouse The Brain,Jacque and Gus-Gus, Amos and Timothy Q Mouse, representing the USA, Danger Mouse from the U.K. , Phillip from Germany and Gamba of Japan.

    • Blabber Mouse from Hanna-Barbera (Snooper’s young aide) – and another HB mouse, the Jimmy Cagney “doity rat”, Bigelow.

  • My dad used to ask the same question about the abundance of mice in cartoons, though he generally substituted “filthy vermin” for mice. He wasn’t a big fan of rodents, cute or not.

  • Chuck Jones did do a cartoon or two with ‘cute’ mice, but his regulars Hubie and Bertie are pretty non-cute, and others (like the ones terrorizing Sylvester) look like little Wile E. Coyotes!

    • The Jones “cute” mice includes, of course, the absolute cutest of them all–Sniffles.

  • The term “Little Humans” that Ollie described mice as is probably the best representation one could think of when it comes to how they’re used in certain stories such as those in Disney’s features. We’ve of course seen this happen again and again in films like Cinderella, The Rescuers, The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, the list goes on. Putting mice in the role of little humans and defining their world on that scale made for an interesting backdrop and a world away from the normal human world, as we see in some of the examples I gave earlier. I suppose when you do strip away at the basic nature of mice via clothing, occupations and atmosphere, they become mere humans with tails most of the time.

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