Which are more popular in animation — cats or dogs?
Yes, I have been asked this question. But the more that I think about it, the more meaningless it seems.
Leaving aside the different talents of the writers and animators, what about mice? There are arguably more mice in animation than cats or dogs. Are you counting only the major returning characters like MGM’S Jerry Mouse and Paramount’s Herman (of the Herman and Katnip team), or the prominent but one-shot characters like Disney’s Timothy J. Mouse in Dumbo? Are you counting only the animals that show characteristics dependent on their species, like the dogs in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, or those that could just as well be another species entirely, like Hanna-Barbera’s Super Snooper and Blabber Mouse? Only important characters like Terrytoons’ Mighty Mouse, or unimportant ones like Warner Bros.’ Sniffles Mouse, or Hubie & Bertie – and if only important ones, where do you draw the line?
Why limit the characters to only dogs, cats, and mice? Two of the most popular animated animals of all time have been WB’s Bugs Bunny and Disney’s Donald Duck. More questions: Only current or recent characters like WB’s TV Slappy and Skippy Squirrel, or “old” ones like MGM’s Screwy Squirrel, who Tex Avery abandoned after only five cartoons in the ‘40s? Or the really forgotten ones, like Gaumont British Animation’s Ginger Nutt in its Animaland cartoons of the ‘40s? Does Disney’s Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit count as a forgotten character, or a currently hot one?
A more intriguing question might be, who are the animals who are the only ones to represent their species? When I first saw the advertising for Spumco’s TV The Ren & Stimpy Show, and did not know anything about the series yet, I said to myself, “How original! A cartoon featuring a mosquito and a giant pillbug! Nobody’s ever used them before!” Then I found out that Ren and Stimpy were just a grotesque dog & cat, after all. Oh, well. WB’s Taz, the Tasmanian Devil, whirls into mind. The Aardvark of DePatie-Freleng’s The Ant and the Aardvark series; and there aren’t that many memorable ants in animation, either (not counting the features Antz and A Bug’s Life). Lantz’s Woody Woodpecker. Timon the meerkat and Pumbaa the warthog, in Disney’s The Lion King. WB’s forgotten Gabby Goat, an aborted attempt to give Porky Pig a partner (three Looney Tunes in 1937; and how many people remember Beans Cat, either?). Charlie the Tuna, unless you count the tuna-looking “handsome fish” that Don Knotts turns into in The Incredible Mr. Limpet. Terrytoons’ Heckle and Jeckle, on the technicality that they are magpies, although they were drawn to look just like the more commonly-seen cartoon crows. (And how many people notice that cartoon crows always have yellow beaks, while they are always black in real life? Or that cartoon alligators and crocodiles are always green, while they are gray in real life?)
Then you have the “almosts”. WB’s rooster Foghorn Leghorn, except for Chanticleer in Don Bluth’s Rock*a*Doodle. HB’s horse Quick Draw McGraw, except for Disney’s early ‘30s Horace Horsecollar and Clampett’s 1947 one-shot It’s a Grand Old Nag with Charlie Horse. (And in the case of Quick Draw (a horse sheriff), was there a kid who watched this who did not wonder about an anthropomorphic horse riding unanthropomorphic horses?) Van Beuren’s Molly Moo-Cow, except for Disney’s Clarabelle Cow, and the ladies of Home on the Range. DreamWorks Animation’s panda Po in Kung Fu Panda, except for Lantz’s Andy Panda. Lantz’s Homer Pigeon, except for WB’s Goodfeathers in Animaniacs. Disney’s elephant Dumbo, except for Terrytoons’ Sick, Sick Sidney and Nelvana’s animation of Babar. WB’s skunk Pepe Le Pew, except for his “younger female version”, Fifi La Fume in WB’s TV Tiny Toon Adventures, and several one-shot skunks – Disney’s Flower in Bambi; MGM’s short Little ‘Tinker, Reeko in the direct-to-video Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild.
A still more intriguing question may be, what other animals are undiscovered for animated animal stardom? DreamWorks Animation has been trying recently with penguins, from the three Madagascar movies and their own TV series, and the Animal Logic studio in Sydney has recently tried the penguin-intensive Happy Feet duo; but it remains to be seen if any of them have any more lasting power than Lantz’s Chilly Willy or Disney’s Pablo, the Cold-Blooded Penguin did. Animal Logic also tried owls with Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. Nobody seems to be asking for a sequel.
Platypuses! The only duck-billed platypus cartoon that I know about is Gaumont British Animation’s 1949 8-minute Platypus in its Animaland series, and that purported to show a generic platypus boy and girl; so the animation field is open for an individual platypus character. I thought of a platypus because I recently read and reviewed an excellent new dramatic fantasy novel featuring a platypus, Albert of Adelaide by Howard L. Anderson. Albert escapes from the Adelaide Zoo, treks north into the outback looking for some part of Australia that has not been “civilized” by humans, helps a wombat miner burn down a kangaroo-run general store, and becomes the enemy of a crooked wallaby and his psychotic killer possum henchman. He is not afraid to use his platypus’ poisonous spurs to get out of a sticky situation. This is an adult novel, not a children’s book, and it makes the point that a platypus could make as convincing an animation star as a Tasmanian Devil.
(According to ‘I Say, I Say … Son !’ A Tribute to Legendary Animators Bob, Chuck, and Tom McKimson, by Robert McKimson Jr. (Santa Monica Press, November 2012), WB animation director Robert McKimson created Taz after being impressed by reading about the Tasmanian Devil’s name and its supposed ferocity and insatiable hunger. He did not know, or care, what a Tasmanian Devil really looked or acted like.)
Capybaras. The capybara is the world’s largest rodent, about the size of large dogs, found throughout the Amazon forest living along the banks of rivers and lakes. It is very fond of swimming. It is easily tamed, and is a popular playmate of South American Indian children until it is time for them (the capybaras, not the children) to be butchered for eating. They have an extremely slight connection to animation in that Bill Peet Jr., the son of the major Disney storyman, got one for a pet. Capyboppy was raised in the Peet home for several years, and Peet Sr. wrote/illustrated a children’s book about him. He was friendly, but could not be broken of gnawing through everything, including nibbling on fingers held out to him. He was finally donated to the Los Angeles Zoo when he got too large to be a cuddly pet. Others have also found them to be unsuitable as pets, and released them. According to Wikipedia, “Sightings are fairly common in Florida, although a breeding population has not yet been confirmed.”
Linsangs. DreamWorks’ Madagascar theatrical features and the TV The Penguins of Madagascar have made the ringtailed lemur well-known. For that matter, a lemur would make a good animated star, and so would any other long-tailed tree-dweller such as the coatis/coatimundis and genets. The linsangs – there are four species, two African and two Asiatic – look roughly like a cross between a cat and a weasel, with a very long but not prehensile tail. There are plain-coated, spotted, and banded linsangs; quite distinctive. There are several videos on YouTube of pet linsangs climbing over human adults and children, showing that in captivity they are playful and active. A linsang anthropomorphic protagonist or sidekick would seem to be a natural.
Binturongs. Sometimes known as bearcats. Native to southeast Asian tall forests, they are described as looking like very large, extremely shaggy tree-climbing otters with prehensile tails. They are also known for their strong odor that is described as just like hot, buttered popcorn. Wikipedia says, “In captivity, the binturong has been noted for its reported intelligence as well as its curious disposition and catholic diet. However, its occasional ill-temperament makes it a difficult pet at best and better handled by experienced wildlife handlers and zookeepers.” When animal expert Jack Hanna brings exotic animals to show on the Late Show with David Letterman, a binturong is always popular. Would a cartoon anthropomorphized binturong look too much like Chewbacca?
Spotted skunks. Pepe Le Pew and all the other skunks in animation have been of the striped variety. In real life, the spotted skunk is almost as common. It seems unfair that they should always be ignored in animation in favor of the better-known striped skunks.
Kha-Nyous, or Khanyous. Paleontologists said that this prehistoric mammal, which split off from the evolutionary ancestors of the rat 44,000,000 years ago, became extinct 11 million years ago – until visiting biologists discovered them being sold, live, for food in a Laotian marketplace in 2005. The kha-nyou looks roughly like Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a tail like a squirrel: an oversized rat with a furry rather than a naked tail, or a giant rat with a squirrel’s tail. What else is still out there?
Is it too late to create new animated exotic animal stars? In theatrical animation, maybe. But in TV animation, Disney’s Kim Possible with Rufus, the naked mole rat, ran from 2002 to 2007 and is still popular. So an animated platypus or capybara or linsang or binturong character definitely has possibilities. Or a muntjac, or a numbat, or a vicuña, or a serow, or…