Throwback Thursday: Why do cartoon characters have four fingers while reason of some wearing gloves

As a fan of animation movies and serials, I have keenly noticed that my favourite characters have four fingers.

And I have wondered what could be the reason of them having only four fingers? May be the cartoonists chalk it up to tradition or didn’t give it much of a thought.

Mickey mouse

But very recently when I talked on the subject with an animation professional, he said there was very good reason for it and that goes back to the old days of animation.

Much before the introduction of computers, artists drew cartoons by hand. By sketching characters with only four fingers, it saved both time and money.

For more basic figures like Mickey Mouse, animators worked mainly with circles. Not just for the iconic mouse’s main shape, but for his hands and body too.

By drawing just a thumb and three fingers, it kept the circular pattern going. Walt Disney himself has been quoted to have said, “Using five fingers would have made Mickey’s hands look like a bunch of bananas.”

Another reason a slew of our favourite characters, like the Genie, Mushu the dragon, and Winnie-the-Pooh don’t have five-fingered human hands?

They’re not human. Making animals and supernatural beings too realistic takes viewers out of fantasyland, even if those animals are wearing pants.

It’s not just Disney that does it, either. Other iconic animated characters such as Homer Simpson and his brood all the Looney Tunes, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Felix the Cat have only four fingers.

Felix

And now that you know, you’ll notice nothing but four-fingered pals every time you flip to a cartoon.

Of course, not every character got the shortcut treatment. Animators drew human figures, like Disney Princesses, as realistically as possible (minus those huge eyes and tiny waists), so they have the usual five fingers.

Five

 

And now to the question as to why do animated characters wear gloves. Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Sonic the Hedgehog and a numerous animated characters wear gloves.

According to Professor John Canemaker, animation historian at NYU, “At the dawn of animation” he explains, “certain techniques to make the animation process easier were used.”

gloves 1

Bill Nolan animated Felix the Cat took away the cat’s snout and rounded off his appendiges.

Rounded edges are easier than angles to draw – but it raised a new issue. In the age of black and white cartoons, viewers struggled to see the black hands and feet against the character’s bodies. Once these characters wore gloves, their crisp white lines meant they were now visible again.

Gloves 2

Walt Disney famously put this into practice with his very own Mickey Mouse in 1929 in The Opry House.

So it was just easier. That’s not the end of the story though, there’s the cultural background too.

There’s a big vaudeville show where Mickey plays the piano – the white gloves meant viewers could see his hand movements as well as make him seem more human.

Gloves 3

The final piece of the puzzle is harder to stomach. Early animation was built around vaudeville tradition, particularly the minstrel.

Minstrels at the time wore loose clothes, exaggerated makeup and wore white gloves – they were essentially a racist paraody.

So a simple question basically ends with a slightly racist explanation. Sorry if that ruined Disney and your favourite cartoon friends.

Over the time, the minstrel shows lost their popularity and the white gloves were just associated with our much loved cartoons.