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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

EW Taylor – Why Are Talking Animals So Prevalent In Children’s Literature & TV Programs?

Why Are Talking Animals So Prevalent In Children’s Literature And TV Programs?

by EW Taylor

Many cartoons, books, children’s shows and feature films have talking animals, with some productions even having entire casts made out of animals that can converse eloquently. The distinguishing feature of these animals in literature and children’s shows is the ability to hold conversations with each other, regardless of species, as well as with human members of the cast.

What Are Talking Animals In Fiction?

Despite the seeming ease with which they communicate, these fictional creatures are still depicted as animals in nearly every other way when it comes to their instincts, what motivates their actions and their priorities. This includes the fact that they rarely wear any clothes, and are often vocal in their pride that they are not human. Some may choose to break the fourth wall and speak only to the viewer or choose only a single human whom they talk to exclusively. In children’s fiction, animals that can communicate vocally can be broadly categorized into four broad categories: civilized animals, funny animals and speech-impaired animals.

Civilized Animal

A civilized animal often exhibits some kind of civilized behavior, but otherwise take on their species’ natural role in the food chain and ecosystem. In general, they exhibit an evenly balanced mix of human mannerisms and animal character. They may be clothed in accessories, be half-dressed and barefoot, or, in some cases, be fully dressed. Civilized animals may live in houses, and are often depicted as being able to walk on two legs, although everyday activities and concerns such as searching for food or avoiding predators may cause them to temporarily move on all fours.

Funny Animal

An important point to note about this category of talking animal is that the term “funny” when used to describe them is not literal, but refers to the characteristics and role of the animal as well as the genre, the production or literature. These are creatures that are nearly human in nature, mannerisms, and character, and they are often distinguished from humans only by their appearance. The main incentive for illustrators and animators to use funny animals in children’s TV shows is the ease with which animals can be drawn as recognizable individuals compared to humans. A good example, drawn from the Scooby Doo cartoons, is Scrappy Doo, who is human in every way other than in his appearance.

Speech Impaired Animal

A staple of many cartoons from the 1960s and 1970s is having major characters portray a non-human sidekick that could almost, but not quite, communicate with their master in English. Interestingly, many of these speech-impaired animals were cast as being much smarter than even the human members of the cast. Similar to civilized animals, they retained most of their animal traits despite being unable to talk, particularly when it came to motivations, instincts and motivations. SIAs (Speech Impaired Animals) rarely wear clothes, and are shown to be proud that they are not human. Although a few of them are shown walking on 2 legs even though they naturally would not, most lack hands and do not perform human tasks. An example is Scooby doo, Shaggy’s sidekick who speaks in very broken and barely intelligible English.

Uses of Talking Creatures in Children’s Tales

Storytellers may choose to use talking creatures in their stories for a variety of reasons. In Richard Scarry’s illustrated children’s books, he uses animals that can talk to appeal to younger audiences through furry, lovable depictions. Talking creatures may also be used as metaphors for certain human characteristics. For example, in Maus by Art Spiegelman, Jews are depicted as mice and Germans as cats that prey on them. Satire is also another major motivation that has influenced the popularity of talking animals in literature such as Gorge Orwell’s Animal Farm.

All animals have certain characteristics or distinguishing behavior that lead to their association with particular behavior. For example, mice are associated with timid, submissive behavior while hares are thought to be crafty schemers and tortoises thought to think at the slow pace with which they walk. Combinations of animal behavior and traits with human characteristics to tell a story can be easily illustrated in the popular children’s stories of the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood, where the rapacious nature of the wolf leads him to try and trick the pigs and a little girl into becoming his dinner.

Emphasize Culturally Acceptable Traits and Value Systems In A Way Kids Best Understand

Children tend to internalize implicit messages and visual cues much better than lessons that are given to them overtly. By the use of animals that they love or loathe, they can more readily connect with the emotions they experience when Little Red Riding Hood or the little pigs are in danger from the wolf, more than they would if they were told directly to be wary of strangers or not to be bullies. Stories like those of Bugs Bunny or Tweety from Disney’s Merrie Melodies cartoons help teach the importance of thinking on your feet and good decision making in avoiding dangerous situations or being successful.

Encouraging Symbiotic Relationships with Nature While Turning Profits

Human beings are, by nature, a pet-loving species. Many folk tales and fables are stories that show humans as co-evolving with certain animals that live among human populations. We are biologically wired to feed and care for animals, which in turn give us the benefits of providing food, clothing, security, and companionship. This natural sympathy towards animals allows stories that have lovable creatures that can communicate with humans to resonate with children in a unique way. This, in turn, leads to higher box office sales for films and higher circulation figures of comics and illustrated books – It makes perfect business sense.

Almost Human, But More Flexible

Suspension of belief is one of the most important tools in storytelling for kids. The addition of non-natural elements in stories encourages children to imagine things outside their natural field of experience, leading to more intelligent and innovative minds. Using non-human talking animals enables storytellers to make their characters do things that have human motivation, would be simply too unbelievable if performed by a human.

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Genre – Children’s Book

Rating – G

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