Saturday, August 04, 2007

Stock Disney Characters - The bland lead -UP FOR TESTING PURPOSES ONLY

Does this kid have any of the ingredients that you need to make up an individual character? Like:

A Specific Design
A Unique Voice (an extinct concept)
A Specific Personality
Specific Mannerisms


Disney characters belong in a category by themselves.

They are neither realistic specific individuals culled from observation of human nature, nor are they imaginative creations from a cartoonist's mind.

They are creatures in limbo. Neither real nor cartoon.

Most Disney characters have one simple personality trait and a visual gimmick to help us see it. Tramp leads with his butt, Sneezy sneezes, Captain Hook sneers, Smee wiggles his fingers, etc.

The odd one even might have 2 traits although I'm struggling to think of one that does. These one and maybe 2 trait characters have been recycled for decades by animators and executives whose only influence seems to be other Disney cartoons or Disney imitators.

It's as if there is a group of people who live in a tent somewhere in the middle of the earth and have no contact with the upper world. They have never seen real humans interacting, so can't caricature real human psychology in its infinite variations. They have also never seen any other artists' characters or interpretations of humanity. They have only other Disney and Disney imitations to study. Actually, in the last 20 years, they have started to be influenced by Saturday Morning cartoon characters, so now we have a strange mix of stock Disney with stock Filmation characters.

For decades, we've have endless repetitions of a small handful of stock stylized cliched characters. Why is this so?

It all started with Walt Disney himself. It took him years to get to the point where his characters evolved even one superficial trait. His first star character had not a single trait.


Mickey is The Ultimate Bland Character
His appeal completely depends on how cute the individual artists can draw such simple shapes.

He's made of circles and ovals and has no personality.

He doesn't even have a distinct voice. It's just Walt in falsetto-which sounds exactly like anyone else doing a falsetto.

He's very cute though and is a good character to train your youngest kids to understand cartoons with.He makes a good logo.

Bland Evolves From Mice To Boys
Here's a puppet that longs to be a real boy.

The drawings are very well constructed but there is no design.

It's not a specific puppet and it doesn't have a personality.

He has a mildly distinct voice, unlike the later generations he spawned.
This basic generic boy design has been in continuous use for 6 decades now...

Pinocchio turns into a "real boy"Peter Pan instructs a group of different sized versions of himself.

Milt Kahl Perfects The Bland Boy LeadAdd some angles and you get this modified generic boy design, using very strong construction and clever proportions.

It's very good drawing but suggests nothing unique about the character

he is merely a well constructed symbol of "boy". Any boy.

The Disney boy was never this well drawn again...

How Many Times Can We Use The Same Kahl Boy?tone him down and re-use him

After you take out the one thing that made the character worth watching...the good drawing, and all that's left is the blandness.

None of these characters have a personality or a unique look, nor a unique voice - nothing to make him a character. It might as well be a talking stick with a wig.

Decade after decade the stick gets more and more watered down.
add some Don Bluth influence

...sometimes he's even a girl
here's what the bland boy/girl becomes when you take away the good drawing and construction...
a Saturday morning cartoon version of Pinocchio in drag.

Again...Note that the bland fish is the same "design" as the bland boy in drag.

Milt Kahl Boy And His Robot

Milt Kahl seems to have had a lot of assistants, each of whom are the only true purveyors of his legacy.
Iwao Takamoto was once Milt Kahl's assistant and did his own version of "Wart". This TV version actually looks better than most of the expensive quality theatrical versions from the next group of Kahl assistants that followed.

Modern Version Of Bland Lead BoyIn the 80s Disney had an influx of Saturday Morning cartoon artists and influences, and the principles that held together the classic Disney cartoons began to melt away.

Take the same basic generic design and add uncomfortable proportions and use vague shapes for the details...

Here's a movie that has 2 bland lead characters. Once in rodent form, and then again in human form.


Nondescript in design (a realistic rat with googly eyes) and in personality.

(Character description from the Ratatouille website)

This description does not say anything about the character's personality. It tells you he can smell well and that he has a dream. The Rat tells you that himself many times in the movie.

When he runs on all fours like a real rat it's amazingly animated. When he stands on 2 legs and acts, he acts just like every Disney character from the last 30 years, not like an individual.


Here's a Disney bland boy that brags in the movie about how bland he is. And he gets the girl anyway. The Sassy one.

The design is slightly different than the regular Disney boy. He has a big nose now and no jaw. That probably took a lot of guts to make those changes , but it made him even wimpier than the regular bland lead. The expressions and gestures are still the same as every Disneyesque character, whether boy, girl, man or rat. He still acts like the girl in Rescuers - with a bit of Medusa thrown in.

I have to admit, this is the first time I've seen a movie where every character actually tells you what their personalities are-even the one that admits to not having one.

Disney wanted you to know what each of his characters' single trait was. He named each character after his one trait to be sure you got it. Happy, Sneezy, Grumpy etc...

But he also wrote scenes that demonstrated what their characters' simple personalities were.

Now the movies are so unsure of whether the story is carrying itself, that they have the characters tell you not only everything they do (exposition) but...who they are. I don't think there is even a word for that yet.

But it's completely acceptable, even to the critics whom the movie calls worthless.

(Character description from the Ratatouille website)

Of course having bland characters in animated movies is not a handicap. Not while every other movie is equally bland. Moms still take their kids to animated movies to see talking animals and humans with big heads.

I just want to make the point that they aren't going because of the rich personalities or story. These movies must have some other attributes that bring people in. For now, I'm just focusing on personality and character.

Why do bland characters exist in the first place?

What is the purpose of characters with no distinctive traits?

I have a theory that I don't totally believe. Most animated features want to outspend the competition. The films are built on special effects, spectacle, details, crowds and a showing off of how much money they can burn. With that kind of story maybe strong characters would distract the audience from the impressive flying money.

Maybe the film makers think you need a central character with no distinctive traits so that you can piggy back him through the movie and experience the expensive special effects, wobbly cameras and spectacle through him.

You project your personality onto the blank slate and go on a roller coaster ride.

I personally think that is a rotten excuse to have a bland character and to tell you the truth I doubt that's what the makers of these pictures have in mind.

Why are there blands then if it's not on purpose? Because the cartoon makers don't actually think about what they are doing or why. They just do it by rote. I doubt they even realize these characters are bland. They just have watched so many Disney, Bluth and Pixar movies growing up, that they automatically absorb the stock formulas and repeat them robotically when they get their chance to make a film.

Marc Deckter, on the other hand gives them more credit than that. He thinks they are completely aware of the blandness they wring and that it's on purpose.

Next thrilling post:

Marc Deckter has a scientific explanation for bland characters in film and cartoons. (similar to his defense of Muzak)

Followed by:

The Disney Evil Homosexual