The Animated Bestiary: Animals, Cartoons, and Culture

The Animated Bestiary: Animals, Cartoons, and Culture

The Animated Bestiary: Animals, Cartoons, and Culture

The Animated Bestiary: Animals, Cartoons, and Culture


Cartoonists and animators have given animals human characteristics for so long that audiences are now accustomed to seeing Bugs Bunny singing opera and Mickey Mouse walking his dog Pluto.

The Animated Bestiary critically evaluates the depiction of animals in cartoons and animation more generally. Paul Wells argues that artists use animals to engage with issues that would be more difficult to address directly because of political, religious, or social taboos. Consequently, and principally through anthropomorphism, animation uses animals to play out a performance of gender, sex and sexuality, racial and national traits, and shifting identity, often challenging how we think about ourselves.

Wells draws on a wide range of examples, from the original King Kongto Nick Park's Chicken Run to Disney cartoons- such as Tarzan, The Jungle Book, and Brother Bear-to reflect on people by looking at the ways in which they respond to animals in cartoons and films.


King Kong’s Penis

Early in my academic career, I enjoyed an incredible naiveté and ignorance, awesome in its limits and simplistic premises. When first investigating King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, usa, 1933), for example, I sought only to know how King Kong had been done; my scholarly intrigue piqued only by the stunning stopmotion animation of Willis O’Brien. There seemed no other question. It was beauty killed the beast, after all, and there seemed to be no other suspects. Similarly, if you weren’t interested in Kong himself, what was the point? All you were left with was a screaming woman and an air show.

I was soon made aware of an altogether different set of perspectives, however. Kenneth Bernard’s question “How Big Is Kong’s Penis?” (Bernard 1976, 25) came as a bit of a shock, as I had never even considered that he might have a penis; indeed, the thought of a complex ball-and-socket arrangement was about as close as I got on this issue. Further, Bernard’s view that “Kong is the classic myth of racist and imperialist repression and anxiety” (Bernard 1976, 129) also went over my head. I had not equated Kong with being a “black” man, largely because I had not seen him as anything but a large gorilla, “an animal,” and any stray thought that I might have had relating race issues to the story I vetoed on the basis that it was politically incorrect. Naive I may have been, but I was nevertheless “right on.”

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