Why Cartoon Characters Wear Gloves: A Curious Trip Through the History of Animation

It’s rare for Disney to overlook a marketing opportunity. For years, Mouse Ears were the film studio’s theme park souvenir of choice, but recently the gift shops have started stocking white four-fingered gloves too.

Perhaps not the most sensible choice for dipping into a bucket of jalapeño poppers or a $6 Mickey Pretzel with Cheese Sauce, but the gloves have undeniable reach when it comes to cartoon history. Bugs Bunny wears them. So does Woody Woodpecker, Tom (though not Jerry), and Betty Boop's anthropomorphic doggie pal, Bimbo.

As Vox’s Estelle Caswell points out above, the choice to glove Mickey and his early 20th-century cartoon brethren was born of practicality. The limited palette of black and white animation meant that most animal characters had black bodies—their arms disappeared against every inky expanse.


It also provided artists with a bit of relief, back when animation meant endless hours of labor over hand drawn cells. Puffy gloves aren’t just a comical capper to bendy rubber hose limbs. They’re also way easier to draw than realistic phalanges.

As Walt Disney himself explained:

We didn't want him to have mouse hands, because he was supposed to be more human. So we gave him gloves. Five Fingers looked like too much on such a little figure, so we took one away. That was just one less finger to animate.

Caswell digs deeper than that, unearthing a surprising cultural comparison. White gloves were a standard part of blackface performers’ minstrel show costumes. Audiences who packed theaters for touring minstrel shows were the same people lining up for Steamboat Willie.

Comic animation has evolved both visually and in terms of content over its near hundred year history, but animators have a tendency to revere the history of their profession.

Thusly do South Park's animators bestow spotless white gloves upon Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo.

"America's favorite cat and mouse team," the Simpsons'  Itchy and Scratchy, mete out their horrifically violent punishment in pristine white gloves.

Clearly some things are worth preserving…

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine, appearing onstage in New York City through June 26 in Paul David Young’s Faust 3. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A New Theme Park Based on Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro Set to Open in 2020

Is a frame of reference necessary to appreciate Disney World? Can you enjoy a ride in a spinning teacup if you have no working knowledge of Alice in Wonderland? What sort of magic might the Magic Kingdom hold for those who’ve never heard of Cinderella or Peter Pan?

Now imagine if the theme park’s scope was narrowed to a single film.

You’ve got until 2020 to sneak in a viewing of the Hayao Miyazaki film, My Neighbor Totoro, before Ghibli Park, a 500-acre amusement park on the grounds of Japan's 2005 World’s Fair site, opens.


To date, Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli has produced more than a dozen feature-length animated films. That’s a lot of raw material for attractions.

Porco Rosso’s 1930s seaplanes have ride written all over them, and think of the Haunted Mansion-esque thrills that could be wrung from Spirited Away’s bathhouse.

How about a Jungle Cruise-style ramble through the countryside in Howl's Moving Castle?

An underwater adventure with goldfish princess Ponyo?

Prepare for a very long wait if you’re joining the queue for those. It’s being reported that Ghibli Park will focus exclusively on a single film, 1988’s My Neighbor Totoro.

(Care to take a guess what its Mouse Ears will look like?)

The film’s theme of respect for the natural world is good news for the area’s existing flora. The governor of Japan's Aichi Prefecture, where Ghibli Park is to be situated, has announced that it will be laid out in such a way as to preserve the trees.

Presumably the film’s iconic cat bus and fast growing camphor tree, above, will be powered by the greenest of energies.

Preview the sort of wonders in store by touring the lifesize house of My Neighbor Totoro's human characters, Satsuki and Mei, below.

via NPR

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  She’ll be appearing onstage in New York City in Paul David Young’s Faust 3, opening later this week. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Cab Calloway Stars in “Minnie the Moocher,” a Trippy Betty Boop Cartoon That’s Ranked as the 20th Greatest Cartoon of All Time (1932)

The cast of Dave Fleischer’s 1932 cartoon, Minnie the Moocher, above, are a far cry from the candy-colored ponies and simpering dragons populating today’s cartoon universe.

There’s not much of a narrative, and the closest thing to a moral is an unspoken “don’t be cokey.”

Who cares?

The lyrics to bandleader Cab Calloway’s crossover hit were ample excuse to send a rebellious Betty Boop and her anthropomorphized pal, Bimbo, on a trippy jaunt through the underworld.


While there's no evidence of Betty or Bimbo hitting the pipe, one wonders what the animators were smoking to come up with such an imaginative palette of ghouls.

The ghosts are prisoners sporting chain gang stripes.

A witch with an outsized head prefigures Miyazaki's commanding old ladies.

A blank-socketed mama cat, leached dry by her equally eyeless kittens, conjures the sort of nightmare vision that appealed to Hieronymus Bosch.

The most benign presence is a phantasmagoric walrus, modeled on a rotoscoped Calloway. The Hi De Ho Man cut a far svelter presence in the flesh, as evidenced by the live action sequence that introduces the cartoon.

Betty’s home sweet home offers nearly as weird a landscape as the one she and Bimbo flee at film’s end.

Its many inorganic inhabitants would have felt right at home in PeeWee’s Playhouse, as would a self-sacrificing flowering plant, who succumbs to a sample of the hasenpfeffer Betty’s immigrant mother unsuccessfully urges on her. As for Betty's father, Fleischer struck a blow for teenagers everywhere by having his head morph into a gramophone on which a broken record (or rather, cylinder) plays.

Minnie the Moocher was voted the 20th greatest cartoon of all time, in a 1994 survey of 1,ooo animation professionals. We hope you enjoy it now, as the animators did then, and audiences did way back in 1932.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  She’ll be appearing onstage in New York City this June as one of the clowns in Paul David Young’s Faust 3. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hayao Miyazaki Picks His 50 Favorite Children’s Books

Once upon a time, books served as the de facto refuge of the “physically weak” child. For animation legend, Hayao Miyazaki, above, they offered an escape from the grimmer realities of post-World War II Japan.

Many of the 50 favorites he selected for a 2010 exhibition honoring publisher Iwanami Shoten's "Boy's Books” series are time-tested Western classics.

Loners and orphans--The Little Prince, The Secret Garden--figure prominently, as do talking animals (The Wind in the Willows, Winnie-the-Pooh, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle).


And while it may be a commonly-held publishing belief that boys won’t read stories about girls, the young Miyazaki seemed to have no such bias, ranking Heidi and Laura Ingalls Wilder right alongside Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island’s pirates.

Several of the titles that made the cut were ones he could only have encountered as a grown up, including 1967’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and When Marnie Was There, the latter eventually serving as source material for a Studio Ghibli movie, as did Miyazaki’s top pick, Mary Norton’s The Borrowers.

We invite you to take a nostalgic stroll through Miyazaki’s best-loved children’s books. Readers, how many have you read?

Hayao Miyazaki’s Top 50 Children’s Books

  1. The Borrowers -- Mary Norton
  2. The Little Prince -- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  3. Children of Noisy Village -- Astrid Lindgren
  4. When Marnie Was There -- Joan G. Robinson
  5. Swallows and Amazons -- Arthur Ransome
  6. The Flying Classroom -- Erich Kästner
  7. There Were Five of Us -- Karel Poláček
  8. What the Neighbours Did, and Other Stories -- Ann Philippa Pearce
  9. Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates -- Mary Mapes Dodge
  10. The Secret Garden -- Frances Hodgson Burnett
  11. Eagle of The Ninth -- Rosemary Sutcliff
  12. The Treasure of the Nibelungs -- Gustav Schalk
  13. The Three Musketeers -- Alexandre Dumas, père
  14. A Wizard of Earthsea -- Ursula K. Le Guin
  15. Les Princes du Vent -- Michel-Aime Baudouy
  16. The Flambards Series -- K. M. Peyton
  17. Souvenirs entomologiques -- Jean Henri Fabre
  18. The Long Winter -- Laura Ingalls Wilder
  19. A Norwegian Farm -- Marie Hamsun
  20. Heidi -- Johanna Spyri
  21. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer -- Mark Twain
  22. Little Lord Fauntleroy -- Frances Hodgson Burnett
  23. Tistou of the Green Thumbs -- Maurice Druon
  24. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes -- Arthur Conan Doyle
  25. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler -- E. L. Konigsburg
  26. The Otterbury Incident -- Cecil Day-Lewis
  27. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland -- Lewis Carroll
  28. The Little Bookroom -- Eleanor Farjeon
  29. The Forest is Alive or Twelve Months -- Samuil Yakovlevich Marshak
  30. The Restaurant of Many Orders -- Kenji Miyazawa
  31. Winnie-the-Pooh -- A. A. Milne
  32. Nihon Ryōiki -- Kyokai
  33. Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio -- Pu Songling
  34. Nine Fairy Tales: And One More Thrown in For Good Measure -- Karel Čapek
  35. The Man Who Has Planted Welsh Onions -- Kim So-un
  36. Robinson Crusoe -- Daniel Defoe
  37. The Hobbit -- J. R. R. Tolkien
  38. Journey to the West -- Wu Cheng'en
  39. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea -- Jules Verne
  40. The Adventures of the Little Onion -- Gianni Rodari
  41. Treasure Island -- Robert Louis Stevenson
  42. The Ship that Flew -- Hilda Winifred Lewis
  43. The Wind in the Willows -- Kenneth Grahame
  44. The Little Humpbacked Horse -- Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov (Ershoff)
  45. The Little White Horse -- Elizabeth Goudge
  46. The Rose and the Ring -- William Makepeace Thackeray
  47. The Radium Woman -- Eleanor Doorly
  48. City Neighbor, The Story of Jane Addams -- Clara Ingram Judson
  49. Ivan the Fool -- Leo Tolstoy
  50. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle -- Hugh Lofting

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  She’ll be appearing onstage in New York City this June as one of the clowns in Paul David Young’s Faust 3. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Animated History of Tea

Self proclaimed tea geek, Shunan Teng’s knowledge of her chosen subject extends well beyond the proper way to serve and prepare her best-loved beverage.

Her recent TED-Ed lesson on the History of Tea, above, hints at centuries of bloodshed and mercenary trade practices, discreetly masked by Steff Lee’s benign animation.

Addiction, war, and child labor---the last, a grim ongoing reality…. Meditate on that the next time you’re enjoying a nice cup of Darjeeling, or better yet, matcha, a preparation whose Western buzz is starting to approximate that of the Tang dynasty.

Even die-hard coffee loyalists with little patience for the ritualistic niceties of tea culture can indulge in some fascinating trivia, from the invention of the clipper ship to the possible health benefits of eating rather than drinking those green leaves.

Test your TQ post-lesson with TED-Ed’s quiz, or this one from Tea Drunk, Teng’s authentic Manhattan tea house.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She’ll be appearing onstage in New York City this June as one of the clowns in Paul David Young’s Faust 3. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Take a Trip Through the History of Modern Art with the Oscar-Winning Animation Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase

The artistic morphing is already underway before the very first frame of filmmaker Joan Gratz’ 1992 Oscar-winning animation, Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase.

Most viewers will recognize the title as a mashup of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous work and Marcel Duchamp’s modernist classic Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2.

What follows is a constantly morphing, chronological trip through the history of modern art, beginning with Impressionism and passing through Cubism and Surrealism en route to Pop art and hyper-realism.


The seamless transitions were created by painstakingly manipulating small pieces of oil-based modeling clay on a solid easel-mounted surface, a technique Gratz developed as an architecture student at the University of Oregon.

Van Gogh’s self-portrait reconfigures itself into Gaugin’sAndy Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe becomes Roy Lichtenstein’s Woman with Flowered Hat---a far trickier transition than had Gratz started with Picasso’s 1941 Dora Maar au Chat, the original inspiration for Lichtenstein’s 1963 work.

As Gratz told Olivier Cotte, author of Secrets of Oscar-Winning Animation:

The transitions were the most interesting aspect of the work. A great deal of what they show consists of providing information about the style of the paintings…. The relationship between the images depends on the era, the artistic movement and the interconnection between the artists.

Thus the work is not just about capturing the 55 selected images, but also their texture, from the Expressionists’ thick impasto to the post-painterly slickness of 60s pop artists.

The paintings were chosen over nearly eight years of research and planning, but not the minutiae of the transitions, as Gratz preferred to improvise in front of the camera. Just as in more narrative claymations, each painstaking adjustment required her to stop and shoot a frame, a process that ended up taking two-and-a-half years, fit in around Gratz's schedule for such paying gigs as Return to Oz and the feature-length claymation, The Adventures of Mark Twain.

Given the spontaneous nature of the transformations from one painting to the next, the exact length of the finished film was impossible to predict. When it was at last complete, composer Jamie Haggerty  and sound designer Chel White were brought in to provide further historical and cultural context, via music, environmental sounds, and conspicuous use of a digeridoo.

See more of Gratz’s clay painting technique in the music video for Peter Gabriel’s "Digging in the Dirt," and ads for Coca-Cola and Microsoft.

Read Olivier Cotta’s analysis of Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase, including a longer interview with Joan Gratz here.

Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase will be added to our list of Animations, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She’ll be appearing onstage in New York City this June as one of the clowns in Paul Young’s Faust 3.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Animated Alan Watts Waxes Philosophical About Time in The Fine Art of Goofing Off, the 1970s “Sesame Street for Grown-Ups”

Time is a measure of energy, a measure of motion. And we have agreed internationally on the speed of the clock. And I want you to think about clocks and watches for a moment. We are of course slaves to them. And you will notice that your watch is a circle, and that it is calibrated, and that each minute, or second, is marked by a hairline which is made as narrow as possible, as yet to be consistent with being visible. 

Alan Watts

However true, that’s a particularly stress-inducing observation from one who was known for his Zen teachings…

The pressure is ameliorated somewhat by Bob McClay's trippy time-based animation, above, narrated by Watts. Putting Mickey Mouse on the face of Big Ben must’ve gone over well with the countercultural youth who eagerly embraced Watts’ Eastern philosophy. And the tangible evidence of real live magic markers will prove a tonic to those who came of age before animation's digital revolution.


The short originally aired as part of the early 70’s series, The Fine Art of Goofing Off, described by one of its creators, the humorist and sound artist, Henry Jacobs, as “Sesame Street for grown-ups.”

Time preoccupied both men.

One of Jacobs’ fake commercials on The Fine Art of Goofing Off involved a pitchman exhorting viewers to stop wasting time at idle pastimes: Log a few extra golden hours at the old grindstone.

A koan-like skit featured a gramophone through which a disembodied voice endlessly asks a stuffed dog, “Can you hear me?” (Jacobs named that as a personal favorite.)

Watts was less punchline-oriented than his friend and eventual in-law, who maintained an archival collection of Watts’ lectures until his own death:

And when we think of a moment of time, when we think what we mean by the word "now”; we think of the shortest possible instant that is here and gone, because that corresponds with the hairline on the watch. And as a result of this fabulous idea, we are a people who feel that we don’t have any present, because the present is instantly vanishing - it goes so quickly. It is always becoming past. And we have the sensation, therefore, of our lives as something that is constantly flowing away from us. We are constantly losing time. And so we have a sense of urgency. Time is not to be wasted. Time is money. And so, because of the tyranny of this thing, we feel that we have a past, and we know who we are in terms of our past. Nobody can ever tell you who they are, they can only tell you who they were. 

Watch a complete episode of The Fine Art of Goofing Off here. Your time will be well spent.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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