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.

Joni Mitchell Sings an Achingly Pretty Version of “Both Sides Now” on the Mama Cass TV Show (1969)

"Records can be a bad trip. The audience can play your mistakes over and over. In a television special they see you once and you work hard to make sure they're seeing you at your best." 

Mama Cass Elliot, The Argus

It’s hard to imagine anyone blessed with Mama Cass’ golden pipes being embarrassed by a recorded performance. A live gig, yes, though, celebrities of her era were subjected to far fewer witnesses.

The Internet was an undreamable little dream in 1969, when the sole episode of The Mama Cass Television Show aired. The former singer of the Mamas and the Papas died five years later, presumably unaware that future generations would have knowledge of, let alone access to, her failed pilot.




She may have described her variety show as “low key” to the Fremont, California Argus, but the guest list was padded with high wattage friends, including comedian Buddy Hackett, and singers Mary Travers and John Sebastian. Joni Mitchell, above, delivered an above-reproach performance of “Both Sides Now.”

Later, Mitchell and Travers joined their hostess for the heartfelt rendition of "I Shall Be Released” below, a performance that is only slightly marred by Elliot’s insane costume and an unnecessarily syrupy backing arrangement of strings and reeds.

Those who can’t live without seeing the complete show can purchase DVDs online.

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

Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life” Is the Perfect Song to End Any Movie: The Graduate, Psycho, Easy Rider & 50+ Other Films

It’s hard to conceive of director Stanley Kubrick choosing a more perfect song for Dr. Strangelove’s final mushroom cloud montage than Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again.”

Ditto Mike Nichols’ The Graduate. Can you imagine Ben and Elaine making their existential getaway to the tune of anything other than “The Sound of Silence"?

Freelance video editor Peter Salomone can (see above). If he had his druthers, all films would end with Dire Straits’ 1985 hit, ”Walk of Life” a tune Rolling Stone described upon its release as a “bouncy Fifties rock & roll song about cool Fifties rock & roll songs,” noting its “cheesy organ sound.”




More recently, the New Zealand-based music blog Off the Tracks proclaimed it “god-awful,” suggesting that the CIA could surgically implant its “obnoxious” keyboard riff to trigger assassins, and asserting that it (“and those fucking sweatbands”) were the demise of Dire Straits.

Such critical evaluations are immaterial where Salomone’s The Walk of Life Project is concerned. Over the course of a couple months, he has gleefully applied it to the final minutes of over five dozen films, leaving the visuals unmolested.

There are no sacred cows in this realm. Casablanca and The Godfather are subjected to this aural experiment, as, somewhat mystifyingly, are Nanook of the North and Chaplin’s City Lights. Horror, Disney, musicals…Salomone dabbles in a wide variety of genres.

For my money, the most successful outcomes are the ones that impose a commercial send-em-up-the-aisles-smiling sensibility on deliberately bleak endings.

Director Danny Boyle may have allowed audiences to decompress a bit with heartwarming footage of the real life Aron Ralston, whose autobiographical account of a life-changing accident inspired the film 127 Hours, but Salomone’s choice to move the playhead to the moment shocked hikers encounter a dazed and dehydrated James Franco clutching his mutilated arm is sublime. That helicopter could not be more perfectly timed:

Some other dark gems:

Easy Rider:

Planet of the Apes

Psycho

Salomone told Gizmodo that he’s taking a break from the project, so if there’s a film you think would benefit from the Walk of Life treatment, you’ll have to do it yourself, with his blessing. Fan stabs at Scarface, The Silence of the Lambs and Gone with the Wind suggest that the trick is not quite as easy to pull off as one might think.

You can view the complete collection on The Walk of Life Project’s website or YouTube channel.

via Gizmodo

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  She’ll is currently appearing as one of the clowns in Paul David Young’s Faust 3, opening this weekend in New York City. 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.

The Only Surviving Behind-the-Scenes Footage of I Love Lucy, and It’s in Color! (1951)

The enduring popularity of comedian Lucille Ball’s 6-season sitcom, I Love Lucy, has resulted in so many full-color collectibles, occasional viewers may forget that the show was filmed in black and white.

More ardent fans may have tuned in for the special colorized episodes CBS aired a couple of years ago, but the only existing color footage of Lucy and her husband and co-star, Desi Arnaz, was captured by a stealthy studio audience member.




The ubiquity of smart phones have made unauthorized celebrity shots commonplace, but consider that this regular Joe managed to smuggle a 16mm movie camera into the bleachers of producer Jess Oppenheimer's tightly controlled set. This covert operation on October 12, 1951 shed light on the true colors of both the Tropicana nightclub and Ricardo apartment sets.

Oppenheimer’s son, Jess, eventually obtained the footage, inserting it into the appropriate scenes from "The Audition,” the episode from which they were snagged.

The Harpo Marx-esque Professor character Lucy plays is a holdover from both the pilot and the vaudeville show she and Arnaz created and toured nationally in 1950, in an attempt to convince CBS that audiences were ready for a comedy based on a “mixed marriage” such as their own.

In addition to Arnaz’ unbridled conga playing, the home movie, above, contains a lovely, unguarded moment at the 2:40 mark, of the stars calmly awaiting slating, side by side on the soundstage.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch the Celebrated Ballerina Anna Pavlova Perform “The Dying Swan” (1925)

Prepare my swan costume.

--- alleged last words of ballerina Anna Pavlova, as reported by her husband

The Internet suggests that swans are fairly tough specimens, quick to hiss and flap at any YouTuber unwise enough to violate their personal space with a video camera.

The celebrated ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) paints a different picture in her signature piece, The Dying Swan.

Choreographer Mikhail Fokine created the four minute solo in 1905 at Pavlova’s request, drawing on her admiration for some resident swans in a Leningrad public park and Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "The Dying Swan.”

It was perhaps a happy accident that he had just learned how to play Camille Saint-Saëns' Le Cygne from Le Carnaval des Animaux on his mandolin. Performed on cello, as originally intended, it supplies a mood of gorgeous melancholy with which to observe the titular character's en pointe death throes.

Fokine’s description of the work’s creation in Dance Magazine’s August 1931 issue speaks to the rigor of these practitioners and their art form:

It was almost an improvisation. I danced in front of her [Pavlova], she directly behind me. Then she danced and I walked alongside her, curving her arms and correcting details of poses. Prior to this composition, I was accused of barefooted tendencies and of rejecting toe dancing in general. The Dying Swan was my answer to such criticism...The dance is technically more difficult than it may appear. The dancer moves constantly using  different bourrees. The feet must be beautiful, expressing a trembling. All pauses in sus-sous must show legs brought to one point. The arms and the back work independently of the feet which continue to move regularly.

The archival footage from 1925, above, conveys what Fokine's words cannot---the deep emotion for which this particular interpreter was known. It’s a visceral experience to watch this broken animal fighting for its survival, quivering and heaving, before crumpling at last. (A pity that this version cuts off so abruptly... that final note should linger.)

Pavlova performed The Dying Swan around 4000 times over the course of her career, never sickening of it, or of the beasts who inspired it. Swans populated a small pond at her English country home. You can witness her fondness for them, below.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Spellbinding Supercut of the First & Final Frames of 70 Iconic Films, Played Side by Side

Filmmaker Jacob T. Swinney’s First and Final Frames, Part II, above, is a rare sequel that upholds the quality of the original.

As he did in its predecessor, Swinney screens the opening and closing shots of dozens of recent and iconic films side by side, providing viewers with a crash course in the editorial eye.

What is being communicated when the closing shot replicates---or inverts---the opening shot?




Will the opening shot become freighted with portent on a second viewing, after one has seen how the film will end?

(Shakespeare would say yes.)

Swinney is deeply conversant in the nonverbal language of film, as evidenced by his numerous compilations and video essays for Slate on such topics as the Kubrick Stare and the facial expressions of emotionally revelatory moments.

Most of the films he chooses for simultaneous cradle-and-grave-shot replay qualify as art, or serious attempts thereat. You’d never know from the formalism of its opening and closing shots that Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train at the 1:00 mark is a comedy.

To be fair, Clint Mansell’s universally applied score could cloak even Animal House in a veil of wistful, cinematic yearning.

Given the comic sensibility Swinney’s brought to such supercuts as a Concise Video History of Teens Climbing Through Each Others’ Windows  and a Tiny History of Shrinking Humans in Movies, I’m hoping there will be a third installment wherein he considers the first and final moments of comedies.

Any you might recommend for inclusion? (Hold the Pink Flamingos, por favor…)

Films featured in First and Final Frames, Part II in order of appearance:

Sunshine

Snowpiercer

Biutiful

21 Grams

The Prestige

All is Lost

Take Shelter

The Impossible

United 93

Vanilla Sky

Ex Machina

Inside Llewyn Davis

Dead Man

Mystery Train

Melvin and Howard

Fury

Full Metal Jacket

A Clockwork Orange

Eyes Wide Shut

Eraserhead

The Elephant Man

The Fall

The Thin Red Line

The New World

Road to Perdition

Snow Falling on Cedars

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Imitation Game

Flight

Hard Eight

Inherent Vice

World War Z

Wild

The Double

The Machinist

Born on the Fourth of July

Brideshead Revisited

Maps to the Stars

The Skeleton Twins

Mommy

A Scanner Darkly

10 Years

Milk

Lost Highway

Boxcar Bertha

Badlands

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Ratcatcher

Ida

Raise the Red Lantern

Gattaca

Kundun

Bringing Out the Dead

A Most Wanted Man

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Social Network

Jack Goes Boating

Submarine

Half Nelson

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Babel

Django Unchained

True Grit

Vertigo

Oldboy

Apocalypto

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Gladiator

Mad Max: Fury Road

World's Greatest Dad

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her play, Fawnbook, is now playing at The Brick Theater in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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