‘One of the most remarkable features of our domesticated races is that we see in them adaption, not indeed to the animal’s or plant’s own good, but to man’s fancy or us.’ (Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species)
The two movies ‘Bambi’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ that I am going to mention have one thing in common, animals and objects were anthropomorphised by our media. The term anthropomorphism is regarded as giving “human characteristics to a nonhuman object or being such as a plant, animal, geological feature, or deity” (Mercadal, 2017). Isn’t it sad that only after the tragic sea world incident where an Orca trainer lost her life then our society was awakening and realised that animals will behave like animals, and obviously as humans we were shocked when the incident came to the surface. The well-awarded Blackfish documentary (2013) directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, hanged us with one question in our minds, is it OK for human beings to give human traits to animals?
Growing up we are constantly bombarded with movies, cartoons and books that uses animals for entertaining purposes. Bambi is a Disney movie that showcases more animal like features, it shows no human characters at all. The animation of Bambi is realistic and the film focused more on the deer’s natural habitat and woodland life. However, human attributes are present nonetheless, Bambi cared for his family, he also succeeded in self-discovery and many love stories emerged with the different animals’ characters.
Another Disney film that demonstrates the use of anthropomorphism is Beauty and the Beast. In this film there are no animals, however there are objects who were given human like characteristics, such as Mrs Potts, Cogs worth, Feather duster, Lumière and Chip. Chip and Mrs Potts feature the family concept, whilst Lumiere is portrayed as a romantic Frenchman. I myself and the audiences loved Mrs Potts for her caring and motherly personality and on the other hand Chip is like a passionate child who wants to learn and explore. Isn’t this a great example of how these traits of human given to objects allow us to relate and connect to the characters?
It’s no surprise that filmmakers like Disney use this technique of anthropomorphism on animals in order to help humans apply aspects of human qualities to non-human objects, by using the human language to communicate what we observe (Serpell, 2002). It’s all fun and entertainment until we realise the real life consequences of using anthropomorphic depictions of animals. Young children already have difficulty trying to distinguish reality from fantasy (Goldman, 2014). Children easily get confused between the two qualities depicted of that animal, making it harder for them to relate it with the real one (Goldman, 2014). This means that animals lose their real identity to us, as a ‘wild animal’.
A consequence that happened through the tragic incident at the SeaWorld, where the trainers and the company forgot about the natural qualities of Orcas. They linked their characteristics with human emotions because they chose to make decisions about them based on human traits. It is being a concern for scientist, who state this type of thinking can be problematic for animal trainers and behaviourists ,who may be evaluating behaviour problems based on human traits (kesling, 2011).
It is easy to make an assumption about animal’s behaviour after watching so many films and reading so many books, when compared to what happens in reality. Mostly when we compare their emotion and behaviour to our own. It is highly dangerous and risky if we involve anthropomorphism toward our pet or animal just like the way it shows on TV and Films. It gives children and adults a false illusion, and stimulation to make them believe what they see on their screens. It’s crazy how we human empathise with animals more than with humans in films at this point of time, Disney has tried adding human traits in animals in their movies, it possesses social and political realities which influence and condition audiences. Is it right to give human trait to animals to feel more connected with them? Are we being selfish and snatching away their supposedly original lifestyle by anthropomorphising? Hopefully someday I will be able to explore these issues.
Khan Sultana Nazish
Goldman, J 2014, When Animals Act Like People in Stories, Kids Can’t Learn, Scientific American, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/when-animals-act-like-people-in-stories-kids-cane28099t-learn/>
Kesling, J 2011, Anthropomorphism, double-edge sword https://responsibledog.net/2011/05/21/anthropomorphism-double-edged-sword/>.
Mercadal, T 2017, ‘Anthropomorphism’, Salem Press Encyclopedia.
Serpell, JA 2002, ‘Anthropomorphism and Anthropomorphic Selection—Beyond the “Cute Response” ‘, Society & Animals, vol. 10, no. 4.