"I might be a duck, but I'm human" : an analysis of clothing in Disney cartoons
Dubin, Luke Baldwin.
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Mickey Mouse, one of the world's most recognizable cartoon characters, did not wear a shirt in his earliest incarnation in theatrical shorts and, for many years, Donald Duck did not wear pants and still rarely does so. Especially when one considers the era in which these figures were first created by the Walt Disney Studio, in the 1920s and 1930s, why are they portrayed without full clothing? The obvious answer, of course, is that they are animals, and animals do not wear clothes. But these are no ordinary animals: in most cases, they do wear clothing - some clothing, at least - and they walk on two legs, talk in a more or less intelligible fashion, and display a number of other anthropomorphic traits. If they are essentially animals, why do they wear clothing at all? On the other hand, if these characters are more human than animal, as suggested by other behavioral traits - they walk, talk, work, read, and so on - why are they not more often fully clothed? To answer these questions I undertook three major research strategies used to gather evidence: interpretive textual analysis of 321 cartoons; secondary analysis of interviews conducted with the animators who created the Disney characters; and historical and archival research on the Disney Company and on the times and context in which it functioned. I was able to identify five themes that played a large part in what kind of clothing a character wore; first, the character's gender and/or sexuality; second, what species or "race" the character was; third, the character's socio-economic status; fourth, the degree to which the character was anthropomorphized; and, fifth, the context in which the character and its clothing appeared in a particular scene or narrative. I concluded that all of these factors played a part in determining, to some extent, the clothing worn by particular characters at particular times. However, certain patterns emerged from the analysis that could not be explained by these factors alone or in combination. Therefore, my analysis also investigates the individual and collective attitudes and desires of the men in the Disney studio who were responsible for creating these characters and the cultural conditions under which they were created. Drawing on literature from the psychoanalytic approach to film studies, I argue that the clothing choices spoke to an idealized fantasy world to which the animators (most importantly, Walt Disney himself), and possibly wider society, wanted to return.