Many of us grew up watching cartoons on television. We feel connected with the shows of our youth, but how much do we really know about them? For example, you have probably never wondered why cartoon characters wear gloves. I bet you’re thinking about it now. That is exactly the question Vox set out to answer.
The truth is, cartoon characters wear gloves for a few different reasons. The simplest explanation is that it saved cartoon artists time. “At the dawn of animation,” Vox explains, “everything was hand-drawn over and over and over again. And certain techniques to make the process more efficient shaped the style of the cartoons.”
As famous figures gained in popularity, artists needed a way to draw them even faster so they could create more content. The solution was to round out the edges of the character’s bodies. As Vox points out, “A round edge was much faster to draw than an angle, and that certainly applied to hands, with all those fingers and knuckles.” By transforming bony, jointed hands into gloves, cartoon creators were able to take the most complex part out of the process.
Timing, however, was only one factor in the equation. The color scheme of the original black-and-white cartoons presented technical difficulties for artists. “[Character’s hands] were, in black and white films, difficult to see against their black bodies,” explains John Canemaker, an animation historian and professor at NYU. By giving dark-shaded characters white gloves, the creators widened their range of mobility. Now a cartoon’s hands were visible even when they were directly in front of them.
Those were the more realistic reasons for giving the character’s gloves, but psychology played a role as well. Vox specifically discusses the evolution of Micky Mouse, emphasizes the fact that “like many of the glove-wearing cartoon characters of his time, Mickey Mouse a non-human doing very human things.”
As it turns out, this was the effect Walt Disney desired in his shows. The man shared himself in his 1968 biography, The Disney Version, that the creators “didn’t want him to have mouse hands, because he was supposed to be more human. So we gave him gloves.” These human-like hands helped the audience to connect more with the characters, pulling them more into the reality of the episodes.
The final factor contributing to cartoon characters’ white gloves is cultural influence. Vox notes that “The Opry House is a film about Mickey putting on a vaudeville show.” This genre of theater was quite common when these cartoons first came out, so they adapted some of the characteristics typical of the style. The gloves are a symbol of the popular entertainment of the time.
Bobby Zimmeruski himself, from “An Extremely Goofy Movie,” wondered aloud, “Do you ever wonder why we’re always like…wearing gloves?” He may never know the answer, but now you do. You can use this newfound information to help you win your next trivia game.
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