Why cartoon characters wear gloves
This is the VHS for An Extremely Goofy Movie. It’s the follow up to the cult classic A Goofy Movie and it’s one of my favorite animated films. Now, there’s a moment in this movie where Bobby Zimmeruski, Max’s stoner friend — You know, the one that chugs Cheese Wiz? He says, “Do you ever wonder why we’re always like… wearing gloves?” That’s a damn good question, Bobby. Let’s figure this out. Does the question, “Why do Animated characters wear gloves?”, come up a lot for you? John: The question rarely comes up, but when it does, there are a number of answers to it. That’s John Canemaker, he’s an animation historian and professor at NYU. The most basic theory is that gloves saved time. John: Animation of any kind— even with computers— is a very work-intensive or labor intensive process. “Pardon me. I’ve always wondered how they were made.” At the dawn of animation, 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. John: Felix the Cat, for example, was a very boxy-looking character. As Felix was becoming more popular, the animator Bill Nolan decided to remove his snout and make him more circular overall. John: And that design—what they call the rubber hose and circle design, very spaghetti-like arms of the characters— continued to the design of Mickey Mouse as well. This rubber hose and circle aesthetic allowed animators to quickly draw arms, legs, and heads without spending too much time developing realistic details of the character’s body—like elbows and knees. A round edge was much faster to draw than an angle, and that certainly applied to hands, with all those fingers and knuckles. But hands posed another a problem for animators in the age of fuzzy black and white film. John: Characters were in black and white films difficult to see against their black bodies. Take a look at Mickey Mouse. In 1927’s Plane Crazy he had black hands and feet, just like Felix. He gained shoes by 1928’s Steamboat Willie and in 1929 he’s wearing gloves in The Opry House. The rubber hose style of animation is in full effect here. Every character is exaggerated, round, and simple. And like many of the glove-wearing cartoon characters of his time, Mickey Mouse is a non-human doing very human things. In his 1968 biography, “The Disney Version”, Walt Disney addresses this very issue. He says, “We didn’t want him to have mouse hands, because he was supposed to be more human. So we gave him gloves.” So in addition to saving time and providing color contrast, gloves bring non-human things to life, making their grand gestures stand out. These 1935 tea kettles from Van Beuren Studio have them. This movie camera does too. When Pinocchio is a puppet, he wears gloves. But when he becomes a boy, they disappear. They’re no longer needed. But there’s another, less practical influence behind cartoon characters’ white gloves. The Opry House is a film about Mickey putting on a big vaudeville show. That film and many of the animations that predated it were inextricably linked to vaudeville performance and the blackface minstrel shows of the time. In fact, early animators often performed on vaudeville stages. Nicholas Sammond writes in Birth of An Industry that early animated characters like Felix the Cat, Bimbo, Bosko, and Mickey Mouse “weren’t just like Minstrels, they were Minstrels.” Both the cartoons and the stage characters were portrayed as mischievous and rebellious yet good natured. They wore loose clothes, had painted faces, and … they wore white gloves. In the 1930s vaudeville and blackface minstrelsy declined. White gloves were no longer associated with vaudeville to a new generation of viewers. Instead, they were just part of the cartoon style people came to expect. John: There’s also The Band Concert, do you know that film? It’s from 1935. John: One of the characters is Clarabelle Cow and she plays the flute and her glove gets stuck in the flute [chiuckles] so, really strange without the glove on it. Sixty years later Goofy takes off his gloves before getting in a pool and it’s quite frankly, really disturbing. Now what’s really bothering me is why Daffy Duck and many other animated birds don’t wear gloves. We might never know. Daffy: Look, let’s not split hairs. Why do you even wear gloves? Bugs Bunny: Because, I’ve always worn them. It’s who I am. Why do you wear that thing around your neck? Touché Bugs Bunny. Touché.