August 30, 2006

The Juvenilizing Evolution Of Mickey Mouse


In 1978, Stephen Jay Gould theorized that Walt Disney and his animators gradually discovered what it took evolutionary psychologists decades to prove: that baby-like features and proportions elicit an "automatic surge of disarming tenderness" in adults:

The brain grows very slowly after age three, and the bulbous cranium of a young child gives way to the more slanted, lower-browed configuration of adulthood. The eyes scarcely grow at all and relative eye size declines precipitously. But the jaw gets bigger and bigger. Children, compared with adults,m
have larger heads and eyes, smaller jaws, a more prominent, bulging cranium, and smaller, pudgier legs and feet. Adult heads are altogether more apish, I'm sorry to say.

Mickey, however, has traveled this ontogenetic pathway in reverse during fifty years among us. He has assumed an ever more childlike appearance as the ratty character of Steamboat Willie became the cute and inoffensive host to a magic kingdom. By 1940, the former tweaker of pig's nipples gets a kick in the ass for insubordination (as the sorcerer's Apprentice in Fantasia). By 1953, last cartoon, he has gone fishing and cannot even subdue a squirting clam. The Disney artists transformed Mickey in clever silence, often using suggestive devices that mimic nature's own changes by different routes. To give him the shorter and pudgier legs of youth, they lowered his pants line and covered his spindly legs with a baggy outfit. (His arms and legs also thickened substantially--and acquired joints for a floppier appearance.) His head grew relatively larger- and its features more youthful. The length of Mickey's snout has not altered, but decreasing protrusion is more subtly suggested by a pronounced thickening. Mickey's eye has grown in two modes: first, by a major, discontinuous evolutionary shift as the entire eye of ancestral Mickey became the pupil of his descendants, and second, by gradual increase thereafter.

And by "disarming," I'm sure he means "wallet-opening".

A BIOLOGICAL HOMAGE TO MICKEY MOUSE [, originally in nathist via kottke]

1 Comment

Did they also mention Mickey was originally based on a sambo black-face stereotype? That's pretty disarming.

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