Realistic Humans, Cartoony Animals YKTTW Discussion

Realistic Humans, Cartoony Animals
Humans are illustrated realistically, while animals look cartoonish. Inversions are also common.
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(permanent link) added: 2013-03-16 14:06:44 sponsor: LiamM32 edited by: EdnaWalker (last reply: 2015-09-04 11:17:56)

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For various reasons, humans may be illustrated realistically or in detail while animals appear cartoonish and/or unrealistic in a work of animated or illustrated fiction. The inversion of this is also not uncommon; where the humans appear cartoonish, while the animals appear realistic or detailed. Fictional creatures which are neither human nor animal (such as elves and intelligent human-like aliens) may be placed in either category for illustration style when appearing in a work that includes both humans and animals. This trope may also apply to works without humans if there is a similar animal to fill the same role.

The human audience will generally recognizes the appearance of humans than other (real world) animal species, which could explain both straight examples and inversions of this trope. If the wild animals look unrealistic, then most of the audience won't notice because they don't remember exactly what that species really looks like. The humans may also look more detailed to diversify their appearance. For inversions of this trope, this may be because it is easy for humans to recognize a character as a human even when the appearance is simplified, while they need to see more detail to know exactly what type of animal a character is.

No Cartoon Fish is a subtrope of this trope inverted, which is specific to fish being realistic and detailed. This is a Graphical Trope.

Also see Cartoon Creature and Nonstandard Character Design.


Animated Films
  • An American Tail: The humans are realistic, but the mice, cats, and other animals are cartoony.
  • Cinderella: The animals (the mice, the songbirds, the chickens, Bruno the dog, Major the horse, and Lucifer the cat) are cartoony but humans are semi-realistic or at least less cartoony than the animals. The four mice-turned-horses and other horses other than Major are semi-realistic though.
  • This is often seen in films of the Disney Animated Canon. Examples include, The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, Mulan, etc.
  • The Great Mouse Detective: The humans are realistic, but aside from the realistic horses, the animals (the mice, bat, rat, cat, dog, lizard, and octopus) are cartoony.
  • Ice Age; the original film only, as the sequels strangely didn't have humans. Although a few talking animals such as Manny had fairly realistic anatomy - Sid the sloth had strange eyes on the side of his head, as well as some other stylistic shapes on supporting characters. The adult humans looked fairly realistic, and the baby to a lesser extent.
  • Mr. Bug Goes to Town has cartoon bugs against rotoscoped humans.
  • Mulan: The humans are semi-realistic, while Cri Kee the cricket and Mushu the dragon are cartoony. Khan the horse is semi-real though.
  • Dreamworks Over the Hedge has big-headed cartoonish animal protagonists. All of the humans are somewhat realistic, with accurate proportions.
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Snow White, Prince Charming, the Queen (before and after transforming into a hag) and the Huntsman are realistic, while the animals are more cartoony, although still semi-realistic. The Dwarfs are appear as heavily cartoonized humans, the most cartoonish in the film.
  • The Spongebob Squarepants Movie has cartoonish animated anthropomorphic sea-creatures. All humans (David Hasselhoff and the scuba diver/shopkeeper) are live action. The scenes outside of water have live-action backgrounds, and the sea creatures are live action when they dry and die.
    • This is done similarly in the series, but some of the rules are different. See example in Western Animation.
  • The bees and other insects in Bee Movie are cartoonier than the humans.

Comic Books
  • Jeff Smith's Bone graphic novel series has this in a simple zig-zag. The human-like Bone characters have the simplest appearance while the actual humans are quite realistic. The wild animals are somewhere intermediate; except the rat creatures - the antagonists, who are the most detailed (though not realistic).

Newspaper Comics
  • In the newspaper comic, Bloom County and its sequels. The animals were always cartoony, but got more so during the several occurrences of Art Shift throughout the series.

Puppet Shows
  • The Ferals: The humans are played by actual people while the animals are played by puppets.

Video Games

Western Animation
  • In Dora the Explorer, protagonist Dora and the other human children look cartoony, and the adults are more realistic. However, her anthropomorphic animal friends are more cartoony, often more so than the children. Her sidekick Boot's the monkey, and a few other animals - hardly resemble the animal that they are supposed to be.
    • Baby Jaguar and other animals in Go, Diego, Go! are more realistic than Boots, Tico, Benny, Swiper, Isa, and other animals in Dora the Explorer and are as realistic as the humans in both shows.
  • Most of the incarnations of the Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise, but moreso its 1983 cartoon series, its 1987 film adaptation, and the two VHS movies released in 1999 and 2000; in these incarnations, the human characters have rather realistic designs (especially true for The Chipmunk Adventure), while The Chipmunks and Chipettes are cartoony, roughly three feet tall, and walk, talk, dress, and eat like people.
  • In Spongebob Squarepants, most of the characters are cartoonish animated anthropomorphic sea-creatures. Patchy the pirate, and his friends, are live action humans (and a mermaid)- save for his pet parrot, who is a puppet.
    • In an episode where Spongebob and Patrick go on land, they appear as live action puppets outside the water.
    • Mermaidman and Baracle Boy are the only cartoony humans in the show.
    • This is also done in the movie, with slightly different rules. See example in Film-Animation.
  • Played straight and subverted In Gaspard And Lisa. The main dog characters and their family and relatives are cartoony and over-stylized, whereas the other animals (like Burlee the kitten and even non-anthropomorphic dogs) and the humans are semi-realistic.

Inversions (Realistic Animals, Cartoony Humans)

Anime and Manga
  • An inversion would be TOEI animation's Digimon shows, where some of the monsters look more like real world creatures than the humans, to say nothing of the animals.

Animated Film
  • Inverted in Brave. The adult bears, Mor'du and Ellinor as a bear, the dogs, and the fish caught by bear Ellinor look realistic, but the humans and Merida's triplet brothers as bears appear semi-realistic or cartoony, more typical of the Pixar style.
  • Inverted in Up. The human characters are very caricatured (Carl's face is a perfect square, Russel's facial features are too close together, Muntz is unrealistically skinny), but the dogs (apart from Dug, whose eyes clearly show sclerae and are placed close together) look like real dogs. Kevin the "Snipe" is cartoony, but then, on the other hand, her species is fictional, so what is inner species meant to look like?

Newspaper Comics
  • Inversion: Calvin and Hobbes people are drawn in a very cartoony style while animals (except for Hobbes) are almost always drawn in a very realistic style.

  • LEGO minifigures have simplistic shapes and unrealistic proportions (as well as all-yellow skinnote ), probably to match the rectangular style of Lego pieces and models. The animal figures, however, have better curved shapes and more realistic proportions - probably so that humans will recognize their genus/species.

  • In The Whiteboard, the Funny Animal main characters are drawn in a fairly realistic style, while human extras are drawn as featureless 'bubbleheads' distinguishable only by their clothing. Inanimate objects are the most detailed of all, since before starting the comic the author mostly drew hardware or machines.
    • Later on the comic switched to just having everyone be funny animals, and implied that the extras' earlier "human" appearance was simply a lack of description rather than an indication of species.

Western Animation
  • South Park: The humans are cartoony, but the animals in later seasons are realistic. Dogs and cats are still cartoony however.
    • Averted in the earlier seasons as both the humans and the animals were cartoony.
  • Inverted somewhat on The Simpsons. Except for those introduced early on the series (Blinky the fish, Snowball II, Santa's Little Helper), animal characters are depicted more realistically than the humans.
    • From the beginning the producers established a rule that animals would behave as they do in real life, although that rule has gotten a little looser in later seasons.
    • This trope applies to Stampy the elephant the most as he is actually semi-realistic, unlike most of the other animals and the humans.
    • The Funny Animals from The Itchy & Scratchy Show, however, are exempt.
  • In The Wild Thornberrys, the humans are very cartoonish. Most of the wild animals in the show, who are numerous, are more realistic. Darwin the chimp is as cartoony as the humans however.
  • Sanjay And Craig: The human characters and Craig the snake look cartoony, but the other snakes look semi realistic.

Comic Books
  • Maus, a true Holocaust story - is an interesting (strange) example. All Jewish people appear as cartoonish, anthropomorphic mice - although this is just a metaphor, as they are humans in-universe. Other humans appear as other animals; such as Polish pigs, American dogs, and Nazi cats. In a panel in the first book, a real rat is seen running on the floor of a room that some Jews went into.
    • There was a ''comic within a comic'' in this book written by the protagonist, in which the characters are detailed and fairly-fairly realistic humans.


Animated Films
  • Played straight and inverted in Turbo. Inverted with the crows as they are photorealistic and more realistic than the humans, who are semi-realistic. Played straight with the snails, who are cartoonier than the humans.

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