Look at the eyes of your typical cartoon animal
. More often than not they will not resemble those of the animal they are based upon. Instead, they have generic bright cartoony eyes placed forward on the head. These are vaguely humanlike with scleras, pupils, and sometimes
colorful (often blue) irises. Sometimes the scleras will be a different colour, like yellow or green, (possibly to suggest 'wildness',) but since few animals other than humans have easily visible sclera at all
, it's no more natural.
The sclerae on cartoon animals (including cartoon humans) will usually
be much more easily visible than on real vertebrate animals and even real humans. The reason, of course, is to humanize
the critters and make their facial expressions readable.
Of all animals, cats and snakes are most often exceptions to this rule, both having eerie green or yellow eyes with slit pupils. This absolutely has something to do with the Cats Are Mean
and Reptiles Are Abhorrent
This can look downright weird where animals with eyes that are even less human-like are concerned. Where have you ever seen insects with recognizable pupils outside of cartoondom? Other than praying mantises
, which actually do seem to have pupils.
A variant of this trope is to draw animals which would have sideways-facing eyes in real life, with frontally placed eyes. note
This trope tends to be a Necessary Weasel
, to the extent that it can be found in downplayed
form even in classical realism paintings, for a couple of reasons:
Firstly, it makes it easier to animate the animal(ish) character's eyes and facial expressions, and to convey
their actual mood. The real-world facial expressions of horses, for instance, mostly involve subtle positioning of their ears and nostrils, with their eyes basically having various levels of "open" and "closed". To the uninitiated, this results in "angry" looking nearly identical to "happy", "scared", and "sees attractive lady horse". In many classical battlefield paintings, for instance, the freakishly exaggerated rolling eyes and furrowed eyebrows
seen on horses are an intentional effort to avert the (seeming) Dissonant Serenity
in the slightly widened eyes of a panicking or enraged warhorse.
Secondly, it also helps avert a certain amount of the Uncanny Valley
effect which can result from putting exaggerated expressions on the faces of many animals, particularly when seen from straight-on. Not employing this trope in such cases via things like Cheated Angles
and adding eyebrow ridges to animals without them note
can look, to put it in technical terms, "damned freaky
This seems to be related to Toothy Bird
and Feather Fingers
, in that it is a relatively
slight Anthropomorphic Shift
. The thing is, the vast majority of vertebrate animals in real-life have eyes that contain roughly the same anatomy as a human's. They just look somewhat different
due to different specializations. Some artists are of the opinion that their animal characters should have more realistic (within reason
) eyes, as many animal eyes simply look beautiful and cool
See also Animal Eyes
Not to be confused with Sphere Eyes
or Conjoined Eyes
As this is such a Universal Trope
, instead of listing every cartoon character ever, we will list the...
Notable Aversions and Inversions
- Averted, naturally, in the Watership Down film where the rabbits have realistic red eyes with oval-shaped pupils. And then played with in Efrafa where every rabbit has blue, almost-cartoony eyes, lending them a semi-Uncanny Valley look.
- Averted in the Pixar film Brave, as horses and bears both lack visible sclerae. This is also used to indicate when Merida's mother Elinor is succumbing to her bear form's primal instincts, as her sclerae disappear whenever she goes feral.
- One cover illustration◊ of Rakkety Tam depicts Tam, an anthropomorphic squirrel, with a fairly realistic face shape and eyes. It's actually far creepier than the slightly more cartoony illustrations in the chapter-headings and on most of the other cover art, which show the animals with human-style eyes.
- Kermit the Frog has obviously cartoony eyes, but he has pupils more appropriate for an actual frog. Many other Muppet characters have eyes appropriate for their species — a few even use taxidermy eyes!
- Jay Naylor used to avert this with some dedication. His works have consciously leaned towards this trope recently. It used to be that his cat's eyes had their sclera (the "whites" of the eyes) be a solid color like blue or yellow, but now he does them with white sclera and more human-like eyes. The reason he gave for this was that it allowed him to show expression better, and that drawing them the other way was starting to creep him out.
- The Nick jr. CGI animated TV show, Peter Rabbit has animal characters with realistic or mostly realistic eyes for their respective species. However, unlike real owls, Old Brown is able to move his eyes.
- The illustration of an umber hulk in the 1st Edition D&D Monster Manual shows it with one pair of large, wide-set insectile eyes, along with a smaller, close-set pair of cartoony eyes in between the bug-eyes. This actually turns out to be a clever effect, as attempting to "meet the gaze" of this sketch leaves your brain confused about which eyes are the "real" ones, much like in an optical illusion (vase or faces? bunny or duck?). Justified, in that the umber hulk's gaze in-game causes people to become confused.
- Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Friends let us find out what happens when you give characters realistic insect-like eyes and cute cartoony eyes at the same time. Greatly dissettling? Oh, you betcha.
- Squidward in Sponge Bob Square Pants has dark red pupils that are shaped like vertical bars.
- Dug in Up has Cartoony Eyes with distinct scleras— but the other dogs' eyes are much closer to the look of actual dog eyes (with far less white).
- Heidi the cross-eyed opossum had prominent sclerae from fat deposits in her eyes, as a result of being malnourished as a juvenile. While many find opossums to be the world's ugliest marsupial, she was considered adorable.
- Stitch and all the other experiments in Lilo & Stitch and Lilo & Stitch: The Series have eyes with no visible sclera. Same with Captain Gantu and Dr. Jacques von Hamsterviel.
- The two exceptions for the experiments are Mr. Stenchy and Snafu, who play the Cartoony Eyes trope straight.
- The Grand Councilwoman has black scleras.
- Kirby has eyes shaped like black ovals with white highlights and dark blue irises, but no visible sclera.
- Sonic the Hedgehog has one giant wrap-around eye split into two lobes, and his pupils are shaded three-dimensional objects. this is a throwback to the kind of cartoony eye that was almost standard back in the olden day of animation. They are the kind of eyes that Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse have, and since studios liked to Follow the Leader even back then...
- Yakko, Wakko, and Dot Warner from Animaniacs have eyes shaped like black ovals with white highlights, but no discernible sclera.
Examples with Non-White Scleras
- Renamon from Digimon Tamers has blue irises and black scleras.
- Most of the male Baikins from Anpanman, to heighten their alien origins. Baikinman's are pink, Aoikinman's are light blue, Akakinman's are orange-red, and Mushibaikinman's are light yellow. Also from the show is Kurayamiman, to show off his supernatural side. He has pink scleras with large red pupils.
- Lucifer from Cinderella has green irides and yellow scleras.
- The lions from The Lion King franchise all have yellow scleras. Also, Pumbaa the warthog has light yellow scleras.
- Jumba from Lilo & Stitch has light yellow sclerae.
- Iago the parrot from Aladdin has yellow sclerae.
- Kerchak in Tarzan has yellow sclerae, opposed to the other apes who have white sclerae. This makes him look a bit more savage than the other apes.
- Cartoon lemurs often have yellow or orange sclerae.
- Donald Duck and almost all the other ducks in Classic Disney Shorts have blue scleras. Possibly to distinguish them from the white feathers that surround them.
- Fifi La Fume and Shirly The Loon from Tiny Toon Adventures have blue scleras.
- Pinky and the Brain from Animaniacs have blue scleras and pink secleras respectively.
- Larry and Precious have green scleras, Billie has blue scleras, and Romy and Snowball have pink scleras.
- That one white rabbit from "Of Nice and Men" with a black spot on its back has blue scleras, while the all-white rabbits from the same cartoon have red scleras.
- Tom from Tom and Jerry has green irises and yellow scleras.
- Lucky and Tripod of 101 Dalmatians: The Series have blue scleras, though the rest of the puppies have white. Spot, Lt. Pug, Sgt. Tibbs, and Mooch have yellow scleras.
- Danger Mouse has eyes with mustard yellow sclera. As does Baron Greenback.
- The cockroaches from Oggy and the Cockroaches. Marky's are reddish-pink, Dee Dee's are green, and Joey has one reddish-pink, one yellow. One that really stands out is Elvis, the main cockroaches' cousin, who has pink scleras paired with blue pupils.
- Mixels has the Glowkies, who are themed around bioluminescence. Their sets have glow-in-the-dark eye pieces, and as such, their eyes in the cartoon have slightly yellowed sclerae.
- Most primates other than humans have orange or light brown sclerae.
Sideways-facing Eyed Animals with Forward-facing Eyes Examples
Anime and Manga
- Averted with the rabbits and parakeets in Chis Sweet Home and Chi's New Address as they have eyes as laterally placed as that of their real life counterparts.
- Marty, Melman, and Gloria from Madagascar
- Donkey from Shrek
- Roger Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit has eyes that not only face forward, but are also placed really close together.
- Kaa in The Jungle Book goes through some sort of Anthropomorphic Shift between his first and second appearance. First he has sideway-facing eyes, appropriately for a snake, but in his second appearance he gets cartoony, forward-facing eyes.
- The deer and rabbits in Bambi have cartoony eyes, but those that are placed on either side of their head, appropriately for deer and rabbits.
- Dug (the dog) in Up is an extreme example - not only are his eyes facing forward, but they are also almost touching each other. The other dogs in the movie are more realistic looking, though their eyes face forward more than they should.
- Averted with a lot of, but not all, cartoon fish.
- Looney Tunes: Bugs Bunny, Lola Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety, Buzz Buzzard (iffy, because he is a predator), Foghorn Leghorn, Road Runner, and Egghead. Not so much Henery Hawk though.
- Buster Baxter and all the other animals on Arthur, both the human-type animals and the animal-type animals.
- Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Daisy Duck, Donald Duck, and Chip 'n Dale from Classic Disney Shorts, although Donald's eyes were always a little farther apart (more noticeable in his early designs). Daisy's and Chip 'n Dale's eyes were always a little farther apart than Mickey's or Minnie's eyes too.
- Buster, Babs and Binky Bunny (no relation), Plucky Duck, Hamton J. Pig, Fowlmouth, and Shirley the Loon from Tiny Toon Adventures are examples of this trope, but one animation style makes the characters look like they are averting the trope (e.g., the pilot episode, "A Looney Beginning").
- The My Little Pony series.