Disney School of Acting and Mime

"When I hear 2D animators today talking about acting in hand-drawn cartoons, I ask, what kind of acting? Are you talking about the old fashioned acting that animators have always done? You know… the hand on the hip, finger-pointing, broad action, lots of overlapping action, screeching to a halt—all that turn-of-the-century old fashioned mime stuff. Is that what you’re talking about?"
Ralph Bakshi, referring to this type of acting, although in a context that discourages its use.

An animation style, exemplified by the Disney Animated Canon and hence generally considered Disneyesque, which is characterized by a kind of fluid body language and facial expressions that feature realistic poses and movements which are, however, executed in an exaggerated manner, very expressive, often with sweeping gestures of the arms and hands. Characters act and emote not primarily with their faces but at least as much with their arms, hands and legs and move smoothly from one overly expressive pose to the next. In between poses, there's a notable acceleration and subsequent deceleration of the emoting limbs or facial features, making even small gestures and changes in stance or facial expression feel very pronounced and reminiscent of pantomime. Because of the accelerating and decelerating that occurs in every movement, those movements can take rather long and can hence feel a little like Slow Motion.

This animation style can focus on the poses (and have the characters zip from one pose to the next) or on the movements (drawing them out and never quite stopping) to distinguish between emotional states or different characters.

Note that Hamming it Large 101 is a required class at the Disney School of Acting and Mime — after all, gesturing plentifully is a great way to convey emotion silently. The realistic but overblown movements hark back to Silent Movies and Vaudeville when actors had to emote more visibly. The style is rooted in visual realism while many younger animated works (after the migration of cartoons from film to TV) are more stylized and hence easier and cheaper to animate as not the whole body of a character has to move from one frame to the next. This also sets this style apart from Anime.

Recent movies like Tangled manage to transpose the style, which is largely associated with 2D animation, into CGI.

Historically, this often went together with Mickey Mousing, accentuating a character's body language even further.

Also see The Twelve Principles of Animation.

Examples

Please don't list individual examples if they belong to a larger group of works that use this style (list that larger group instead)!

  • Disney Animated Canon: Trope Codifier.
    • In The Illusion of Life, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston discuss that the reason Disney animators use this kind of acting is because it's simply impossible for animation to match the same level of subtle acting or screen presence as live action, even with tools that closely try to emulate it like rotoscoping, and that its more sensible to exaggerate rather than directly copy real life.
    "The actor is trained to know these symbols of communication because they are his tools in trade. Basically, the animator is the actor in animated films. He is many other things as well; however, in his efforts to communicate his ideas, acting becomes his most important device. But the animator has a special problem. On the stage, all the foregoing symbols are accompanied by some kind of personal magnetism that can communicate the feelings and attitudes equally as well as the action itself. There is a spirit in this kind of communication that is extremely alive and vital. However, wonderful as the world of animation is, it is too crude to capture completely that kind of subtlety. If in animation we are trying to show that a character is sad, we droop the shoulders, slump the body, drop the head, add a long face, and drag the feet. Yet those same symbols also can mean that the character is tired, or discouraged, or even listless. We can add a tear and pinpoint our attitude a little better, but that is the extent of our capabilities."
  • Looney Tunes, although they do have plenty of non-mime acting at the same time.
  • Fleischer Studios used this in Gulliver's Travels and Mr. Bug Goes to Town. Most of their other works avoid it, however.
  • The movies of ex-Disney animator Don Bluth use this, and as such are unfortunately why his films get mistaken for Disney ones. Bluth idolized the style, and wanted to keep it alive through his work at a time when Disney was moving away from it.
  • The Swan Princess films use this, since it's director, Richard Rich, was an ex-Disney animator.
  • Tom and Jerry uses this out of necessity, due to the characters having almost no dialogue. Same for the movie.
    • The MGM Oneshot Cartoons and Barney Bear shorts likewise use this, due in part to having many ex Disney staffers on board and the shorts having little to no dialogue.
    • Harman and Ising initially didn't use this in their early Looney Tunes shorts like Bosko or in their early Happy Harmonies, but as their draftsmanship and animation improved, they switched to this method of acting.
  • Tex Avery usually avoided this in both his Looney Tunes and MGM cartoons, in favor of more straight to the point, streetwise acting—many of his cartoons rely on strong, held poses and expressions, sometimes bordering on Limited Animation. Occasionally he dipped into Disney style acting, but only when he was parodying Disney (i.e. the insufferably mawkish Sammy Squirrel in "Screwball Squirrel") or in cases where only that kind of acting would really work (i.e. all of the Red Hot Riding Hood shorts).
  • The Legend of Zelda CD-i Games are an example of this trope getting far out of hand. The Russian animators allegedly modeled the poses off of pantomime.
  • Explicitly avoided in John Kricfalusi's cartoons. He usually relies on strongly exaggerated drawings and expressions that don't follow a model sheet or very subtle acting to get his points across. He does agree with the point Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston made in "The Illusion of Life" that it is impossible for animation to reach the same subtle acting as live action, but that real life acting should be caricatured to make its point instead of using stagey mime like acting or symbolic emotions. There are several posts that reference The Honeymooners as a good reference point for getting anti-formulaic acting into animation. He also cites Bob Clampett and sometimes Chuck Jones and Robert McKimson cartoons, and occasionally even Fleischer Studios cartoons like Popeye The Sailor for examples of non-Disney style animation acting.
  • Ralph Bakshi likewise avoids this, since he feels the style is stale and cliche. His films usually have very subtle acting. Bakshi even spoke out to young animators to stop using disney style acting and try and experiment with new types of acting.
  • Mike Judge avoids this in his cartoons such as Beavis And Butthead and King of the Hill in favor of more subdued acting.
  • Danny Antonucci likewise tells his animators to avoid this style of acting in his cartoons.
  • The made for tv Hanna-Barbera cartoons and their contemporaries such as Filmstion and Ruby Spears usually avoided this, largely because of their use of Limited Animation.
  • FernGully, Once Upon a Forest, and The Pagemaster use this.
  • Amblimation uses this in its movies.
  • All of DreamWorks Animation's hand-drawn animated films use this.
  • The Thief and the Cobbler uses this.
  • Hotel Transylvania uses this quite a bit.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog started using this kind of acting in its cutscenes from Sonic Adventure 2 and onward. The earlier games avoided this due to technical limitations. Most of Sega's other games avoid using this kind of acting, too.

Alternative Title(s):

Disney Body Language