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 tropes.
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
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". note
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.
As this is such an Omnipresent 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.
- Kinyonga the chameleon from The Lion Guard has eyes that are accurate for a chameleon. In fact, her eyes are more accurate to her species than that of any of the other animals in the show.
- Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron features otherwise natural-looking horses with distractingly humanlike eyebrows in addition to their cartoony eyes.
- Also seen on the horses in The Road to El Dorado and Tangled to allow for Animal Reaction Shots.
- In The Secret of NIMH, while this trope is played straight most of the time, the rats' eyes are portrayed as being more realistic before they were experimented on.
- Pascal the chameleon from Tangled has the typical cartoony eyes that show sclerae, unlike a real chameleon.
- A Bug's Life: With the exception of the flies, all the insects have cartoony human-like eyes. Why the flies are, of all bugs, singled out to have realistic compound eyes is anyone's guess, aside from the fact that of all insects, flies are the ones best known for the two compound eyes characteristic of insects.
- 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).
- The illustration of an umber hulk in the 1st and 3rd Edition D&D Monster Manuals 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.
- In Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, animals have irises and eyeshine, while the human characters have simplified black eyes.
- 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.
- Captain Marvel enemy Mr Mind used to be a straight example◊; a Venusian "worm" with Cartoony Eyes, who wore glasses. Post-Crisis he looked more like a realistic caterpillar◊ and the "whites" of his eyes could be explained as a caterpillar's false "eyespots". The current Mr Mind (that version's offspring) attempts to maintain continuity with past versions, while giving him insectile compound eyes◊, with a result that lies somewhere between Ugly Cute and terrifying.
- Stitch and all the other experiments in the Lilo & Stitch franchise have eyes with no visible sclera. The same goes for Captain Gantu and Dr. Jacques von Hämsterviel, but given that they're all aliens, this design may be an allusion to another type of familiar extraterrestrial.
- The exceptions for the experiments are Clink, Skip, Snafu, Mr. Stenchy, Mrs. Sickly,note and Thresher who play the Cartoony Eyes trope straight.
- The Grand Councilwoman has black scleras.
- In the Stitch! anime, experiments brainwashed by Hämsterviel (who have an 'H' marking somewhere on their bodies) have their irises rendered visible, but still don't have visible sclera. There's also Twang/Flute and Witch, who were introduced in this series and did not follow the standard design for experiment eyes, but they were under Hämsterviel control with H's somewhere on their bodies the whole time, so we don't know what their eyes may normally look like.
- Although they're a little hard to notice, Stitch's irises are visible in Kinect: Disneyland Adventures and especially its 2017 remaster. (They're dark brown in the game.)
- 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.
- Twang/Flute from the Stitch! anime has purple irises and blue scleras. He's also working for Hämsterviel with an 'H' marking as mentioned above, so it's unknown if his eyes are different if he's not supposedly brainwashed by him.
- Lucifer from Cinderella has green irides and yellow scleras.
- The lions from The Lion King franchise all have yellow scleras with irises of various different colors. Most of the hyenas have either yellow or light yellow sclerae. Also, Pumbaa the warthog has light yellow scleras.
- Jumba Jookiba from the Lilo & Stitch franchise has light yellow sclerae.
- Robin Hood
- Alan A Dale the rooster has pink sclerae.
- The rhino guards have orange sclerae.
- Prince John the maneless lion, Sir Hiss the snake, the Sheriff of Nottingham (a wolf), and the owls have yellow sclerae. The former three, especially the wolf, have them to emphasize their sneakiness.
- Lady Kluck the hen and Otto the hound dog have 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.
- 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.
- The 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:
- Averted with the rabbits and parakeets in Chi's 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 has forward-facing eyes. Word of God says that this is a combination of the facial traits of a dog and a donkey.
- 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.
- Jose Carioca of Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros has cartoony eyes, but has them placed on either side of his head, appropriately for a parrot.
- Hei Hei from Moana has huge, cartoony eyes, but like a real chicken, they're placed on either side of his head.
- Alvin and the Chipmunks and the Chippetes are usually portrayed with forward-facing eyes. Averted with the earliest incarnations of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore in which they look like real chipmunks, laterally-placed eyes and all.
- Averted with a lot of, but not all, cartoon fish.
- Huge exceptions: Finding Nemo, and the fish in SpongeBob SquarePants (One of the characters in the show has both of his eyes placed on one side of his head.)
- 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 (a rabbit) and all the other animals on Arthur exemplify this trope (except the cats and apes, animals which have forward-facing eyes in real life), 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").
- Slappy and Skippy Squirrel, the mice Pinky (whose eyes are placed right next to each other) and the Brain, Flavio and Marita the Hip Hippos, Chicken Boo, and the pigeons Bobby, Pesto, and Squit from Animaniacs are examples of this trope as their species real world counterparts would have laterally places eyes (or high on the head in the case of the mice and on the top of the head in the case of the hippos).
- Played with and averted depending on the incarnation of the My Little Pony series, but played straightest in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, where the ponies eyes are placed more forward than in the earlier incarnations.
- Inverted with the extinct koala lemur. Whereas other primates have very frontally placed eyes, and most simian ones have them placed extremely close to each other (human eye placement is one of the less extreme in terms of closeness among simians), koala lemurs' has eyes that, although they were not placed so laterally on the head like rabbits' eyes are, were placed somewhat laterally.