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Disney School of Acting and Mime

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"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? Well, forget about it. If you’re gonna compete with computer animation, you better go all out and do something that’s totally different. Call it 'new acting'. Blow the computer out of the water."
Ralph Bakshi, discouraging the use of this trope

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—curiously, while that kind of live action acting has long fallen to the wayside in mainstream works, animation still uses it without irony simply because it's easier to convey emotions and acting that way than by trying to emulate more subtle live action acting, which is very difficult and in some cases downright impossible to get across in drawing form (and going too far with it can end up in another trope altogether). 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.


Please don't list individual examples if they belong to a larger group of works that use this style (list that larger group instead)!
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    Films — Animation 
  • 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 it's 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."
    • Wreck-It Ralph has a rare aversion of this with the Nicelanders, who are animated in a very stilted, mechanical style to emulate the movement of 8-Bit sprites in CGI form. Word of God says the effect was much harder to achieve than it looked, because the Disney animators had been so conditioned to always avoid using this style of movement in their animation.
    • Classic Disney animated shorts and TV shows.
  • 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 its director, Richard Rich, was a former Disney animator.
  • All of DreamWorks Animation's hand-drawn animated films — The Prince of Egypt, Joseph: King of Dreams, The Road to El Dorado, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas — use this.
  • Ralph Bakshi 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.
  • FernGully, Once Upon a Forest, and The Pagemaster use this.
  • Amblimation uses this in its movies.
  • The Thief and the Cobbler uses this.
  • Hotel Transylvania uses this quite a bit.
  • Eight Crazy Nights uses this, something that is actually extremely unusual for more adult-oriented animation. Little surprise, since animators from The Iron Giant worked on this film as well.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Enchanted, characters from the cartoon fairy-tale world of Andalasia gesture broadly with their hands even in live-action form.

    Video Games 
  • The PS1 era Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon games used this trope to a degree that was rarely seen on the platform, with their respective HD remakes using it to an even greater extent.
  • The PS2 era Ratchet & Clank games (made by the same developers of the aforementioned PS1 Spyro games) constantly used this kind of broad gesturing and acting. This started getting downplayed in the Future era games, and the in-game cutscenes from the 2016 reimagining of the first game outright avoid it.
  • 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.
  • In Kingdom Hearts, being a Square-Enix and Disney crossover, the Square-Enix animators make an effort to convert the Disney characters' acting style into video game graphics. It doesn't quite translate, and you can definitely tell you're not looking at Disney-made animation. Most of the anime-style characters created specifically for the series also emote this way, to interesting effect, while characters who cameo from other Square-Enix properties stick to a more stoic, subdued acting style more characteristic of Japanese animation.
  • Later games in the Super Mario Bros. series are fond of this style of acting. It's particularly pronounced in the Nintendo Switch entries, with Super Mario Odyssey and Luigi's Mansion 3 being standout examples.

    Western Animation 
  • Felix the Cat is one of the earliest examples of using this in animation, and it's justified, since almost all of the original B&W films were silent cartoons. Otto Messmer had studied actor Charlie Chaplin extensively (even working on a cartoon series based on him prior to creating Felix) and realized how important it was to get this kind of expressive acting into drawings. While the cartoons do employ speech balloons for the characters to talk, a lot of the personality is conveyed through the broad, hammy poses and animation.
  • Looney Tunes, although they do have plenty of non-mime acting at the same time. Warner Bros. also used this in their Renaissance Age animated films, such as Cats Don't Dance, Quest for Camelot, The Iron Giant, Osmosis Jones, and Space Jam; and TV series, like Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, and Freakazoid!.
  • Fleischer Studios used this in Gulliver's Travels and Mr. Bug Goes to Town. Most of their other works avoid it, however.
  • 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).
  • 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 live 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 for examples of non-Disney style animation 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 Filmation and Ruby Spears usually avoided this, largely because of their use of Limited Animation.
  • Rugrats intentionally avoided this style of acting to better serve the down to earth tone of the series. The original style guide for the show even warned the artists not to use theatrical gestures like finger pointing for the babies, saying that characters like Tommy, being one year old, should be free of any kind of acting that conveys affection, maturity, cultural conditioning and malice. The movies get a little more expressive in the acting, but nowhere to the extent of a Disney movie.
  • The Simpsons intentionally bucks this kind of theatrical, hammy character acting in favor of subdued, realistic movements, in line with the show's more down-to-earth nature compared to other cartoons at the time. It was a contributing factor in the style falling out of favor with television animators, as few shows released after The Simpsons' meteoric rise to fame (even comedies) have intentionally adhered to it.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Disney Body Language


Ratchet & Clank (2002)

The PS2-era Ratchet & Clank games frequently have characters intertwine normal dialogue with very animated and pronounced gestures and body language

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