West In the last five decades, animated cinema has often featured animals as one of its main draws. One of the primary reasons for this is that the flexibility of the animated medium allows directors, writers and artists to easily give their animal characters extraordinarily human characteristics. This anthropomorphism enables the human and animal characters to have something in their relationships that is unique: A high bevel of communication.
The surreal ability of animals to communicate allows the protagonist to have a delightful and unique helping hand in his/her adventures. Animal friend(s) get to provide comic relief, Join the protagonists as they conquer, and help him them when they are in trouble. This is generally received well by the audience, who are dazzled by the fantastic world painted for them on the screen. But, does the audience ever consider the emotional impact upon the animals themselves?
In western animations, especially those produced by the magical world of Disney, here is an overwhelming sense of inequality between the animal sidekicks to their human counterparts. Films such as Pocahontas, (Walt Disney Studios, 1995) Manual, (Walt Disney Studios, 1998) and Aladdin (Walt Disney Studios, 1992) all feature animals or spirits that reflect the natural world. At first glance these animals are treated affectionately, but upon closer inspection, it is clear that despite their prominence in the films, they are still treated as second-class citizens.
They are given no respect and barely ever taken seriously. Japanese Cinema’s Hay Mistake strongly Juxtaposes this relationship in his work. Two of his films, My Neighbor Torso (Studio Gibbs, 1988) and Ski’s Delivery Service (Studio Gibbs, 1989), show a greater respect for animals and nature. This respect for animals reflects an overall greater appreciation for nature, and also helps to develop a closer bond between the humans and their animal counterparts. In Disney’s Manual, the character of Mush serves as Mullah’s counterpart.
He is a dragon, a majestic spiritual being, yet he is still mocked and ordered around from the very beginning of the movie. We see this during his introduction in the film, his over eager attitude is lambasted, and by the end of the film, he has still not outgrown his comic appearance. The three main characters in Disney’s Aladdin all live a life of slavery. One that would put current animal rights activists in an uproar. The beautiful princess Jasmine’s tiger, Rajah, is mostly subservient.
The evil Safari’s talking Parrot, Logo, is at his mercy, and the protagonist Aladdin, though kind and protective, difficult to argue that the characters have developed or become more serious. In Pocahontas, the animals of the forest are not given much respect by the main hearted. Though they are aloud to eat and live with her, the film paints a picture of the setting as her forest, and not theirs. When she dances, the wind follows her. Rather than the forest showing Pocahontas that it is in charge, she shows the audience that it is undoubtedly a setting that belongs to her.
The animals in the film follow this line of thinking as well. Initially, Flit the hummingbird begins the film reflecting independent emotional thought, showing the audience that he distrusts John Smith while expressing a preference for Cocoon, Pocahontas’ other love- interest. However, by films end, any real rebellious independent thought is quashed. Oakum’s death, combined with Pocahontas’ attitude, sway the naive hummingbird’s favor over to John Smith, thus playing a very small role in the West’s domination over native American hummingbirds ever since. (Nice one, bird. In the three aforementioned Disney films, the humans and animals (or spirits) interact like friends, but the audience always knows who is in charge. It is clearly shown that humans make the choices regarding the management of nature, the paths of civilizations, and most importantly, the acquisition of material wealth. Contrary to this, in Hay Mistake’s animations, there is a stronger connection between humans and animals: Rather than using and becoming masters of their animal counterparts, the characters develop relationships that evolve and exemplify mutual respect.
Ski’s Delivery Service is a film which features a thirteen year old girl who is off to complete her witch training alone in a big new city. Without her family, the only other being that she has to rely upon is her black cat, Shoji. Though Jill represents a sidekick type character to Kaki, he is still very much in charge of his own life. He clearly chooses to be with her. More than once, when Kaki goes on a delivery Job, decides to stay behind by his own free will. There is never a scene where Kaki gives orders to Shoji.
Though he is often swayed by persuasion to do something, such as pretend to be a toy cat while Kaki looks for the original, he is never under duress from anyone. Shoji, like any cat in real life, operates on his own schedule. Jill shows this freedom when he has his own relationships, such as the one with the posh white cat that lives next door. His cat girlfriend is not the only animal he befriends. He makes friends with a dog, and he is also able to warn Kaki of incoming harsh winds after a flock of geese warn him. Compared to Kaki, Jill possesses a power that is unique to him.
While it seems that Jill can communicate with any other animal, Kaki cannot, and she is lucky to speak with him, not the other way around. What is most representative of the importance of Ski’s relationship with Jill occurs half way through the film. When Kaki loses her confidence and her ability to be a witch (which can be linked to her closeness with nature), it is her lack of ability to monomaniac with Jill that gives her the first sign of trouble. In this instance, Ski’s whole life is represented by her ability to speak with her animal friend. When she loses this ability, she also realizes she cannot fly.
She is devastated. Contrarily, Jill seems unperturbed, continuing his life as if nothing has changed, thus perfectly be argued that animals and nature would have no trouble continuing on within their own circle of life. In Mistake’s My Neighbor Torso, there are again female protagonists who are going through their own coming of age. Unlike Kaki, they do not possess animal sidekicks. What they do have is each other. In this film, the animal counterparts they encounter are even more representative of nature’s free will. The big Torso, the cat bus, and all of his friends are of, and belong to, the forest.
The first links to nature witnessed in the film are the dust-like spirits that have inhabited the house that Me and Satsuma have moved in to. The sisters are at first fearful, but their father helps them and shows them that laughter and happiness is the number one thing that they can do to chase away other spirits. Laughter with nature helps the girls to learn about respect or the spiritual world, which is very much related to the natural world in My Neighbor Torso. Instead of the dust-bunnies disappearing, they fly out into the sky. In the world of the Torsos, Nothing dies, it Just moves around.
The next animals we encounter are the small Torsos. Mel, spotting them carrying acorns, is the first one to notice them. She then stumbles upon a giant Torso, in his slumber. We see him slumbering, his large teeth bared, but entertaining. The child grabs him, plays with him, and eventually wakes him up. For a second, suspense builds. The audience is playfully tricked into being frightened by Torso. He roars loudly at Me, perhaps indicating his displeasure at being woken up, however, she immediately communicates back to him, with a surprisingly loud shout of her own.
Me and Torso’s first meeting is one that advertises love for nature. The child finds something amazing in the forest, and though it could be scary, the film allows her to show a happy enthusiasm. In the first meeting, it feels as though the Torso chooses to wake up. We see this often in the film; the spirits of the forest making the decision to be found or spotted by their child counterparts. There is never a moment of arrive; it is all a product of friendship. This works both ways, as the children also want to help the Torso’s with whatever they do.
In a very agricultural-friendly scene of the film, we see the girls wake up and help the Torso’s make the forest grow. They march around the trees because they love their friends, and they also love the forest. There is no message from the film that one must help the environment or animals because it is necessary or sustainable or environmentally friendly. The relationship is quite simply a demonstration of love between animals and people. This politeness and kindness is also shown at the bus stop when Satsuma is waiting. She gives her umbrella to Torso. Though confused, he receives the hospitality with grace.
He then offers a ride on the cat bus. This whole sequence shows a young girl waiting on a dark night being accompanied by the spirits of the forest who are there to comfort and protect her. It is a touching thought. Hugged tightly against her chest, the sisters get help from Torso. It is his good deed to do, one out of kindness and love, and not out of being forced. These animals are not real animals, they represent something a bit smarter; forest spirits, but they show more respectful, almost symbiotic relationship with nature than the one advertised from Disney films.
Less is taken forcefully, but more is given freely. In Disney’s films, Aladdin, Manual, and Pocahontas, there is a strong focus on wealth, war, and diplomacy. In Mistake’s animations, there is a stronger connection with nature. The animals are outside of the family in Disney flicks, but in My Neighbor Torso and Ski’s Delivery Service, the animals become central members of the main character’s family. Hay Mistake’s films develop a closer bond between the humans and their animal counterparts.