Birds in Animation

Journal/blog issue, 16. September 2020.

Animation Studies 2.0 - September theme

Guest curated by Rebecca Rose Stanton

(NEW Deadline: September 16th, 2020)

From background aesthetics to the protagonist role, from singular decorative feathers to witty sidekicks, birds are evident throughout the history of animation. Donald Duck, Road Runner, Tweety, Daffy Duck, and Zazu are just five of the many bird characters that animation has gifted us over the years.

It is quite notable that the characterization of animated birds depends upon their species. For example, owls are intelligent (e.g., see Archimedes from The Sword in the Stone [1963], the protagonists of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole [2010], Duolingo’s animated owl mascot, Big Mama the owl from The Fox and the Hound [1981]), ravens are villainous (e.g., see Diablo from  Sleeping Beauty [1959], the stepmother’s raven in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs [1937]), penguins are childlike (e.g., see Happy Feet [2006], The Penguins of Madagascar [2014]), and so forth.

Further to this, despite the prevalence of birds in animation, it is quite notable that animated anthropomorphized birds often seem to lack bird-like features. How often do birds fly when animated? Or swim? Or lay eggs? Or build nests? Animated birds often have arms, hands, and even fingers, all features that are distinctively un-bird-like. What might this convey about the roles of birds within animation?

There is also perhaps something to be said about the objectification of birds in animation. For example, how are bird eggs depicted? How are bird feathers used by other animated characters? What might a bird’s nest symbolize?

From Donald Duck’s first appearance in The Wise Little Hen (1934) to more recent bird-based films such as the Angry Birds series and Rio (2011), there is plenty to be discussed when it comes to birds in animation. For our September theme, we thus welcome posts centered on anything related to birds and animation, but we would particularly appreciate contributions focusing on the anthropomorphism/characterization of birds.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:

-  Birds as villains or trouble-makers (e.g., the Angry Birds’ films and series, Iago from Aladdin);
-  Birds and neoteny (e.g., Happy Feet, Warner Bros’s Tweety, or the hatchlings in the Angry Birds movie);
-  The characterization/anthropomorphism of certain bird species;
-  Non-anthropomorphized birds in animation;
-  Birds as objects (e.g., chicken meat, eggs, feathers, and so forth);
-  Bird merchandise (or lack thereof…);
-  Birds as sidekicks/henchmen/pets (e.g., Peeko from Doraemon, Sweetpea from The Secret Life of Pets, or Zazu from The Lion King);
-  The relationship between birds and other species (e.g., the relationship between Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, or the one between Tweety and Sylvester);
-  Birds and gender;
-  Birds in early animation;
-  Bird-centered series (e.g., Tuca and Bertie, or Angry Birds Toons);
-  Bird-centred films (e.g., Chicken Run [2000], Valiant [2005], or Free Birds [2013]);
-  The lack of bird-like features in animated birds (i.e., the lack of flying, nest building, and so on);
-  Birds as background features.

Posts of between 600 and 900 words, which discuss any aspect of the above topic are welcome. Contributors are encouraged to include clips and at least one image to support their posts. Please also include a short bio and 3 keywords. All permissions are the responsibility of the contributor. Please contact the managing editor Cristina Formenti (cristina.formenti@unimi.it) with submissions or questions.