|Quotes • Headscratchers • Playing With • Useful Notes • Analysis • Image Links • Haiku • Laconic|
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. This makes it easier to animate the otherwise laterally placed eyed character's eyes and facial expressions.
Most vertebrate animals' eyes (including rabbits' eyes) are placed on both sides of their heads. Predators tend to have forward-facing eyes, while the predated animals have their eyes sideways (for optimized 360-degree view). Most animals with forward-facing eyes, such as dogs, bears, hawks and eagles, have eyes a little more laterally placed than those of humans. Only owls, cats and primates (especially haplorrhine, or dry-nosed, primates) have eyes as forward facing as human eyes.
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 a Universal 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.
- 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.
- Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron features otherwise natural-looking horses with distractingly humanlike eyebrows in addition to their cartoony eyes.
- The illustration of an umber hulk in the 1st Edition D&D Monster Manual 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 the standard Black Eyes.
- Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Friends let us find out what happens when you give characters realistic insect-like eyes and cute cartoony eyes at the same time. Nightmare Fuel? Oh, you betcha.
- 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).
- Squidward in SpongeBob SquarePants has dark red pupils that are shaped like vertical bars.
- 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 Nightmare Fuel.
- Stitch and all the other experiments in Lilo and Stitch except Mr. Stenchy (He plays the Cartoony Eyes trope straight.) have eyes with no visible sclera. Same with Captain Gantu and Dr. Jacques von Hamsterviel
- 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 Scleras That Aren't White
- Renamon from Digimon Tamers has blue irises and black scleras.
- Lucifer from Cinderella has green irides and yellow scleras.
- The lions from The Lion King all have yellow scleras.
- The Grand Councilwoman from Lilo and Stitch has black scleras!
- Donald Duck and almost all the other ducks in Classic Disney Shorts have blue scleras. Possibly to distinguish them from the white feautures skin 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.
- That 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.
- Clyde from Cinemark has yellow scleras.
Sideways-facing Eyed Animals with Forward-facing Eyes Examples
- Roger Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
- Donkey from Shrek
- Marty, Melman, and Gloria from Madagascar
- Alvin and The Chipmunks and the Chippetes
- Cream and the Babylon Rogues in Sonic the Hedgehog
- 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 and all the other animals on Arthur, both the human-type animals and the animal-type animals.
- Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Daisy Duck, Donald Duck, and Chip and 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 and 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 Shirly 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").