Cartoons allow us to express our lives in ways unimaginable in any other circumstances. We incorporate ourselves, our experiences and our culture into every little aspect. Of course, every cartoonist has their own interpretation on how the characters act and exhibit emotions. What may influence these slight, yet important, decisions on their characters? This list is endless, nevertheless they all still show emotions and feelings non-verbally. Non-verbal communication is a vastly expanding topic. From types of non-verbal communication, such as vocalics, oculesics and proxemics, to more specific parts such as Mehrabian’s metaphors, every character exemplifies these topics. With each character lies an entire new set of non-verbal cues. I think several characters help to enforce some of the major aspects of non-verbal communication: Wall-E, Yusuke Urameshi from Yu-Yu Hakusho, Rapunzel and Flynn from Tangled and, finally, Woody from Toy Story. The writers needed to make these characters more ‘human’. They gave all these characters strong non-verbal communication cues to help portray qualities that we, as humans, could empathize with and understand. I have personally noticed that the animated movies that have stood out the most in terms of quality and likeability have been the ones that show the characters with strong emotional cues. This observation can be analogous to real life situations as well; when people show no emotion when it’s expected, they are taken as almost non-human. The previously stated characters are all from very outstanding animators that have really showed great human-like emotions. They will all be analyzed in terms of non-verbal communication in hopes to show how doing their communication made them more ‘human’.
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Wall-E is quite possibly the best example of non-verbal communication in an animated film. Wall-E, being a robot and speaking generally nothing but a few names, relied solely on non-verbal cues to make him appear as if he was a normal human character. His emotions were incredibly immaculate and made his character quite enjoyable. In one clip of the movie, Wall-E is displayed with drooping and slanted eyed. After a big sigh, he moves crunches a roach. His hands then flail up, eyes raise and backs off. Immediately, his eyes droop and slant once again, accompanied by a sound of compassion. The roach then pops up as if nothing happens. Wall-E’s eyes immediately raise and he then points behind him. The roach scurries to where he pointed. In this scene I can easily tell it starts off with Wall-E being upset. He looks sad, bored or discontent with what he’s doing. The sigh then affirms that he his bored or discontent. Right afterwards, I could easily tell that he was scared and then, quickly, sad. The ‘aw’ that Wall-E accented his eyes and showed he was sad. Earlier, he had the same eyes. Since that was being accented by a sigh, and this and ‘aw’, I could easily differentiate between the two. In the final part of this scene, it is understood by the roach that Wall-E’s point, accompanied by his stern eyes, meant for him to move to where he pointed. In the next scene I chose, Wall-E is hugged by EVE. He then closes his eyes and rests his head on her. EVE then leans in and gives him a ‘kiss’. This makes Wall-E’s brows raise and eyes open big. After a brief flight scene, he grabs on to EVE, gets close and holds her hand. The first part of this scene shows compassion and love for EVE. This is demonstrated by their proximity. What helps in repeating these feelings are Wall-E closing his eyes and making a slight sigh. During the kiss scene, Wall-E’s eyes speak all of his emotions. I could feel that he was in a euphoric state just by the way his eyes were. Finally, in the last part, proximity and touch is used again to show how comfortable and loving Wall-E feels for eve. Wall-E is an amazing example for non-verbal communication. Almost every major aspect of non-verbal communication, like vocalic, oculesics, proxemics, haptics and facial expressions speak for him. The animators did an exceptional job at making him seem as human as possible. I personally think this is why Wall-E was such a great movie in my opinion.
Yu-Yu Hakusho is an anime made into a television series and several animated films. It was created in Japan by Yoshihiro Togashi. Yu-Yu Hakusho is a great example of eastern animation. Its style is unlike any western animated film I have ever seen and demonstrates a great amount of non-verbal cues. Yusuke, the main character, is a fighter. Throughout all of the episodes and movies, there are constant emotions of anger, sadness, pain and contempt. The first scene is of Yu-Yu Hakusho’s spirit. He opens his eyes very large and is mouth tightens. Upon realization of his death, his arms begin to flail, is mouth opens large and screams. Soon after, his eyes droop, he looks around and his brows rise. Lastly, he puts his hands on his face, his eyes squint, brows point and mouth smirks. The first aspect I noticed was how prominent the animators showed his emotions. Throughout the series and movies, most of the characters have quite vivid emotions and I could easily tell what was going on with them emotionally. In this scene, the animators incorporate more body language to show his emotions. When his eyes open large, and this mouth shrinks, it shows he’s surprised. Quickly, he shows, what I think, being scared. The arms flailing, being complemented by the yelling and accented by large eyes and an opened mouth tell me he was scared. Just as soon as he was scared, he again, using body language, shows his next great emotion. By putting his hands on his face, accompanied by squinting and a smirk, I feel as if the animators tried to show him as frustrated. One of my favorite scenes with Yusuke was the exact opposite of what animators try to do with their characters. After his best friend died, he went blank and showed no emotion whatsoever. I thought it was interesting, now that I look back on it to notice this. But by making him seem not human, it improved the moment and showed how powerful and serious the situation had become. In a sense, it made him almost more believable as ever. I personally feel eastern animated movies and series tend to show more intense, or noticeable, non-verbal communication in their work, Yusuke was no exception.
Scooby from Scooby Doo was no exception with non-verbal communication. The animators of Scooby Doo gave Scooby a lot of body language. When Scooby was scared, he always did the same few things: shake, grab someone close, eyes widen and teeth chatter. I think that these focuses on proximity and accenting really help a dog, nonetheless, be more human and believable. In other situations where they are investigating, Scooby shows a lot of body language, including, pointing, gestures, shaking and other ways for him to talk to the gang without the use of his voice. I think by overdoing his fear emotion, I was able to compare him with Shaggy; this, in a way, humanizing Scooby. This was not the first time I’ve seen a talking dog before, but this is the first time where I could feel the animators trying their hardest to make him more like us.
Rapunzel from Tangled was another great example of non-verbal communication. The movie starts with her and a wonderful song. My favorite part about this scene is how she gradually gets sadder and sadder each time the chorus of the song is sung. When the song starts, her eyes are wide open, singing with a smile and all of her body language shows positive features; such as good posture, poise in her steps and anxiousness. As the next chorus starts, you can see her mood steadily decrease. You can see her eyes aren’t as wide as they were. Here posture is a tad more slouched, and her walk is becoming more lackadaisically. By the end of the song, her movements were aloof and her eyes were drooping. I took this scene as she was getting more and more sad by the way the animators presented her facial expressions and body language. The next song is quite interesting. Rapunzel’s mother is singing a song but Rapunzel wishes to speak. Throughout the song she gives non-verbal and some verbal complementing to get a word in. The first instance of this in the song, Rapunzel leans in and makes a sound to get a word in, but her mother looks away and continues. A few times when her mother would look at her, she would make hand gestures to infer she had something to say, but still, she wasn’t given a chance to talk. I found it very interesting that the animators incorporated such a small non-verbal cue to the song. But, I feel as if that made her character that much stronger. Each time she tried to get a word in and couldn’t, I empathized with her. By the end of the song, her eyes were drooping, head looking down and she was frowning. This was obvious signs that she was upset that she wasn’t allowed to talk, even after giving the cues she had something to say. Rapunzel is a very animated character, in terms of emotions, both verbally and non-verbally. I think she was a very interesting and believable character because of the small cues the animators included.
Flynn Rider for Tangled was quite an interesting character. I chose him and Rapunzel because I wanted to compare both woman and a man from the same movie to see what the animators would do to their non-verbal cues to separate the sexes. One of the more memorable scenes with Flynn is when he first meets Rapunzel. In an attempt to get what he wants he gives her something he called The Smolder. This facial expression incorporated somewhat squinty eyes, curved brow, pinching of the upper, center, forehead and a smirk with a pouty lip. I could tell that he was trying to look cute, or dashingly handsome, for her in hopes he could manipulate her – something in this generation that I’m sure most people have seen. The best part of this scene is that Rapunzel, being sheltered her whole life, didn’t understand the gesture he was making. I think because she didn’t know any gestures from society, just what her mother shows, Flynn’s communication was not received, or not interpreted as pertinent. I think this moment really helped in showing, one, that Flynn was doing a typical manipulative thing I’ve seen personally in society, allowing me to see him as more human, and two, Rapunzel not understanding the signal, also affirming human-like qualities – not to mention add some humor. I really enjoyed contrasting the two non-verbal cues from both characters. The animators gave societal boy-like cues, such as flirting, strong posture, strong voice and comfortable with people around him, while the girl was given cues such as uncomfortable looks close to people, a soft voice and relaxed posture. I think comparing and contrasting these two characters in the same film really helped in my understanding of non-verbal cues and seeing how animators incorporate the societal norms into their characters to make them more believable.
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Woody from Toy Story is my, personally, favorite character from an animated film. The way the animators presented him made him seem as if he was a real person. Woody is another very animated character. Throughout all three movies, I could really see a lot of the things animators did to give him more human-like qualities. In the first movie, Buzz had just landed – still thinking he is a real space ranger – and Woody is getting irritated with him. I could tell because his voice started to get louder, his hand gestures were very pronounced and his eyes were squinting with a low brow. Once it was accented by a symbol I perceived as a fighting response, bringing his fist to his palm, I could easily infer he was getting irate with Buzz. Right after Buzz continued is tangent on being a space ranger. I could easily tell Woody’s expressions at this point. He had poor posture, somewhat squinty eyes and no expression on his face will Buzz was talking to him. To me, I understood that as not caring. Right after Woody gave him a cocked brow. Incorporated with the previous thoughts, I could tell Woody thought Buzz was just crazy. Soon afterwards, Woody followed with a very sarcastic comment. I could tell by the tone of his voice. This comment then affirmed my first thought that he thought Buzz was crazy. There are many examples of Woody’s non-verbal cues across all of the movies. I think this is why Woody was such a believable character. The animators had ample time to show the watchers that Woody was more than just a cartoon. He gave Woody almost every emotion we could have, from anger, love, jealousy, fear, humor and many others. This aspect, I think, made his character, allowing us to empathize with Woody and truly be in his shoes.
All of these characters have one thing in common: the animators are trying to bring them to life. What makes a character in these films is the animator’s ability to give him human-like qualities. I’ve noticed that in some of the animations where those little cues were not focused on, the characters were not as enjoyable and the movies, in my opinion weren’t very good in terms of the characters. The best animated films were ones that really incorporated event the smallest aspects of people, non-verbal cues, into their characters. This allowed me to really put myself in their shoes and intertwine myself with the film. Wall-E, Yusuke Urameshi from Yu-Yu Hakusho, Rapunzel and Flynn from Tangled and Woody from Toy Story all exemplified what is it be a great character in a film. Each one brought something different to the table, whether it was culture differences, sex differences or writer differences. They all do what we unconsciously do, complement, accent, substitute and anything relating to movement and body position. I didn’t notice these qualities until really paying attention and analyzing the characters in these terms. I found it extremely interesting that the characters I enjoyed most had not necessarily the most pronounced non-verbal cues, but they had amount that a normal person would have. I am going to continue paying attention to what new characters I come across do in terms of non-verbal communication and see if my thought holds true. I think it would be very interesting to see it hold true.
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