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Why do so many cartoon characters wear white gloves?
Some things about cartoon characters just don’t make sense. Okay, beyond the fact that mice, rabbits, and other characters walk around on two legs, converse in English, and wear pants—unlike their real-world, animal kingdom counterparts. We’re talking about those omnipresent white gloves. Whether they’re old Disney favorites, Looney Tunes characters, or of some other origin, all of those animated animals seem to wear white gloves.
It all started back in the 1920s and 1930s. Like almost all films of the time period, cartoons were produced in glorious black-and-white. That made for some visibility issues. If the backgrounds were black, white, and grey, and the characters were black, white, and grey, it was hard to tell what the moving ‘toons were doing, particularly what they were doing with their hands. White tends to “pop” against a darker background, so white gloves were used to that effect. It made the hands more noticeable—a little too noticeable, but early animators had to do what they had to do.
Another functional reason for the gloves is that they’re less complicated than hands. Poofy gloves aren’t just easier to draw than hands, they’re easier to animate. Be it hand drawn, computer-aided, or other styles, animation is extremely work-intensive, and animators can save a lot of labor, money, and time not having to worry about the intricate details of hands, like fingernails, hair, and knuckles in frame after frame after frame.
Gloves also aid in characterization. In the 1968 documentary The Disney Vision, Walt Disney himself says he consciously put gloves on Mickey Mouse. It anthropomorphized him. “He was supposed to be more human,” Disney said. “So we gave him gloves,” as opposed to little mouse hands.