Photo Credit: English Girl at Home via Compfight cc
The Internet was in an uproar when the beloved Family Guy pooch Brian Griffin was killed off. Seth Macfarlane was actually surprised by the level of rage that people directed towards him for killing off a fictional and animated pet. Ultimately, thanks to some expert writing and a bit of suspended disbelief, Brian was brought back from the dead much to the delight of his fans across the globe.

So why is it that we feel such an affinity to on-screen pets, moreover why is it that cartoons so often have anthropomorphised animals in the first place?
There are a few theories as to why we feel such a deep affinity for animals and thereby perpetuate them in our culture in the way of animated films.  Claude Levi-Strauss was a French Anthropologist who suggested that cultures would develop their myths based on their immediate surroundings. For example, Native American tribes could identify strongly with bears or eagles due to their high numbers in the areas that they lived. As humans we create meaning from our surroundings. Incorporating animals into our structures of understanding is not a crackpot idea when you take into account our history and behaviour.   Of course, animals can merely be metaphorical representations of human traits in order to appeal to young minds. Throughout our adventures through historical literature, animals and monsters have played central roles in driving the narratives forward.

Another idea is symbiosis. We have interacted closely with certain animals for thousands of years. If we think about the most famous animated animals they are usually species that we are quite familiar with or feel connected to in some way. Wallace & Gromit follows a man and his pooch as they chase down a mutant rabbit, Lady and the Tramp are both dogs, the Aristocats… well I’m sure the play on words isn’t lost here and who could forget our beloved chef Ratatouille? Even in Finding Nemo, the fish is a Clown Fish, a common pet species with quite a unique colour scheme, which makes it much more personable.  It is hard to imagine the next blockbuster kids movie containing Jeff the Friendly Croc or Simon the Snake as the heroic protagonists who are ready to undertake an epic adventure. Maybe Timmy the Tiger Shark would do better with audiences. At any rate, we have been socialised to a degree into what our preferred species are which is unfortunate for less desirable animals which when they find themselves on the endangered species list are unlikely to get much assistance.  Despite many sharks finding themselves on the threatened species list, drumming up support for them can be quite challenging. It may be difficult to correlate the two but cultural media like the film Jaws shifts how people perceive the world.

Animated films play quite an important role in the development of our youth and it is critical to reflect upon the impact that different types of media are having in order to assist in protecting animals in the future.