You don’t have to be a technical genius to feel like one now that you’re a father. You just have to get gloves on a toddler without losing your damn mind. And while that’s easier said than done, regaling your youngster with this little animation history lesson might just help wear them down. At the very least, it will answer why so many cartoons wear gloves when it’s obviously warmer inside the TV.
John Canemaker, an animation historian and professor at New York University, recently explained to Vox that animation wasn’t always a perfect Pixar science. No, drawing cartoons was painstaking and often required animators to come up with creative hacks to save time. One example: drawing characters with rounded features instead of angular ones. But there was a problem with this “rubber hose and circle aesthetic,” and it wasn’t just that it sounded unintendedly sexual. It was that it made black and white animation blurrier. How’d they fix it? Simple, add white gloves and … voila! Much needed contrast.
Another theory is that the first cartoons were inspired by minstrel shows, where actors wore white gloves as one of the least controversial parts of their costumes. According to Nicholas Sammond, the author of Birth Of An Industry, cartoons of this time weren’t just inspired by minstrels, they were minstrels. By the 1930’s blackface minstrelsy declined, allowing cartoons to continue without the Paula Deen implications.
Walt Disney also offered an additional explanation, at least with regard to Mickey. “We didn’t want him to have mouse hands because he was supposed to be more human. So we gave him gloves.” Gloves bridged the gap between human and non-human things. In the 1940 version of Pinocchio , he wears gloves as a puppet and yet loses them when he becomes a real boy. But don’t use that example with your kid unless they’re already making a case for not being human.