Animals as Characters

August 22, 2010 at 5:38 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m going to preface this post by pointing out that I really dislike animal movies. That is, movies where the main character is an animal that is befriended by a human and does a range of cutesy/mischievous things before ultimately solving some massive problem and healing all the wrongs in their friendly human’s life while giving us some moral message. There are a lot of these movies out there and they are well loved movies but they’ve never grabbed me as an audience member. Mostly because cute didn’t cut it for me as a replacement for story or character development even when I was a child and the overly moralistic message of so many of these movies seemed really condescending.

That said, I do like animals in stories. They can serve a valuable role and if well written can even have all the attributes of a full fledged character. There is a difference between a movie with an animal in it and an animal movie. Same with books.

When I consider using an animal in a story I usually think about the following:

1.  Is the animal’s presence actually adding anything to the story? A means of transport, companionship, comfort, finding something, revealing something, etc.

2.  Could a human character serve the same purpose better?

3.  Is the animal actually acting in the way an animal would or are they simply a human character dressed up like an animal?

4. If the animal is magical and can talk, are they still acting in the way an animal would or is there some cross over between the animal characteristics and human characteristics? And is there any point behind this cross over?

5.  Is the animal becoming simply a cute distraction from the plot?

Inserting an animal as a character for me is like inserting any other character. They need to have a purpose and serve some sort of function in the plot. They need to relate to the other characters and if possible those relationships should grow and change as the story progresses.

What are your thoughts on animals as characters? Or animal movies for that matter.

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