Anthropomorphism and the Impossible Standard

(Last Updated On May 30, 2022)

For many of us, Christmas is a sentimental time.  During the holiday season, there is much preparation for gatherings of friends and family.  Anticipation is the most intoxicating part and children whet their appetites for the coming of St. Nicholas by watching the numerous animated specials produced over the years.  Particularly successful was a Rankin-Bass production called Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), based roughly on a song by the same name.

A strange thing occurred to me while reviewing these classics this year.  First of all, as a grown-up I could appreciate what it was that made these special so appealing (or overrated) and secondly, I took a closer look at the role of Clarice, Rudolph’s girlfriend.  Strictly speaking, she is a reindeer, not a little girl; but it is clear that the intent was that all characters, man or beast, were really stand-ins for human roles.

Larry Roemer, Romeo Muller, Robert May and Johnny Marks – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

Using an animal stand-in not only makes the character more appealing to children, but they can sometimes be endowed with some superhuman feature associated with that species (loyalty of dogs, courage of horses, wisdom of owls, etc.)  I got to thinking how the role of Clarice informed my idea of the ideal little girl/girlfriend in my youth and how hard it is to shake this idealism when dealing with real women in the real world.  Wouldn’t it be nice if every misfit in the world had an unconditionally compassionate companion to encourage him/her while facing the harsh challenges of the world?

2 thoughts on “Anthropomorphism and the Impossible Standard

  1. Happy Christmas and New Year! I have not seen this particular film so cannot comment on the role Clarice plays but agree that children are susceptible to models of behaviour – or, at least, I was. I was possibly most influenced by Pinocchio mainly because the character’s world is harsh but the relationships between Pinocchio, Gepetto, Jiminy Cricket and the Blue Fairy, were, thanks to Disney’s visualisation, impressive to the mind of a 5-year-old. In answer to your question, yes, I think I would have benefited from an unconditionally compassionate companion. There are so many times in one’s life when one is faced with some quandary which would be simplified were we able to argue the toss with someone who cares for us no matter what decision we make. I guess this is the essence of all redemptive drama and possibly explains its enduring and powerful appeal.

    • Specifically, this film refers to the way children are ridiculed and shunned for having some unusual feature, namely Rudolph’s red nose. Nerd, dorks, eggheads or whatever are also chastised because they like to “think about things” that do not fit into society’s standards of proper thought and behavior. We see a lot of similar lessons in Disney films as well, particularly Dumbo and Bambi. I agree that Pinocchio is a remarkable film, especially when seen from an adult perspective. And just think, that film came out in 1940, only the second feature-length animated film ever to be released. -Ron

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