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Why Do Cartoon Characters Always Wear Gloves?

Jul 13, 2023Jul 13, 2023

What's glove got to do, got to do with it?

Since the dawn of time, one question has plagued humankind: Why do cartoon characters wear gloves? Mickey Mouse. Roger Rabbit. Bugs Bunny. Sonic the Hedgehog. Woody Woodpecker. Cuphead. And so on, and on, and on, so much so that it's actually strange to see an anthropomorphic cartoon character sans gloves. But why are they so prevalent? There must be a reason why gloves are the de facto item for the cartoon community.

Do they do a lot of gardening? Maybe a lot of crime? "Dammit, Sarge, no fingerprints, just white polyester fibers again." Are they prone to OCD, or haphephobia? Did Goofy go all social media influencer and push the animation community into a white glove craze, bringing the glove trade to unexpected heights? Is Goofy maybe not as goofy as he seems, and he gets a cut? As it turns out, there are legitimate reasons why... and perhaps more.

In an interview with Vox, NYU animation historian professor John Canemaker explains, "At the dawn of animation, certain techniques to make the animation process easier were used." Animators would use round edges instead of angles, for example, as they were easier and more efficient to draw repeatedly. While the process was made easier, it impacted the practicality of the product. Primarily, in a black-and-white film, cartoon characters' black hands couldn't be seen against their black bodies. It would be Walt Disney who might have been the first to arrive at a solution by putting white gloves on Mickey Mouse for the 1929 Disney short The Opry House.

It was a simple, effective solution that allowed for Mickey's virtuoso piano performance to stand out. Per Vox, however, it was inspired by vaudeville — more specifically, the vaudeville artists who played minstrels while in blackface. These blackface minstrels wore loose-fitting clothes, exaggerated makeup and, yes, white gloves, and early animators — who performed at the vaudeville shows as well — studied their performances and translated them to animation. You can see it in the faces of the characters of the time, typically with a black head and white face, an exaggeration of an already exaggerated look of those minstrels. It's not a particularly unsullied beginning, to say the least, but thankfully over time, the influence of blackface performers on animation disappeared, leaving only the white gloves behind.

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The secondary rationale for cartoon characters wearing gloves also makes perfect sense. In speaking with biographer Bob Thomas, Walt Disney explained that the gloves exist to humanize the character. In reference to Mickey, Disney said, “We didn’t want him to have mouse hands because he was supposed to be more human, So we gave him gloves. Five fingers seemed like too much on such a little figure, so we took away one. That was just one less finger to animate." It's difficult to even envision a character like Bugs Bunny holding a carrot with a rabbit paw, or Jiminy Cricket holding an umbrella with little insect stick hands. What's fascinating is how that idea of fewer fingers has been the standard for cartoon characters, both gloved and non-gloved (except for God and Jesus on The Simpsons), since then.

Disney poked a little fun at the trope with 2000's An Extremely Goofy Movie, when Bobby (Pauly Shore) partially breaks the fourth wall and comments, "Do you ever wonder why we're always, like, wearing gloves?" As time has gone on, though, white gloves have become far less prevalent in animation. The era of black and white cartoons are long, long gone, and changes in style and advancements in animation have rendered the humanization aspect moot. Yet they are still in use, and in the opinion of yours truly, for a much different reason. Let's take a look at just some of the characters that still wear white gloves. The legacy Disney characters, like Mickey Mouse and Goofy. Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, the Warner brothers and sister from Animaniacs. Krusty the Clown from The Simpsons. Cuphead and Mugman from The Cuphead Show!

All of these characters have one thing in common: ties to the past. The Warner siblings of Animaniacs hail from the 1930s, having been locked up in the Warner Brothers Water Tower for being too zany, and escaped into today's world. The Cuphead Show! is purposely made in the style of 1930s animation. The length of time that Krusty has been in show business is almost a running joke at this point, but he did start his career as a street mime in Tupelo, Mississippi well before he got his own TV show, The Krusty the Clown Show, in the 1960s, which places him in around that same era. Well, as much as one can in the ever-changing Simpsons timeline. Not to mention how The Itchy & Scratchy Show began with the Steamboat Itchy short. So, what white gloves represent today is a quick visual clue as to the bygone era of the characters that wear them, and less about practicality. It isn't just restricted to cartoons, either. Both Mario from the Nintendo Super Mario games and Sonic the Hedgehog from Sony wear white gloves as well, and have done so since 1991. That in turn hails them back to the earlier days of home gaming.

White gloves on cartoon characters have been used for practical reasons, for aesthetic reasons, and as a symbol of a character's heritage. Now, there are other possible reasons for the white gloves. Maybe they kept the ink from leaking out of the character, saving countless cartoon lives from watching their ink life-blood drip away. Maybe it was a secret society within cartoons, the Loyal Order of Blanc de Glouves, and anyone in the society caught not wearing gloves faced the very real possibility of being thrown into Judge Doom's (Christopher Lloyd) infamous Dip, a la Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But probably not.

Lloyd 'Happy Trails' Farley: the man, the myth, the legend. He is a master of puns, with one pun book - Pun And Grimeish Mint - already released and another - Pun And Grimeish Mint II: The Empire's Spice Rack - in development. A devotee of B-films (Ed Wood in particular) and Calgary Flames hockey, Lloyd also holds fast to the belief that all of life's problems can be answered by The Simpsons, Star Wars, or The Lion King.Happy trails.

John CanemakerWalt DisneyThe Opry HouseBob ThomasThe SimpsonsAn Extremely Goofy MoviePauly ShoreAnimaniacsThe SimpsonsThe Cuphead Show!Christopher LloydWho Framed Roger Rabbit