ByElle McFarlane, writer at
'There's always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you.'
Elle McFarlane

If there's one thing that 's classic characters Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pinocchio, Roger Rabbit and Clarabelle Cow are remembered for besides being the pioneering faces of early animation, it's their now iconic white gloves. But just why were these unassuming characters ranging from mice to rabbits, cows and wooden puppets forced to wear an article of clothing synonymous with cold winters, chauffeurs and Michael Jackson?

Well, there are many interesting answers to this question ranging from the logical, to the morally dubious and thanks to this latest video from Vox, we can safely say we'll never look at our favorite Disney character's hands in the same way again.

1. Drawing Disney Characters With Gloves Saved Time

The Jazz Fool [Credit: Walt Disney Productions]
The Jazz Fool [Credit: Walt Disney Productions]

Back in the early days of animation, every single frame was hand drawn. This meant that it took a great deal of time even to complete the shortest of animated clips. Consequently, pioneering animators learnt a few tricks so as to produce cartoons at a faster rate.

It was discovered that rounder edges were much easier to draw than harder angles - this is why Felix the cat has such a round face, or why Olive Oyl from Popeye has such a perfectly spherical head. It also goes someway to explaining why so many of Disney's characters have gloves: it saved much more time drawing spherical glove shapes than more angular fingers for each of the characters.

2. White Gloves Stand Out Against The Cartoons Black Bodies

Another problem animators encountered was that if they drew hands and fingers for each of their cartoon characters, when their hands were close to their bodies, they would become very difficult to see. This is because with both their bodies and their hands being black, the hands and their finger definition would all but disappear when a character's hands were in front of their bodies, or anything else that was black.

Just look at how Minnie's hands become almost inseparable from this cow's tail in Steamboat Willie when she appears without her gloves:

Steamboat Willie [Credit: Walt Disney Productions]
Steamboat Willie [Credit: Walt Disney Productions]

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3. White Gloves Made Disney's Characters More Human

Another reason Disney's characters are so often portrayed in gloves is because Walt Disney himself thought it made them look more humanlike and therefore more relatable to the audience. In the biography of Walt's life, The Disney Version, he is quoted as saying the following:

“We didn’t want him [Mickey] to have mouse hands, because he was supposed to be more human. So we gave him gloves. Five fingers looked like too much on such a little figure, so we took one away. That was just one less finger to animate.”

4. The Early Disney Characters Were Based On Minstrels

Mickey’s Mellerdrammer [Credit: Walt Disney Productions]
Mickey’s Mellerdrammer [Credit: Walt Disney Productions]

Most concerningly however is the argument that Disney's earliest cartoon characters were actually based on the racist minstrel and vaudeville blackface traditions. Characters such as Mickey & Minnie Mouse and Felix the Cat are regularly held up as examples of this, mirroring the vaudeville entertainers of the time who were mischievous, yet good natured, wore lose fitting clothes, had painted faces and — you guessed it — wore white gloves.

However, as the '30s and '40s came to an end, so did the popularity of the minstrel and vaudeville shows, but Disney's iconic white gloves lived on, surpassing the associations with this otherwise racist tradition.

Do You Think Disney's Early Minstrel Inspiration Is Problematic?


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