So much of the media surrounding childhood is made up of anthropomorphism that I bet you know the definition already, but I think it's an important aspect of screenwriting we should go over.

In this article, we'll explore the definition of anthropomorphism and delve into some captivating examples of how it has been used in the world of film.

Let's get started.

What is Anthropomorphism?

Anthropomorphism Definition

EVA and WALL-E looking at a lightbulb in 'WALL-E'


Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Anthropomorphism is derived from the Greek words "anthropos" (human) and "morphe" (form). Essentially, anthropomorphism is a storytelling technique that has been used in film and animation for decades. It involves attributing human characteristics, emotions, and behaviors to non-human entities, such as animals, objects, or even abstract concepts.

In filmmaking, this technique is used to make characters or objects more relatable, empathetic, and engaging to the audience.

By imbuing these non-human entities with human-like qualities, filmmakers can explore complex themes, emotions, and narratives in creative and meaningful ways.

Why Do Writers Use Anthropomorphism?

Two Robots standing by a railing in 'Love, Death ='Love Death + Robots'

Credit: Netflix

If you're trying to get the audience to connect with beings that are not human, you add human qualities to them so that people feel closer to the characters.

It's done for character development, but also for the following reasons:

  • Emotional Connection: Anthropomorphism allows writers to imbue non-human entities with human qualities, making them relatable to the audience. This emotional connection can be essential for engaging readers or viewers and drawing them into the story. When readers see themselves or human-like characteristics in a character, they are more likely to empathize with and care about their fate.
  • Complex Themes: This technique enables writers to explore complex themes and ideas in a more accessible way. By using non-human characters or objects as stand-ins for human experiences, authors can address profound subjects such as morality, identity, and societal issues without getting bogged down in the intricacies of human life.
  • Entertainment: Anthropomorphism often adds humor, charm, and entertainment value to a story. When inanimate objects or animals exhibit human behaviors, it can lead to comedic situations and moments that resonate with the audience. This comedic element can make a story more enjoyable and memorable.
  • Cultural and Social Commentary: Writers frequently use anthropomorphism to comment on cultural or social issues. By assigning human characteristics to non-human entities, they can create allegories or metaphors that mirror real-world problems, prejudices, and dilemmas. This indirect approach allows writers to critique society while maintaining a degree of separation from sensitive topics.
  • Simplifying Complex Concepts: Anthropomorphism simplifies complex concepts and abstract ideas by personifying them. For instance, writers might personify Death as a character to explore mortality and human fear of the unknown. This simplification makes these concepts easier for readers to grasp and engage with.
  • Empathy and Understanding: By attributing human emotions and motives to non-human entities, writers can encourage readers to consider different perspectives and broaden their empathy. This can be particularly useful when addressing environmental issues, as it can help readers relate to the natural world and the impact of human actions on it.

Examples of Anthropomorphism in Film and TV

Three dogs and a boy in 'Isle of Dogs'

'Isle of Dogs'

Credit: Fox Searchlight

There are so many different examples in this category that I broke them down by film, TV, and later, I have a whole section on Disney.

Anthropomorphism in Film

  1. The Secret Life of Pets (2016): This animated film explores what pets do when their owners are away. It anthropomorphizes animals, giving them distinct personalities and human-like behaviors, resulting in humorous and relatable situations.
  2. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009): Directed by Wes Anderson, this stop-motion animated film features anthropomorphic animals who engage in human-like activities, such as stealing from farmers. The characters are complex and relatable, making the film appealing to both children and adults.
  3. Isle of Dogs (2018): Another Wes Anderson film, this stop-motion animation tells the story of a group of dogs living on a quarantined island. The dogs are portrayed with distinct personalities and quirks, effectively humanizing them while dealing with themes of loyalty and friendship.

Anthropomorphism in Television

  1. BoJack Horseman (2014-2020): This adult animated series features a world where anthropomorphic animals coexist with humans. It delves into complex themes like depression, addiction, and the pursuit of happiness while using animal characters to satirize various aspects of contemporary society.
  2. SpongeBob SquarePants (1999-Present): While not anthropomorphic in the traditional sense, the show features anthropomorphized sea creatures, like SpongeBob the sponge and Squidward the squid. These characters exhibit human-like behaviors, emotions, and personalities in their underwater world.
  3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987-Present): This long-running franchise features anthropomorphic turtles with distinct personalities and human-like traits. They battle villains and navigate the challenges of being heroes in a modern world.
  4. The Muppets (1974-Present): The Muppets, created by Jim Henson, are a prime example of anthropomorphism, with a diverse cast of puppet characters who exhibit a wide range of human emotions, humor, and relatability.

Examples of Anthropomorphism in Disney

The Beast in the destroyed West Wing of the castle in 'Beauty and the Beast'

'Beauty and the Beast'

Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

This practice is so common in Disney and Pixar I had to give them their own list. Like I said at the top, all children's' media seems like it is dominated by this technique.

  1. Pixar's Toy Story Series: The franchise brings toys to life, endowing them with personalities, fears, and desires. Through anthropomorphism, these inanimate objects become vehicles for exploring themes of friendship, loyalty, and growing up.
  2. WALL-E: In this sci-fi masterpiece, the titular character is a small waste-collecting robot left on an abandoned Earth. Despite having no human features or dialogue, WALL-E exhibits curiosity, loneliness, and even love. His anthropomorphic traits serve as a poignant commentary on environmentalism and technology's impact on society.
  3. Beauty and the Beast: The Beast in this Disney classic is a prime example of how anthropomorphism can transform a monstrous character into a sympathetic one. As Belle sees past his exterior and connects with his humanity, the audience is reminded of the power of love and inner beauty.
  4. Zootopia: In this modern Disney hit, the animal characters embody both human stereotypes and cultural diversity. Through the use of anthropomorphism, the film addresses complex issues like prejudice, discrimination, and societal change in a way that's accessible to all ages.
  5. The Iron Giant: This animated film features a colossal robot who exhibits childlike innocence and vulnerability. Through anthropomorphism, it explores themes of friendship, prejudice, and the consequences of violence, making it a heartfelt and memorable cinematic experience.
  6. Finding Nemo: Pixar's movie takes viewers on an underwater adventure with a cast of aquatic characters. Marlin, the overprotective clownfish father, goes through a transformative journey filled with humor and heart, emphasizing the importance of letting go and trusting one's instincts.

Anthropomorphism is a powerful storytelling tool that has been utilized in filmmaking to create memorable characters and convey profound messages.

From Disney classics to modern animated gems, anthropomorphism continues to play a vital role in the world of cinema, enriching our cinematic experiences and expanding our understanding of the human condition through the lens of non-human characters.

Let me know your favorite iterations in the comments.