How Lisa Hanawalt Perfectly Portrays Animated Animals


Humans are complicated creatures, and it’s sometimes hard to break down and fully explore what it means to be human, even in film or animation. So it’s a little surprising that some of the best depictions of human nature are achieved through the use of animals. specifically, anthropomorphic animal-human hybrids, such as those found throughout the art of Lisa Hanawalt. Perhaps best known for her work as a production designer on Netflix Bojack Rider or as creator of Tuca and BertieLisa Hanawalt is a prolific modern artist, whose personal comics also delve into the human psyche and nature and, like her cartoons, use weird humans with animal heads (or perhaps animals with human bodies ?) As a mode of delivery for his various sometimes comical thoughts and comments on life.


Unlike the classically cute cartoon creatures of Disney and other children’s media, Hanawalt’s art often finds itself in a more frightening or disturbing category of work, where his characters straddle the line between human and animal; they embody traits of both, offering an odd and rather nuanced perspective on how human beings see themselves, versus how they want to be seen. When it comes to Bojack in Bojack Rider, a strange dichotomy arises with the character; BoJack (Arnett) is a horse, a creature often associated with freedom and grace, but its reality is that of a stranded celebrity-turned-alcoholic, who spends his days drunk and/or stoned, reminiscing about his waning fame. It’s an uncomfortably apt comparison to the fall from grace that so many celebrities experience in the real world.

RELATED: How ‘Tuca & Bertie’ Examines the Effects of Family on Mental Health

A still from BoJack Horseman's Time's Arrow episode
Picture via Netflix

It’s the fact that the animal and human characteristics of Hanawalt’s creatures tend to morph and merge until you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins, which makes its alluring creations. Sometimes it takes a while for the character and the audience to recognize a character’s behaviors for what they really are; Mr. Peanut Butter (Paul F. Tompkins) is a dog – he is happy and excitable, and attached to those he loves. At the same time, he is often self-centered and impulsive, with a positivity that can sometimes come across as condescending or insensitive. All of this can be attributed to him being a yellow lab, but these are also real characteristics of real people, and it’s hard to tell which side Mr. Peanut Butter falls on, if he can even be placed on that side. one side or the other.

Like a real human being, these traits could just be part of who Mr. Peanut Butter is deep down, part of his very nature, but they could also be clues to underlying issues, like an over-reliance on oil. towards its partners. . A dog doing nothing all day but waiting for his favorite person to come home is sweet and expected, but when put in the context of someone with a job, a car, and taxes, suddenly M Peanut Butter wasting his days waiting for his wife to come back is rather uncomfortable and sad. The viewer is forced to confront what he may have once considered charming as something undesirable or something that demands change. That they find themselves connected to such things is just another layer to the journey that Hanawalt’s art opens up for viewers.

A still from the BoJack Horseman episode The Dog Days Are Over
Picture via Netflix

The other side of Hanawalt’s art comes in the form of to kiss animality; his comic coyote female dog follows the aforementioned main character and his horse, as they travel through the Wild West together. “I wanted to recreate a western in my own voice, through my own eyes,” Hanawalt said in a chat with HuffPost. “Telling a story about women’s struggle and women’s pain from my own perspective.” As in his show, Tuca and Bertie, the women of Hanawalt comics, Coyote Doggirl in particular, are animalistic and tangible; they reject the standards imposed on most women in the media, refusing to soften into anything that could be considered ‘acceptable’. Their speech can be vulgar or “rude”, and they face no consequences except when the words themselves come to life in cartoonish style. They are allowed not only to feel, but also to act and savor the emotions they feel, no matter how strong; their animal nature only adds to this, creating an avenue in which feelings of all shapes and sizes can be expressed.

In Tuca and Bertie, Hanawalt creates a world where characters can scream and crow like roosters when upset, can flap their arms wildly, and can eat their own eggs without feeling like it’s weird or unnatural. Hanawalt credits the early ideas of Tuca and Bertie to a nature documentary, where she saw a toucan fly around and eat the eggs of other birds. She felt an immediate connection with the toucan, thinking “It’s me!” I eat all the eggs! For Hanawalt, Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) and Bertie (Ali Wang) represent two sides of herself – two sides of her own humanity. The pompous and sometimes selfish inner toucan, who sometimes longs to consume “all the eggs”, and the timid and calm outer songbird, filled with various anxieties and worries. Hanawalt is not alone in such an interpretation; often it’s these two sides that people experience in their own lives – the part that wants to be loud and proud of their talents, that wants a little more than it should, and the part that’s too busy blending in. in and integrate to feel free.

Picture via Netflix

Tuca and BertieThe unabashed view of everyday life, especially when it comes to women, is only enhanced by the fact that the characters are not human; they are the animal root that many people connect with, going about the daily life that many people live. There’s something very personal about watching a songbird struggle with the anxieties of buying their first home and growing old; she’s not a human actress who can be so easily kidnapped and treated like an outsider. Although Bertie has her own personality and characteristics, the fact that she is a bird makes it infinitely easier to project onto her form and her struggles. She is something familiar enough not to be disconcerting, but animal enough to represent more than just an individual.

More than anything, more than animal nature or expression of emotion, Hanawalt’s art is a reminder that control is fragile and easily lost; Even though people like to think they’re in control of their actions and thoughts, humans are just as prone to animalistic behavior as animals – and that’s okay. Viewers who watch Bojack contemplate leaving behind a “civilized life” to run free with wild horses are equally able and inclined to fantasize about similar things; Hanawalt’s art is a representation of the animal that so many people, no matter who they are or what they do, always have inside of them. Evolution has earned humanity some space at the front of the race, but Hanawalt fills that gap, reminding viewers that they’re not as far off as they think from the dog lying at the foot of their bed.

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