Anthro-projection & A Few Sketches
Thor towers over Saibulu, whirls, cracks his ears with abrupt motion and sharp sound you can get by snapping a wet towel, walks sideways towards Saibulu, and that is enough. The gesture strips Saibulu of his status: Saibulu turns, lowers his head, and moves quickly away alone, leaving no urine trail. Thor follows to complete the encounter.
-Katy Payne, Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants
There's a tendency in media to project human emotions and feelings onto animals. I'm sure you've noticed it; avoiding all the celebrity-voiced anthropomorphic squirrels, donkeys, and hippos bouncing their jovial, flatulent 3-D asses is all but impossible. Replace these animal stories with people and you've got the same drivel as every other disposable comedy- it's just easier to sell because suddenly it's a kids movie and families have no choice but to eat it up because it's there. That leads me to a digression that I'll come back to in many a later post: The broken studio system and the catch-22's that keep it exclusive and dumbed-down.
"But!" Say the fans and the Blue-Sky/Dreamworks/comparable shite-churning studio employees, "this approach allows for new approaches to storytelling!" I agree. Y'know what? I want to see the inside of a beehive! I want to see bees going about their chores with boredom, longing to leave the hive for something better. It's a great idea. What do I get? Bee Movie. Trite, worthless crap with a vomit-inducing candy-coated color palette and lawsuit jokes.
Watership Down and Animal Farm both use anthropomorphicized creatures to brilliant [literary] effect, but the unambiguous truth is that 99.9% of this type of projection gets tossed about as a gimmick.*
I bring this up because I'm making a film about an elephant. It is a true story so for now I'll call him M. M and his fellow relocated denizens still exist today. I ran into trouble with my limitations. Will this be any fun to watch if I keep it fairly true to life? Thankfully, this research into elephant behavior has proven astoundingly illuminating. I don't need to worry about projecting emotion into the lives of these creatures because they have a surprising amount of emotional range and complexity on their own. It's amazing what field research reveals about these huge beasts. They communicate with a language of grunts and body language as well as infrasound calls generated from their nasal cavities that have a range of 4 kilometers. Males and females lead distinct lives but the Family group (a community led by a steadfast matriarch) serves as a roving social unit with as many clicks as you'd find in a human neighborhood. At one point it was documented that members of a Family ripped branches from a tree in order to cover the body of a recently deceased lion.
The deeper I delved the more I realized that the question was not the degree of emoting but the externalization, the method. Practical mannerisms and actions. These animals do indeed feel and love and remember and they do it all without talking.
*Pixar is founded and staffed by inhumanly talented storytellers and thusly unincluded.