Unless you’re a big fan of animated cartoons, you may not have noticed that most characters have just four fingers on each hand. There’s a very good reason why animators have chosen this look for the past 90 years.
First, it saves money. Until the advent of computer animation, every image was drawn by hand. Drawing one less finger per hand saved time, which cut costs.
As Phineas and Ferb writer Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, who has created characters both with and without computers, explained to the BBC, “When you’re having to animate 24 drawings per second, dropping one finger makes a huge difference.”
There’s also an important design reason for the look. Unlike those of human characters, the hands and bodies of cartoon animals like Mickey Mouse are composed largely of circles.
According to Walt Disney, “Using five fingers would have made Mickey’s hands look like a bunch of bananas.”
Finally, animators felt that drawing cartoon characters too realistically would undermine the fantasy element and distract audiences. In Disney’s first feature-length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the heroine had five fingers on each hand, but the dwarves had just four.
While computer animation has eliminated the practical need for drawing only four fingers, the tradition continues in cartoons like The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy and many others.