Here’s Why So Many Cartoon Characters Only Have Four Fingers

Since the times of Mickey Mouse and his dang steamboat, cartoon characters have nearly always had four fingers.

Some of the newer cartoons (like ‘Archer‘) might have five digits, but ‘The Simpsons‘? Four. ‘Spongebob‘? Four. ‘The Flintstones‘? You yabba-dabba-bet.

The question of ‘why’ comes up every now and then – here’s a Quora discussion circa 2010 – but no one has answered it as succinctly as ChannelFrederator, a YouTube channel that dives deep into cartoons and everything that surrounds them.

Stripping humanoid cartoons of their fifth digit basically comes down to three things, says ChannelFrederator. First of all, it’s cheaper, because hands happen to be one of the most difficult body parts to draw, and less fingers mean less mistakes (and less time spent animating).

Second of all, the original lot of cartoons were largely drawn via a circle method, meaning too many fingers would’ve blown up the hands to the point of ridiculous. As Walt Disney himself said, “using five fingers would have made Mickey’s hands look like a bunch of bananas.” 

But most interestingly, it comes down to the uncanny valley. Human brains are wired to recognise other humans, so when something looks human but isn’t, we get weirded out. Cartoon people with four fingers though? That’s right on the money.

“There’s a sweet spot around the uncanny valley in which we understand that something supposed to be a human, without it strictly looking human in reality,” narrator Alyssa Levenberg says.

The key exception to the rule is anime. Japanese characters might have oversized eyes, but they retain all their digits. That stems from any number of reasons, including a blanket suspicion of the number four, and the tradition among members of the Yakuza to cut off their own finger in retribution for wrongdoings.

Honestly, give the whole thing a watch below, it’s a wild ride.

Photo: Bob’s Burgers.