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Why Cartoon Animals Wear Gloves

Jon is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

"Did you ever wonder why we are always like...wearing gloves?" - An Extremely Goofy Movie

Well, did you ever wonder why cartoon characters are always...like...wearing gloves?  Surely the animators couldn't possibly think it to be a good reflection of reality.  Really, who wears gloves at all?  Besides a butler and perhaps the Queen, no one wears white gloves.  Yet Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and even the Super Mario Brothers all are portrayed wearing gloves.  What gives?

This very odd situation can be traced back to the first cartoon ever with sound: Steamboat Willie.  This cartoon starred Mickey Mouse.  Disney (NYSE: DIS) had problems originally drawing the hands for the walking talking mouse, and it was just easier to draw him wearing gloves.  Steamboat Willie forever changed the world of cartoons.  If cartoons had their own way to measure time, it would be BSW (before steamboat Willie) and ASW (after steamboat Willie).  Cartoons for the immediate future would emulate this one.  This was a new trend.  All studios now were creating cartoons with sound.  Steamboat Willie was such an exemplary cartoon that not only was the sound aspect copied, so were the white gloves.

Cartoon characters who wear gloves is an idiosyncrasy that we all just go along with, and it has nothing to do with Mickey's popularity.  Really, is Mickey even popular in the first place?  As John McWhorter states in his book the Power of Babel: "Mickey Mouse is ultimately just one more cartoon character of no God-given distinction.  He was imitated by all the other studios for the mundane reason that he happened to be the main character in the first sound cartoon..."

Ah, there is something to be said about trend-setting businesses and what they are capable of.  Disney changed the world of cartoons.  The white gloves are a silly bit of residue that just came along for the ride.  The real revolution was that cartoons now had sound, and would never return to their former soundless state.


I like trend-setters.  Disney has been a trend-setter over the years and is still a trend-setter today.  (If you think they've lost their touch, just ask Time Warner how badly they want to make the Justice League now that Avengers has smashed the box office).  Dreamworks Animation (NASDAQ: DWA) is also a trend-setter. Some may disagree with me, but I really believe it was Dreamworks, not Pixar, who was the mover and the shaker in the animated feature film industry with their irreverent and immensely popular sensation: Shrek.  It wasn't the first time we had seen animation.  It wasn't even the first time we had seen good animation.  Pixar had already released its hit Toy Story, and even Dreamworks already had a couple hits under its belt with Antz and Chicken Run.  But Shrek was really the first time we saw an animated movie that catered to kids, adults, and the elderly, all in one package.  

Since then, movies that are truly for the whole family have become the trend.  One of my fondest memories was when my grandfather insisted we all watch his new favorite movie: Cars.  We sat down as an entire family, including my 1 year old son.  Needless to say Cars is now his favorite movie as well.  I was blown away at the time to think that a 1 year old and an 81 year old could share the same favorite movie.  Now it's becoming hard to imagine an animated movie that is just for kids, or just for adults.  Shrek was so popular that I believe it forever changed the genre.

Trend or Flop?

News Corps' 20th Century Fox  appeared to set a new trend with the movie Avatar.  3D is not new at all.  It's been around in one form or another for a century.  But I'll never forget when Avatar destroyed all the box office records how every movie afterwards said: "in 3D".  3D televisions were rumored until they became reality.  Hollywood had jumped on to a gravy train that they thought was rumbling towards an unlimited public desire to see every movie in 3D.

Many investors also jumped on board with companies like RealD (NYSE: RLD) and Dolby Labs (NYSE: DLB) hoping to rake in the new profits from the popular trend.  Everything seemed to be on the up and up.  Avatar was a hit.  Studios were releasing more and more 3D films.  Theaters were adding more 3D screens.  3D TVs.  Blu-ray...

Disappointingly for investors, it is starting to look like 3D was a passing fad.  The number of films released in 3D in the United States actually dropped from 39 to 34 from 2011 to 2012.  It seems that Hollywood is thinking of jumping the three dimensional ship.  (Although 34 movies is still significantly more than the 8 made in 2008)

Even before 3D movies started dropping, profits had already been disappointing for RealD and Dolby Labs.  

<img src="http://media.ycharts.com/charts/2aab95bbdf756cf5c11d30e75a868168.png" />

RLD Net Income data by YCharts

There is profit growth without a doubt, but not nearly the epic growth that was hoped for.  Motley Fool writer Dan Caplinger wrote an article on some issues that both companies are facing right now in the industry.  Things were already tough, and then to top it all off, it looks like 3D was a passing trend.

But Really?

Could 3D really a passing trend?  Really?  Hollywood, I believe, is questioning 3D because of the less than enthusiastic response it has received.  But I believe that the public seems indifferent towards 3D because of how the studios have been going about making these movies.

As anyone will tell you, there is a big difference between filming a movie in 3D and converting it to 3D after the fact.  Avatar was filmed in 3D using revolutionary technology and the crowd couldn't get enough.  Disney's Tron was also filmed in 3D and had some great reviews as well.  It's the movies that are converted to 3D afterwards that people aren't beating down the doors of the movie theater to go see.

Avatar had all the elements of a trend setting movie.  But it seems the wrong element has been singled out to be imitated.  Can you imagine if all the cartoon studios way back when had all started drawing their cartoons with gloves, yet neglected to add sound to the cartoon?  The success of Mickey was not the gloves, it was the sound.  In the same way, Avatar wasn't a hit simply because it was in 3D; it was because of how it was filmed in 3D.  Hollywood has left out the synchronized sound, drawn white gloves on their mice, and wondered why they haven't been as successful as they hoped.

Here's Hoping

When Avatar 2 is released, I believe we will really get a sense of the how high 3D can fly.  When the first movie of a series is good, the sequel almost always outperforms.  Pirates of the Caribbean 2, Spiderman 2, and the Dark Knight are all movies that readily come to mind.  Avatar 2 would likely surpass its predecessor, and the visual content of the movie will again blow us away.  Unfortunately, this movie is not scheduled until 2015.

It is at that point that I would expect Hollywood to wake up to the difference between filming in 3D and converting a film to 3D.  When that happens, we may never see another movie filmed in 2D.  Much like how cartoons all had sound after Steamboat Willy, expect the movie industry to forever change.

But do we really have to wait until 2015?  Not necessarily.  Hollywood could wake up beforehand.  So many people have already counted 3D down for the count, and at the same time have ruled out investments like RealD and Dolby Labs.  I don't think that should be the reaction to all this.  I'm much more optimistic, and will wait and see.

Basically, it's not time to give up on the profit potentials of RealD (or Dolby) because of the slow start.  It may take longer than we originally thought for this to fly as high as we would like, but I believe the day will come.

thequast has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Dolby Laboratories, DreamWorks Animation, and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.

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