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Top 10 Biggest Animated Movie Clichés

VO: Alexandra Maynard WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden

Gee, animated films hit a lot of the same beats, don’t they? For this list, we’ll be examining the common tropes and other recurring elements found in animated films, both traditional and computer-animated. Our list is full of heroes, villains, princesses, animal sidekicks, and more! Join MsMojo as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Animated Movie Clichés.

Check out the voting page for this list and add your picks: https://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top+10+Animated+Movie+Cliches. Special thanks to our user Anonymous for suggesting this idea!


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Top 10 Animated Movie Clichés

Animated films hit a lot of the same beats. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 animated movie clichés.

For this list, we’ll be examining the common tropes and other recurring elements found in animated films, both traditional and computer-animated.

#10: Wishes & Dreams

Animated films are usually directed at children, and one of the most common lessons they try instill is to think of the future. To that end, many animated movies depict their characters’ dreams and wishes. Oftentimes, these wishes are quite literal, with characters stating what they want, and these desires then magically coming true. This can sometimes lead to the protagonists’ coming to realize that the old adage is true: we should be careful what we wish for. Overall though, wishes and dreams are a constant of animation that inspired many of us to pursue our own.

#9: Totally Obvious Villains

The antagonists in animated films are quite easy to spot for one simple reason – they look like they’re evil! Part of the reason for this is due, again to the original audience for animated films: kids. Kids don’t do subtlety, so an obvious villain is really the only kind they’re going to pick up on. The other big factor for blatant baddies is design. The animators create them with the intent that they’ll become iconic; and a villain that looks like every other character just doesn’t pop quite as much, nor is it as satisfying when they inevitably die at the end.

#8: The Dumb Henchmen

Every villain, regardless of how obvious they are, needs a henchman or two to do their dirty work. Unfortunately for them, almost every animated villain is surrounded by idiots. These goons are typically written as stupid to emphasize the main antagonist’s intelligence. Their dumb antics are also used as comic relief, as particularly evil or violent villains can sometimes use a little comedy to take the edge off. Lastly, incompetent henchmen are frequently the cause of their boss’ downfall, either by betraying them (due to mistreatment) or due to one of their blunders.

#7: The Damsel in Distress & the Hero

Animated films have a long history of featuring helpless “fair maidens” in need of rescuing by a male hero. This sort of plot element is rampant across popular culture and stories throughout history: someone in danger usually propels the hero to greater heroics. Its prevalence in animation is likely due to how early films often adapted fairytales and other folktales in which the regressive trope is common. However, this is one cliché that’s so omnipresent that some films find ways to do interesting twists on who rescues whom.

#6: Musical Numbers

In a trend popularized by Disney and subsequently copied by other animation studios, animated films frequently feature songs or musical numbers sung by characters. Songs are a catchy way for characters to express their emotions and/or to provide exposition to propel the story. Music gets stuck in our heads much more easily than dialogue; and, when it’s combined with some beautiful animation, songs can easily become the most memorable parts of a film. While this trend has been a bit overdone to some degree, when it works, it works really well.

#5: Dead Parents

Animated film protagonists rarely have two parents, and if they do, one or both of them are likely to end up deceased by the end of the movie. This morbid cliché is likely due to the fact that many of the main characters in animation are young, and therefore would be less likely to get into as many adventures as they do if their parents were around to be protective. In addition, the death of a parent acts as a sad and often motivating moment in the protagonists’ lives, often setting them on their path towards becoming a hero, even if a living parent doesn’t approve of their dream.

#4: Love at First Sight

The trope of characters falling in love simply from seeing one another is a longstanding one in fairytales, particularly when presented in visual form; and animated films are no exception. Love at first sight may be possible in real life, but it ain’t like the movies. However, it’s a simple way of pairing up two characters that is obvious to everyone in the audience, especially children; who, as we’ve established, probably wouldn’t pick up on gradual or subtle attraction. Instant love also occurs when the filmmakers want to have a romance as part of the plot, but not necessarily as the focus.

#3: Animal Companions & Friends

Many animated films feature human heroes with animal sidekicks, regardless of whether intelligent and/or talking animals fit into the overall tone of the film. While many of these animal companions are included simply because “Disney did it,” animals in general are appealing to kids as they’re often cute or act as comic relief, and have thus been a fixture of animation since the medium’s early years. In addition, animals often offer more dynamic and varied movement on-screen than humans do; giving the animators more challenging things to animate, and therefore the audience more interesting characters to watch.

#2: Sassy Princess Who Wants to Break Free

Recently, instead of featuring damsels in distress, animated films have depicted princesses, and other young women of privilege, rejecting the paths their families and societies have set them on in order to forge their own destinies, usually by going on some kind of adventure. While this can sometimes cause these characters to appear unaware of the benefits of their positions, or unmindful of their responsibilities, usually this plot device works as intended by showing the audience a determined character pursuing their deserved goals, regardless of what other people expect of them.

Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

The Charming, One-Dimensional Prince

Trusting Everyone

Hiding One’s Face While Crying

#1: Happy Endings

How else could we end this list? Animated films almost universally end on a positive note, with only a few of them even approaching anything bittersweet. Once again, animation’s intended young demographic is the cause of this cliché; stories told to kids, barring some of the more “Grimm” fairytales (get it?), usually end with everything turning out “happily ever after” for their heroes, and quite poorly for the villains. Happy endings tie up loose ends nicely and cleanly, and rarely leave even a hint of future woes. Like many things told to children, happy endings are designed to shield kids from the uncertainties of adulthood.

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