Every year brings a new slew of documentaries depicting the ever-growing and ever-strange world of talking animated animals. The latest of them is The Nut Job, which tells the harrowing true story of a chatty squirrel who attempts a heist on a nut store to survive the winter, arrives this week. We've gotten used to seeing talking animals on-screen in great works of nonfiction like Finding Nemo, Over the Hedge and The Jungle Book, but how much do we really know about this peculiar subset of the animal kingdom?
The study of talking animals is an entire field unto itself and not one that a single article can properly encapsulate. However, if you do want to journey into the wilderness to encounter these creatures for yourself, you might as well be prepared. These are the basics. This is your field guide to the world of world of animated talking animals.
The Domesticated Breeds
Characteristics and Behavior: Although the vast majority of animated talking animals remain in the wild, a select few have managed to work their way into human society as either domesticated pets or fully functioning members of society. In the case of the former, you typically will not notice any difference from their nontalking counterparts until they open their mouths, but the latter can seem odd upon first contact. Talking pets will generally act as normal pets do while expressing their opinions. Talking cats, for example, hate Mondays and love lasagna and will never hesitate to remind you of these facts. More advanced domestic breeds will have integrated themselves into your neighborhood. Some families have taken to adopting inexplicably intelligent talking mice and while it may seem odd, they must be treated as any child would. Others have taken even more painstaking attempts to fit in with humanity: some dogs will live in houses and wear full wardrobes while still keeping nonvocal dogs as pets. Understand that this represents their yearning to achieve human dignity and treat them with respect.
How to Approach: In the case of talking pets, it is best to simply treat them as you would a regular dog, cat or bird. They may be chatty, but they have no real power over you in any way. However, if you're next door neighbor is a talking dog, remember that he has painstakingly worked to walk upright and integrate. Treat him or her as you would any human being.
Inherent Danger: Low. Talking pets just want a roof over your heads and others will strive to follow our human laws.
The "Disney Breed"
Characteristics and Behavior: Although some of the famous "Disney Breed" of animated talking animals have made the jump to full-on domestication (see: mus mickey, canine goofus, etc), countless more still live in the wild. Their differences from nonvocal animals should be immediately distinct to even the untrained observer: their eyes are larger, their features more exaggerated, their faces displaying an unnatural anthropomorphism. Animals belonging to the Disney Breed are generally "cuter" than their typical counterparts, with animals that are often considered grotesque or off-putting taking on characteristics that render them pleasing to the eye. There are exceptions (namely with predators), but certain Asian and African breeds of carnivore have been known to sing and dance with humans, often offering thoughtful life lessons.
How to Approach: Although Disney animals are often mild mannered and friendly, they are still wild animals and should be approached with caution. Smaller fauna will generally respond to music or singing, joining in if you're particularly talented. Before you attempt this, be prepared: once they don't see you as a threat, Disney creatures will often follow you and crawl over you. Being accepted as one of them means being open to close and constant contact. For larger animals like bears, panthers and tigers, it is better to keep your distance. For every baloo, there is a shere khan.
Inherent Danger: Mild. If you are of high spirits and have good intentions, these little guys can be tremendous allies. Just be mindful or your actions and know how to carry a tune.
The "DreamWorks Breed"
Characteristics and Behavior: At first glance, the "DreamWorks Breed" can be mistaken for Disney animals. Both are cuter than average, their exaggerated features lending them a photogenic and human quality not found in typical creatures. However, the DreamWorks breed isn't as inherently friendly or forgiving as others. The first thing you must do before approach is to search for the "DreamWorks smirk," a common genetic trait that has developed after years of smug, self-satisfied and hipper-than-thou behavior. While other animated animals simply want to go about their lives, DreamWorks creatures generally have schemes that involve striking it rich, gaining power, escaping from human captors or stealing from local human populations. Being able to recognize their smirk instantly is vital -- it may be the only way to protect yourself and your family.
How to Approach: Although you can approach and interact with DreamWorks animals, it is not recommended unless you are a trained professional. Unlike the Disney breeds (who are only seeking companionship), these animals want something and large groups of them are often in on the same scheme together. If you do want to study them further, just be prepared to deal with the lasting repercussions of letting these creatures know where you live.
Inherent Danger: Medium. Although DreamWorks animals do cause more chaos and destruction than many of their counterparts, they are generally good deep down and often have a last-minute change of heart when things go awry. If a DreamWorks animal wrecks your life, chances are strong that he'll show up at the last moment to rectify things.
The Vulpini Andersoni (aka, the "Wes Anderson Foxes")
Characteristics and Behavior: Don't be fooled by the fact that the "Wes Anderson Foxes" wear clothing and live lives that seem comparable to basic human domesticity. These are wild animals in every sense of the word and they have no interest in living peacefully alongside you and your loved ones. In fact, if you are a business owner or a farmer, this species will regularly invade your home and steal your goods without hesitation. Your only true option is to eradicate them.
How to Approach: Don't approach them. If you cannot hire a professional, it will fall to you to do away with these animals before they cause lasting damage to your property through burrowing or theft. Flooding their tunnels is an option, but they are vindictive and wily -- if you fail, they may invade your town using firecrackers and miniature motorcycles and chaos will ensue. Honestly, the best possible option is to just move.
Inherent Danger: High. Vulpini andersoni won't leave you alone. They will not coexist. They will simply kill your chickens, drug you dogs and steal your cider.
Characteristics and Behavior: They look like mammals, but they're not. Don't be mistaken: these aren't actual chipmunks, these are parasites. Initially a little cute and seemingly innocent, these foul beasts are simply looking for a naive schmuck to let them into their home, where they will proceed to become instruments of physical and mental destruction. First, they target your worldly goods, wrecking everything in sight through what could be lightly described as "comic antics." And then they go in for the kill: they start singing. Unlike Disney animals, they don't want you to sing with them. Oh, no. They want to sing and they want to sing alone. Soon, your entire life centers around their singing career and you won't have the heart to tell them that their music is annoying and awful and should never be played in public.
How to Approach: Just don't. The moment you get too close is the moment they start wearing clothes and integrating themselves into your life.
Inherent Danger: Extreme. Kill them with fire.
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