Avox in Arcadia (perpetual) wrote,
Avox in Arcadia

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The Kairos 30-Day Meme: Five Favorite Animal Characters

This is a queued entry and does not reflect my current status. A new post will appear each day this month, but to preserve novelty, the categories that I used won’t be listed publicly beforehand. If you’d like to use my template, let me know and I’ll privately send you the complete list of categories so that you can rearrange and swap them out to suit yourself.

If you don’t want to bother with the entire meme but still want to play, it is highly encouraged to list some of your own favorites for today’s category in the comments.

Day Five: Animal Characters

The competition was fierce for this category, because if I’m honest, the animal companion in any given story is probably going to be my favorite character. But I ruled out the ones that had human or near-human intelligence (even if the writer didn’t intend it that way), and tried to look for distinctive traits beyond being cute and “I wish I had one of those!”

Pabu (Avatar: the Legend of Korra)

Pabu is a fire ferret. My appreciation of him is mostly for his design.

The Avatar universe has an utterly brilliant theme to its fauna, with most animals being an unexpected combination of two familiar real-world creatures. Pabu has the fur, tail, ears, claws, and size of a red panda, but his face and overall shape are recognizably weaselly.

Every individual in the entire world, bar none, thinks red pandas are adorable. I count myself among the lucky ones who are also tuned in to the pulchritude of the mustelid family. Ferrets may just be the cutest of all domestic mammals. Combining the two makes a streamlined, plausible work of animal art which can be alternately funny, sweet, or clever.

And Pabu was all of the above! Whether he was stuffing himself with noodles, providing some much-needed comfort to an ally, or assisting in an escape, he brightened every scene he was in.

Ampersand (Y: the Last Man)

Ampersand is a capuchin monkey. I’m not really a monkey fan. Like, they’re okay, but if I list favorites they don’t generally rank.

So when I started reading Y: the Last Man, I felt pretty neutral about the species that Yorick had as his sidekick. Fortunately, this comic is too damned smart to attempt to increase Ampersand’s appeal by making him do something cute or uncannily intelligent. In fact, he’s usually a pain in the ass, ruled by his biological imperatives and kept around for the sake of his importance to the gendercide mystery.

It’s no wonder that Yorick can relate. He treats his obnoxious pet compassionately because he’s a good guy, and their relationship grows just as it could have between two humans. Eventually we see how Amp prefers Yorick to other humans, misses him when he’s gone, and gives back by being a simple and steadfast companion among complicated people in a collapsing world. He’s still a normal animal, but that doesn’t negate his loyalty, just shows that nature can create good things without -- or in spite of -- our interference.

Since Ampersand’s backstory is crucial to the plot, it isn’t revealed until late in the series, and when I got there I was floored. Details that I thought were forgotten or irrelevant gained solid explanations. Yorick turns out to have so much in common with his monkey that it seems too much to be coincidence even when it’s proven coincidence. Not to mention, it hurts. And then the comic ends with this tearjerker send-off and it’s just, aaaugh, I need to stop before I get spoilery.

But trust me. Ampersand is proof that humanity isn’t a requisite for a rounded character.

Oy (The Dark Tower)

Oy is a billy-bumbler. That’s a fictional species that I always pictured looking a bit like a civet, but I just did an image search and it seems a lot of people think of them as tanuki. Can’t complain about that!

What I love about Oy is in a way the opposite of what I love about Ampersand. Instead of grounding the story with his limitations, he enters as a commonplace native species which the team leader identifies in a bit of “cute but it’s only here for the food” exposition. Gradually he becomes more, bonding firmly with the youngest member of the ka-tet and then being acknowledged as a member himself. His intelligence seems on par with a dog until things get dire and he starts saving the day with capabilities nobody could have predicted. His bond with Jake turns telepathic.

Best of all, he can talk -- no, not like that! Billy-bumblers can mimic, like birds, imperfectly. Oy is usually limited to the last word he hears, pronounced without the more difficult consonants; hence, “Here boy!” became “Oy!” It’s charming and somehow seems like a believable way for a small mammalian carnivore to speak, but gets really interesting when Oy manages to convey crucial information with his limited vocabulary. Even Roland has to admit, at that point, that this is no ordinary billy-bumbler.

Oy has one of the longest arcs in the series, confirming his status as a main character alongside the humans. He’s the pet, the mascot, the occasional comic relief, but he also brings a genuine tale of courage, devotion, and sacrifice. It wouldn’t be the same without him.

Darwin (SeaQuest DSV)

Darwin is a bottlenosed dolphin. He’s also, apparently, a puppet. I just found that out, which would be less embarrassing if I hadn’t rewatched most of this show last year and never noticed that the dolphin wasn’t real.

When I watched for the first time, Darwin was probably 100% of the draw, and he did deliver. At that age I would have watched anything with a dolphin character in it, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover, as an adult, that even as the show devolved, the Darwin moments were as appealing as ever. Aside from Seth Green, that’s essentially the only pleasant surprise I got, so it mattered a lot to me.

As a character, Darwin is confined by the safe zone established in his context. He doesn’t embark on an examination of animal emotion, like Ampersand, or a mysterious awakening, like Oy. People want dolphins to be happy-go-lucky, clever, and noble, and that’s what Darwin is. Frankly, he doesn’t need anything else. The joy of his scenes is all in the daydream of being there: living in a futuristic submarine equipped with a series of connected water tanks, where a friendly dolphin can follow you from room to room, peering at you through glass walls or popping his head up to talk.

Yeah, Darwin talks too. The resident genius-boy’s invention of a dolphin-to-English translator is a standard sci-fi handwave, but to get there we also have to presuppose that dolphins have language. (Not impossible, just sets off my woo-woo science alarms.) And that an automatic interpretation system is going to retain the dolphin’s squeaky voice. But the point still stands: dolphins are marvelous enough on their own, both in our imaginations and in reality. If you’re writing a sci-fi and putting one on your crew, don’t fix what ain’t broken.

Ultimately, even the talking dolphin isn’t going to coax me into ever watching any part of SeaQuest again, but he’s a memory I like to revisit. Oh, and about that puppet? Good for them. No sad captive sea mammals here!

Joanna (The Rescuers Down Under)

Didn’t see that coming, didja? This is the theatrically-released sequel forgotten by everyone except for the target age group at time of release, the true Disney devotees, and the crazed animal lovers. Fortunately, I’m all three.

The returning characters are a pair of mice; the main character is a standard kid; the real star is “Marahute, the great golden eagle.” Forget all of them, because we’re here to talk about the dimwit poacher villain’s reptilian henchman.

How do you suppose the species of the animal sidekicks in Disney movies are chosen? In this case, it’s clear that they wanted to cram in as many different types of Australian fauna as possible, but I would have loved to see the moment that someone proposed, “There’s no realism in their behaviors anyway. Why shouldn’t the bad guy have a giant lizard?” And thus the door is opened. Instead of some malproportioned dingo or a scheming magpie, we get the hilarious facial expressions, symbolic cold blood, and sheer weirdness of an animal that looks like a dinosaur resisting its evolutionary path.

Even better, someone apparently modified that same question and asked, “Why shouldn’t the giant lizard be female?” WHY, INDEED. Reptiles come in both sexes, and they’re generally identical. Can females not be evil? Or doofy? Can they not be thwarted in their attempts at stealing some sweet sweet raw eggs? Doesn’t a female pet provide the same tinge of sadness when you see her abused at the hands of her criminal master? Every time that her innocent, ladylike name was spoken, it provided an extra laugh, but nobody considered her any less dangerous or more sympathetic: she just happened to be a girl.

You may have noticed I didn’t start this one with the animal’s species. That’s because I was saving it as the cherry on top -- it’s never mentioned in the film, but she’s a goanna lizard. JOANNA THE GOANNA. You’re welcome.
Tags: 30 day meme, a book i read, a comic i read, a movie i saw, a show i watched, avatar: tla and tlok, comic scans of doom, disney

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