In this post, you’ll learn six types of immature characters who are easy to find in animation. They tend to be one of two archetypes, the fool, or the trickster.
We are all capable of being fools. While there are characters that are just plain stupid, there are many more characters who are simply inexperienced in some way. Often, the secret to making someone look stupid or foolish is to just put them with others who know more. The most common way to do that is by having the character be less mature than those around him. We all go through the process of growing up, and understand the challenges, the failures, and hopefully, the success. Comedy thrives when the audience can relate to what the character is going through. And characters going through changes are what stories are usually about.
This post will be about adult characters. Oviously, children are immature by nature, so they are not included. Also, this is category of characters is overwhelmingly male. There is just one type where females are sometimes found. Perhaps if we get more women creators some new concepts for female characters like this will develop.
This is an obvious one. The man child is the fully grown dude who still maintains childlike, or childish, behavior. Probaby the most extreme example is Baby Brent from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. He relies on his early success as a child model so much he still publicly appears in diapers.
Playing with toys is one way to tell a man child. In Kung Fu Panda, Po plays with toy models of the Furious Five, and engages in fantasies about being as great as they are.
Slackers are characters with no interest in being part of society, or commiting to relationships. They value their freedom above all else. The appeal here is wish fulfillment. Adults can imagine not having responsibilities, while children see them as heroes who avoided the fate of being a boring grown up. Animals work well for this, as they have a “wild” nature that gives them a reasonable excuse.
Baloo the Bear from Disney’s The Jungle Book is an endearing example.
Tramp, from Lady and the Tramp, is the footloose bachelor who fears having a collar.
The Defiant Ones
Defiant characters are like slackers in that they don’t want to have responsibilities. But they don’t just avoid the expectations of adulthood, they consciously oppose it. The shining example of this is the trickster Peter Pan. He has a full on philosophy about not growing up. He wants to remain where he can indulge in his fantasy play and always be in control.
Second, is Lampwick, from Pinocchio. Again, the key word is indulgence. When the adolescent boys go to Pleasure Island, they indulge in all the freedoms of adulthood, with smoking, drinking, gambling, etc but accept none of the cares. Technically, these two could be considered children, but they are on the cusp and in a position to chose, so I am adding them to the list.
One a side note, notice that Lampwick’s sleeves are a bit short, and his trousers too. This is a common way to costume an immature character. Their bodies have outgrown their clothes, and it represents their physical changes contrasted with the clothing of their youth. They haven’t moved up yet. Pee Wee Herman’s outfit is a good example.
Earnest Young Man
We have seen three characters who avoid adulthood. But there are characters that aspire to be the best men they can be. They want to contribute to society and be respected. This has been a common character in live action films for many decades. Silent film star Harold Lloyd was known for this style of comedy. In animation, it’s common for these characters to be inventors. They have fresh and strange new ideas of what to invent, and their efforts initially don’t work, which makes them look awkward and foolish. In Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Flint Lockwood created the screwy machine that rained food down on his city, as well as spray on shoes.
Additionally, like adolescent boys, these characters not smooth with the ladies.
Two other animated examples are Flik, from A Bug’s Life. And Hiccup, from How to Train Your Dragon.
The Spoiled Adult
Spoiled children as still sometimes found in modern films, but the spoiled adult is somewhat uncommon. It’s kind of a variation on the Man Child. Back in the 1920’s Buster Keaton sometimes played a wealthy young man who was so pampered he barely knew how to take care of himself. There is one good example in animation. Kuzco from The Emperor’s New Groove.
Here is where we may find a female version. The Spoiled Princess. Any spoiled adult female could be disparagingly called a “princess”. Cinderella’s selfish step sisters qualify as spoiled adults.
The Momma’s Boy
Adult momma’s boys are funnier when they are older, as in middle age. As young men, it still seems a bit endearing to be attached to your mother. But as one progesses into life, it becomes increasingly ridiculous. The most prominent example is Principal Skinner from The Simpsons. In his position as principal, he is supposed to be the personification of adulthood, but his immature relationship with his mother belies all of that.
For more on characters, check out this other post. MOTHERLODE OF CHARACTER IDEAS.
There is an excellent book on this topic, but exclusively focused immature characters in live action movies. Click here to read more about I WON’T GROW UP!