Above are three character designs for you to consider. On the left is Mary, the titular character from a new ABC Television series Imaginary Mary. (Cartoon Brew posted an article about it) In the center is “Oh” from Dreamworks movie Home. On the right is a character from the 2015 film Monster Hunt, I do not know it’s name. One of them is imaginary, one is an alien, and one is a monster, so all of them are non-human. Clearly, they are all following an identical design aesthetic. Short rounded bodies, big, wide set eyes, and only one has a nose, which is tiny. Obviously, they want to make creatures that are strange, but also non-threatening. They look soft and friendly. We have to assume the target audience is young children.
I think these characters take “appeal” too far. It gets so built into the design, that the characters have no range to act. To me they are insipid, and appear incapable of doing anything important. We like babies and kittens, but only to look at and play with. I don’t imagine they are going to take me on an exciting journey in a story.
I saw Monster Hunt once, and thought the live action parts were much more engaging than the animation. The “cute” monsters felt like they didn’t belong in the same universe. My following comments are mostly about Home and what I can see from the preview for Imaginary Mary.
Innocence can be a great comedic tool, but very few film makers know how to make a story with it. What happened is the writers and directors made them too talky. They like to write jokes, and when the put their “witty” dialog into these creatures, it simply doesn’t match with how they look. Those designs are what some writers think is appeal. For a good example of how an innocent character can have range, look at Spot from The Good Dinosaur. Spot can be cute, but he can also be convincingly sad, and downright ferocious.
Spot doesn’t talk.
Yet, it is possible to have a character that has great visual appeal, and witty dialog. You just have to go to the other end of the spectrum, and give up all innocence.