Last week, I posted about the John Tenniel illustrations of the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. Tenniel’s caterpillar may be the most familiar version. Another familiar caterpillar character is in the 1951 animated Walt Disney version of Alice in Wonderland, based on the modernist art of, Mary Blair.
Walt Disney had purchased the rights to John Tenniel’s original illustrations, the model used by his animators. David Hall produced concept art that was closer to the original Tenniel drawings, but Disney rejected those and later settled on concepts developed by Mary Blair.
Mary Blair created whimsical characters and used gaudy colors that appealed to young eyes. Her art departed from the Tenniel original in ways that made the caterpillar easier to animate. Her caterpillar loses most of the biological caterpillar features. The human-like arm remains, but the true legs and prolegs disappear. The head of Tenniel’s caterpillar becomes a coiffure and placed where the legs should be, is a face, complete with vertebrate eyes and a rabbit nose.In the final cartoon version, the caterpillar gets 3 arms (complete with a human hand) where the legs should be and four stubby prolegs with slippers. The face is given human characters to more easily convey expression and allow the character to relate to the audience.
In 1950s animation, many of the interesting biological details were sacrificed to meet the needs of animation. More recent animations using computer graphics allow for much greater detail and return many of the biological features to the character.