Animation

The way an animal is portrayed in media can be more influential than one may think. Typically people will form an opinion about elusive animals such as mustelids at an early age from exposure to either cartoons or literature; and if there’s a lack of interest in learning more about them, these same beliefs tend to stick with people through adulthood. Unfortunately when it comes to most visual media outside of Eurasia, mustelids haven’t been given the best image throughout the twentieth century. Non-otter mustelids have it rough, but those among the weasel family in particular are nearly always given wicked or fearsome misshapen features; when in reality their faces could hardly give chills to the most timid of children. One could say these strange portrayals of weasels are like medieval drawings of elephants − based on depictions from people who have never seen one, becoming more distant from the source. Read more about weasels in animation history...

Art and animation is, and should be a creative experience, but when attempting to portray a real-life animal, a reasonable degree of attention to detail is important. Most often the reason early artists distorted and caricatured weasel features so drastically, was to essentially make a otherwise non-intimidating creature appear menacing, to fit their usual typecast roles as villains. Another identity problem they tend to have is something we could call “Canidae/rodent-facial syndrome”, which happens when artists draw what’s clearly the facial structure of a Canidae or rodent, and simply colour it with weasel fur markings. Some productions have even depicted them and other mustelids with buck teeth. Which is another bizarre feature, since not a single mustelid in existence has buck teeth.

When it comes to their personality, weasels are often generalized as deceitful, thieving, antagonist cowards; for no particular reason other than… well, they’re weasels, and it’s the popular thing to do. Throughout history they have been perceive as sneaky and cunning creatures, with an aggressive appetite for certain small mammals and avians (especially chickens). While more beloved animals such as bears, foxes, wolves; and even some dogs and cats have been accused of the same behavior, yet are often excused or forgiven. Being singled out amongst carnivores with similar behaviors, accompanied with the expression weasel out of, and the misnomer term weasel words has only needlessly contributed to their bum rap. Mustelids in general are stealthy and clever in the wild. Like any other animal, this much is true if they are to survive. However, such traits don’t necessarily mean that they should always be portrayed as villains, as being stealthy and clever can open the door to positive roles as well.

Searching for the root of their strange anatomy portrayals, the 1949 animated film Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad helped popularize a unique style of weasel that is still widely copied today. While a great Walt Disney production, which eventually lead to the famous Toon Patrol gang in the 1988 live-action/animated film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, this influential toony style has often been the reason weasels have been misrepresented in productions that probably intended to capture them with more accuracy; but simply took Disney’s style as a reference. This is evident in many modern films, where other animals within the same production are drawn resembling their species’ anatomy, while the weasel-like animals are not. Typically the character is drawn with an elongated muzzle extending twice the length of its own head, given anorexic proportions, and the nose the shape of a wine bottle’s cork; resembling more of a malnourished canine/doberman hybrid of some sort than an actual species of weasel.

To be clear, our criticism isn’t about whether or not a character appears “cute” or “intimidating” to fit their role, but if they resemble their species to some reasonable degree. Those among the weasel family actually have short tapered muzzles, relatively flat noses, and are well-proportioned for their size; so it’s literally the opposite of Disney’s style, yet still somehow became widely stereotyped as the “weasel look”. Whatever the reasons for this caricature representation, we are not against those who enjoy, or even prefer Disney’s style. It’s only unfortunate when people who know little about weasels use Disney as a default reference, rather than doing their own research.

In conclusion, it may be a common presumption that toony characters hold an excuse for being far less recognizable compared to their more realistically depicted counterparts; but as demonstrated by Moody F. in this Zootopia-styled drawing of a long-tailed weasel, she shows it is completely possible to draw a weasel in a toony style, and still have it look like one.


Taking realistic, semi-realistic, toony and Japanese animation style differences into consideration, below we’ve provided a list of 20 mustelids in animation we feel deserve recognition; for looking like (or close to) the species they were meant to represent. Although we don’t ‘need’ these characters to be perfect paragons of goodness, many of them were also given less typecast personality traits. While in our opinion we feel the mustelids below are well-depicted, constructive criticism is occasionally given in hopes of encouraging improvements for future artists.

This list is subject to change as more well depicted characters are discovered.
(1) Rommel

From the Sunrise television series Gundam Build Divers.
Species: Stoat (Mustela erminea)

Rommel is a powerful, deep-voiced, male stoat strategist who leads the 7th Panzer Division. A tactical and forward planning leader, he is highly respected in the series. What is most interesting about his personality, is despite being a serious high ranking official, he is extremely permissive about being petted or held while in public view. His name is likely in reference to the German general and military theorist Erwin Rommel; who also commanded a 7th Panzer Division.

His semi-anthropomorphic anatomy is spot-on, and is perhaps the best representation of a stoat in modern animation. He appears to always be in his ermine coat, and the creators didn’t neglect to include the iconic black-tipped tail of his species.

(2) Kamatari

From the Pierrot television series Naruto. (Episode #125)
Species: Unspecified species of weasel.

Kamatari is the summoning animal of Temari (Naruto). He is a weasel with a dark green eye-patch covering his left eye, and carries a large sickle.

(3) Weasel, Measley, Fido and Cleo

From the Farthing Wood television series by Telemagination.
Species: Least Weasels (Mustela nivalis)

This family of (larger than average) least weasels are quite the rambunctious sort. Nevertheless, most animals within White Deer Park are quite fond of them. They show concern for other animals in the area and offer to help when they can. Their weasel anatomy and length of muzzles sort of varies throughout the series, but they’re still a charming family worth mentioning.

(4) Hervé Le Furet (left) and François (right)

These two ferrets are the mascots for a French insurance comparator site.
Species: Domesticated Ferrets (Mustela putorius furo)

You can find plenty of commercial shorts staring these two on YouTube (all in French of course). Rarely will we see animation of mustelids as pleasant as this on the big screen; but in the meantime, you can at least enjoy watching ferrets attempt to find you reliable suppliers for all your insurance, mortgage, bank and energy needs.

(5) The Otterton Family

From the Disney 3D computer-animated film Zootopia.
Species: North American River Otters (Lontra canadensis)

Though we don’t see much of Emmitt Otterton, and nothing at all of the unnamed children other than in this photo; Mrs. Otterton is portrayed as a sweet wife, who tries to be brave as she struggles to find her missing husband throughout the film.

Disney may have a habit of sticking to their old weasel designs, but they do capture otters well.

(6) Okojo-san

From the Japanese manga series Okojo-san by Ayumi Uno.
The Animated adaptation is by Radix (now Radix Ace Entertainment Co., Ltd )

Species: Stoat (Mustela erminea)

Written in an absurd and humourous tone, the series features a male stoat that appears to be permanently in ermine with a leaf on his head; which serves as a visual aid in showing emotion. The once wild Okojo-san escapes from a pet store and is found unconscious by college student Haruka Tsuchiya, who mistakes the animal for a ferret and brings it home to an apartment complex. From there on he has to learn to adapt to the human world, facing eccentric neighbours, their pets and household items on a daily basis. As soon as the ermine awakens, he displays a personality that is very representative of his species: Proud and confident, he see’s himself as a tough guy and everyone or everything he meets as a challenge to be won. He often bites over a little more than he can chew, which adds to the overall exaggeration of the series. A male ferret named Tatchin and a few other stoats show up to play alongside the main character, making this one of the few works of media where mustelids are truly allowed to shine in the limelight.

Although primarily in his white winter coat throughout the series, Okojo-san does have a summer and mid-phase coat. The word “okojo” means stoat in Japanese, and seeing a white one is regarded as a sign of luck. This may explain why so many stoats in Japanese media are primarily drawn in their winter coats.

(7) Iwashi

From the Hakumei and Mikochi television series by Lerche.
Species: Japanese Weasel (Mustela itatsi)

It’s not often you see a species of weasel in animation that isn’t a ‘generic’ weasel or stoat. Iwashi is a male Japanese weasel, and is Hakumei’s senior colleague. A reasonable amount of effort was put into his species anatomy and fur markings.

(8) Otter

From the Nelvana animated television series Franklin.
Species: North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis)

Otter is a female North American river otter who was once a close friend of Franklin’s. She moved away to the city earlier in the series, and returns to visit in a later episode. Much has changed in the village since she has been away, and she struggles with bittersweet memories due to these changes.

(9) Name Unknown

From the Pierrot anime adaptation of Selma Lagerlöf’s’ The Wonderful Adventures of Nils.
Species: Japanese Marten (Martes melampus)

He appears in episode 11, teaming up with a fox who tries to catch the geese. Not much ”character” or personality to speak of given the limited screen time and role, but a representation nonetheless. This Japanese marten does appear a bit fox-like in the face, but like with most Japanese animated characters, it’s hard to get in idea of a character’s design from a single screenshot.

It’s difficult to near impossible to find martens of any sort in animation, games or literature; which is strange given how beloved and well-known they are compared to other mustelids.

(10) Fretje

From Trippel Trappel Dierensinterklaas by il Luster Productions.
Species: Domesticated Ferret (Mustela putorius furo)

This is a simple and family-friendly Dutch Christmas movie that follows a trio of animals headed by Fretje the ferret, on their quest to deliver their gift wishlist to Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) for Saint Nicholas Day. The trio face challenges from other animals and the city around them on their way to the steam ship where Sinterklaas resides. Despite Fretje briefly deviating from the mission once they reach the ship, the trio manage to find Sinterklaas, and bring their own titular Dierensinterklaas to all of their friends.

This movie is difficult to view outside of Europe due to heavy copyright restrictions. DVDs exist, and are locked to region 2. There are digital copy sources where the film may be watched anywhere in the European Union, as long as the purchase is made from the Netherlands.

The fluid animation, design and flexibility of this character is a great example of how to capture an animated ferret in a toony feral style.


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