Why Are So Many Cartoon Characters Nude? Lecturer Karl Cohen Undresses the Phenomenon

Monday, February 10, 2020
Image of an unclothed Bugs Bunny laying down and holding a carrot

SYFY WIRE -- Most cartoon characters are unaware that they’re naked, unless a designer puts them into a costume. Animation historian and San Francisco State media professor Karl Cohen says that early production codes responded to cartoon nudity in an inconsistent manner. Human characters, even when sporting exaggerated features, were suddenly held to the same standards as live-action actors.

“When the production code was first enforced in 1934, Betty Boop’s dress had to suddenly become longer,” Cohen tells Syfy Wire. “Her blouse had to be buttoned up with no cleavage.”

Things got confusing when animation studios started anthropomorphizing animals, though. “When a cow got dressed for a party in an early 1930s Disney cartoon,” Cohen says, “the censor realized that meant she had been walking around naked during the first half of the short. And that complaint was enough for Disney to have its cows wearing skirts and dresses after the short was released.”