Why So Many Cartoon Characters Only Have 4 Fingers


One of the most defining characteristics of cartoon characters is that most of them only have four fingers – and there are different reasons for that.

There are a couple of rules that cartoon characters always end up following, such as being trapped in unusual and unbelievable situations and, in many cases, being pretty much indestructible, but there’s one detail that has sparked the curiosity of viewers for years: a bunch of cartoon characters only have four fingers, and here’s why. Cartoon shows have been around for decades, and have marked the childhoods of generations of viewers, and while animated shows have evolved in terms of animation styles and the themes addressed in them, they continue to be very popular with viewers and they still keep that nonsensical humor and essence that have made them so successful.

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Cartoons give artists a chance to come up with characters with shapes and physical traits that would be impossible to have in real life and allow them to explore different worlds and situations where the laws of physics and more are completely different, allowing these characters to survive all types of dangerous adventures and in many cases never age. Nowadays, cartoon shows are not just for a young audience, and in recent years, there has been a wave of successful animated shows aimed at a more mature audiencebut there’s one very peculiar detail that most of these have in common, regardless of their style, themes, and target audience: the characters only have four fingers.


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Many cartoon characters across TV and film have only four fingers, and this is a “tradition” that has been going on for decades, and different reasons for this specific design have been given over the years. The most popular explanation for why cartoon characters only have four fingers is all about the animation process, as drawing only four fingers instead of five is a lot easier and thus saves the animators and the studio time and money. This was especially important when cartoons were hand-drawn, but even now with technology on their side, cartoon characters continue to have four fingers.



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Another reason for cartoon characters to have four fingers goes all the way back to early animation, with characters like Felix the Cat and mickey mousewhose designs are rounded and mostly made up of circles, and adding five rounded fingers on a rounded palm didn’t look good – as Walt Disney once said, if Mickey Mouse had five fingers his hands would “look like a bunch of bananas”. Four fingers is also a middle-point between alien characters (who typically have three fingers) and falling into the “uncanny valley” (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, for example, gave Snow White five fingers but the dwarves only have four, this in order to keep the fantasy element). However, it’s important to point out that Japanese characters usually have all five fingers, and there are different reasons for that: an aversion towards number four due to its similar pronunciation with the word for “death”, the four fingers are considered an offensive reference to the burakumin caste, and the Yakuza tradition of cutting a finger off as punishment.


As a result, many cartoon characters who are typically drawn with four fingers had to be edited to have the fifth finger in order to avoid controversy in Japan, but that didn’t apply to good old Mickey Mouse. Modern cartoons continue to have characters with four fingers – either for tradition or simplicity in terms of design – and in some cases, specific characters have been given a fifth finger for different reasons, such as God in The Simpsons. Four fingers has become one of the most defining characteristics of cartoon charactersand one that once you notice it in one character, you see it in every other.


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