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The three-fingered Disney animals

Why Mickey has no tail

Dear Matthew Alice: Why do Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Goofy, and Chip ’n Dale have only three fingers instead of four? I know Donald Duck has a wing, so that can be drawn with as many "fingers” as the artist wants. But according to my encyclopedia and my dog and cat, lots of animals have five digits on their front paws, just like we do. — Curious in Clairemont

Loosen up. Curious. Consider that much of the humor in cartoons is in their defiance of the laws of physics and biology. If you can accept a duck with hands and a dog that wears gloves, shoes, and pants, why quibble about missing digits?

Giving the mouse only three fingers and a thumb was no accident. To quote Disney himself, “Leaving the finger off was a great asset artistically and financially. Artistically, five digits are too many for a mouse. His hand would look like a bunch of bananas. Financially, not having an extra finger in each of the 45,000 drawings that make up a six-and-one-half-minute short has saved the studio millions.” During World War II, Mickey even lost his tail as the result of an executive decision to save even more time and money. Walt may have had all of his digits on the pulse of the future of American entertainment, but he was notoriously slow to stick that hand into the Disney wallet and spread the bucks around.

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