Animal Inaccuracies

A couple weeks ago I talked about avoiding terms in your writing that wouldn’t be applicable in your chosen time frame.  Today I want to talk about avoiding animals that wouldn’t be found in your chosen location.

I know that the average person isn’t going to think about where an animal is from, and the presence of an incongruent creature isn’t going to ruin a story for them.  There are a lot of people with some animal smarts, however, especially young adults who may be addicted to wildlife television.  As a person who knows something about critters, it can be very distracting to see an animal in the wrong place.

Want an example?  Fantastic!  I have some recognizable ones from movies.

Common to us in the USA, a raccoon should only show up if your story is set in the Americas.

I recently watched three of the Disney classics from the early 90s: Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.  Every one of them had at least one animal incorrect.  In B&B, Gaston has a raccoon hanging out of his hunting bag in a very early scene.  Every raccoon relative is native to the New World only, and wouldn’t be found in France.  (The red panda, often considered a relative, is currently classified in its own order and not in Procyonidae, so I didn’t count it.  Besides, it’s restricted to China – still not found in France.)  The Lion King, which took great pains to be incredibly detailed and accurate with all of the wildlife, has giant anteaters in “I Just Can’t Wait to be King.”  Once again, anteaters and their relatives are New World, and not found in Africa.

Aladdin is probably the worst, although I am willing to cut them a little slack.  It’s supposed to be set in the Middle East, but there are a lot of Indian influences (and animals) throughout the movie.  Tigers, Asian elephants, and peacocks are only found in Asia, but as the Middle East was a center for world trade, I think we can overlook these as possible to the scene.  My two main issues with the movie are both camelid.  First, they can’t seem to decide if they want dromedary (one-humped) or Bactrian (two-humped) camels in the movie; dromedary would be the correct choice.  Second, and bigger, is the “llamas galore” in the song “Prince Ali.”  Llamas are (once again) New World only, and unlike Asia that part of the world was not accessible to traders in the Middle East.

I can’t fault Disney too much; many of their later movies are very accurate with their species choices.  I’ve also had this difficulty.  In a scene in Butterflies, four characters are dressing up as woodland creatures for a masquerade ball.  I had them originally as a butterfly, a lizard, a wildcat and a raccoon.  After an interesting discussion with one of my First Readers, who pointed out that the others could be found almost anywhere while a raccoon is North American, I changed the fourth costume to a squirrel.  That change made the animals all generic enough that they weren’t setting a specific geographic location.  As the story is set in a world of my own creation, not specifying a real-world place with my animals is a good idea.

If you’re using animals in your stories, keep in mind where they are from.  Use generic animals (eagle) rather than specific species (Bald Eagle) when possible, and if you want to use something specific, there are many animals with wide ranges that won’t restrict you to a certain place.  The biggest message here is to do your research!  Putting in the right animals builds your scene, while the wrong ones can throw a reader out of the story.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. georgefloreswrite
    Dec 12, 2011 @ 22:23:54

    I have to give you another example, one I constantly complain about. The cartoon movie “Barnyard” – the bulls have udders. Not only that, but they look like plastic sex toys for extraterrestrials. Argh!


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