More and more, ordinary flim blockbusters are cartoonish caricatures of human relationships, while cartoons have become the real stage for humanistic issues of concern to psychologists.


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, June 23, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at

Dang Me – I can't love cartoon characters!

When I saw the animated film, The Incredibles (released by Pixar in 2004), about a dysfunctional (super) family that pulls together under extreme, life-threatening challenges, it occurred to me that cartoons were the films that were now most likely to deal with human issues that were important to me.

The Incredibles were supposed to be a real family - mother, father, boy, and girl - named the Parrs. But - they were animated! Could I really identify with cartoon characters? I felt like Bob Hoskins in the 1988 Robert Zemekis film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, whose main relationships were with cartoons (whom he derisively calls 'toons').

Of course, the existence of Pixar has brought my confusion to a head. Pixar regularly turns out animations about, well, things with real human feelings and concerns. Thus, WALL-E, a 2008 Pixar animation about a relationship between two robots, dealt in a sophisticated and interesting way with both the future of humans and (I blush to write) a heart-warming love affair.

I struggle with these thoughts as I contemplate going to see Toy Story 3, a New York Times critics' pick, which I understand is about loyalty, treating others with care and compassion, the lives and deaths of relationships, and mortality. But toys are mechanical objects that routinely get broken and thrown out - I can't start having emotional reactions to toys!

But here is what the Times says about the alternative, Knight and Day, "A loud, seemingly interminable, and altogether incoherent entry in the preposterous and proliferating action-comedy genre, it stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz as a pair of hastily sketched cartoon characters hurtling from plane crash to car chase to further car, helicopter and motorcycle chases, one involving stampeding bulls."

What's a psychologist to do?