Tbqh I think the problem is that most societies see being animal as a punishment
The other day I was reading about the Spider-Man musical out of morbid curiosity, and this theme was relevant- the musical had an Arachne motif that nobody liked or asked for, and part of that is the fact that in Greek myth, becoming an animal is a humiliating punishment for hubris, but in comics it means kickass powers.
From a review quoted on the Wiki:
For today’s audiences, such transformations are liberating — literally “empowering” – whereas for the ancients, they were, more often than not, humiliations, punishments for inappropriate or overweening behavior. … At the heart of the Spider-Man disaster is the essential incompatibility of those two visions of physical transformation – the ancient and the modern, the redemptive and the punitive, visions that Taymor tried, heroically but futilely, to reconcile.
Interesting! Superheroes often do have animal motifs, you’re right.
That said, the other thing that I’ve noticed: when people get transformed in a “yay powers!” way, it’s often a change that still allows them to remain visibly human, for the most part.
Spider-Man can take off his suit and he’s just Peter Parker. Batman is just a costume. There’s a fad for werewolf and vampire stories now (or I guess there was a few years ago? is that dead yet?), but werewolves get to be human most of the time, and vampires don’t look that different (and in some of them, the fangs only show when they’re biting, or they don’t have fangs at all). I thought of Wolverine, but actually his claws are retractable too; I guess some of the X-Men have permanently visible nonhumanity, like Nightcrawler, but he’s hardly a big name.
I get that this is supposed to be because most humans don’t relate to visibly non-human individuals. Well, except in My Little Pony. And Undertale. And– you know what, that’s pretty much a lie. Humans can relate to ridiculously proportionated cartoon ponies, anthropomorphic rabbits evading human hunters, and living de-fleshed skeletons just fine. And yet you almost never get the story of “I turned into a less human thing, and I’m never going to be fully human again, and you know what? This is fine.”
I guess it’s that particular story people don’t relate to; in other stories, it’s easy to see the animal as just a metaphor, but if you’re presented with “this character was human” on the one hand and “this character is now something other-than-human” on the other, it’s usually either a punishment or something they can easily hide.
This is a slightly weird discussion for me to read, because when I think of animal-transformation stories in pop culture, the first thing that comes to mind is Brother Bear. While the transformation does start as a punishment, in the end the protagonist chooses to remain a bear permanently. (And if you look at the reviews quoted in that wiki article, the primary problem the reviewers seemed to have with it was that it was too cliche. One of them also specifically cites the ending as one of the good bits.)
#reply via reblog #to be fair I do have a soft spot for that movie because it introduced me to Phil Collins