Eyes WIDE OPEN : Weird for People, Normal for Cartoons
In the case of stylized faces, Hyper-Alert eyes in general have been popular with animators since at least the time of the very hyper-alert Mickey Mouse. In the two characters from "My Neighbor Totoro", shown above right, both faces display the extra eye white above the iris that is associated with the wide-open eye, but this action does not lend either character the excited “Action in Progress” look that a similar human face would have. Totoro, the woodland creature, strikes us as having a deadpan expression, while his youthful companion looks calm and friendly – not excited.
While the reasons why Hyper-Alert eyes can seem neutral in stylized faces remains somewhat obscure, the advantages to the animation artist are clear. Bigger is better with eyes – it makes cute characters cuter, and excites our cuddling instinct by triggering our nurturing urge. (This has been well studied.) Hyper-Alert eyes also heighten the intensity of additional face actions, making anger seem angrier and joy seem bubblier; every interaction can be seen as more energetic. It is a built-in exaggeration machine, which must certainly be the main reason for its continued popularity.