Pikachu, Spongebob Squarepants, the Minions, Jake the Dog, the Simpsons — what do all these popular cartoon characters have in common? You might not have noticed it at first, but when you think about these characters, it’s more than likely that your mind becomes flooded with images of bright, sunny, yellow faces.
Of course, you’d think that this was probably a coincidence, or the animators just all happened to be fond of the color yellow. However, there’s more to this particular choice than meets the eye. It’s no accident that the color yellow in animations is so prevalent. There are tons of other yellow cartoon characters out there aside from the ones previously mentioned. But why is that?
If you’ve ever seen a band of colors together, yellow will be the one that sticks out the most. This eye-catching feature is exactly why warning signs or cabs are colored yellow — so they can immediately attract your attention. This principle is also true for the animal kingdom as many dangerous animals, such as venomous snakes, have bright yellow skin. This warns other predators that a certain prey might be more trouble than it’s worth.
Additionally, basic color theory points to red, blue, and yellow as the primary colors. However, this doesn’t exactly apply to how color is projected on a screen. On TV, the primary colors are red, blue, and green. This shifts the typical color wheel and puts yellow as the complementary color of blue. This becomes relevant since many cartoons have the sky or the outdoors as a backdrop. In the case of Spongebob Squarepants, this happy yellow sponge immediately catches your eye amidst a backdrop of blue water.
Speaking of happiness, yellow is also associated with positive feelings. According to color psychology, cheerfulness, joy, and energy are just some of the feelings yellow evokes. Though there are some negative emotions associated with yellow such as cowardice or jealousy, they’re not exactly what you’d feel when you see adorable characters like the Minions or Pikachu. Yellow as a happy cartoon’s color is best embodied by Joy from the Disney animated movie “Inside Out.”
Aside from being the most eye-catching color, yellow is also colorblind-proof. This means that though some people may not see red or purple, they will definitely be able to discern yellow. Thus, from a design perspective, choosing yellow cartoon characters won’t alienate anyone from your audience.
Kids’ cartoons are meant to be fun and entertaining, so it’s no surprise that many characters are colored in bright shades of yellow. Not at all a mellow color, yellow can easily catch anyone’s attention. When used right, it can bring about positive feelings like joy and optimism, which are more than fitting for media targeted towards children.