All the mice I've been drawing recently got me thinking about how much I love talking animal stories. The great thing about casting a few animals is that you get an instant short-cut to certain character types. Aesop didn't have to waste words describing his plodding protagonist and the flashy rival. He just jumped in with `One day the tortoise and the hare...'
Sometimes you can surprise your audience by playing with the expectations that come with animals. Take Miss Piggy from the Muppets. Pigs have a reputation for being selfish, and Miss Piggy is- but glamorous and skilled at karate? Those aren't pig traits! They make Miss Piggy unique.
Richard Adams cast rabbits as the wondering band of heroes in Watership Down. Rabbits are constantly on the jump from predators, so he had plenty of built-in suspense right from the start. The cliche of rabbits as easily frightened creatures makes the scene where Bigwig takes a stand and defends the burrow even more awesome.
Whether you're using animals to highlight a characteristic or to play against an archetype, animal characters have a way of illuminating a story. Plus, they're lots of fun.