A few months ago, the internet was alight with trailers for The Bad Guys, the latest animated film from Dreamworks. Within days of the trailer dropping, fan art of the lead character, Mr. Wolf, started making headway online, and some were shocked. Sure, the internet thinks the wolf is hot,’ people would say. My reaction? What did you expect from furries? Over the last few years, films and shows that almost seem to cater to one of the internet’s strangest fandoms have been on the rise, with hit after hit showing up in both cinemas and on streaming. With The Bad Guys being just the latest example, this latest trend in cinema and television seems to have little chance of slowing down, which has led me to a conclusion some may find distressing.
Ladies and gents, furries have gone mainstream.
Now how about we take a look back and see how we got here?
What Are Furries?
If somehow you’re reading this article and you don’t know what a furry is, let us elaborate. Furries are one of the most well-known and also misunderstood communities you’ll find. The community is based around a shared passion for anthropomorphic animals or animals with human characteristics. This passion manifests itself in many ways, including artwork, writing, video games, and more. One of the most common traits in the fandom is participants will create original characters for themselves, which they dub ‘fursonas’, with some even purchasing custom suits to roleplay as their characters known as ‘fursuits.’ Furries have a strange reputation, with most viewing the community as more of a kink than a fandom. This impression of the community served as the plot for the infamous episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Fur and Loathing. While that’s certainly a part of what it is to be a furry, most find the sense of community and shared interest to be the biggest draw. I should know. My current roommates happen to be huge furries.
Formerly known as ‘funny animals,’ furries have been around for quite some time. The modern iteration of the fandom seems to have gotten its start in the 70s. Numerous films influenced the furries of today that came out around that time. One of the biggest examples was Disney’s Robin Hood, which featured an anthropomorphic fox in the lead role. Not only did the film greatly influence the art style often seen in the fandom, but to this day, foxes remain one of the most popular fursonas to adopt. Over the next several decades, many other films and properties would further influence the fandom, not only with obvious examples like The Lion King, but also films such as Balto, Alpha & Omega, and Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. But despite all these examples, furries and the fandom still weren’t mainstream just yet, so why is that?
To understand why, one need only look at the history of the entertainment industry and how the industry as a whole reacts to a hit. There were for instance always movies about knife-wielding maniacs, but it was only after Halloween proved such a massive hit that everyone tried to follow suit. Most of the above-mentioned films did well, with Lion King proving a gargantuan success with critics and audiences, but the key thing to remember here is these properties weren’t specifically made for furries. Were they co-opted by the fandom? Yes. At the time they were made, however, furries were still not as well known as they are today, so those who made these movies couldn’t very well have made them with the fandom in mind. So what would happen if a major studio actually tried to catch the attention of the furry fandom? Would such an effort pay off?
This is the part where we blame Zootopia.
Zootopia is for Furries
Zootopia was the 55th animated feature film produced by Walt Disney Studios and is one of the most successful in the current era. The film reads like a straightforward buddy cop adventure, telling of a rookie cop’s uncomfortable realization about prejudices, especially her own. Like Disney’s Robin Hood, this story is told with anthropomorphic animals, with the rookie cop being a bunny, and a fox cast as her con-man sidekick. Reactions to this film by the fandom were so pronounced, that the two lead characters already became furry icons right from the earliest teaser trailer. From the moment Nick Wilde first poked his head into frame, the internet was alive with new art of the characters, some cute and others… Anyway, moving on.
The point is, Zootopia seemed, very obviously, marketed towards the furry fandom. Early trailers explained terms like anthropomorphic to the viewer, and one of the taglines for the film was ‘Like nowhere you’ve ever been be-fur.’ This was a big step to openly acknowledging the demographic, and doing so really paid off for Disney. When the film opened, furries showed up at cinemas in droves, making the film a massive hit both critically and commercially. Changes in the furry fandom were obvious in the wake of the film’s release. As Robin Hood had influenced the fandom before, so had Zootopia done today. By the end of its run, many artists in the fandom incorporated the style seen in Zootopia, while Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps were bonafide furry superstars. The message was clear. Furries meant big business, and as in the wake of Halloween, studios were ready to follow this last hit with attempts of their own.
Catering to the Furrie Fandom
After Zootopia, films featuring anthropomorphic characters showed up in theaters more, with the most prominent example being Sing and its sequel. On streaming, the reaction was even more obvious. Within a few years, Netflix saw the release of three shows seemingly aimed at the community. The first was Aggretsuko, an animated comedy about a red panda navigating a life of dull office work and heavy metal. The next was Beastars, based on the popular manga series, about a wolf named Legoshi and his various misadventures at Cherryton Academy. Seemingly right after this was yet another show called BNA, or Brand New Animal, about a young girl who, after transforming into an anthropomorphic raccoon, decides to seek help from Beastmen, people persecuted for their ability to turn into humanlike animals. All three of these shows were not only popular with the fandom, they were also just popular, netting high viewership for the streaming giant. It was pretty clear. Zootopia wasn’t a fluke, and the fandom was clearly a lucrative demographic to tap. Perhaps this is why, in 2022, two of the biggest names in animation released films which some might say contained some pretty obvious fur-bait.
The first film was Disney/Pixar’s latest effort, Turning Red. Turning red tells the tale of an Asian/Canadian girl whose world is turned upside down following her unexpected transformation into a giant red panda. As with Zootopia, and despite some pretty pitiful examples of anti-Asian racism Red was a big hit among critics and audiences, further displaying that the fandom will show up when cute animals are involved. As if this wasn’t enough, another animation giant, this time Dreamworks has released The Bad Guys. Based on the Aaron Blabey book series, The Bad Guys tells of a group of anthropomorphic animal criminals, headed by Mr. Wolf who seems to have taken more than a little inspiration from Zootopia‘s Nick Wilde. It’s more than a little telling that The Bad Guys began pre-production in 2017, immediately following the success of Zootopia. There’s also no mistaking the art style in The Bad Guys, which seems more obviously catered to the fandom than even Disney’s mega hits. I suppose it was this that hit it home. Furries have officially gone mainstream.
Furries are Mainstream
One of the most time-tested truths in today’s world is that money talks, and furries, like most of us, generally enjoy having money to spend. So when a major animation juggernaut decided to actually market their big release for 2016 at the fandom, and it paid off, it’s no wonder that other studios decided to follow suit. So, fellow humans beware. Though furries have been amongst us for some time, now is the age when more of those in the community will wear their passions on their sleeve. It was only a matter of time before those up top realized this demographic pays well. In the coming years, expect to see more Zootopias, Sings, Turning Reds and Bad Guys. Furries have conquered cinema, and will continue to do so until the grosses go down. When will that be? Since this fandom is only growing, I’d say probably never.
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