Why is claymation so creepy? 4 fascinating reasons

by Joost | Last Updated: June 13, 2022
I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you.

If you are one of the Millenials who have grown up watching claymation classics like ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas,’ ‘Shaun the Sheep,’ and ‘Chicken Run,’ you sure have a great taste.

But the thing is, I’ve always found these movies a bit unsettling, and sometimes, even terrifying. And that’s not because most of them were horror.

In fact, no horror movie or even animation gives me the feeling that I experience while watching a normal clay animation movie.

Why is claymation so creepy? 4 fascinating reasons

Different theories exist about why claymation is so creepy to some people. A popular explanation is the psychological effect of the so-called “uncanny valley” where the characters approach a human shape to such an extent it freaks us out.

But there are other possible explanations for why claymation is the stuff of someone’s nightmares. Read on to learn about them all.

4 explanations for why claymation is so creepy

Claymation is one of the most arduous and unique types of stop motion animation.

Playmobil petting zoo stop motion
Playmobil petting zoo stop motion

Although not as common now, clay animation used to be among the most used animation techniques in the 90s.

Almost every movie using the aforementioned animation technique was a blockbuster. However, despite that, many viewers reported clay animation to be creepy.

As you could expect, this peculiarity attached to claymation arose some fascinating questions in my mind.

And to find my answer, I did what every curious person does these days… surf through the internet, read opinions and find scientific facts backing them up.

Although hard, my endeavor wasn’t completely hopeless.

In fact, I did find some interesting things that answer why claymation sometimes scares the crap out of me (and maybe you?) and why it’s one of the creepiest types of animations ever!

What can be the underlying reasons behind that? The following explanations might answer your question.

The “uncanny valley” hypothesis

One of the things that could effectively explain the disturbing feeling aroused from watching claymation might be the “uncanny valley” hypothesis.

Don’t know what it is? Let me try to explain that to you from the very beginning. Nerd alert… it’s one of the most exciting and creepiest things I’ve read in a while.

The “uncanny valley hypothesis” is firmly based on the concept of “uncanny” presented by Earnst Jenstsch in 1906, and criticized and elaborated by Sigmund Freud in 1919.

The concept suggests that humanoid objects that imperfectly resemble an actual human can provoke feelings of unease and horror among some people.

The concept was later identified by the Japanese Robotics professor Masahiro Mori.

He found that the closer a robot is to an actual human, the more it triggers empathetic emotional responses in humans.

However, as the robot or humanoid object increasingly resembles the actual human, there’s a stage where the natural emotional response turns into revulsion, with the structure looking weird and eerie.

As the structure crosses this stage and becomes more humane in appearance, the emotional response again turns empathetic, just like what we would feel as human-to-human.

The space in between these feelings of empathy where one feels revulsion and horror towards the humanoid object is what is actually known as the “uncanny valley.”

As you might have predicted by now, claymation mostly lingers in this “valley.”

As the clay characters aren’t much farther from reality, nor are they perfectly humane, feeling unease is your brain’s emotional, involuntary, and natural response.

This is one of the most credible and perhaps the most scientific explanation of why claymation is creepy. Moreover, it might be disturbing to watch for just about anyone.

One way to put it is that claymation isn’t as ultra-realistic as a computer-animated movie or other stop motion films to trigger empathetic responses.

Thus, it automatically sends it down the creepy alley.

But is it the only explanation? Probably not! There’s a lot more to claymation than just nerdy theories. ;)

The characters look as if they’re going to scream

Yes, I know that’s not the case with every claymation, but if we look at clay animation films from the 90s, this statement is true.

With the constantly visible teeth, the ultra-wide mouths, and relatively peculiar faces, each time a character talks, it seems like someone who’s gonna go up the wall and scream.

Though it’s not the biggest reason why claymation is creepy, it certainly qualifies as one if you look closely!

Many claymation movies have disturbing stories and images

In an unnamed victorian town, Victor Van Dort, the son of a fish merchant, and Victoria Everglot, the unloved daughter of an aristocrat, are set to marry.

But as they exchange vows on the day of marriage, Victor is too nervous and forgets his vows while setting the bride’s dress on fire.

Out of utter shame, Victor flees to a nearby forest where he rehearses his vows and places his ring on an upturned root.

The next thing he knows, a corpse wakes from her grave and accepts Victor as her husband, carrying him to the land of the dead.

That, my friend, is a part of the plot of the infamous movie called “Corpse Bride.” Isn’t it a bit dark?

Well, this isn’t the only claymation movie with such a theme and storyline.

‘The Adventures of Mark Twain,’ ‘Chicken Run,’ ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ by Tim Burton, ‘Paranorman’ by Chris Butler, there’s a myriad of claymation movies with disturbing stories.

Don’t get me wrong, they are incredible.

But would I make my kids watch any of these titles? Never ever! They are too dark and gory for children of young age.

It might be due to claymation phobia

Also known as lutumotophobia, there’s a good chance you or your children might find claymation creepy simply because of your underlying fears?

Unlike the “uncanny valley” that could possibly trigger feelings of fear, claymation phobia sometimes arises when you know too much about claymation.

For example, if a 9-year-old finds out that the type of puppets used in stop motion animation are actually made in Indonesian traditions to represent the dead?

Or the fact that there’s an animation technique used to move the corpse of dead insects to create an animated film? And that claymation is just an extension of these practices?

He won’t be able to look at a stop motion film the same after knowing that, would he? In other words, he becomes claymation phobic or lutumotophobic.

So next time an animated film passes shivers down your spine, either that imagery is disturbingly realistic, or you simply know too much.

A completely unaware person hardly experiences this!

Conclusion

Though there are many reasons why claymation is creepy, one of the most credible explanations is that it’s due to the ultra-realistic animation that somehow falls in the area of uncanny.

Additionally, most claymation movies have dark and gory stories, which might contribute to the overall feeling of unease when watching these films.

However, as with any fear or phobia, sometimes it can be because you know too much about the subject matter or it’s natural.

But hey, here’s the good news! You are not the only person with the feeling. In fact, many people like you find claymation disturbing.

Perhaps you’d prefer to check out a type of stop motion that is called pixilation instead