The Laws of Cartoon Motion

"I know this defies the law of gravity,
but, you see, I never studied law!"
-- Bugs Bunny
, High Diving Hare (1949)

  1. Any body suspended in space will remain suspended in space until made aware of its situation.

    Daffy Duck steps off a cliff, expecting further pastureland. He loiters in midair, soliloquizing flippantly until he chances to look down. At this point, the familiar principle of 32 feet per second squared takes over.

  2. A body passing through solid matter will leave a perforation comforming to its perimeter.

    Also called the silhouette of passage, this phenomenon is the speciality of victims of direct-pressure explosions and reckless cowards who are so eager to escape that they exit directly through the wall of a house, leaving a cookie-cutout perfect hole. The threat of skunks or matrimony often catalyzes this reaction.

  3. The time required for an object to fall 20 stories is greater than or equal to the time it takes for whoever knocked it off the ledge to spiral down 20 flights to attempt to capture it unbroken.

    Such an object is inevitably priceless; the attempt to capture it, inevitably unsuccessful.

  4. All principles of gravity are negated by fear.

    Psychic forces are sufficient in most bodies for a shock to propel them directly away from the surface. A spooky noise or an adversary's signature sound will induce motion upward, usually to the cradle of a chandelier, a treetop, or the crest of a flagpole. The feet of a running character or the wheels of a speeding auto need never touch the ground; ergo, fleeing turns to flight.

  5. Certain bodies can pass through a solid wall painted to resemble tunnel entrances; others cannot.

    This trompe l'oeil inconsistency has baffled generations, but at least it is known that whoever paints an entrance on a wall's surface to trick an opponent will be unable to pursue him into this theoretical space. The painter is flattened against the wall when he attempts to follow into the painting. This is ultimately a problem of art, not science.

  6. As speed increases, objects can be in several places at once.

    This is particularly true in tooth-and-claw fights, in which a character's head may be glimpsed emerging from a cloud of altercation at several places simultaneously. This effect is common as well among bodies that are spinning or being throttled, and simulates our own vision's trailing retention of images. A "wacky" character has the option of self-replication only at manic high speeds and may ricochet off walls to achieve the velocity required for self-mass-liberation.

  7. Necessity plus Will provokes spontaneous generation.

    Dangerously palpable objects -- such as mallets, dynamite, pies, and alluring female attire -- can be manifested from what might previously have been considered "thin air", but only when the friction of immediate jeopardy makes the object's appearance imperative. The controversial "pocket" theory suggests that these objects are drawn from unseen recesses of a character's costume, or from a storehouse immediately off-screen, but this merely defers the question of how any absolutely apt object is instantaneously available.

  8. Any body in motion will tend to remain in motion until solid matter intervenes suddenly.

    Whether shot from a cannon or in hot pursuit on foot, cartoon characters are so absolute in their momentum that only a telephone pole or an oversize boulder retards their forward motion absolutely. Sir Isaac Newton called this sudden termination the stooge's surcease.

  9. Any violent rearrangement of feline matter is impermanent.

    Cartoon cats can withstand more deaths than even the traditional nine lives afford. They can be sliced, splayed, accordion-pleated, spindled, or disassembled, but they cannot be destroyed. After a few moments of blinking self-pity, they reinflate, elongate, snap back, or solidify.

  10. For every vengeance, there is an equal and opposite revengeance.

    This is the one law of animated cartoon motion that also applies to the physical world at large. For that reason, we need the relief of watching it happen to a duck instead.

Adapted from the book Elementary Education, by Mark O'Donnell, 1980