O’Donnell’s Cartoon Laws of Motion by Mark O’Donnell

If you’ve known me any length of time, you know that I am a knowledgeable and devoted follower of almost all animation: a/k/a a cartoon geek. You know that even if you haven’t met me, but have spent a little time wandering around on this blog.

I enjoy cartoons. Flat-out funny, brilliant, erudite, or crude, I dig almost all of them. I say “almost” because some of them make my skin crawl and set my teeth on edge: “Calliou” and “Rugrats” come to mind. I lean toward “classic” animation, but also admire the skill involved with computer-generated cartoons. And when the two are melded together, the results can be amazing: “The Iron Giant” is a brilliant example.

Yes, I’ve often told people that I can’t tell them the first thing about trigonometry or applied chemistry but I can go on for hours about “Looney Tunes.” The following article was written by a very funny man named Mark O’Donnell, and published in the very back page of the June 1980 edition of Esquire magazine. I photocopied that page at the library and kept it for many years, until it eventually got lost in a move. Fortunately, other cartoon geeks have posted it in several places here on the Intertubes and have riffed on it to add their own laws. Enjoy.

Image from joefood.blogspot.com

O”Donnell’s Cartoon Laws Of Motion

1. Any body suspended in space will remain 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-per-second” takes over.

2. 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 outsize boulder retards their forward motion absolutely. Sir Isaac Newton called this sudden termination of motion the “stooge’s surcease.”

Coyote Wall

Image from nzfilmfreak.wordpress.com

3. Any body passing through solid matter will leave a perforation conforming to its perimeter.

Also called the “silhouette of passage,” this phenomenon is the specialty of victims of directed-pressure explosions and of 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.

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

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


Image from cataroo.com

5. 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 earth’s 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 character that is running or the wheels of a speeding auto need never touch the ground, especially when in flight.

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

This is particularly true of tooth-and-claw fights, in which a character’s head may be glimpsed emerging from the cloud of altercation at several places simultaneously. This effect is common as well among bodies that are spinning or being throttled. A “wacky” character has the option of self-replication only at manic high speeds, and may ricochet off walls to achieve the velocity required.

7. Certain bodies can pass through solid walls 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 of science.

Image from wired.com

8. Any violent rearrangement of feline matter is impermanent.

Cartoon cats possess even more deaths than the traditional nine lives might comfortably afford. They can be decimated, spliced, 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.

9. Everything falls faster than an anvil.

Examples too numerous to mention from the Road Runner cartoons.

Image from wbau.wikia.com

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

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.

One Comment on “O’Donnell’s Cartoon Laws of Motion by Mark O’Donnell”

  1. #3- When my son was about 5, I wanted to paint a perfect silhouette of him, arms flaying in the air and running, on the door to his bedroom. I was talked out of it because it was too vague. In hindsight, I wish I had.

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