O'Donnell's Laws of Cartoon Motion
[Quoted without permission from Jun '80 Esquire]
I. Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its
Daffy Duck steps off a cliff, expecting further pastureland. He
loiters in mid-air, soliloquizing flippantly, until he chances to
look down. At this point, the familiar principle of 32 feet per
second per second takes over.
II. Any body in motion will tend to remain in motion until solid matter
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.
III. Any body passing through solid matter will leave a perforation
conforming to its perimeter.
Also called the silhouette of passage, this phenomenon is the
speciality 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
IV. 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
V. 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 who is running or
the wheels of a speeding auto need never touch the ground,
especially when in flight.
VI. 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
VII. 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.
VIII. 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.
IX. 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.
X. Everything falls faster than an anvil.
Examples too numerous to mention from the Roadrunner cartoons.