The Plausible Impossible

Cartoon physics is a jocular system of laws of physics that supersedes the normal laws, used in animation for humorous effect. Normal physical laws are referential (i.e., objective, invariant), but cartoon physics are preferential (i.e., subjective, varying).

Many of the most famous American animated films, particularly those from Warner Bros. and MGM studios, unconsciously developed a relatively consistent set of such “laws” that have become regularly applied in comic animation. In a common cartoon scenario, for example, when a cartoon character runs off a cliff, gravity has no effect until the character notices and reacts.

In words attributed to Art Babbitt, an animator with the Walt Disney Studios: “Animation follows the laws of physics — unless it is funnier otherwise.”

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