Monday, December 09, 2002

Additional Laws of Cartoon Physics

This was based on a humorous piece passed around the Internet many years ago. Despite its topicality, no one has really bothered to add to it.

Percussive Reprocessing
Any organic entity (animal or plant), when struck with sufficient force, will be knocked out of the top of the frame, and return to earth as finished goods, ready for immediate use or sale.
Popeye can strike a charging bull so hard that it slaughters in mid-air, gets cut up, ground for hamburger, wrapped or encased as sausage, and even undergoes USDA inspection or Kosher certification. As the meats fall to earth, they array themselves as in a butcher shop.
Popeye can also strike a swimming herd of ravenous alligators in such a way that they are skinned, tanned and manufactured into alligator-skin luggage, shoe and belts. They fall to earth along with a retail counter, price tags and cash register.
Popeye and other characters can walk through the forest primeval, striking trees so hard they form a log cabin as they fall to earth, complete with windows, a hinged door, and stone fireplace chimney.

Corollary: Percussive Degeneration
Conversely, any manufactured product can be stuck with sufficient force that it resolves into a more primitive product. The value or utility of the resulting object is in inverse proportion to the value or utility of the original object. This effect can also be achieved through the use of high explosives.
Popeye or Mighty Mouse can strike an expensive, streamlined motorcar so that it bursts apart, revealing a tricycle underneath. The occupants of the vehicle do not realize the transformation has happened until they look around.
A locomotive engine demolished by dynamite will fall to earth as a railroad handcar.

Velocity-based Redressing
A character or object moving at sufficient velocity will create a wake capable of switching the clothing of any two characters caught in it. If only one character is caught in the wake, their outer clothes will be blown off to reveal red polka-dot boxer shorts. Inanimate objects caught in this wake may undergo a process similar to Percussive Reprocessing or Degeneration. Exception: A formal portrait will remain attached to the wall, but its subject will have at least one layer of clothing blown off.

Literal Utility

  1. Every commercial product will work exactly as its name implies, usually within a few seconds. "Vanishing" cream and "invisible" ink will render a character covered in it invisible. "Plant-gro" or other fertilizers will grow plants even on Elmer Fudd's head.
  2. A character using a product in contradiction to its labeling will assume characteristics of the product's intended users. A cat that consumes dog food will commence barking and chasing cars. Consuming bird food will give any character an urge to perch on a wire and chirp.
  3. Any character donning an article of clothing intended for a specific person, occupation, age group or sex, will similarly assume characteristics of the intended user or original owner. An 18th-Century sea captain's cap will endow the wearer with the personality of Charles Laughton in the character of Capt. Bligh. A male character donning a dress will exhibit effeminate tendencies.

All of the above laws can be observed in action at the resolution of a fight between Popeye and Bluto. Such altercation usually ends when Popeye strikes Bluto so hard, he flies into a heavy piece of wood furniture. Bluto and the furniture fly up out of frame, to fall to earth as a high chair occupied by Bluto, his clothes transformed into an infant's jumper, bib and bonnet. So dressed, Bluto cries like an infant.

Iris Manifestation
The traditional iris out at the end of a cartoon manifests as a physical object.
A sufficiently nimble of "cool" character can leap through the closing aperture, or even grab its edges and hold it open.

Safety-Oriented Malleability
Railroad tracks, highway roadbeds and guiderails are engineered for both tensile strength and malleability, especially in dangerous location.
A guiderail on a highway winding along a mountainside can stretch sufficiently to keep a careening vehicle from running off the road.
The roadbed in a sharp curve can absorb the centrifugal force of a fast vehicle, stretching outward to keep the vehicle from sliding over the embankment.
Railroad tracks can be grasped and given a single shake to induce a wave effect that safely catches a careening rail car, or shake a threatening barrier off the tracks.
This malleability has a side effect in that tracks spanning trestles can give way under the weight of a train and stretch like rubber bands.

A character who ingests Alum, a condiment intended to add an astringent taste to food, will see his mouth pucker and shrink until he no longer able to speak. Too much Alum can cause the entire head to shrink to one-tenth its normal size.

Explosive Minstrelry
An explosion or gunshot to a character's face was momentarily able to make him up in minstrel blackface, and give him the ability to imitate Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, or the Kingfish character from Amos 'n' Andy. Corollary: The force of changing tastes is able to manifest changes in the laws of cartoon physics. Explosive Minstrelry has not been observed to occur since the late 1950s.