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Literature / Too Funny For Words

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Too Funny For Words: Disney's Greatest Sight Gags is a 1987 non-fiction book, authored by Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.

It was made as a follow-up to their previous book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation, and is a history and art book that goes into detail about Disney's style of gags and story process for them, covering works up from Oswald the Lucky Rabbit up to the later Disney features, although the book mostly focuses on Disney's short cartoons. The first half of the book tells the history of Disney's brand of humor and what influenced it, and the second half of book largely eschews text in favor of demonstrating the kind of gags Disney uses with pictures alone.

The book goes into detail about several different kinds of gags: The Spot Gag, the Running Gag, The Gag-That-Builds, the Action Gag, the Tableau Gag, the Inanimate Character Gag, the Funny Drawing, and Specialized Gags (i.e. the Color Gagnote , the Effects Gag, the Caricature Gag, and the Surprise Gag).


This book was later followed up by Frank and Ollie's other books Bambi: The Story and the Film and The Disney Villain.


  • Animate Inanimate Object: The subject of the section on the Inanimate Character Gag.
  • Disney School of Acting and Mime: This kind of acting is discussed in the chapter "Actor—Animator—Comedian".
    "This type of animation made two great demands on the animator. First, he had to be a comedian, and second, he had to believe in his character and the situation. Oswald and his trolley car was all fast-moving action that needed only to be staged clearly and timed convincingly to be funny. But Pluto was funny because of who he was and the way in which he behaved. This was new. However, it was not funny unless the dog was thinking and trying to figure things out and letting the audience see his problems as he saw them. It took an entertainer to put this on the screen, and the better animators became comedians, not on the stage but with their drawings. They also had to feel that the figure they were drawing really existed and had sensitive feelings and that an audience would enjoy knowing about them. When the scenes came from the heart, they had an implied realism that went beyond the rules and practices of ordinary animation."
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  • Excuse Plot: In "A Little History", Frank and Ollie talk about how Walt was more concerned with the characters, their motivation and the context of the gags than the story, especially justified since many of the films they worked on were short cartoons, and had little time for both gags or any real story.
    "At that time, however, even the distributors were questioning whether gags were enough to sustain a whole film and they started asking for more story. Walt, the greatest of storytellers, reacted in a surprising way. "By the time you have a story really started," he said, "it is time to iris out (end the picture), and you have failed to make the audience laugh." Obviously, in Walt's mind, the first priority in any film was the laughter, and too much story quickly became tedious. He never forgot that point throughout his whole life, constantly shying away from projects that had more continuity than entertainment."
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Caricature Gag section talks about this, using Mickey Mouse impersonating Charlie Chaplin as an example.
  • Off-Model: Played for Laughs with Ward Kimball's joke model sheet of Mickey Mouse. The only correct drawing of Mickey on the sheet is dismissed as "Too congenial".
  • Rube Goldberg Device: The Wolf Pacifier from "Three Little Wolves" is presented as an example of a Gag-That-Builds.
  • Running Gag: A section of the book covers this kind of gag.
  • Show, Don't Tell: The second half of the book intentionally downplays the text (aside from what is needed to give context) so that the pictures can stand alone for the reader. It's even titled "It Goes Without Saying".
  • Shout-Out: Ward Kimball's Mickey Mouse model sheet has Mickey drawn as a carrot munching rabbit ("Too plagiaristic") and as E.T. ("Too Extraterrestrial").
  • Static Character: When Frank and Ollie are talking about silent cartoons early in the book, they bring up Felix the Cat and that personality was a key to the characters success, but also point out that Felix's personality never evolved in his original cartoons, since the animators of the time thought it wasn't necessary or important to advance it further.
  • Through a Face Full of Fur: Discussed in the section on Color Gags.
  • Toilet Humor: The book mentions how Walt was fond of gags about chamber pots in the early days.

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