It's time for a singalong! Music! Words! And... Follow the Bouncing Ball, everyone!
"Follow the bouncing ball" was a technique of directing singalongs in movie theaters where the lyrics are displayed as onscreen subtitles while a ball bounces along each word or syllable of the lyrics, in sync with the actual beat and rhythm of the song.
Sort of the karaoke of its time, but intended for a mass audience. Musical literacy was a much bigger deal in the early 20th Century.
According to Wikipedia, the bouncing ball was named and invented by Max Fleischer, the founder of Fleischer Studios, in 1924. Usually the "ball" is a big red dot, but sometimes it'll be a different color, or some manner of icon appropriate to the setting. The ball may also highlight whatever word or syllable it touches, or leave a dotted line as it travels across the words.
To this day, kids' singalong tapes and DVDs still use this technique from time to time; modern karaoke videos use a variant without the ball, merely by highlighting the appropriate text with the appropriate rhythm.
- An early ad for ZooPals (a brand of animal-themed paper plates for kids) used the plates themselves instead of a ball.
- An advertisement for Fererro Rocher had the audience follow the bouncing candy to "Deck the Halls", while more of the candies were passed out at a party—until they ran out, at which point a woman took the candy from the screen... and the singing stops.
- This 1970s commercial for Detroit-based Faygo soda pop.
- Advertisements for Meow Mix cat food occasionally feature a bouncing ball while the cats are meowing the product's theme song.
- Near the end of this 1931 ad for Oldsmobile.
- The 1990 "Lucky Cows" advertisement for Anchor Butter starts out like this, then the cows start kicking the ball around.
- This 2017 British PSA/Public Information Film from the NSPCC, featuring a song about Pantosaurus, a cartoon dinosaur who teaches children to protect themselves from sexual predators.
- In one of the Red Rock Cider adverts, Leslie Neilson in his The Naked Gun persona arrests guitarist Hank Marvin. "I'll have to ask you to accompany me!" So Hank produces a guitar and accompanies Neilson in a duet on the advertised product, with a bouncing ball on the displayed lyrics for the audience.
- Done in a 1995 commercial for Shout Carpet Cleaner.
- A Tetley tea commercial from the 1970s had a bouncing tea bag instead of a ball.
- A 1960s commercial for Dutch Masters cigars used a bouncing ball as well.
- Many fansubbed anime openings have a variation of this, using text effects instead of a bouncing ball on the romaji lyrics. The Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann fansub does this for the opening, insert, and ending... and the attack calls. Nothing quite like karaoke GIGA DRILL BREAKAAAAHHH!!!!!.
- To some, the flashy text looked a lot better than the standard texting, and actually helped enhance the moment. As much as it can be enhanced.
- Gurren Lagann isn't alone with the attack calls. Many shounen series take it; One Piece in particular even had different fonts for each character that matched them; Luffy had a stretchy-green, Usopp's letters were in cross-hairs, Zoro's were like slashes, etc.
- Speaking of One Piece, some TV specials had a song called "Family" as their ending, sung by each of the Straw Hats. The lyrics in romaji were shown on the bottom of the screen, with a cute bouncing ball representing whoever was singing at that point (If it was the entire crew, it was the Going Merry's figurehead).
- This 1930 cartoon short called Mura Matsuri (Village Festival).
- Ron James, in a bit on how liquor used to be cheaper in Canada before the government monopolized it, notes that you used to be able to get a gigantic bottle of rum for $4.95 at the Liquor Barn. He then sings a probably-fictional jingle for the store, noting, "The lyrics are fairly simple; follow the bouncing bottle!"
- Robert Wuhl did this in one HBO special, beginning a string of jokes with the set-up "A man comes home from a hard day's work," which involves the audience and folks at home following the bouncing ball. The ball is replaced with a tiny, grinning Robert Wuhl face for the last few jokes.
- Aries Spears suggested that Shaquille O'Neal ought to have his words transcribed this way whenever he gives an interview.
- A rare comic example: Superman (vol. 1) #154 (July 1962) features the Man of Steel's latest effort to trick Mr. Mxyzptlk into saying his name backwards, after Mxy's magically made a crowd of citizens think they're children. Superman uses a giant screen to project the lyrics for the nursery rhyme "Sing a Song of Sixpence," complete with a bouncing ball; of course, one word in the song's altered ("a pocket full of kltpzyxm").
- Shows up, and was even played with in Potter Puppet Pals in Neville's Birthday.
- Used in Naruto: The Abridged Comedy Fandub Spoof Series Show for the David Bowie segments, with the 'ball' being the head of whichever character is singing that part of the lyrics.
- Fate Revelation Online: Laughing Coffin performs a demonic Summoning Ritual... and the UI assists by displaying the required chant with a helpful bouncing ball. Xaxa feels like it really kills the mood.
- DA Games has this for the Bendy and the Ink Machine song "Gospel of Dismay", with the ball taking the form of the head of whomever's singing: Bendy, Boris, Alice, or Sammy.
- Dragon Ball Z Abridged used this for the song "Super Saiyan" (a parody of "Giant Woman"). And since Goku was the one singing, the 'ball' used here was a muffin.
- In Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space, a Sex Bot employed as a Sexy Secretary advises the protagonists to "Please follow the bouncing buttocks" when leading them to her boss.
- The Walt Disney Signature Collection of Blu-ray Discs and Digital HD copies provides optional color-changing subtitles for almost every musical.note
- A sing-along version of Frozen was released in January 2014, where the audience can follow a bouncing snowflake. A November 2014 DVD/Digital HD re-release includes both the original and sing-along versions. Frozen II also received a sing-along re-release in January 2020, included as an extra on the Blu-ray, UHD, and Digital HD copy.
- Moana had a sing-along theatrical re-release in January 2017, with a bouncing flower.
- South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut was re-released in the U.K. as "Swear Along with South Park".
- On The Lion King 1½, a ladybug serves as the ball for a sing-along of "Hakuna Matata" - until Pumbaa eats it. He spits it out and the sing-along continues, albeit with a rather dazed ladybug. International versions don't have the words, but retain the ladybug.
- The Great Race stopped in the middle of the movie for one.
- Seen in the closing credits of Black Adder Back and Forth, where the "ball" is Edmund's head or, for the requisite lines, Marions or Baldricks.
- In the film In Like Flint, when Derek Flint is on an Aeroflot plane going to Cuba, he starts a sing-along in Russian and a red star (symbol of the Soviet Union) bounces on the subtitled words (also in Russian) as they are sung.
- The Magic Christian opens with a snippet of "Come and Get It" by Badfinger over a shot of a 10-pound banknote, with the lyrics transcribed by a bouncy ball.
- When Monty Python performed "The Philosopher's Song" during Live at the Hollywood Bowl, the "bouncing ball" was the head of a Bruce.
- The DVD of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie includes a sing-along version of the "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" song with a bouncing dolphin, naturally.
- In the documentary of Woodstock, there are lyrics with a bouncing ball to "Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag":
"And it's 1-2-3, what are we fightin' for? Don't ask me, I don't give me a damn, next stop is Viet Nam!"
- In Star Trek: Insurrection, a berserk Data is brought back to his senses when Picard and Worf sing "A British Tar" from HMS Pinafore, using the bouncing ball technique to recall the lyrics.
- Hedwig and the Angry Inch used this during part of "Wig in a Box", with the ball being a wig.
- The Muppets displays on-screen lyrics for Tex Richman's Villain Song, with a dollar sign as the bouncing ball.
"I'm Tex Richman, Mr. Texas Tea, people call me rich 'cause I got MO' MO-NEYYY!!"
- The trailer for Madea's Big Happy Family features a rap with complimentary bouncing purple ball.
- The dvd of "Repo! The Genetic Opera" had a bouncing heart for select songs in the special features.
- The teaser trailer for The Flintstones has a bouncing ball bounce on the lyrics to the TV theme song, wrecking several words in the process. it ends with the ball bouncing right into Fred's hand.
- Rodgers and Hammerstein movies have sing-along versions included on their DVDs and Blu-Ray Discs. However, they use color-changing subtitles instead of bouncing balls. The Sound of Music 40th Anniversary DVD had lyrical subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.note
- Quoted verbatim on the final page of Gravity's Rainbow before a sing-along in a cinema that ends with a V-2 rocket falling on the audience.
- CBS used this trope for some versions of their 1982 "Great Moments" promos.
- CBS also used it for their 1973 "The Best Is Right Here" promos.
- HBO also used it once, as part of an April Fools' Day variant on their "Starship HBO" intro, which replaced the typical footage with a cheap, public-access style copy; the ball in this case followed the original music (another variant of the April Fool's intro had a cheap kazoo version of the music instead and no "bouncing ball" lyrics)
- Horrible Histories uses a bouncing skull during the Pachacuti song.
- Sarah Silverman's HBO special We Are Miracles includes a performance of her song "Diva" that comes complete with this.
- World's Dumbest... used this with a bouncing tire for a sing-along about a clip in which a truck tire came loose, bounced down the road, and hit another vehicle (Song starts at about 48 seconds into the linked clip). They then did something similar for the opening to the "Holidays" episode and for a singing fishmonger.
- Robot Wars Extreme has this during Plunderbird's scrimech song.
- Bar Rescue - on a "Back to the Bar" episode, the show revisits the Underground Wonderbar, a music venue run by a Granola Girl who is known to sing terribly and is quite resistant to rescuer Jon Taffer's suggestions. The revisit ends with the owner singing a special Take That! song about Taffer, backed by a full band. The crazed hippie lyrics are shown on the screen with the bouncing ball for the viewing audience.
- For the 2016 Week 2 Monday Night Football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears, ESPN ran a commercial implementing this trope with both teams' fight songs, using the teams' logos as the bouncing ball.
- Referenced in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Godzilla vs. Megalon during the "Jet Jaguar Song" host segment: "I'd tell you to follow the bouncing ball, but...uh...we don't have one."
- Keynotes, an Australian game show that unsuccessfully attempted an American version, affected the bouncing ball. Contestants scored musical notes to a song they had to identify. Each time a note was added, the notes were played with a bouncing ball.
- What's This Song?, an NBC game show from 1964, averts this. Contestants identify songs then they have to sing the first two lines of the chorus which is shown on-screen. The bouncing ball is not used.
- In Spitting Image, the chorus of the infamous song I've Never Met A Nice South African is accompanied by the mandatory bouncing ball.
- Played for Laughs on Harry Hill's TV Burp, in the segment "I Certainly Didn't Expect to See That."
- Guns N' Roses' "Garden of Eden". Not only does the song have the fastest singing possible, but during the guitar solos, the ball keeps bouncing in plain air.
- One version of Snow's video for "Informer" does this.
- The music video for Metronomy's "A Thing for Me" carries this into the real world...with hilarious results.
- The J. Geils Band's video for "Love Stinks" does this with a bouncing heart for a ball.
- Referenced by name in the Big and Rich song "Freak Parade". Of course, the song consisted almost entirely of the phrase "Somebody's got to be unafraid to lead the freak parade" repeated over and over again, faster and faster until the end of the song.
- In the novelty video "Rats on a Budget", an animated cartoon rat jumps from subtitled word to word during the final chorus.
- Parodied by Steam Powered Giraffe in "Brass Goggles", where Rabbit told viewers to follow the bouncing pug head, but not to follow the red star or the chihuahua head because they'll "give you the wrong lyrics". Sure enough, There are a chihuahua head and red star in the video, with the latter saying, "This is the red star/ Don't sing these lyrics."
- In The Ramones' cover of the iconic Spider-Man song, the bouncing ball is, appropriately enough, a spider. Which, at one point, gets squished against the screen by the sole of the singer's shoe.
- In the reprise of the refrain of Barnes & Barnes' Fish Heads, a bouncing fish head is used over the lyrics.
- This is a staple of I Don't Know How But They Found Me's lyric videos, starting with "Bleed Magic" and continuing with most songs from Razzmatazz. This fits in well with the band's Retreaux aesthetic, as it gives the videos the appearance of old singalong VHS tapes.
- The video for "Walk the Dinosaur" by Was (Not Was) puts the chorus lyrics on screen with a bouncing ball, but over a completely different (and instrumental) section of the song.
- During a song that played during the intermission in London's version of Avenue Q, "Time", in order to get the people on the bathroom line out, Nicky asks the audience to help him sing along to the final part of the song (well, only "Time, to do the things that you want to do!/Time, it's well spent when it's spent on you!") using this method. He addresses it as "Let's get them out everybody! Ready?"
- Used in Pippin for the Audience Participation Song "No Time At All."
- The 2002 version of Journey Into Your Imagination with Figment has this at the end of the Sight Lab scene.
- Most versions of the Ghostbusters Licensed Game by Activision do this on the title screen with the movie's Theme Tune.
- Used in the PS2/XBox remake of The Bard's Tale, whether the song is "Beer, Beer, Beer", "The Tale of the Nuckelavee" or any of the several renditions of "It's Bad Luck to Be You". Also used in several other songs. The bonus joke in "Beer, Beer, Beer" is that the singers are off-tempo to the bouncing ball, since they're drunks in a bar.
- Skullmonkeys did this for a part of the ending cinematic for the song "Klogg Is Dead?" with a bouncing skull.
- In Black & White, the sailors on the first island do one. A different stanza for everything they need. (Wood, Grain, Meat)
- Miniature replica soldier! Possibly the best DLC advert ever.
- This was used in the Great Mighty Poo's Villain Song in Conker's Bad Fur Day, where the lyrics were put up onto the screen whilst you read it with a ball made of crap... made even funnier by the profane and crude lyrics of the song.
- Averted in Silent Hill 3's joke ending. The ridiculously goofy lyrics to the "Silent Hill Song" are simply highlighted in red as they are sung, even though a SH-themed bouncy ball likely would have made it even funnier.
- Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist does this with the opening theme song.
- Mario Paint has a bouncing Mario in place of the bouncing ball.
- Beat Plants vs. Zombies and the reward music video features a bouncing brain.
- Similarly, Double Dragon Neon's ending song features a bouncing Skullmageddon logo.
- WarioWare D.I.Y.'s music editor has a bouncing character, much like Mario Paint.
- Drill-X in Skylanders Giants is a large drill robot ... who sings. Sort of. True to form, his singing is subtitled, with a miniature icon of the robot's face bouncing across to the beat. (video)
- The trailer for DuckTales Remastered does this with Scrooge McDuck's head, to the tune of the DuckTales theme song.
- SongBird Symphony uses this for the game's lyrical sections.
- ScrewAttack's list of best cartoon-based games has one when Stuttering Craig (whose face was the ball) breaks into the theme of Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers.
- Invention Pioneers of Note: Occurs briefly during the final season.
- Used (and played with) quite often in Animutation, with "French Erotic Film" being an example. In this case, the bouncing ball is Jay Jay the Jet Plane until it collides with Princess Diana's car, at which point Di's decapitated head becomes the bouncing ball.
- Used as a shouting gag in Gears of Awesome.
- Homestar Runner: "Homestar vs. Other Little Girl" includes a sing-along for the song Other Little Girl improvises to help Homestar remember that people can't stay in two places at the same time. Unlike most examples, the ball bounces underneath the lyrics, instead of on top of them.
- WeimTime's Synthesia covers of other songs have little chibified heads of the characters who sing their respective parts bouncing on the words of their lines. For example, a tiny Garnet head is used as the bouncing ball for their cover of "Stronger Than You".
- The intro for Les Kassos has a bouncing ball over the lyrics of the theme song. Although on the last syllable, the ball falls from the words and hits Dark Papy in the helmet.
- The Nostalgia Critic's review of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier had a bouncing William Shatner head during a sing-along of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat".
- Caddicarus uses this in the beginning of his review of the Playstation game Cheesy, singing about how his friend Dazz got him the game.
- Parodied in Ed, Edd n Eddy, which has a little bouncing heart following the lyrics to up the Tastes Like Diabetes factor of Jimmy's "Friendship Song".
- Parodied on an episode of The Ren & Stimpy Show, where the two sang the anthem of the Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen, which features lyrics like:
Our country reeks of trees
Our yaks are really large
And they smell like rotting beef carcasses.
- Played mostly straight (the ball was grey, not red) in the karaoke episode of Kappa Mikey. Played with in one song, however, in which, rather than bouncing over the lyrics, the ball is bouncing away from the cast while they try to catch it.
- The creators of Underdog produced a few short cartoons featuring the Singalong Family.
- The Simpsons:
- On episode "22 Short Films About Springfield", a bouncing ball accompanies Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel's theme song.
- On episode "New Kids on the Blecch", the chorus of "Drop Da Bomb" has the phrase, "Yvan eht nioj" appear on the bottom of the screen, with a bouncing Ralph Wiggum head.
- In the season 2 episode "Brush With Greatness", Krusty the Klown has a segment in his show called "Kroon Along With Krusty" where the kids sing with him. The lyrics are shown on TV with a bouncing Krusty head.
- The Disney Sing-Along Songs tapes; for people who grew up around the time they were released, they are probably the example of this trope.
- Their theme song even had a line that said, "Follow the bouncing ball." Ironically, they only use an actual ball (usually the famous Mickey-head icon) in some of the songs, seemingly at random, and the very first song to ever appear in the seriesnote ("We Dig/Heigh-Ho" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) is not one of them! (Such songs highlight the words one by one in a different color. Later videos would make far more use of this than the bouncing ball. Probably because it's quicker to do.)
- In fact, later Sing Along Songs releases have a new version of the theme sung by Sebastian the Crab that retains the "follow the bouncing ball" lyric, but the lyrics to the theme are displayed using the highlighting method. Curiously, this version of the song *does* remove direct references to Disney.
- These are also probably the only non-YouTube place anyone from that or any successive generation will ever see actual footage of a live-action scene from Song of the South. But that is neither here nor there.
- One episode of the animated series Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! has a segment at the ends inviting viewers to sing along to the theme song, using "F.T." (The fuzzy benevolent tomato) as the bouncing ball.
- Used in the musical segment of ReBoot's third season finale, with Scuzzy as the ball.
- Lampshaded on a musically themed episode of Muppet Babies, where Bunsen's latest invention was the Bunsen Honeydew Self-Propelled Follow-the-Bouncing-Ball Ball. This allowed the otherwise musically inept Beaker to get in on the fun. ("Meep meep meep-meep-meep, meep meep-meep meep-meep...")
- The Boomerang network does this, they call it something like "Boomerang-along". They have old cartoon themes with lyrics at the bottom traced by... a bouncing red ball.
- As mentioned up top, in the 1920s the Fleischer Studios produced a series of theatrical cartoons called Screen Songs, which had the bouncing ball and encouraged the audience to sing along. Famous Studios, which replaced the Fleischer Studios after the Fleischers were fired, revived the series in the late forties.
- Thomas the Tank Engine's songs use a cloud of smoke produced from Thomas' funnel at the beginning of each song in place of a ball.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold: A little Plastic Man head provides the bouncing ball as Plas leads a merry sing-along of a lyrically-mangled version of "Yankee Doodle" in "Cry Freedom Fighters!".
- Averted by the VeggieTales sing along videos. Instead, the letters change colors (green to white in the first one, yellow to white in the second) when the words are sung.
- Played straight in the 2006/2007 sing-along series. The ball for the songs will be represented by an object or character that is related to the song.
- Some of the songs on the Animaniacs sing-along videos use the bouncing dot approach, some use the highlight-the-words one, and some just show the current line of the song.
- Averted during the sing-along segments of The Beatles. The segments simply ran the text of the song lyrics, usually with a mini-adventure starring the Beatles, or a proto-music video.
- Spoofed in one episode of The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, when the crystal ball used to talk with Vincent Van Ghoul goes into a stream. As the gang chase after it, Scrappy yells, "Follow the bouncing ball, and everybody SING!" What follows is a bad rendition of 'Row Row Row Your Roat' to which Van Ghoul comments, "This is the worst dinner music I have ever heard!"
- Every Drawn Together DVD set has a sing-along special feature. Considering what kind of show it is, you can probably guess what kind of things they use in place of a bouncing ball.
- This happens in the Space Ghost Coast to Coast episode "Chinatown", when Zorak sings about Moltar.
- The episode of Invader Zim "The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever" has a tiny Mini-Moose bouncing on the lyrics of a song about Santa.
Bow down, bow down, before the power of Santa
Or be crushed, be crushed
By... his jolly boots of doom.
- Season 2 Episode 14 of Wakfu has this for the theme song in the opening credits, with Az as the "bouncing ball".
- Wait Till Your Father Gets Home has a variation in its opening: While Irma sings the Title Drop, Harry is seen driving his car over a bumpy road formed by the words.
- There was a marathon of Spongebob Squarepants and The Fairly Oddparents episodes that featured at least one song, and they displayed the songs' lyrics, encouraging viewers to sing along. Though not really a straight example (it merely highlighted the words as they were sung), it fits this trope.
- A much straighter example would be Discovery Family's "Sing-Along Sundays", in which a bouncing ball engages audiences to sing along with songs from Strawberry Shortcake, Littlest Pet Shop (2012), and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.
- Family Guy has this in the "Family Guy Karaoke" feature on the Volume 8 DVD.
- Right Now Kapow uses this trope in a sketch where the characters play Gradeschool Children. They get to recess just as another child takes the last inflated ball leaving them with a flat one. This prompts a musical number that lists all of the inconveniences that result. One of the children encourages the viewer to sing along and "follow the Bouncing Ball" but the ball that appears above the words is flat leaving the children stuck on the first word and unsuccessfully trying to hold the note. One of them passes out from exhaustion.
- In a strange but fitting meta-example, this was apparently used to keep time for the musicians who performed the music for Steamboat Willie. The animation had been produced based on the written score before any music had been recorded, with the beat occurring on every Xth frame, and the orchestra had to keep pace with the predetermined tempo precisely. According to The Art of Walt Disney: From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdoms:
Disney's team had developed a system of indicating — probably by flashes on the screen — the tempo to which the orchestra should play. Thus the film could be projected and serve the same function as a metronome. Unfortunately this system was a little crude, and [conductor Carl] Edouwards did not feel inclined to have his temp determined by such a coarse mechanical device... Disney had the film reprinted with the addition of a bouncing ball system, to indicate the accents as well as the beat, making it much easier for Edouwards to follow.