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Toon Physics

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"Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation. Daffy Duck steps off a cliff, expecting further pastureland. He loiters in midair, soliloquizing flippantly, until he chances to look down. At this point, the familiar principle of 32 feet per second takes over."
First Law of Cartoon Thermodynamics

Animation Tropes, of course, occur in most Western cartoons of the classic era. Like any genre trope, they became consistent enough to be considered the "natural laws" of that setting.

Toon Physics hangs a lampshade on those tropes, by explicitly and consistently pointing out how creatures of ink and paint operate under different rules from those of flesh and blood, while coexisting in the same setting. Toons living in or visiting a flesh-and-blood world will still operate under their own unique laws of nature.

Humans visiting a cartoon world may operate according to the local laws — or may not. This doesn't have to be consistent even within a given work. In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, for example, Eddie experiences many Animation Tropes first hand — but his brother was killed by a falling piano (admittedly this may have been a real piano that was dropped by a toon; it was also presumably dropped outside of Toon Town, onto a normal human).

Seen in any Trapped in TV Land tale that includes a jaunt into a cartoon.

Contrast Refugee from TV Land and Real-World Episode, where characters from a "fictional" milieu enter the "real" world and, more often than not, find that the world doesn't work the same way anymore.

Sister Trope to Artistic License – Physics, when things in the "real" world seemingly obey Toon Physics laws (ostensibly for the Rule of Cool).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Toon World theme from Yu-Gi-Oh! takes this and runs with it. In the anime, they're made nigh-unkillable by it, with Toon Mermaid's armless clam catching a sword, and Blue-Eyes Toon Dragon taking the opportunity in-manga to contort its body to dodge its normal counterpart's Burst Stream of Destruction.
  • In Dragon Ball Super, Vegeta becomes Genre Savvy enough to realize Arale runs on this, identifying her as a "gag manga character" and tries to counter it by using unconventional techniques like the classic Look Behind You. The only person capable of posing a threat to her was Beerus, but even then she's saved by a Deus ex Machina.
  • Much of One Piece's world already runs on Nonsense, between Zoro being able to speak clearly with a sword in his mouth because "his heart lets him," or Nami being able to damage Rubber Man Luffy with blunt force because she "hurts his spirit." However, this trope most actively applies with the powers of Luffy's Gum-Gum Fruit, otherwise known as the Human-Human Fruit, Model: Nika. On its own, the fruit simply grants its user a body of rubber. However, the fruit's awakening grants the user the ability to freely alter their shape, as well as imbue surrounding objects with the properties of rubber. When Luffy incorporates these new abilities into his moveset, it results in an unpredictable fighting style that highly resembles something out of a Looney Tunes episode.
  • Ouran High School Host Club occasionally takes advantage of this. Mostly in the anime, though.
  • Haré+Guu does this almost all the time.
  • Kill la Kill has Mako Mankanshoku and Nui Harime, who operate by this while everybody else uses standard shonen anime physics. The former of the two uses them for their traditional comic relief purpose, while the latter weaponizes them.
  • Pokémon: The Series: The Team Rocket trio seem to operate on Toon Physics more than other characters. Especially when they put up with abuse that would grievously harm other characters like being electrocuted and "Blasting Off". Ash himself may also count as he's also been shocked by Pikachu many times over the course of the anime, although humans in the franchise tend to be more durable than us.

    Comic Books 
  • The Awesome Slapstick, a.k.a. Steve Harmon. After being transformed into "living electroplasm" from an accident with an alien portal, Slapstick is essentially a Toon — he is able to freely abuse Toon Physics, making him a Nigh-Invulnerable minor Reality Warper. He can recover from all injuries almost instantly with no damage, and has performed otherwise impossible feats, such as swallowing a box of bullets and rapidly firing them by spitting them out like a machine gun. Specifically, Slapstick is a character in the 616 Marvel Universe, just like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. However, he has super powers that just happen to make him resemble a cartoon. He has a normal human form, but when he transforms to his Slapstick form, he has Rubber Man powers, meaning that he can be stretched harmlessly and turn into an accordion when crushed, and a very powerful Healing Factor, meaning that he can be riddled with bullets, and burned to ash and leave his eyes unharmed long enough for a few blinks. He also has gloves which can access a "sub-spacial storage pocket," or, in layman's terms, Hammerspace. Finally, he has the personality of a practical joker. Put it together, and he's a cartoon character who could reasonably interact with the X-Men.
  • The Multiversity:
    • In The Multiversity #1, Captain Carrot invokes this in a fight with a HULK MASH!-Up on Earth-8, a fight he won by the way. Being squashed flat doesn't do anything to him, because he can just pop back up again.
    • The Multiversity Guidebook #1 notes that this is true for all of Earth-26. Being destroyed apparently isn't much of a problem for it, either.
  • In one of the first appearances of Mr. Mxyzptlk after the John Byrne reboot, he makes cartoon characters real and attacks Superman with them. The creatures (expies of, among others, Fred Flintstone, The Smurfs, and Mighty Mouse) obey this and are thus somewhat of a chore, but when Superman himself is turned toony by Mxy, he exploits it (pulling a cat from Hammerspace in his cloak to scare the Mighty Mouse expy, for instance).
  • Like the film it inspired, The Mask grants its wearer the use of Toon Physics. Unlike the film, though, victims of The Mask's shenanigans are not subject to the same, so things like Squashed Flat and Torso with a View end up as brutally gory deaths instead of Amusing Injuries. For example, the scene where Ipkiss stuck car parts into the mechanics who ripped him off? In the movie, they survive but are in desperate need of a proctologist. In the comic, they're left as bloody corpses. Or how about the scene where he makes a Tommy gun out of a balloon? In the movie, he scares away the thugs. In the comic, he blasts them into hamburger meat.
  • Dastardly & Muttley has this in spades, due to being a comic about the real world suddenly having people gain powers related to cartoon physics and being transformed into cartoon characters themselves. However, unlike most examples of this trope, this is not portrayed in a comedic manner...well, at least not for the most part. Like in The Mask, it’s deconstructed and portrayed horrifically, because it’s a comic that shows what would actually happen if this trope existed in real life. And the results aren’t pretty. And it makes sense when you consider that a), it’s a Darker, Edgier and somewhat more realistic reboot/interpretation (emphasis on the “somewhat”) of Dastardly & Muttley in Their Flying Machines and b), it’s written by Garth Ennis. Granted, the way cartoon physics is portrayed in this story isn’t as dark as some of Ennis’s other works, but it’s still pretty ghastly.
  • In the DC Elseworld Batman: Gargoyle of Gotham, the villain Crytoon is obsessed with the cartoon character of the same name and reenacts the character's antics. While the injuries are easy to brush off in a cartoon thanks to Toon Physics, it's much worse in real life.

    Comic Strips 
  • The lead characters in Sam's Strip had almost Seinfeldian conversations about the physical laws in their comic strip world.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the toons naturally have this power, but live humans do not outside of Toon Town, which means even though the vast majority of them are benign and friendly, it's entirely possible for a toon to kill a human using cartoon rules. This is what makes Judge Doom so scary, because he can and does kill people with Toon Physics. Furthermore, he found a way to kill the supposedly immortal toons with the Dip, made out of turpentine, acetone and benzene (i.e. oil remover, paint thinner and film dissolver). Humans' and Toons' being able to survive things is further explained as being based on Rule of Funny. A human or toon can survive having a piano dropped on them if it'd be funny to any observers. If it's not, like when Eddie Valiant's brother was murdered by Judge Doom, then the very real consequences apply.
  • Cool World has a comic character emerging into the real world and alternating between the two, with all the associated physical effects.
  • The Mask invokes magical powers to give those who wear the mask superpowers that amount to classic cartoon physics. Some justification is given in that the first wearer is a fan of them.
  • Twilight Zone: The Movie includes a sequence where the Omnipotent Child both brings a cartoon character into real life, and sends Nancy Cartwright into a cartoon. It ends VERY badly for her.
  • Space Jam and Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Special note in the former, as it turns out that normal humans can also use Toon Physics in "Looney Tunes Land", setting up an awesome moment for Michael Jordan.
  • The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle showed this as the characters were in the real world with a Shout-Out to Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
  • Kung Fu Hustle is a rare live-action example that doesn't involve the Roger Rabbit Effect. The back cover of the DVD aptly describes the film as Looney Tunes meets Quentin Tarantino.
  • Lampshaded in Ernest Rides Again when Ernest thanks cartoon physics for how he manages to survive all manner of crazy things like a nail gun shooting him in the head:
    Abner: Ernest! Are you dead?!
    Ernest: No... I guess I would be if I weren't just that close to being an actual cartoon.
  • Played with in Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022). Chip at one point is able to blow into his thumb to restore a lost ear, but Dale, who has undergone CGI-surgery, is no longer capable of exploiting Toon Physics when he gets stuck in a restraint.
    Dale: This body is meant to be looked at, not touched!

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Steve Jackson Games published a roleplaying system called Toon. It obeys this trope to the letter; characters are unkillable (though they can Fall Down for a few rounds), failing an intelligence roll can allow one to ignore gravity, and sawing through a tree branch has a fifty percent chance of causing the tree to fall with the branch suspended in midair. The entire point of the game is to be as funny as possible.

    Video Games 
  • The Bendy games use these rather heavily.
  • Cuphead uses these almost constantly due to being based on 30s animation.
  • Team Fortress 2 is a rather unique example. The game's physics are very consistent with real life, due to using the Havok physics engine, however:
    • The Pyro's Flamethrower comes equipped with an air compressor that can reflect rockets.
    • Scout can jump in midair (common in video games, but also common in cartoon physics as well).
    • Soldier can shoot explosives at people's feet, which propels them upward (including his own feet).
      • As can the Demoman.
    • The recoil from one of the Scout's weapons is so strong that he can propel himself in mid-air with it.
    • The Heavy can shoot people by making his hand into a gun-shape and shouting "POW!".
    • Saxton Hale from the self-named mod can jump 100 feet in the air on a whim.
    Saxton Hale: Screw gravity!
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is also like Team Fortress 2, in that it mixes Toon Physics with realistic physics done in Nintendo's own proprietary physics engine. In fact, all in-game physics is realistic, with impressive simulation of rope bridges, string, hair, and cloth, and generic Newtonian dynamics, while Toon Physics only appears during cutscenes, which have scripted animations that are rendered within the game engine. Small enemies can be squashed flat by a giant hammer in regular gameplay, though.
  • Skullgirls characters all operate under some degree of cartoon physics due to it being a fighting game, but none moreso than Peacock. Peacock's entire gimmick is being a superpowered cyborg whose appearance and abilities are all heavily based off of Golden Age cartoons. She is explicitly described as being able to bend reality to fit her cartoonish fighting style. Peacock pulls a plethora of weapons out of Hammerspace, summons Shadows of Impending Doom to drop random objects such as pianos and other hefty objects on her opponents' heads, shoots Abnormal Ammo from her comically oversized revolver, pulls opponents into a Big Ball of Violence, can summon an entire backup squad of cartoon cronies including a multitude of walking bombs, and utilises many other playfully painful fighting techniques that operate under these rules.
  • The Mario & Luigi series uses these rules more aggressively than almost any other Mario franchise. They're mostly used for travel purposes... such as Luigi slamming Mario on the head with a hammer to squash him short so he can walk under a doorway, or Mario lighting Luigi's butt on fire in order to make him run at breakneck speed.

  • Project 0: One of the powers afforded by modding. It's only been used sparsely.
  • The Cartoon Chronicles of Conroy Cat breaks up cartoon physics into two factors: the Funny Bone, where toons can withstand things like Amusing Injuries, and the Fourth Wall, as seen here.
  • It happens in The Order of the Stick when Vaarsuvius disintegrates the horse of the death knight. The usual lampshade is hung.
    Vaarsuvius: W. E. Coyote's Law of Cartoon Inertia: "Objects in motion tend to stay at the same altitude until gravity is noticed.".
  • In a The Hero of Three Faces strip, when discussing how Star Trek universe physics makes perfect sense to Trek characters, even though from the Doctor's perspective it's total nonsense, Data points out that physics are bound to be consistant within a fictional plane, and offers the analogy that, were they to visit the Looney Tunes universe, Wile E. Coyote physics would apply to them. Cut to the Doctor blindfolding Data on top of a cliff.
    Data: I fail to understand why I have been selected for this experiment.
    Doctor: Because it was your idea!
  • Sergeant Acme of Kong Tower has this as a Superpower, complete with Hammerspace and Wheel o' Feet.
  • In The Bird Feeder #224, "Rain protection," it's used by Josh to torment Lewis. The bill of his cap extends to stop the rain from hitting Lewis, though the effect only works due to the perspective.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! tends to follow Rule of Funny or Rule of Drama depending on the needs of the scene. On the one hand, people can survive dragonfire and explosions with no more than singed eyebrows, spaceships can routinely crash into Bob's roof without obliterating his house, and the thousands-of-tons heavy Snookums can hop around like a bunny without doing any worse than cracking the sidewalk. On the other hand, Bob himself gets banged up surprisingly seriously on a pretty regular basis. It was a major plot point that he was lastingly spooked by how close the Cone story arc came to killing him.

    Web Original 
  • After being transformed into human cartoon characters, the (live action) characters in The Cartoon Man begin operating on Toon Physics.
  • A good bit of Happy Tree Friends comes from playing with this trope all over the place for the sake of Gorn. Cartoon Physics will be played straight, subverted, averted, and exploited by the animators to try and make the outcome as cruel and darkly funny as possible.
  • This trope has been used numerous times in DEATH BATTLE! and will make or break a battle. The main conclusion to be drawn from this is that characters with access to Toon Physics that were never meant to be analyzed are so unstoppable that they make even Chuck Norris and Segata Sanshiro look totally helpless.
    • An interesting case is with Deadpool. During his fight with Pinkie Pie, his Healing Factor was so on par with Pinkie Pie's usage of this that they both tied yet in his fight against The Mask, The Mask's on mastery of this trope was so beyond what Pinkie had that he curbstomped Deadpool, something that both Wiz and Boomstick regretted.
    • Saitama, the unstoppable One-Punch Man, went up against Popeye the Sailor Man in which the former was given the fight he so desired and was defeated.
    • SpongeBob SquarePants himself fought 1970s cartoon Aquaman resulting to a Curbstomp Battle leading to the latter's defeat.
    • Both Scooby-Doo and Courage the Cowardly Dog had enough toon physics to survive anything that the other could throw, ending in a draw. The same didn't apply to Eustace Bagge, who ends up the casualty and loser of the match.
  • Musical Hell: In Diva’s riff on Rolf Kauka's Once Upon a Time, she lampshades this trope when the Cobbler fails to adhere to Gravity Is a Harsh Mistress.
    Diva: No, no! You looked down so now you MUST fall comically to your doom! This is like, the first rule of cartoon physics! Ugh!

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball uses and abuses these physics.
  • In the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "One + One = Ed", the Eds explore Toon Physics, which don't (overtly) apply in the show, and they end up destroying the universe (which then goes back to normal near the end [sort of]).
  • Bonkers — in which the humans, while animated, aren't considered "toons", and don't usually get the benefit of Toon Physics. However, non-Toons can use Toon Physics on occasion, if the person is willing, with Lucky walking on thin air and Miranda changing into a disguise outfit instantly as examples. They arguably have the advantage here, as Toons seem compelled to finish the gag and make it funny over making Toon Physics useful, as seen when Lucky is able to resist looking down and breaking the "walking on thin air" joke, while Bonkers and the villain have to look down and fall.
    • In one episode, a chase through Toontown leads Lucky and Bonkers to the intersection of Squash and Stretch Streets. Their influence forces Bonkers through some pretty bizarre contortions, much to Lucky's amusement — until they start trying to make him do the same thing.
  • Animaniacs features this in spades, though naturally the Warners use it the most out of the cast.
  • Walt Disney himself referred to this phenomenon as "The Plausible Impossible", i.e. animating actions that would be physically impossible (a character walks off a cliff and still stands in mid-air) and making them seem plausible in the animated setting (said character then looks down, realizes his predicament and starts falling).
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Pinkie Pie has many toony abilities no other pony is capable of. These almost never amount to any practical effect, however, and are generally accepted as "Weird things that Pinkie Pie does, just ignore it" by anyone around to witness them. Among other things, she's able to pass through walls by ducking out and into frame, abruptly pop out of things far too small to hold her (including Rarity's hat), chase ponies à la Pepé Le Pew, stretch like she's made of rubber, and devour a cake several times her size (an act which even shocked Princess Celestia, the kingdom's ruler and Physical Goddess, who is well over 1000 years old).
    • The wiki has a gallery dedicated to "Pinkie Pie being cartoonish."
    • "Winter Wrap-Up" shows that other ponies are capable of Pinkie's antics (much to Dash's confusion) but only during elaborate musical sequences.
    • Fanfic writer D. G. D. Davidson points out that one of the reasons My Little Pony fanfiction tends to seem grittier than the show is that the loony, ubiquitous version that work seamlessly in animation don't translate very well to writing, and so the setting has to be made more realistic and less cartoony and carefree. This particularly hits Pinkie, since her toon gags are a large part of her portrayal in the show, and she's not easy to write without them.
    • The characters are often startled by Pinkie's antics, but seldom actually comment on them, shrugging them off as Pinkie Pie being Pinkie Pie. Rainbow Dash does, however, call her on it in "Too Many Pinkie Pies", when she slows down her fall in midair in order to slip into a lake quietly. However, Pinkie's explanation of how she did it, as per usual, is completely unhelpful.
  • The trope was collectively codified in Looney Tunes and Tex Avery shorts. Bugs Bunny lampshaded it once:
    Bugs: I know 'dis defies da laws of gravity, but I never studied law.
  • Darkwing Duck does not only lampshade these "Physics" — he also (ab)uses them to his advantage! Like by slipping under a door just after being Squashed Flat.
  • An episode of Johnny Test had a pair of cartoon characters transported into the "real world" and cause havoc. They were virtually unstoppable due to this, as they were functionally invulnerable.
  • In the Heckle and Jeckle short "The Power of Thought", Jeckle tells Heckle that he has realized that as cartoon characters, they can do anything they can think of. They then proceed to make a bulldog policeman's life a living hell, until he realizes that he, too, is a cartoon character.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures has a lot of this, seeing as it takes place at a school for young Toons to learn how to do what Toons do best. An episode from the second season of the show was titled "Toon Physics", and featured cutaway gags with Orson Whales explaining to the viewers how Toon Physics differ from Real World Physics.
  • Phineas and Ferb utilizes this frequently, typically with a Lampshade Hanging.
  • The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat.
  • The Saturday morning cartoon of The Mask. Ace Ventura even lampshades this in the crossover episode "The Aceman Cometh".
  • Played with Kappa Mikey. The title character himself has this, but the anime (Japanese) characters are more into this than himself.
  • This subject is explored in the Ben 10 (2016) episode, "Xingo." In it, Ben accidentally brings the titular character into his reality when he goes Upgrade to fix the TV and lightning strikes the satellite dish. Xingo, despite no longer being in his own reality, still operates entirely on cartoon logic. He's nigh-invulnerable, capable of seemingly unlimited shapeshifting, can materialize any object out of thin air, and is at the very least Type Two omnipotent. He's also completely incapable of distinguishing between what is harmless fun and actually harmful outside of his normal cartoon reality.
  • In "Lucky Pajamas" on Llama Llama, when Mama Llama agrees to let Llama Llama wear his "lucky pajamas" for the whole day, he gives a leap in the air that is rather too high, too slow and too sustained to be realistic.
  • The Corner Gas animated series tries to be as grounded as it was when it was originally a live action series. But one episode has Wanda build a caged fighting arena in little time, which surprised Lacey. Wanda explains that she feels like she's no longer bound by the limitations of real life.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants uses theses physics all the time.
  • SWAT Kats normally averted it, given it was a serious action series (from Hanna-Barbera, no less), excepting a quick gag (when Chance was busy watching the in-universe cartoon Scaredy Kat and Jake told him Callie was in danger; Chance promptly rushes off-screen and is suddenly in his flight suit).


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Cartoon Physics


Do we walk back up the slide?

Fluttershy is taken aback to Pinkie Pie going back up the slide and even queries about it.

How well does it match the trope?

4.63 (30 votes)

Example of:

Main / ToonPhysics

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