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Rule Of Three / Western Animation

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The Rule of Three in western animation.


  • In The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius episode "Krunch Time", Jimmy prepares three batches of his homemade candy before he perfects it. The first batch Carl and Sheen like for a few seconds before it goes bad and they spit it into the garbage, the second batch causes them to spontaneously grow facial hair, and the third batch explodes.
  • Animaniacs:
    • In a short: "Tea? Coffee? Monster?"
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    • Another example: Slappy is eulogizing her archfoe Walter Wolf, who was faking the funeral to 'get' her. According to Slappy, Walter was a firm believer in this rule, including three bombs that were found lying around to blow her up. 'I'm sure he'd want to be buried with it.'
  • Used in most, if not almost all, episodes of The Backyardigans. For example, in the James Bond parody episode, Pablo must protect three secret containers from Uniqua.
  • Blaze and the Monster Machines makes big usages of this trope in every episode:
    • There are three major problems Blaze and AJ have to solve on their adventure, and for each one, either there are three parts to the problem, or they take three attempts to solve it, by failing on the first two and succeeding on the third.
    • Blaze’s Once per Episode Transformation Sequence requires three parts, though there are some exceptions which require two, and in two early episodes, four. His and Zeg’s insect transformations in “The Big Ant-venture” also required only one part each.
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    • Crusher’s occasional subplot shows up three times in an episode, with the third usually being the episode’s last scene before the credits.
    • For any episode that features a Fetch Quest, there are three items needed to be found throughout the trip while visiting the usual three places.
  • Blue's Clues always uses three clues to solve the episodes' puzzle. It's even in the song.
  • The Critic uses the same joke in this case: To prove to Jay that he's being repetitive, his boss Duke shows him a video of him hosting his show Coming Attractions, but with the screen split into thirds.
    Jay: (section 1, from 1988) Rain Man (section 2, from 1992) A Few Good Men (section 3, from 1993) The Firm (all together) is the latest stinker from Tom Cruise. He doesn't act anymore, he's on ... Cruise Control! AAAAAAHAHAHA! AAAAAAHA! I JUST ... I JUST! MADE THAT! UP!
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  • In The Crumpets episode "Les sur-vivants", when the gang are in the woods during an apparent viral Zombie Apocalypse, group leader Triceps speaks about three steps for survival, but she initially refused to reveal the third one because it isn't time yet. Once the twins Bother and Blister ask her what their roles are, she gives them step three, which is having no choice but winning the battle. Caprice, Cassandra and Scene Transition quotes would mention the third step during high-tension situations, such as the former two confronting a hallucinating Triceps.
  • In Dora the Explorer, there are usually three places that the characters have to go in each episode, with the exception of certain double-length installments. Also, saying Swiper, No Swiping! three times stops Swiper, though if the characters aren't able to manage it in time, then he declares that they're too late and swipes.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Drawn Together, when Wooldor describes what his television show will do. In his words, it will "Entertain kids, annoy adults, and funny third thing!"
  • Lampshaded and Subverted in Duckman. While looking for suspects at a nightclub, Duckman says "Something bugs me. He's the third suspicious character we've talked to, and the third one is always guilty". The lights go out, shots are heard and when it's over the suspect is dead on the floor. Cornfed observes "So much for the Rule Of Three."
  • Averted on Extreme Ghostbusters. "On the count of three." "Three!"
  • On The Fairly OddParents!, an episodes Running Gag is used three times. Also, in the "Wishology" trilogy, three wands were eventually needed to defeat The Darkness.
  • Family Guy uses this trope liberally for their gags. DVD Commentary also states the trope name for when a comedy uses a gag that involves three things.
  • In one episode of Freakazoid!, the eponymous character is picked up by a holographic pterodactyl and dropped from an extreme height, and he screams for help every time he falls. Lampshaded the third time when he and the Lobe fall together:
    The Lobe: Freakazoid, why is it taking us so long to fall?
    Freakazoid: Cuz it's funny!
    The Lobe: No it's not, it's just stupid! It's as dumb as that Handman episode!
  • In Futurama: One spoonful calms you down, two spoonfuls help you sleep, but three spoonfuls, you'll go into a sleep and never wake up! Never!
    "Oh Fry... I love you more than the moon and the stars and the POETIC IMAGE NUMBER 37 NOT FOUND"

    Joey: He's flashin' his cash loaf again.
    Donbot: How many times is that? Two or three?
    Clamps: Three.
    Donbot: Alright. That's the necessary number of times.
  • In one episode of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Harvey keeps waking up to find the heads of Hanna-Barbera characters at the foot of his bed a la The Godfather: first it's Quick Draw McGraw, then an apparently still alive Jabberjaw, then what is either Gleep or Gloop.
  • The Hollow: Turns out each group can only use three portals, and Kai ends up using their last ones.
  • Kaeloo: In "Let's Play Guess Who!", Bad Kaeloo beats Mr. Cat up three times. As it is about to happen the third time, Mr. Cat even lampshades how it had to be done three times.
  • In the Milo Murphy's Law episode "The Race", Milo attempts to grab a cup of water from a table provided for competitors in the eponymous race. Due to Murphy's Law, the first cup he grabs has the water fall through the bottom, the second gets stolen by a bird, and when he tries to grab a third, the whole table collapses.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Each of the mane ponies' cutie marks have something to do with the number three. Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie have three apples, gems, butterflies and balloons as their cutie marks respectively. The lightning bolt on Rainbow Dash's cutie mark is composed of three colors.
    • Also, all of the lead characters barring Twilight Sparkle have exactly three syllables in their names.
    • Also applies to the Cutie Mark Crusaders. There are three of them, and all three have names that consist of three syllables.
    • There are three types of ponies (Earth ponies, Unicorns and Pegasi), and both the mane cast and the Cutie Mark Crusaders are made up of an even balance between these types. With the two groups combined, there are three of each.
    • Story-wise, many episodes rely on a minimum of three ponies regardless of how many are the actual focus characters — "Look Before You Sleep", based around Applejack and Rarity, adds Twilight Sparkle to the mix, and "Putting your Hoof Down" has Rarity and Pinkie Pie in a Fluttershy ep. This often ties in with the concept of the Freudian Trio, especially in Season 1 episodes where Twilight Sparkle usually acted as the Ego (such as "look before you sleep" where Applejack was the Id and Rarity was the Superego). The show likes to invert the freudian trio a lot too, where the central character's behavior is out of balance and two other characters will try to correct them.
    • In "Inspiration Manifestation", Spike's description of Rarity's first puppet theater, lampshaded with Spike counting to three on his claw afterward.
      Spike: So that puppeteer didn't like your exquisitely crafted best puppet theater in the history of puppet theaters puppet theater.
    • Averted in “Pinkie Apple Pie” where a running gag had an eagle showing up randomly and taking animals off screen to their doom.
  • Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero: In "3 Big Problems", one of the missiles that Rippen launches at the heroes crushes three buildings, the third of which is named "Rule of 3".
  • Combined with Inherently Funny Words in The PJs. Thurgood is working on a stand-up act and the book he got on how to be funny says things in three are funny as well as words with a hard k in them (like knish, tukas, fakakta). He logically assumes then that the funniest thing ever is KKK.
  • The Powerpuff Girls has the three main protagonists Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup.
  • In the Ready Jet Go! episode “My Three Suns”, the kids have three daymares as to what it would be like to live on a planet with 3 suns.
  • Robot Chicken:
    • The DC Comics special. Bane repeatedly turns up suddenly and breaks Batman's back, followed by a hilarious music sting. (Dumdedum dum dee THAT'S BANE!) He does this the expected three times... then a fourth, to which Batman screams "RULE OF THREE, ASSHOLE, NOT RULE OF FOUR!"
    • In one sketch, a boy is hospitalized three times whenever he goes onto a road to retrieve a soccer ball and gets hit by a car each time. The first time he's left mute, then he becomes deaf, then he just gets brain damage.
    • One sketch has an inventor building a time machine with the intention of going back to see the dinosaurs. Instead, he ends up getting sent back to the presidential assassinations of Lincoln, JFK, and Reagan and ends up getting shot himself each time. On the fourth attempt, he goes back and sees a T. rex... who pulls out a handgun and shoots him.
    • A sketch in the Born Again Virgin Christmas Special is comprised of a spelling bee where a bunch of kids try to spell "Hanukkah" and keep failing. At the end, on-screen text explains that there are over 275 ways to spell the name of the holiday, and itself fails to spell it right three times before giving up and settling on "Jewish Christmas."
  • Schoolhouse Rock's first song was about the three times tables. Hilariously, it was called "Three Is a Magic Number". It was full of all kinds of examples.
  • South Park:
    • "Biggie Smalls. Biggie Smalls. Biggie Smalls."
    • South Park also did it in the Imaginationland episode:
      "Sir, we have a security breach!"
      "What?!"
      "There's an Unauthorized Entry Alert! It's coming from Sector Two!"
      "Sector Two??"
    • Cartman then jumps in through a window. The second time the above dialogue occurs, Cartman again jumps in through the shoddily repaired window. The third time it happens, Kyle jumps in through the remnants of the window, causing the general to exclaim, "Why is it so easy for children to break into the Pentagon?!"
    • Also in the episode "Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow" after Stan, Kyle, and Cartman leave, Randy volunteers to go after them, whereupon he is told "You can't go, you'll freeze to death!" whereupon Gerald volunteers to go, and is told "You can't go, you'll freeze to death!". Cue a third random person volunteering and a third random person reluctantly saying "You can't go, you'll freeze to death."
  • On Special Agent Oso, the problem a child is having in any particular story can be solved in "Three Simple Steps." That said, sometimes a particular step will have more than one thing in it, such as the second step of taking care of a cut from a thorn in "Redfinger" being to dry off your hands that you just washed and then dab antibiotic ointment on the cut.
  • Steven Universe: Discussed in "Bismuth". After a second "Bismuth/business" pun, Amethyst complains that they already did that joke, to which Steven points out that the third time it happens it'll be really funny. It does happen a third time, and it's not funny at all.
  • In Thomas the Tank Engine, From season 8 onward (Sharon Miller's tenure as head writer), almost all plots follow this, where a character must make one mistake three times in a row before realizing what they did wrong, and then things get Anvilicious. Many fans have referred to this as the "Three-Strike Formula". This got toned down by Season 17, when Andrew Brenner took over as the head writer.
  • In one Tiny Toon Adventures short, a clown runs by in the background three times. After the third and final time near the end of the cartoon, Babs dryly explains he's "a Running Gag". The plot of the episode is about Buster's quest to revive a joke he's driven into the ground (represented by a clown in a grave...morbid). The joke has this trope too: "A duck, a rabbit, and a pig go to a restaurant..."note 
  • In Transformers Armada, there are three legendarily strong weapons formed by the combination of three Mini-Cons apiece... Caused partly by the Merchandise-Driven nature of the series, as Mini-Cons were sold in teams of three. Also, the Mini-Cons added a third unique group of transformers alongside the Autobots and Decepticons — as witness their unique emblem.
  • Triple Threat — Rail Racer! And the original Triple-Changers came in sets of 3, and the Unicron Trilogy (and Headmasters) tended to have 3-kid sidekick teams. Transformers is _mostly_ based around the number 2, though.
  • The Trollhunter from Trollhunters lives and dies by three rules:
  • Winx Club:
    • Fairies normally attend Alfea for three semesters.
    • The Crystal Labrynth in the third season forced three of the Winx with sacrifices: Tecna had to give up her emotions, Stella her beauty, and Musa the chance to see her deceased mother.
    • In the fourth season, there are three eternal fairies that give the girls the three gifts of destiny.
    • In the fifth season, the Winx have to find three gems and pass the tests that come with it as part of the quest to obtain the Sirenix transformation.
  • Wish Kid: To trigger the glove's wish-granting power, the user must punch it three times. Nick usually says his wish once for each time he hits the glove but it's revealed in at least two episodes that what really matters is the wish mentioned during the third time. Mrs. Opal must have figured the rule of three is somehow a part of how the glove works as she once tried to become Miss America by stating her wish three times with the glove on her head.
  • Yogi's Gang: In "Mr. Fibber", there are three times when Yogi is asked to land because of some emergency. He initially refuses during the third time because the other two turned out to be lies.
    Yogi Bear: You fooled me twice. Three times isn't nice!


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