I’ve always pondered the purpose of anvils in cartoons. To tell the truth I didn’t know what an anvil really was except to inflict pain on cartoon villains. Because it is such ancient tools the sole purpose of these objects are lost or virtually unknown, and only recognized in cartoons.
Historically, the anvil is a block hard surface on which another object is struck – often used by black smiths.
Got it! But where did the idea come from to drop anvils on villains in cartoons?
The idea of an anvil falling from the sky and landing on someone’s head (when you really think about it) seems very nonsensical. But within the rules/physics of cartoons it totally makes sense. (more on this sure to follow).
According to some sites an anvil is the standard prop for cartoon gags. It’s the epitome of a heavy and clumsy object perfect for dropping on a villain. The anvil is sometimes replaced with safes or grand pianos and is usually grouped with the “shadow of impending doom” and a bomb whistle.
It is all part of Cartoon physics:
Everything falls faster than an anvil and it will always land on the character’s head.
Other cartoon physics principles include:
Running off a clip and hanging in midair until the cartoon character realize it
Certain cartoons can pass through solid walls painted to resemble tunnel entrances (very popular in Looney Tunes).
Cartoon physics are often explained by the characters themselves: in one Animaniacs episode Yakko, Wakko and Dot explains that toons are allowed to bend or break natural laws for the purposes of comedy. It’s all about comedic timing.
Anvils are also used as a 4th of July celebration: two anvils are placed on top of each other filled with gunpowder. When ignited it explodes/fires into the air. Much like fireworks today.
In another Animaniacs episode Yakko becomes the king of Anvillania. the national anthem (after a super boring, put to sleep anthem) they change it to this:
Yakko: It’s made of solid iron…
Dot: It weighs a ton or two…
Wakko: We know you’d like to meet it…
All Together: It wants to meet you too!
— Animaniacs, “The Anvil Song”
The first use of an anvil in a cartoon was in “A tale of two kitties”, a 1942 cartoon directed by Bob Clampett. It features the two cartoon cats named Babbit and Catstello (parodies of comedy team Abbot and Costello). Babbit looks to me more like a wolf than a cat. They try to catch and eat the first version of Tweety bird (an ugly, pink baby bird).
The most famous uses of a falling anvil is cemented in the Road Runner cartoons. The first episode it was used was in “Beep Beep” in 1952.
I love the mysteries of cartoons!
Posted on August 16, 2013, in Notes and tagged 4th of july celebration, Animaniacs, Anvillania, anvils, Babbit and Catstello, cartoon physics, cartoon villains, Looney Tunes, Road runner. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Anvils/Anvillania.