Rubber hose animation

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Rubber hose animation was the first animation style that became standardized in the American animation industry. The defining feature of the style is "rubber hose limbs"—arms, and sometimes legs, that are typically simple, flowing curves, without articulation (no hinged wrists or elbows).[1]


Beginnings and rise[edit]

In the early days of hand drawn animation in the 1920s, the studios' main areas were not in Hollywood, but New York City. Animation was a new phenomenon and there were no experienced animators; yet there were skilled artists working on newspapers, creating comic strips in a time when even the comic strips themselves were relatively new. Many of them became fascinated with the introduction of moving drawings, and saw them as new possibilities and challenges to use their skills on something they found more exciting than the newspaper strips.

For this reason, many of the first cartoons had many similarities with moving comic strips. The artists experimented with what worked and what did not, and what they could and could not do. In the strips, they had no need to think of their work in three dimensions or how they moved, but at the same time this extra aspect gave them the opportunity to introduce gags and elements not possible in comic stills. Moreover, because the drawings would have to be mass-produced to create the illusion of movement, they had to come up with a compromise where characters were less detailed and time consuming, but at the same time alive and complex enough.

As animators gained experience through trial, error and collaborations, cartoons became more professional and dominated by specific rules in how to make them.

The studios would have to be very sensitive to any new trend in the business to be able to survive in the competition. One of the consequences of this was that the most successful cartoons, characters and studios would have a strong influence on the rest of the industry. One of the earliest examples was Felix the Cat, who quickly spawned imitators at different studios. The style and design of a popular cartoon could have a great impact; this feedback mechanism with successful cartoons affected the rest of the animation business. Combined with the natural evolution of animation, this would result in a dominating design that would be known as the rubber hose style, even if there were individual differences between the studios. Bill Nolan is credited with the introduction of this animation style.[2]

Decline and fall[edit]

Rubber hose animation gradually faded away when further sophistication of the cartoons was introduced, especially by Walt Disney. He wanted to make his cartoons more realistic and have them follow much of the same rules as live action, a direction that would later be named full animation. He saw animation as a potential surrogate for live action, where he could do what was impossible in live action once it achieved his demands of realism. This was a direction that did not allow the fluid bodies seen in the rubber hose style and, due to Disney's success, this trend was spread to the remaining producers of cartoons on demands from their distributors, most of them located in Hollywood at this time.

Later cartoons would sometimes include some of the trademarks of rubber hose, such as those of Tex Avery for MGM, The Warner Siblings for WB Animation, or Ren and Stimpy, but the original style and its influence became a part of animation history by the start of the 1930s, and went out of favor by the mid-1930s. Fleischer Studios held to it the longest, finally conforming to the more contemporary West Coast animation style by 1940. The style's influence, however, still continues into the present, with shows like Adventure Time incorporating some of rubber hose animation's elements.[3]

Influence in modern media[edit]

While there are not many uses of rubber hose animation today, there are some media that pay homage to the animation style.

Theatrical animated short[edit]

In 2013, Walt Disney Animation Studios produced a 3D animated slapstick comedy short film, using the style.[4] Get a Horse! combines black-and-white hand-drawn animation and color[5] CGI animation, the short features the characters of the late 1920s Mickey Mouse cartoons, and features archival recordings of Walt Disney in a posthumous role as Mickey Mouse.[6][7] It is the first original Mickey Mouse theatrical animated short since Runaway Brain (1995), and the first appearance of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in a Disney animated production in 85 years.

Video game[edit]

With respect to video games, there are multiple uses of rubber hose animation. Some of these games include: Kingdom Hearts, Epic Mickey, Bendy and the Ink Machine, and Cuphead. Kingdom Hearts uses the rubber hose animation style in one of the levels as a homage to the classic way of animating. Epic Mickey is a Disney game that utilizes the classic style of Disney characters. This game brings them back to the look like they did in the 1930s. Bendy and the Ink Machine's characters are based on 1920s Rubber Hose Animation, with the appearance of old black and white cartoons. Cuphead is another game that utilises rubber hose animation, and the animation for each of the game's numerous characters and creatures relies heavily on techniques pioneered by the animation style. The creators of Cuphead were heavily inspired by this style of animation and wanted the player to feel as though they were watching a 1930s cartoon.


The Futurama episode "Reincarnation", in its segment "Colorama", uses rubber hose animation. In this portion of the episode, the characters are rather bouncy and have an air of playfulness about them.

Another prominent use of rubber hose animation is Disney Television's Mickey Mouse. The series has the slapstick feel of the original Mickey Mouse shorts, while providing a modern update with the extensive use of Toon Boom and Flash animation, and "presents Mickey in a broad range of humorous situations that showcase his pluck and rascality, along with his long-beloved charm and good-heartedness.[8][9]


  1. ^ "John Kricfalusi "All Kinds of Stuff" blog entry, "Help Me Do Some Rubber Hose Crap."".
  2. ^ Arnold, Gordon B. (2017). Animation and the American Imagination. p. 30.
  3. ^ "The Basics of Animation Style Guides". Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  4. ^ "Disney Animation preview: 'Frozen,' 'Big Hero 6' at Disney's D23; Plus 'Zootopia' announced".
  5. ^ "Old-school Mickey Mouse gets future shock in 'Get a Horse!' FIRST LOOK".
  6. ^ Keegan, Rebecca (23 April 2013). "Walt Disney Animation releases new Mickey Mouse short". Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ "
  9. ^ Suszek, Mike (January 4, 2014). "1930s cartoon-inspired Cuphead targeting late 2014 on PC". Joystiq. AOL Tech. Archived from the original on August 8, 2014. Retrieved August 2, 2014.