Rubber hose animation

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The Oswald the Lucky Rabbit short Trolley Troubles (1927) is an example of the rubber hose style of animation.

Rubber hose animation was the first animation style that became standardized in the American animation field. The defining feature is a curving motion that most animated objects possess, resembling the motion and physical properties of a rubber hose.[1] While the style fell out of fashion by the mid-1930s, it has seen a renewed interest in recent years.


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 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 had 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 of how to make them.

The studios had to be sensitive to any new business trend to survive the competition. A consequence of this was that the style and design of the most successful and popular cartoons had a great impact on the rest of the animation business. One of the earliest examples was Felix the Cat, who quickly spawned imitators at different studios. Combined with the natural evolution of animation, this resulted in a dominating design that would be known as the rubber hose style, despite 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 as cartoons were made more sophisticated, especially by Walt Disney. Disney 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. Disney 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 direction 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 through demands from their Hollywood distributors.

Rubber-hose trademarks appeared in some later cartoons, including 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] and the video game Cuphead paying full homage.[4]

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.

Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor

Theatrical animated shorts[edit]

In 2013, Walt Disney Animation Studios produced a 3D animated slapstick comedy short film using the style.[5] Get a Horse! combines black-and-white hand-drawn animation and color[6] 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.[7][8] 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 games[edit]

  • Some video games use rubber hose animation, including Epic Mickey, Cuphead, Bendy and the Ink Machine, Enchanted Portals, and early Sonic the Hedgehog games, shows and comics. Skullgirls includes the playable character "Peacock", whose visual design and attacks draw from 1920s animation tropes characters are based on 1920s rubber hose animation, having the appearance of old black and white cartoons.
  • Smite has two gods with skins that take inspiration from the rubber hose animation with Baron Samedi as Funny Bones and Cthulhu as Toon Mania.
  • The animation for each of the numerous characters and creatures in Cuphead relies heavily on techniques pioneered by the animation style; its creators wanted players to feel as though they were watching a 1930s cartoon.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog also had rubber hose limbs, especially in the games in the 90s. An example of his rubber hose limbs is evident in his trademark pose with one hand on his hip, a waving finger and crossed legs, seen on the box art of his original game. He also uses some exaggerated running poses.
  • The 2023 video game Pizza Tower shows the characters animated in a similar, cartoonish art style.
  • In the game Honkai: Star Rail, a character of a popular animated series in Penacony, Clockie, take inspiration from the rubber hose animation style.

Card games[edit]

The Japanese trading-card game Yu-Gi-Oh! and the franchise it is based around features a line of cards called 'Toons', based on 1920s American animation styles (to contrast with the Japanese animation style of most cards).

Film and television[edit]

  • 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.[9][10]
  • The claymation TV series, Pingu has techniques incorporated in its animation, such as having characters have their upper body stretch to reach up or roll up in a ball.
  • The animated series Tom And Jerry uses rubberhose techniques in its characters.
  • The mascot of Planters, Mr. Peanut, who is an anthropomorphic peanut who wears 1930s style Gentleman clothing, in his advertisements he does rubberhose techniques, and his son Peanut Jr. who does the same things as him
  • The mascot of both Hasbro and Monopoly, Mr. Monopoly, has 1930s Gentleman clothing. In his advertisements, he does rubberhose gags and techniques to the players.
  • The Peanuts Movie and the Peanuts specials and shows use rubberhose elements as well as the Peanuts comics they are based on.
  • In Ice Age, Scrat uses rubberhose elements, by extending his body and bouncing around while trying to get his acorn.
  • In the episode "Truth or Square" from the television series SpongeBob SquarePants, Patchy the Pirate presents a film of how the cartoon would have been like if it was made in the 1930s. In the film, the animation is done in rubber hose animation and the song used is called Rubber Hose Rag.[11]
  • In the episode "It's A Wonderful Half-Life" from CatDog, the dream sequence for the entire episode is done in the style of the 1920s–1930s cartoons, and the characters all have pie eyes.
  • In the episode "Name That Toon" from Pucca, the entire episode is centered around this, complete with a Betty Boop lookalike shown.
  • In Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, many characters use rubber hose elements including Sonic and Tails.
  • Mondo Media's Happy Tree Friends is done in rubber hose style using Flash animation and most of the characters have 'pie eyes', which are in the shape of Pac-Man's body and that resemble eyes from rubber hose characters from the golden period of this animation style, the 1920s and 1930s.
  • In Steven Universe: The Movie, the main antagonist Spinel is animated in this style but other characters remain animated in the more contemporary style typical of the series so far. Spinel uses this stretchy and unarticulated movement to her advantage, stretching and morphing her limbs into objects she uses in battle to get the upper hand. Her main song and most of her music themes are in Electroswing, a modern twist on music from the time period where Spinel's character inspiration came from.
  • In Bojack Horseman season 6, the conglomerate Whitewhale plays a video to new corporate employees which includes several animation techniques different from the dominant style of the show, including a segment done in classic rubber hose animation.
  • Lauren MacMullan cited rubber hose animation as an influence for her style, including for her character designs in Mission Hill.
  • The Yu-Gi-Oh! anime series, like the card game itself, features 'Toon' cards based on 1920s American animation.
  • In the episode "Hill Billy" from The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Billy is briefly depicted in this art style while he inflates his nose in a rubber hose fashion, and it explodes shortly after, and other characters are turned into this art style as well.
  • DJ Catnip and his cousin, DJ Comet, from Gabby's Dollhouse can stretch their limbs in a similar fashion to rubber hose animation.
  • Mr. Tickle from The Mr. Men Show can stretch his arms in this fashion.
  • One episode of Teen Titans Go! features the Titans depicted in this art style.
  • Velvet and Veneer, the antagonists of Trolls Band Together, and their race, the Mount Rageons, are rendered to resemble this art style, complete with pie eyes.
  • Bartholomew the Bat from the Beetlejuice TV series resembles a rubber hose character.
  • Blossom from IF is designed to resemble this art style.
  • The South Park character Mr. Hankey is designed to look like a rubber hose character, in particular the original version of Mickey Mouse as he appeared in Steamboat Willie. Fittingly, his musical numbers in the show are usually in the style of 1930s-era Dixieland swing and big band music.

Music videos[edit]

Comic books[edit]

In the manga One Piece, the protagonist Monkey D. Luffy eats a fruit that gives him the ability to stretch like rubber, which he enhances using techniques similar to those in rubber hose cartoons, such as blowing air into his arm to increase its size and punching power. When awakening all its power as "Gear 5", Luffy gains the ability to use fighting techniques based on other rubber hose animation style, such as tearing a piece of ground like a mat to deflect attacks, while he himself (and those that are in his vicinity) also behave similarly to rubber hose cartoons, such as having his head deform around a spiked club and take its shape, or cause people around him to have exaggerated eye pops. It was confirmed at a later interview that Gear 5 is heavily inspired by Tom and Jerry cartoons.[12]


  1. ^ Beiman, Nancy (2017-08-06). Animated Performance: Bringing Imaginary Animal, Human and Fantasy Characters to Life. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 70. ISBN 978-1-350-03962-9. While "rubber hose" characters can be amusing, it is difficult to create a subtle acting performance in this style of animation. Rubber-hose animation handles squash, stretch, and other distortions in a technique that calls attention to itself.
  2. ^ Arnold, Gordon B. (2017). Animation and the American Imagination. p. 30. ISBN 9781440833601.
  3. ^ "The Basics of Animation Style Guides". Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  4. ^ Mallory, Michael (January 25, 2022). "Creating a Rubber Hose Wonderland for 'The Cuphead Show!'". Animation Magazine. Archived from the original on January 26, 2022. Retrieved January 28, 2022.
  5. ^ "Disney Animation preview: 'Frozen,' 'Big Hero 6' at Disney's D23; Plus 'Zootopia' announced".
  6. ^ "Old-school Mickey Mouse gets future shock in 'Get a Horse!' FIRST LOOK".
  7. ^ Keegan, Rebecca (23 April 2013). "Walt Disney Animation releases new Mickey Mouse short". Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ August 22, Anthony Breznican Updated; EDT, 2013 at 01:00 PM. "Old-school Mickey Mouse gets future shock in 'Get a Horse!' FIRST LOOK". Retrieved 2021-11-20.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ " Archived 2019-10-27 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "SpongeBob: Truth or Square – Rubber Hose Rag song, while the actual show's characters use many Rubberhose elements. While the actual show's characters use Rubberhose techniques".
  12. ^ Weekly Shonen Jump 2022 Issue 34 (p. 45), Interview of Eiichiro Oda and Gosho Aoyama