Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
If you need a pick-me-up for hump day, look no further:
But things aren’t all giggles: The most up-voted comment on this animation, posted by our video team back in 2014, is highly critical, and the reader leaves no stone unturned:
I’m not so thrilled about this. The animation is sort of ok, but sort of not. The rock creature is made of the same stuff as the rock he is trying to stop. The physics of that is simple: He just doesn’t have any means (or mass) to stop the rolling boulder. “It just happens” is ok in a cartoonish way, but not satisfying.
For example, if he laid down in front of the town, the boulder might deflect off him and bounce over the town, without violating sense. Even cartoons and fairy tales have to either make sense, or make a gag out of sense, as with Wile E Coyote not realizing he has walked off a cliff until he looks down and only then starts to fall.
Worse than the physics is the moral of the story.
The rock creature makes an error, which creates mortal danger for others. He manages to rescue his mistake. The townspeople misunderstand what has happened and attempt a futile and utterly harmless fight for their lives. Annoyed that they are not grateful for having been saved from the danger that he has put them in, the rock creature kills them all—just out of annoyance, not because he was in any way harmed.
This is analogous to a drunk driver falling asleep and careening off the road and onto a field where children are playing. Awakened at the last moment he jams on his brakes and stops just before crushing the children. An angry parent yells at him. So, the drunk puts the car back in gear and deliberately drives over the children, because he feels he didn’t get enough thanks for his good work with the brake pedal.
What is the insight? Done deliberately, there is something cynically acute about that, but that’s not the intention here. A little fable like this has to be somehow instructive or satisfying.
“But ... the animation is cute, right?” That’s all you can say in its favor. Effects without good physics aren’t good effects, and effects without good storytelling is a failure of the imagination glossed over with visual dross.
Another reader pushes back, from a scientific point of view:
The physics work because friction, which turns kinetic energy into heat. The plot is a cartoonish exaggeration for busting your chops for an institution (village), only to be held responsible for your mistakes alone. So the story, as well as the physics, work. I think you never watched, or enjoyed, Tom & Jerry.
But this reader thinks science is beside the point: “Animations have never followed the laws of physics, and it would make for a boring flick if they did.”
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