Retrospective: The Dot and The Line

One day in the early nineties, I remember waking up, tuning channels, and stumbling on Cartoon Network for the very first time. It was a moment of euphoria, but serendipitously, my first glimpse of a major visual and verbal influence. For at that moment, Chuck Jones’ adaptation of The Dot and The Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics was on-air, my first of many viewings to come.

If you haven’t seen it or need a refresher, watch it now. nothing I say is as important: The Dot and The Line

For a long time, I watched its re-runs, much like any other cartoon: just another tale in a stream of ten minute technicolor acts that made you laugh and cheer. Perhaps, that’s what I like most about it: how it fit in, and enthralled me as just another cartoon, when it really was so much more.

The Dot and The Line is a great example of something I dub The Alice in Wonderland aesthetic: something that can be enjoyed as is, but creates deeper connections and meanings as you start reading between the lines (not intended).

Visually, it’s a simple plot: a touching story of a line falling in love with a dot, narrated in a fittingly academic tone. Watch a few times over, and you’ll notice deeper meanings: the hyper-sexualized dot, in a genuinely 60s way. Or how the line’s dedication to woo the dot, in spite of his humiliation is a clear allusion to the classic Hero’s Journey. It’s as if Chuck Jones produced this in an act of rebellion, in between an endless barrage of plotted, pre-destined Loony Tunes story arcs.

A particular visual that stands out strongly is while the line dreams about the dot: the music mellows down, and for once, the dot is a calm, passive element in the frame. A geometric divider fades in to measure the dot from every side, 36-36-36, rendered in a beautiful Serif shows it clearly: she’s perfect for him.

There’s great humour in the cartoon too: dividing the world in two, when the line fancies himself a world leader, or the hangover after the line’s all night bender: it’s a far cry from ACME anvils falling from cliffs. The Dot and The Line was happily elitist, and fittingly ended with: To the vector belong the spoils

I look back to the Dot and the Line often. With very little, Chuck Jones created mood and feeling. The cartoon exposed me to, and still remains one of my favourite examples of minimalism.

From it, I’ve learned to create basic stories, before adding layers of imagery and subtext to make greater tales (well, whenever I can at least). And finally, it taught me about the power of the image: a powerful, indelible impression created through just enough use of word and art.

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