Follow the Bouncing Ball
It's time for a singalong! Music! Words! And... Follow the Bouncing Ball, everyone!
"Follow the bouncing ball" was a technique of directing singalongs in movie theaters. An animated ball kept the beat as it bounced along the lyrics. Sort of the karaoke of its time, but intended for a mass audience. As the ball bounced, it would light up the words it touched. Trailing dotted line optional.
Truly ancient iterations of such videos often had the ball marking every beat in the tempo - musical literacy was a much bigger deal in the early 20th Century.
According to The Other Wiki, the bouncing ball was named and invented by Max Fleischer, the founder of Fleischer Studios, in 1924. Usually the ball is a big red dot, but sometimes it'll be a different color or a small icon appropriate to the setting.
Kids' singalong tapes and DVDs still use this technique. Some karaoke videos use a variant, where the text becomes highlighted at certain parts.
- An early ad for ZooPals (a brand of animal-themed paper plates for kids) used the plates themselves instead of a ball.
- An advertisement for Fererro Rocher had the audience follow the bouncing candy to "Deck the Halls", while more of the candies were passed out at a party—until they ran out, at which point a woman took the candy from the screen... and the singing stops.
- This 1970s commercial for Detroit-based Faygo soda pop.
- Many fansubbed anime openings have a variation of this, using text effects instead of a bouncing ball on the romaji lyrics. The Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann fansub does this for the opening, insert, and ending... and the attack calls. Nothing quite like karaoke GIGA DRILL BREAKAAAAHHH!!!!!.
- To some, the flashy text looked a lot better than the standard texting, and actually helped enhance the moment. As much as it can be enhanced.
- Gurren Lagann isn't alone with the attack calls. Many shounen series take it; One Piece in particular even had different fonts for each character that matched them; Luffy had a stretchy-green, Usopp's letters were in cross-hairs, Zoro's were like slashes, etc.
- This 1930 cartoon short called Mura Matsuri (Village Festival).
- The Great Race stopped in the middle of the movie for one.
- Seen in the closing credits of Blackadder Back and Forth, where the "ball" is Edmund's head.
- In the film In Like Flint, when Derek Flint was on an Aeroflot plane going to Cuba, he started a sing-along in Russian and a red star (symbol of the Soviet Union) bounced on the subtitled words (also in Russian) as they were sung.
- When Monty Python performed "The Philosopher's Song" during Live at the Hollywood Bowl, the "bouncing ball" was the head of a Bruce.
- The DVD of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie includes a sing-along version of the "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" song with a bouncing dolphin, naturally.
- In the documentary of Woodstock, there are lyrics with a bouncing ball to "Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag":
"And it's 1-2-3, what are we fightin' for? Don't ask me, I don't give me a damn, next stop is Viet Nam!"
- Averted in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Godzilla Vs. Megalon during the "Jet Jaguar Song" host segment: "I'd tell you to follow the bouncing ball, but...uh... we don't have one."
- In Star Trek: Insurrection, a gone berserk Data is brought back to his senses when Picard and Worf sing "A British Tar" from HMS Pinafore, using the bouncing ball technique to recall the lyrics.
- Hedwig and The Angry Inch used this during part of "Wig in a Box," with the ball being a wig
- I'm Tex Richman, Mr. Texas Tea, people call me rich 'cause I got MO' MO-NEYYY!!
- The trailer for Madea's Big Happy Family features a rap with complimentary bouncing purple ball.
- Used in a TV show called Sing Along with Mitch with the bandleader Mitch Miller.
- CBS used this trope for some versions of their 1982 "Great Moments" promos.
- Going back a little earlier, CBS also used it for their 1973 "The Best Is Right Here" promos.
- Horrible Histories uses a bouncing skull during the Pachacuti song.
- Played straight in Guns N' Roses' "Garden of Eden"... and not only the song has the fastest singing/lyrics possible, but during the guitar solos the ball keeps bouncing in plain air.
- The music video for Metronomy's "A Thing for Me" carries this into the real world...with hilarious results.
- The J. Geils Band's video for "Love Stinks" does this with a bouncing heart for a ball.
- Referenced by name in the Big And Rich song Freak Parade. Of course, the song consisted almost entirely of the phrase "Somebody's got to be unafraid to lead the freak parade" repeated over and over again, faster and faster until the end of the song.
- In the novelty video "Rats on a Budget", an animated cartoon rat jumps from subtitled word to word during the final chorus.
- The video for Steam Powered Giraffe's song "Brass Goggles" plays with the trope by presenting several different sets of lyrics, one genuine and the rest false, and warning the audience to only sing along to one of them:
Now, if you don't know the lyrics, just follow the bouncing pug head! It'll show you the way! Now, don't follow the red star -- that will give you the wrong lyrics. And completely ignore the chihuahua head. Just the pug, all right? Then we're good to go!
- Ron James, in a bit on how liquor used to be cheaper in Canada before the government monopolized it, notes that you used to be able to get a gigantic bottle of rum for $4.95 at the Liquor Barn. He then sings a probably-fictional jingle for the store, noting, "The lyrics are fairly simple; follow the bouncing bottle!"
- Most versions of the Ghostbusters Licensed Game by Activision do this on the title screen with the movie's Theme Tune.
- Used in the PS2/XBox remake of The Bard's Tale, whether the song is 'Beer, Beer, Beer', 'The Tale of the Nuckelavee' or any of the several renditions of 'It's Bad Luck to Be You'.
- Also used in several other songs. The bonus joke in 'Beer, Beer, Beer' is that the singers are off-tempo to the bouncing ball, since they're drunks in a bar.
- This even shows up in video games. Skull Monkeys did this for a part of the ending cinematic for the song "Klogg Is Dead?" with a bouncing skull.
- In Black and White, the sailors on the first island do one. A different stanza for everything they need. (Wood, Grain, Meat)
- Miniature replica soldier! Possibly the best DLC advert ever.
- This was used in Sloprano's theme song in Conker's Bad Fur Day, where the lyrics were put up onto the screen whilst you read it with a ball made of crap...made even funnier by the profane and crude lyrics of the song.
- Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist does this with the opening theme song.
- Mario Paint has a bouncing Mario in place of the bouncing ball.
- Beat Plants vs. Zombies and the reward music video features a bouncing brain.
- ScrewAttack's list of best cartoon-based games has one when Stuttering Craig (whose face was the ball) breaks into the theme of Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers.
- "Invention Pioneers of Note": Occurs briefly during the final season.
- Used (and played with) quite often in Animutation, with "French Erotic Film" being an example. In this case, the bouncing ball is Jay Jay the Jet Plane until it collides with Princess Diana's car, at which point Di's decapitated head becomes the bouncing ball.
- Shows up, and was even played with in Potter Puppet Pals in Neville's Birthday
- Used as a shouting gag in Gears of Awesome
- The Nostalgia Critic's review of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier had a bouncing William Shatner head during a sing-along of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat".
- "Homestar vs. Other Little Girl" includes a sing-along for the song Other Little Girl improvises to help Homestar remember that people can't stay in two places at the same time. Unlike most examples, the ball bounces underneath the lyrics, instead of on top of them.
- Parodied in Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy, which has a little bouncing heart following the lyrics to up the Tastes Like Diabetes factor of Jimmy's "Friendship Song".
- Parodied on a Ren and Stimpy episode, where the two sang the anthem of the Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen, which features lyrics like:
Our country reeks of trees
Our yaks are really large
And they smell like rotting beef carcasses.
- Played mostly straight (the ball was grey, not red) in the karaoke episode of Kappa Mikey. Played with in one song, however, in which, rather than bouncing over the lyrics, the ball is bouncing away from the cast while they try to catch it.
- The creators of Underdog produced a few short cartoons featuring the Singalong Family.
- On The Simpsons episode "22 Short Films About Springfield", a bouncing ball accompanies Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel's theme song.
- On The Lion King 1½, a ladybug serves as the ball for a sing-along of "Hakuna Matata" - until Pumbaa eats it. He spits it out and the sing-along continues, albeit with a rather dazed ladybug.
- The Disney Sing-Along tapes have this. Their theme song even had a line that said, "Follow the bouncing ball." For people who grew up around the time they were released, they are probably the example of this trope. Ironically, they only use an actual ball (the famous Mickey-head icon) in some of the songs, seemingly at random, and the very first song to ever appear in the series ("We Dig/High-Ho" from Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs) is not one of them! (Such songs highlight the words one by one in a different color. Later videos would make far more use of this than the bouncing ball. Probably because it's quicker to do.)
- One episode of the animated series Attack of the Killer Tomatoes had a segment at the ends inviting viewers to sing along to the theme song, using "F.T." (The fuzzy benevolent tomato) as the bouncing ball.
- Used in the musical segment of ReBoot's third season finale, with Scuzzy as the ball.
- Lampshaded on a musically themed episode of Muppet Babies, where Bunsen's latest invention was the Bunsen Honeydew Self-Propelled Follow-the-Bouncing-Ball Ball. This allowed the otherwise musically inept Beaker to get in on the fun. ("Meep meep meep-meep-meep, meep meep-meep meep-meep...")
- The Boomerang network does this, they call it something like "Boomerang-along". They have old cartoon themes with lyrics at the bottom traced by...a bouncing red ball.
- As mentioned up top, in the 1920s the Fleischer Studios produced a series of theatrical cartoons called Screen Songs, which had the bouncing ball and encouraged the audience to sing along. Famous Studios, which replaced the Fleischer Studios after the Fleischers were fired, revived the series in the late forties.
- Thomas the Tank Engine's songs use a cloud of smoke produced from Thomas' funnel at the beginning of each song in place of a ball.
- Batman: The Brave And The Bold: A little Plastic Man head provides the bouncing ball as Plas leads a merry sing-along of a lyrically-mangled version of "Yankee Doodle" in "Cry Freedom Fighters!".
- Averted by the Veggie Tales sing along videos. Instead, the letters change colors (green to white in the first one, yellow to white in the second) when the words are sung.
- Some of the songs on the Animaniacs sing-along videos use the bouncing dot approach, some use the highlight-the-words one, and some just show the current line of the song.
- Averted during the sing-along segments of The Beatles. The segments simply ran the text of the song lyrics, usually with a mini-adventure starring the Beatles, or a proto-music video.
- Spoofed in one episode of The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, when the crystal ball used to talk with Vincent Van Ghoul goes into a stream. As the gang chase after it, Scrappy yells, "Follow the bouncing ball, and everybody SING!" What follows is a bad rendition of 'Row Row Row Your Roat' to which Van Ghoul comments, "This is the worst dinner music I have ever heard!"