Chuck Jones’ The Dot and the Line Celebrates Geometry & Hard Work: An Oscar-Winning Animation (1965)

The ani­mat­ed short above, The Dot and the Line, direct­ed by the great Chuck Jones and nar­rat­ed by Eng­lish actor Robert Mor­ley, won an Oscar in 1965 for Best Ani­mat­ed Short Film. Based on a book writ­ten by Nor­ton Juster, “The Dot and the Line” tells the sto­ry of a romance between two geo­met­ric shapes—taking the arche­typ­al nar­ra­tive tra­jec­to­ry of boy meets girl, los­es girl, wins girl in the end (find­ing him­self along the way) and inject­ing it with some fas­ci­nat­ing social com­men­tary that still res­onates almost fifty years lat­er. One way of watch­ing “The Dot and the Line” is as a “tri­umph of the nerd” sto­ry, where an anx­ious square (as in “uncool”) Line has to com­pete with a hip­ster beat­nik Squig­gle of a rival for the affec­tions of a flighty Dot.

The Line begins the film “stiff as a stick… dull, con­ven­tion­al and repressed” (as his love inter­est says of him) in con­trast to the groovy Squig­gle and his groovy bebop sound­track. With the pos­si­ble sug­ges­tion that this love trans­gress­es mid-cen­tu­ry racial bound­aries, the Line’s friends dis­ap­prove and tell him to give it up, since “they all look alike any­way.” But the Line per­sists in his fol­ly, indulging in some Wal­ter Mit­ty-like rever­ies of hero­ic endeav­ors that might win over his Dot. Final­ly, using “great self-con­trol,” he man­ages to bend him­self into an angle, then anoth­er, then a series of sim­ple, then very com­plex, shapes, becom­ing, we might assume, some kind of math­e­mat­i­cal wiz. After refin­ing his tal­ents alone, he goes off to show them to Dot, who is “over­whelmed” and delight­ed and who “gig­gles like a school­girl.”

Here the sub­text of the nerd-gets-the-girl sto­ry­line man­i­fests a fair­ly con­ser­v­a­tive cri­tique of the “anar­chy” of the Squig­gle, whom the Dot comes to see as “undis­ci­plined, grace­less, coarse” and oth­er unflat­ter­ing adjec­tives while the line—who pro­claimed to him­self ear­li­er that “free­dom is not a license for chaos”—is “daz­zling, clever, mys­te­ri­ous, ver­sa­tile, light, elo­quent, pro­found, enig­mat­ic, com­plex, and com­pelling.” I can almost imag­ine that George Will had a hand in the writ­ing, which is to say that it’s enor­mous­ly clever, and enor­mous­ly invest­ed in the val­ues of self-con­trol, hard work, and dis­ci­pline, and dis­trust­ful of spon­tane­ity, free play, and gen­er­al groovi­ness. At the end of the film, our Dot and Line go off to live “if not hap­pi­ly ever after, at least rea­son­ably so” in some cozy sub­urb, no doubt. The moral of the sto­ry? “To the vec­tor belong the spoils.”

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Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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Comments (11)
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  • Jeremy says:

    “The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Low­er Math­e­mat­ics,” was a book writ­ten by Nor­ton Juster, pub­lished by Ran­dom House in 1963. The sto­ry was def­i­nite­ly inspired by Flat­land, but you’ve left out an impor­tant fact by not not­ing that the film was direct­ly based on Juster’s book. Juster, as many real­ize, was also the author of The Phan­tom Toll­booth.

  • ron king says:

    i was look­ing for info on Les Gold­man, the pro­duc­er

  • Joan Ahearn says:

    I own a an orig­i­nal copy of The Dot and The Line by Nor­ton Juster, Pub­lished in 1963 was try­ing to find out what it is worth. Joan

  • Jessicka Chamberlin says:

    Loved this! Thank your for post­ing. Quick cor­rec­tion:

    In this con­text it’s ‘coarse’, not ‘course’.

    Since you are shar­ing you were pppa piece about the tri­umph of the nerd, your could stand a lit­tle nerdy nit­pick­ing.

  • Kirra says:

    The Dot and The Line is one of the few books I car­ry with me in the RV while camp­ing!

  • Toni says:

    Won­der­ful film but please lose the hor­rid, inac­cu­rate sub­ti­tles, splayed across my screen!

  • Richard Pardoe says:

    Thanks for post­ing but why say ‘direct­ed by the great Chuck Jones and nar­rat­ed by Eng­lish actor Robert Mor­ley’? It’s as if every­thing Amer­i­can is ‘home’ and that you have to explain every­thing else as ‘for­eign’. I should have thought that the very notion of Open Cul­ture as an ide­al is inter­na­tion­al­ist.

  • M.Nicole says:

    can u please help me where is the place pub­lished and the locale of this book.…

  • Monty says:

    The cred­it here should real­ly be going to Mau­rice Noble not Chuck Jones.

  • karen marie says:

    “undis­ci­plined, grace­less, course”

    A doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish? I cer­tain­ly hope your doc­tor­al work was bet­ter than this. The intend­ed word, of course, is “coarse.”

  • Josh Jones says:

    It’s only a typo, friend, but thanks for spot­ting it.

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