Created By: Tannhaeuser on January 9, 2010
Troped

Ass In A Lion Skin

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"Have You Seen This Chicken?"
"And the $50,000 dollar prize for the Best Dog in Show goes to this rare Black-Feathered Quacking Retriever!"

If you are a duck on the make, or a rabbit trying to escape the hunters, or just a dog who thinks it's "cute" to wear a turkey costume (or, at least, an owner who does), you have a good chance of turning into an Ass in a Lion Skin. This involves one animal that attempts to pass as an animal of an entirely different species, not simply of a different style or level of reality -- Augie Doggie pretending to be Top Cat, but not Augie Doggie pretending to be Doggie Daddy, Scooby-Doo, Underdog, Pluto, or Rin Tin Tin. Note also that the trope specifically excludes an animal dressed as or imitating a human being (or vice versa).

Though this is mainly an Animation Trope (the Looney Tunes / Merrie Melodies series in particular were addicted to it), it also occurs in other fictional contexts. The disguise in question is usually Paper Thin, but is often remarkably successful, to the point that its removal may actually provoke a comic BSOD -- "My God! You're not a fruit bat at all! You're a killer whale!"

The Ass In The Lion Skin has a Real Life counterpart in the phenomenon of "animal mimicry," in which a harmless milk snake may resemble a deadly coral snake, but in such a case, unlike its fictional counterpart, the mimicry is permanent and (probably) unconscious.

Compare A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing. Contrast with Furry Confusion, which is about the bewilderment caused by differences in two individuals of what are supposed to be the same kind of animal; with I Am Not Weasel, the Inversion of this trope, in which the animal is taken for another species against its wishes; and with most of the entries on the Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism, which are about animals acting like humans.

Rolling Updates

  • Advertising:
    • The Cadbury Chocolate commercials, featuring clucking rabbits. A later commercial featured other rabbits making other animal noises (meows, moos, roars, etc.), while a still later one featured jungle animals (elephants, lions, etc.) with rabbit ears, clucking.

  • Film:
    • An American Tail: Warren T. Rat (actually a cat himself) dresses as a rat to fool the mice into buying into his protection racket against the cats.
    • The Jungle Book: Baloo disguises himself as an ape to try to rescue Mowgli from King Louie.
    • Robin Hood: Robin (a fox) disguises himself as "the spindle-legged stork from Devonshire" and as Nutsy, the vulture.

  • Literature:
    • Aesop's Fables:
      • The Ass in the Lion Skin
      • The Crow in Peacock's Feathers.
      • The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
    • In the Discworld story The Truth, there is a reward offered for a specific dog. One of the candidates presented, along with the massive range of dogs of the wrong breed, is a parrot with "DoG" written on it.
    • The Chronicles of Narnia (The Last Battle): Puzzle the Donkey is put into a lion skin by Shift the ape (probably an allusion to the Aesop's Fable listed above).
    • How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: The Grinch dresses his dog Max as a reindeer.
    • Maus: The mice (Jews) wear pig masks to pass among the general population of pigs (Poles).

  • New Media:
    • 30-Second Bunnies Theatre, in which rabbits re-enact popular films -- thus, a film like Jurassic Park will feature a T-Rex wearing bunny ears.

  • Newspaper Comics:
    • There was a cartoon in the Wall Street Journal or similar paper during a recession, in which the boss of the New York Stock Exchange arranged to have a bear dressed as a bull so he could claim that it was a bull (i.e. rising) as opposed to a bear (falling) market.
    • The Far Side had one with a polar bear with a Paper-Thin Disguise -- a penguin's beak -- pretending to be a penguin.
    • A common gag in Peanuts involved Snoopy imitating other animals, most often a vulture.
    • This political cartoon by Thomas Nast, in a Shout-Out to Aesop, depicts The New York Herald as an ass in a lion-skin stampeding the "foolish animals" of the press, including The New York Times (unicorn), The New York Tribune (giraffe), and The New York World (owl). A skittish fox, representing the Democratic Party, has edged onto a reform plank near a gaping pit, by which the trumpeting elephant, symbolizing the Republican vote, lumbers. (This is probably one of the original sources, btw, of the depiction of the G.O.P. as an elephant; Nast also invented the Democratic donkey.)

  • Toys:
    • Purr Tenders
    • There's a range of Winnie The Pooh cuddly toys with the characters dressed as different animals -- Pooh in a bee costume and Eeyore as a butterfly, for example.

  • Western Animation:
    • ''The Little Drummer Boy: Baba the lamb pretends to be a lion, a frog, and a hog; Joshua the camel pretends to be an alligator and an elephant' Samson the donkey pretends to be a caribou.
    • Looney Tunes / Merrie Melodies:
      • "Bedevilled Rabbit": Bugs pretends to be a monkey and a Tasmanian she-devil to escape the Tasmanian Devil.
      • "Dog Pounded": Sylvester the Cat dresses in a dog suit in an attempt to cross the city dog pound and eat Tweety.
      • "Double or Mutton": Sam the sheepdog disguises himself as a sheep stolen by Ralph the wolf.
      • "Duck Soup to Nuts": Porky briefly attempts to prove to Daffy that he is an eagle.
      • "Duck! Rabbit! Duck!": Bugs pretends to be a duck; Daffy pretends (briefly) to be an elk and a fiddler crab.
      • "For Scentimental Reasons": As in a number of other Warners shorts, a black cat (later christened Penelope Pussycat) disguises herself as a skunk to frighten away her persecutors; this, of course, backfires spectacularly when it attracts Abhorrent Admirer Pepe le Pew.
      • "Rabbit Fire": Bugs pretends to be a duck; Daffy pretends to be a rabbit and a dog.
      • "Sheep in the Deep": Ralph the Wolf and Sam the Sheepdog disguise themselves as sheep and as each other.
      • "Tom Turk and Daffy": Tom dresses Daffy as a turkey to divert Porky Pig from himself.
      • "You Were Never Duckier": Daffy dresses as a chicken to win a poultry contest; Henery Hawk and his father dress as a duck and a chicken to do the same.
    • In the DePatie-Freleng Misterjaw cartoon, the eponymous shark disguises himself as a porpoise to bust into show business in the episode "Show Biz Shark."
    • In the Phineas And Ferb episode "Got Game?" Perry the Platypus dresses up as a dog (i.e., he wears an earband and fake tail) to infiltrate a pet shop where Dr. Doofenshmirtz has been shopping, and ends up being bought by the doctor, who is unaware of Perry's disguise.
    • In the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? episode "Jeepers, It's the Creeper": A baby chick is laboring under the delusion that it is a dog.
    • Tom and Jerry:
      • "Jerry's Nephew": Jerry disguises himself as a baby chick to smuggle his nephew Dinky out of a hen-house.
      • "Puttin' on the Dog": Tom disguises himself as a dog to catch Jerry in a dog pound.
    • In the Wallace & Gromit short "The Wrong Trousers'', the notorious rooster bank robber Feathers McGraw is really a penguin with a red rubber glove on his head.
    • In The Year Without a Santa Claus Vixen pretends to be a dog, even to the point of chasing a cat.

Community Feedback Replies: 55
  • December 25, 2009
    Surenity
    • Warren T. Rat in An American Tail dresses as a rat to fool the mice into buying into his protection racket against the cats. Turns out later he actually is a cat himself.
  • December 25, 2009
    Lee M
    There was a cartoon in the Wall Street Journal or similar during a recession, in which the boss of the New York Stock Exchange arranged to have a bear dressed as a bull so he could claim that it was a bull (i.e. rising) as opposed to a bear (falling) market.
  • December 25, 2009
    Unknown Troper
  • December 25, 2009
    random surfer
    In the Sam Sheepdog/Ralph Wolf Looney Tune Double or Mutton, Ralph steals a sheep by dressing as Little Bo Peep. After he steals it and gets it to his cave he removes his disguise; at the same time the sheep removes its disguise, revealing it to be Sam.

    In another short, A Sheep in the Deep Ralph steals a sheep, only for the sheep to unzip his "skin" and show he's really Sam; Ralph unzips to show he's really a sheep, Sam unzips to show he's really Ralph, the sheep unzips to show he's really Sam, Ralph unzips to show he's really a sheep, and Sam unzips to show he' really Ralph. Ralph grabs the sheep, whose skin unzips to show he's really a stick of dynamite.
  • December 25, 2009
    Wacky Meets Practical
    We do have A Wolf In Sheeps Clothing, although it's not exactly the same.

    • In a Tom And Jerry cartoon, Tom disguised himself as a dog to sneak into a dog yard in order to catch Jerry.
      • In another cartoon, Jerry pretends to be a baby chick to get protection by a mother hen from Tom.
  • December 26, 2009
    Tannhaeuser
    As far as I can tell, it is not Furry Confusion, because there the animals are both supposed to be of the same species, but look ratdically different, like Goofy and Pluto. A Wolf In Sheeps Clothing seems to be purely metaphorical, whereas what I had in mind was more literal -- an actual wolf pretending to be an actual sheep. Yeah, Looney Toons did this one a LOT. I'm not surprised Tom And Jerry did it, too. I've also just recalled a Scooby Doo cartoom where Scoob briefly pretends to be a mouse. It also occurs to me that C.S. Lewis uses an Ass in a lion's skin in The Chronicles Of Narnia.

    How about Ass In A Lion's Skin as the title? (If launched, of course.)
  • December 26, 2009
    Tannhaeuser
    Happens in Real Life too -- flatworms imitating sea-slugs, stingliess flies imitating bees and wasps, caterpillars imitating snakes, and so on.
  • December 28, 2009
    Vree
    Called "mimicry", that one. It is different tho because the similarity is inherent to the two species, they can not switch it on and off (well maybe through several evolutionary stages).
  • December 28, 2009
    Roxor
    • Disney's Robin Hood does this a couple of times, with Robin (who's really a fox) dressing up as a stalk for the archery tournament, and near the end disguising himself as one of the Sheriff of Nottingham's goons (a vulture this time).
  • December 28, 2009
    BlackMageJ
    There's a range of Winnie The Pooh cuddly toys with the characters dressed as different animals- Pooh in a bee costume, or Eeyore as a butterfly, for example.
  • December 28, 2009
    tnu1138
    needs a better title somthing along the Lines of Sheep In Wolfs Clothing
  • December 28, 2009
    Labrynthine
    In Maus, the mice wear pig masks to disguise themselves and hide themselves from the Nazis. It's metaphorical, but would it still qualify as an example?
  • December 29, 2009
    Tannhaeuser
    Heh, the Robin Hood as stork and vulture reminded me of Baloo dressing as an ape in Disney's The Jungle Book.

    I think the Maus example works.

    I like "Sheep in Wolf's Clothing," except for the fact that it would probably make people think of a mild-mannered person dressed as a Badass, or an innocent person dressed as an evil one.

    "Ass in a Lion Skin" I kind of like as being classical, but it does kind of lack that jokey quality that makes a good name. Any suggestions?
  • December 29, 2009
    Inkki Bookman
  • December 29, 2009
    Tannhaeuser
    "Furry Cosplay" sounds more like people dressing as animals to me. It's really more like "Funny Animal Cosplay," but that seems... lacking. The only other title I have come up with so far is the Tasmanian Devil's "What For You Say You Monkey?"... which kinda sucks.
  • December 29, 2009
    goodtimesfreegrog
    In the style of Call A Rabbit A Smeerp, I suggest Rabbit In Smeerps Clothing as a possible title.
  • December 30, 2009
    HieronymusII
    I don't see why Furry Confusion should strictly be between one species. It's about the problem of anthropomorphism.
  • December 31, 2009
    Tannhaeuser
    Precisely. Furry Confusion is about anthropomorphic animals encountering more realistic animals -- Goofy anent Pluto. Both are supposed to be dogs, i.e., of the same species. That is entirely different from Goofy pretending to be a mouse like Mickey; both are anthropomorphic to exactly the same degree, but one is still supposed to be a anthropomorphic dog pretending to be an anthropomorphic mouse, and the other simply an anthropomorphic mouse. In a case such as The Little Drummer Boy, cited above, in which the degree of anthropomorphism is significantly lower than in Funny Animals such as Donald, Daffy, or Top Cat (Joshua the camel, Samson the donkey, and Baba the lamb cannot even talk (though they can dance, it is pretty much on the level of a dancing bear), there is a real distinction to be made between a camel with human-like feelings and a camel imitating an alligator.

    I like the Rabbit In Smeerps Clothing except for one thing -- that brings in the idea of a completely made-up animal. How about Rabbot In Ducks Clothing?

    Another example has occured to me -- the Cadbury Chocolate commercials, featuring clucking rabbits. (Cluck Cluck Said The Bunny might be another title possibility.) And another might be the Web Original "Thirty Second Bunny Theatre," in which rabbits re-enact popular films -- thus, a film like Jurassic Park will feature a T-Rex wearing bunny ears.
  • December 31, 2009
    Roxor
    Fox In Stalks Clothing to reference the Robin Hood example?
  • December 31, 2009
    Tannhaeuser
    How about Max the Dog being dressed as a reindeer in How The Grinch Stole Christmas?

    And there was a chick on Scooby Doo that somehow got to thinking it was a dog.

    I think "Fox In Storks Clothing" might lead some people to think it was about sneaky characters delivering babies somehow. Reminds me rather of Syndrome and Jack-Jack.

    This naming business is hard! How about Furry Delusion? Furry Illusion? Furry Assertion? Call A Rabbit A Duck? The Furry Go Round Broke Down? Okay, I'm just losing it now...
  • January 1, 2010
    Arivne
    Merrie Melodies
  • January 7, 2010
    the grene kni3t
    In the Wallace And Gromit short "The Wrong Trousers'', the notorious rooster bank robber Feathers McGraw is really a penguin with a red rubber glove on his head.
  • January 7, 2010
    Tannhaeuser
  • January 7, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    How about Wolf In Sharks Clothing? I just put shark because it starts with an 'Sh' but it's basically 'Wolf In (random animal)s Clothing' where the animal would be something where it would be hard to interpret as a metaphor. Or, taking that clucking bunny idea, The Cow Says Quack in reference to that one toy where when you pull a sting the dial spins and when it lands on a certain animal goes "The [animal] says.... [the sound the animal makes]".
  • January 7, 2010
    Tannhaeuser
    I actually had thought of The Cow Says Quack (the toy is called a "See 'N' Say"), but I wanted to avoid another "The" Trope, and Cow Says Quack didn't sound quite right. I kind of like Wolf In Sharks Clothing. Does anyone else have a preference as to either the title or the picture?
  • January 7, 2010
    Reg Shoe
    May be an example, in {{Discworld:The Truth}} there is a reward offered for a specific dog. One of the candidates presented, along with the massive range of dogs of the wrong breed, is a parrot with Do G written on it.
  • January 7, 2010
    Vree
    A Wolf In Sheeps Clothing is something of a stub, it could use some definition clearing up and more examples.It could be merged to this, defined as a subtrope or a sister trope.

    HYSTC is, well, I think the best name for this is yet to be thought up. By which I mean that HYSTC is not this.
  • January 7, 2010
    Tannhaeuser
    On reflection, I think you're right, Vree. Good name, but not for this trope. But I think Feathers will work as the page pic with "Have You Seen This Chicken?" as the caption.

    Right now I am hovering between Wolf In Sharks Clothing and The Cow Says Quack (Quack Says The Cow ?) as trope name.
  • January 7, 2010
    Vree
    I like the Wolf In X Clothing format actuaally...that might work. Although "shark" brings to mind something more dangerous than they look (a sheep in wolf's clothing, I guess) for me.

    Might worth a mention that the animal's imitation is usually a Paper Thin Disguise.

    Also, Purr Tenders is another example for the list.
  • January 7, 2010
    Tannhaeuser
    Okay, I think this might be it. How about Wolf In Sheepdogs Clothing?
  • January 7, 2010
    Vree
    Wah, you're saying the best kind of names xD Now I want to launch a YKTTW for each one.

    But I think for this trope (since it covers any animal as any animal) I think something that uses animals that are far from each other would be best. I don't know - Duck In A Cows Clothing? Dog In Chickens Clothing? Aah, you should ask someone smarter.

    By the way, here is what I associate when I hear your past names: xD

    Can I use these for my YKTT Ws? xD It would give me a chance to make something of the Wolf in Sheep Clothing sutb too.
  • January 7, 2010
    Idraena
    I definitely prefer the Wallace and Gromit example -- especially with the caption. It seems to better illustrate it.

    Also, I'd suggest either something straightforward like "Ineffectual Disguise" or I'd go with the rabbit/smeerp example. I don't like "sheepdog's" clothing because I expect it to cut off at "sheep" and it throws off the rhythm of the sentence if it doesn't.
  • January 7, 2010
    Vree
    Actually Animal Imitating Another Animal (if I remember correctly) was straightforward, even if it didd bnot have a "punchline", so it might be worth a reconsideration. Not all titles need to be wordplay after all. But someone is bound to make a good suggestion in a few comments, hopefully.
  • January 7, 2010
    feejeemermaid
    "Wolf in Sheepdog's Clothing" sounds to me like a villian disguising themselves as a protector. The cat/rat example in An American Tail would still qualify.
  • January 7, 2010
    feejeemermaid
    Anyway, how about Rubber Glove Chicken or something? I don't like it having "X in Y's clothing" because it automatically suggests metaphor which is confusing, since it's meant to be taken literally.
  • January 7, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    The Far Side had one with a polar bear with a Paper Thin Disguise -- a penguin's beak -- pretending to be a penguin.
  • January 8, 2010
    Tannhaeuser
    Okay, I think we all like the Wallace And Gromit pic better. About the title there is some disagreement. You're welcome to Wolf In Sheepdogs Clothing if you want it, Vree, although what you've described sound more to me like Fox In Hounds Clothing; you'll have to ask the Unknown Troper about Wolf In Sharks Clothing. Feejee Mermaid, I think Fox Guarding The Henhouse is more like a villain posing as a protector; I'm afraid that Rubber Glove Chicken suggests nothing more to me than something vaguely Rule Thirty Four-ish and squicky. I really, really don't want too obvious or literal a title, because, dash it! this is a funny trope (to me at least) and I think deserves a funny title, or at least a mildly interesting one.
  • January 8, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    Problem with both A Wolf In A Sheeps Clothing and Fox Guarding The House is that yes, they both use Animal Stereotypes, but they are sayings that illustrate a specific type of situation: the latter is someone given a position he is bound to exploit, the former is a dangerous person with a meek exterior. Another word that comes to mind is "camouflage" which biology uses to describe animals who do this (exploit their resemblance to their surroundings to hide from predators or to be more effecive hunters), which has the advantage that it sums up this trope up in one word, so you can add whatever word you like to it for extra appeal.
  • January 8, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    Yeah, I was a little worried that A Wolf In Sharks Clothing would come off exactly as you took it Vree. I do love funny titles but the unambiguous Animal Imitating Another Animal doesn't sound too bad and for Added Alliterative Appeal could be Animal As Another Animal (although that begins to get a little ambiguous again). Also, with the metaphor involved with A Wolf In Sheeps Clothing wouldn't these only be related if it was done literally? And even then wouldn't A Wolf In Sheeps Clothing actually be a subtrope of this and not the other way around?
  • January 8, 2010
    Vree
    (193.225 was me btw.)

    Yeah, I think this would work great as a supertrope for A Wolf In Sheeps Clothing, it's definitely a subtype - a predator disguising itself as its prey to be able to approach it. A different motive for comparison that I can think of in Talking Animal shows is when a character hides from a hunter among a different group of animals in this manner (sometimes goes hand in hand with putting something on an other animal that makes them looked like the hunted person's species). Both of these neatly fall under AIAA.

    [I'll probably make a Work page for "The Wolf In Sheep's Clothing" story soon (it's exam period right now :p), since it's the trope namer / ur example for more then one case (the moral of the story, for example, is infiltration backfire, the wolf is either cooked by the stepherd in a sheep's place or eaten by another wolf - that's two new tropes we don't have yet.)]
  • January 8, 2010
    Tannhaeuser
    How about Faux Furry? (Or possibly Faux Fourri?)
  • January 8, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    Is there a 'Human Disguised As An Animal' trope yet? Because I think Faux Furry would be an excellent name for that.
  • January 8, 2010
    feejeemermaid
    Oh oh oh!!! How about a play on Wig Dress Accent: Ears Nose Tail?? Feathers Beak Feet?
  • January 8, 2010
    Idraena
    I am still not sold on Animal Imitating Another Animal ... if it has to be something like that, Ineffectual Animal Disguise or something I think works better. Still not quite there, but to me "Animal Imitating Another Animal" is too unweildy/clumsy. (no offense to anyone though)

    Actually, Animal Imitating Another Animal sounds like a supertrope for all the "x in x's clothing" tropes and whatnot.
  • January 8, 2010
    ChevalierMalfait
    A common gag in Peanuts during the 1950s involved Snoopy imitating other animals, most often a vulture.
  • January 8, 2010
    berr
  • January 8, 2010
    Tannhaeuser
    Ummm...aren't all "furries" "Faux Furries", UT? (I really don't know the Furry culture, so...yeah.) FJM, I like the concept, but the names end up sounding kind of obscure, to me. Nothing suggesting disguise. Maybe Wig Ears Tail? I agree with Idraena that AIAA is way too clunky. I like the Aping part, Berr, but would like to make it a little more pictorial -- Aping An Ape? Aping An Emu? Or something like that? I'm also starting to swing back to Ass In A Lion Skin, because a) it's a proverb, B) it has been used in at least three examples I can think of (Aesop's Fables, a political cartoon by Thomas Nast, and The Chronicles Of Narnia), C) it's short, fairly descriptive, and not entirely boring, and D) it does suggest that the disguise is generally paper-thin though still remarkably successful at times. Besides, it sets up for someone to use a trope called Jerk Ass In A Lion Skin down the road (which would be perfect for Shakespeare's King John, btw).
  • January 8, 2010
    Ezekiel
    Tann, it's a problem of terminology. The same term is used to refer to fictional characters who are anthropomorphic animals as to the fans of such characters.

    Does Chicken Boo qualify, or is this trope specifically about cross-species disguise scenarios in which neither species is human?
  • January 9, 2010
    Tannhaeuser
    Thanks, Ezekiel. I certainly don't want to insult anybody by "calling them out of their name."

    Oh, and, yeah, specifically non-human imitating non-human. I should add that to the description.
  • January 9, 2010
    Idraena
    Honestly I think Ass In A Lion Skin is the best title we have so far. It may not be jokey, but it at least is better-sounding than Animal Imitating Another Animal or even Aping Another Animal, and it does give a sense that the disguise is just held on and ought to be obvious to everyone. It's classic, and popular (as an example of said disguise). I would support that one over just about everything we have right now.
  • January 9, 2010
    Tannhaeuser
    Going with Ass In A Lion Skin for now, faute de mieux. How is the write-up? Something I should change, something I forgot to include?

    Also, do they do this in Anime and Manga at all? I know very little about non-Western Animation.
  • January 9, 2010
    Idraena
    Maybe I'm just nitpicky, but the explanation seems a little wordy/clumsily worded now, especially the second paragraph with all the parentheses in it.

    I'm no help on the anime, but if you've decided to go with Ass In A Lion Skin for sure, I'd say after cleaning the paragraph up (or not) it's ready to launch.
  • January 9, 2010
    Evalana
    In the Phineas And Ferb episode "Got Game?" Perry the Platypus dresses up as a dog (i.e. an earband and fake tail) to infiltrate a pet shop where Dr. Doofenshmirtz has been shopping, and ends up being bought by the doctor, who is unaware of Perry's disguise.
  • January 9, 2010
    ParadiscaCorbasi
  • January 9, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    I think the A Wolf In Sheeps Clothing inclusion seem a little out of place since it's not really meant literally.
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