Dogs are stupid and will happily run around with bog roll in their mouth, but cats are always 'discerning'... They come on like they own half of Mayfair, when in fact they'd fucking starve if you didn't give them mashed up animal genitals out of a tin. Assholes.
— Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit?
Want an easy way to show that your character is loyal? Make him a dog! Want your female member to come off as graceful, but don't know how to show it? Make her a cat! While the stereotypes themselves vary from culture to culture, animals are one of the most popular forms of symbolism in fiction.
When used as a characterization shortcut, the work compares the character to an animal for which the audience's culture projects certain personality traits. This can be done subtly with symbolism or Theme Naming
, or more blatantly by giving the character physical traits or mannerisms of the animal, or even by making the animal itself the character.
The respective animal frequently follows the rules set by What Measure Is a Non-Cute?
, Species Equals Gender
, Good Animals, Evil Animals
and Unpleasant Animal Counterpart
NOTE: As cultural stereotypes for animals vary from place to place and some cultures have multiple stereotypes for certain animals, make sure that your example lists the character(s), the animal, the cultural stereotypes that animal is representing, and how the character(s) reflect those traits.
Quite possibly one of The Oldest Ones in the Book
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Be wary of Animal Jingoism
Anime and Manga
- One Piece has "Cat Burglar Nami" - which is everyone who knows Nami comparing her to a cat that's ultimately kind when it suits her but mostly selfish. This is played up a lot at first and then dropped as the story goes on.
- The cursed Souma family in Fruits Basket - in this case each of the Soumas' personalities follow the character traits specific to their Zodiac sign, e.g. Yuki the Rat is an intelligent leader, Rin the Horse is fiercely independent, etc.
- InuYasha, from the series of the same name, is half dog-demon. So he exhibits some traits of a dog, like loyalty and, uh, doggedness. He even antagonizes foxes. Shippo, the fox demon is small but clever and brave. The wolf demon Kouga is direct, competitive and likes running. Sesshoumaru, Inuyasha's pure-blooded brother, shares Inuyasha's dog-like traits of being possessive, territorial and aggressive, and gradually exhibits the stereotypes of a good dog as well including loyalty and being extremely good with children.
- Kotaro Inugami of Mahou Sensei Negima! swears he's a lone wolf, cold and proud with no need for others (namely, girls), but his friend Negi more closely associates him with a Dog (it is his demon species after all...) And as wolves are very social pack hunters, a lone wolf is often hungry and also lonely. The "lone wolf" idiom is actually quite clever.
- Bakarasu, a Speech-Impaired Animal showed up in one Mazinger Z episode and was a semi-recurrent secondary character in Great Mazinger, "helped" the heroes every so often, and he fit quite well with the traits of the heroic corvid: he was cunning, mischievous and trickster, and he enjoyed tweaking the messages he was supposed to deliver and getting Boss in trouble.
- Mostly played straight in Princess Tutu. The main character is a duck disguised as a girl, and she's shown as being clumsy and loud with a hidden grace. Both the Magical Girl she turns into and the Prince she's trying to save are represented by swans, appropriate since both are graceful dancers who are greatly defined by their love for others. Crows and ravens are the main villains, and the Dark Magical Girl is both referred to as a crow and a black swan, referencing Swan Lake and referring to the fact that she herself is a loving person who's been twisted by evil. The trope carries over to most of the cast in some ways, with some exceptions.
- Naruto: Naruto is possessed by a what is essentially a kitsune and is played as a trickster early on and has fox like physical traits; subverted when we actually meet the fox himself... He'd sooner rip your face off than play pranks.
- In The Elm-Chanted Forest Buddy Bear is lazy and fun loving but fierce if he needs to be, Fifi Fox is very seductive, and J. Edgar Beaver is wise and hardworking.
- Harry Potter:
- The Animagus and Patronus forms are generally reflective of the personality of the character. Rita Skeeter, the reporter becomes a bug on the wall, listening into conversations. Serious who stays loyal, even in jail is a dog. Peter who betrays a secret with deadly price is a rat. Then there is the "noble, but vain braggart" stereotype is very much played straight with James Potter's Animagus form, a stag.
- All the houses have associated animals:
- Gryffindor, the house of the brave has the lion.
- Hufflepuff, the friendly loyal down to earth house has the badger.
- Slytherins, the house of cunning and slyness has the snake, exemplified in Voldemort who lacks a nose, and can speak the language of the snameks
- Ravenclaw, house of the intelligent and wise has the eagle for some reason.
- Croup and Vandemar are human (or rather, humanoid - what they actually are isn't specified), but Richard finds they give him a very clear impression of "a fox and a wolf", respectively. Croup is short, redhaired, sneaky, and talkative, while Vandemar is hulking, greyhaired, menacing, ostentatiously carnivorous, and can produce a very wolf-like howl.
- Similarly, Hunter is frequently compared to a lioness (sleek, tawny, and deadly).
- Charlottes Web showcases how the deceptive female spider's archetype can use her guile for good: manipulating humans with "miraculous" spider webs to spare the life of Some Pig.
- Both played straight and subverted in the Dragaera novels, where Dragaerans conform to some of the Animal Stereotypes of their respective Houses: Orca are aggressive and predatory, Yendi (snakes) are sneaky and treacherous, Teckla (mice) are timid and victimized, etc.
- Dog Soldiers in Black Dogs are exceptionally loyal and trustworthy, while the anthropomorphic giant ground sloth is slow and patient and the weasel/ferret character is bloodthirsty and cunning.
- Tortall Universe
- In the Song of the Lioness, Alanna eventually starts to be called The Lioness. She is brave, powerful, and prideful - and the King chooses her as his Champion. Given the male lion/royalty association and the whole thing where lionesses do most of the hunting, it's an interesting bit of symbolism.
- This is invoked all over the place in Provost's Dog. The Provost's Guard are nicknamed "Dogs" as an insult, but take pride in the nickname for the positive aspects—loyal, fierce, able to sniff out crimes and hunt down prey for their master the King. The protagonist, Beka, is nicknamed Terrier, Bloodhound, and Mastiff over the course of her career.
Live Action TV
- Sylar from Heroes had an overwhelming cockroach theme around him, likely to signify his ambition to evolve, and, as revealed in season 1 finale, to survive, as seen by the very final shot of the first volume, which showed a trail of blood leading from where his corpse was last seen into the sewer, with a cockroach wriggling his antennae to the camera.
- Angela from The Office is fussy, small and prudent. So fittingly, she has a bunch of pet cats, and dresses up as one for Halloween.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer has witch turn herself into a rat and remain that way for four years. When she becomes a human again in season 7, she has a craving for cheese. In Season 8, which takes place a few years later, she still has a constant craving for cheese.
- Snakes on Merlin were always evil. An early villain had a shield with three magical snakes on it, and after Morgana's Face-Heel Turn she often wore a snake necklace, used a small snake for torturing purposes, and had a small hydra-like creature that she used in brainwashing spells. There was also Lamia, a snake-like Vamp.
- Tim Minchin's Lament of the Three Toed Sloth is a song about a sloth being unhappy with being so darn slow.
Myth And Legend
- Br'er Rabbit is a Trickster Rabbit of African origin. Going even further, his character originates in folkloric African stories told way before colonial time. Of course, he used to be a spider (viz. Anansi), not a bunny.
- Coyote and Raven are the Trickster spirits in the lore of some Native American nations.
- Older Than Dirt: To the Ancient Egyptians vultures, cows, and female hippos were seen as nurturing and motherly, hawks and lions as warlike, bulls and rams as symbols of male virility, and a whole slew of animals (antelope, donkeys, male hippos, pigs, tortoises) as evil. These symbolic meanings were part of the associations between gods and animals, and of depicting gods in animal or animal-headed forms.
- Ancient British and Medieval Welsh saw night birds like the owls as symbols of evil. The unfaithful Blodeuedd is transformed into an owl for arranging the murder of her husband, Lleu Llaw; the wronged Lleu turns into an eagle when stabbed and flies away. Songbirds meanwhile represent good and the Otherworld - a starling carries Branwen's cry for help to Wales, and later the enchanted Birds of Rhiannon sing to the surviving rescuers to help them forget that they failed.
- Although the raven, in all Celtic myth, is the personification of the Dark Goddess of war, death, insanity and nightmare. In Irish mythology, she is the Morrigan, triple goddess of death, war and dark dream. As a Raven, she perched over the stone pillar where the hero Cuchullain fought his last battle and died.
- Cuckoos were a bad omen, associated with grief and loss because their mournful "coo, coo" sounds like "Cw, cw?", Old Welsh for "Where, where?"
- In Greek Mythology, Athena, goddess of wisdom, was associated with owls, and owls show up on ancient Athenian currency (Athena being the patron goddess of Athens).
- Norse Mythology:
- Most of the Gods and Goddesses in Norse Mythology have a carriage that are drawn by specific animals. These animals have connections to the God/dess's personalities. Cats draw Freya's as a Goddess of War and Love; boars draw Freyr's as a God of Fertility. Goats draw Thor's as a God known for being aggressive and stubborn; he can eat them without killing them, too.
- Ravens are one of Odin's symbols as a God of Death.
- Done all over the place in Police Force:
- The main protagonists are a lion and a leopard (powerful and majestic).
- The backup policemen are a rhinoceros and two dogs (one incompetent cop and two loyal ones).
- The main villains are a rat, a shark, a weasel, and a crocodile (animals with various unsavory traits).
- The Big Bad is a Tyrannosaurus rex (badass top of the foodchain).
- One of the civilians is a fox vixen wearing a fur coat (sexy and confident).
- A model in a fashion store is a peacock (vain and pompous).
- The candidate in a political billboard is a bald eagle (patriotic).
- Lampshaded in the Wildlands domain from the Ravenloft setting for Dungeons & Dragons. It's Africa populated with Talking Animals, and the description notes that the different animals' personalities match the human stereotypes associated with them.
- Magical Native Americans come with their "Guardian Spirits" in Deadlands (and its daughter games). The personalities of these spirits are described in terms of actual Native American/First Nations Animal Stereotypes, and if the canon shamans are any indication, the spirits are drawn to humans who have personalities similar to their own, making for easy Animal Motifs in Player Characters.
- As the characters in Ironclaw are anthropomorphic animals there is a long list of stereotypes for each species. Some of which are unique to that universe such as gray foxes being inbred aristocrats.
- Drizzt Do'Urden has Guenwyvar, his magic panther. Both are stealthy, graceful, and noble but deadly. They're also both black.
- Each of the Purr-Tenders disguised themselves as an animal that somehow matched their personality. Hop-purr, for instance, was generically cute and cuddly, but smart enough to come up with the whole deception in the first place. Romp-purr was a playful, sport-loving Tomboy, and pretended to be a dog, while Shrinking Violet Scamp-purr chose to be a mouse. Perhaps the oddest of the lot was Flop-purr, whose disguise and personality seemed to be based on Daffy Duck.
- Metal Gear Solid is more subtle, but deserves note for using snakes as a symbol of rebirth (think ouroboros) rather than evil.
- Star Fox, as Furries IN SPACE!, naturally has many characters fitting these stereotypes. Fox McCloud is cunning, Andross (a monkey) is the Big Bad (several of his henchmen are monkeys as well), Wolf is the evil rival, and so on.
- In Warcraft III the Night Elf druids, who could switch between Elf and animal form, showed the stereotypes of their animal form even as elves. The Druids of the Claw, who could turn into bears, seemed slow paced, fond of long naps, but very dangerous when angered. The Druids of the Talon, who could turn into crows, were mysterious, slick and silent. The snake worshipping Druids of the Fang are of course pure evil. Whitewolf's rpg claims there are good druids of the fang and the ones encountered ingame are a freak incident but in World of Warcraft they didn't start calling themselves druids of the fang until after they turned evil.
- Touhou games, with their abundance of Youkai, hit a few.
- Shou in UFO is a tiger youkai, and a perfect Tiger archetype: very proud, a natural leader, and very powerful.
- Shou's subordinate Nazrin is a mouse youkai, and fits the more gentle rodent type: a tiny, tiny, clever commander, cute, trustworthy, and good at finding treasure.
- Utsuho, the Final Boss of Subterranean Animism, is a raven, but while menacing and dangerous thanks to her new powers, she's not particularly clever.
- Rin, a cat youkai (kasha), doesn't really fit the cat archetype. She follows the player through three stages, but she's not malicious so much as she is just doing her job (thereby avoiding the lazy and self-centered archetypes).
- Yamame is a spider youkai (tsuchigumo)... and is pretty much the opposite of the spider archetype. She's a generous, fun-loving socialite who refuses to use her plague-inducing powers on others.
- The goddess Kanako, the Final Boss of Mountain of Faith, uses snakes as her symbol, but again, she's not so much malicious as she is Chaotic Neutral and secretive about her activities. She uses the wisdom and rebirth associations of the snake as much as she does the predatory aspect.
- The crow tengu Aya (Phantasmagoria of Flower View, Shoot the Bullet, Mountain of Faith, and Double Spoiler) and her rival Hatate (Double Spoiler) are often portrayed to be clever, but not particularly menacing (unless it involves blackmail).
- The wolf tengu Momiji (Mountain of Faith, Double Spoiler) was originally portrayed by fandom as a puppy-dog archetype, but her appearances in Double Spoiler paint her more as a lone wolf.
- Reisen in Imperishable Night is a Moon Rabbit, but probably fits the hare archetype best: her escape from the moon war (flight), her alliance with the exiled Lunarians at Eientei (cleverness), and her insanity-inducing gaze (mystery).
- Tei, a normal rabbit youkai, is cute, lucky, and a Bugs Bunny-esque trickster, perfectly fitting a more normal rabbit archetype.
- Mystia, a sparrow youkai, is cute, upbeat, prone to bragging about skills she doesn't have, and clever, matching the sparrow stereotype.
- Ran in Perfect Cherry Blossom isn't canonly shown to fulfill any of the fox stereotypes, though this can be explained by her servitude to Yukari. Fanonly, she has a streaking habit, which can be sexy and a sign of confidence.
- Chen is a curious, cute Cat Girl.
- Fanonly, Sakuya Izayoi from Embodiment of Scarlet Devil is associated with dogs due to her loyalty and ferocity. Unusual here in that Sakuya is a human.
- Kana Anaberal from the PC-98 exclusive Phantasmagoria of Dim.Dream is a Cute Ghost Girl with a faint bird motif, and is tragic, fitting the "bird with broken wings" aspect.
- Genji the turtle, Reimu's trusty steed in the PC-98 games, is old, wise, and a tad snarky. He's also flight-capable.
- Morrigan from Dragon Age: Origins, she is a shapeshifter and her default form is a spider. And this suits her haughty, snarky, bitter and undeniably dangerous personality very well. Partially subverted when she shows her Tsundere personality.
- Solatorobo has the Caninu and Felineko races. Caninu are described as loyal, friendly, good at physical labor, and like eating hard foods. Felineko are described as fiercely independent, quite aggressive, moody, calculating, and agile. One stereotype that only applies in-universe is the Caninu's proficiency for technology contrasted by the Felineko's proficiency for magic.
- Hatoful Boyfriend:
- The three white fantails, a fancy breed, in the game are all stuck-up and narcissistic to varying degrees - Sakuya is a racist aristocrat, Yuuya is an overconfident Tuxedo and Martini spy and Oko San acts like a slightly spoiled pet bird who hits you if he doesn't like what you're saying.
- The feral pigeon, Ryouta, has to take what he can get in terms of jobs, is sickly and comes from a rough background, but does okay due to his opportunistic and go-getting nature.
- The mourning dove, Nageki, is depressed, lonely and a ghost.
- Anghel the Luzon bleeding-heart, a bird appearing to have a huge wound on its chest surrounded by legends of being marked by Jesus's blood, is a melodramatic Large Ham with a massive love of religious Faux Symbolism.
- The Chukar Partridge, Shuu, is a creepy doctor, since the bird has red-rimmed eyes that look like glasses and a call that (after the 'chu-KAR' which gave it its name) sounds like a creepy 'ho ho ho' chuckle. Also, in Punjabi legend, the Chukar is a symbol of eternal, unrequited love due to belief that it constantly gazes at the Moon. Shuu's motivation in the BBL route is his unrequited love for the rock dove, Ryuuji, which leads him to planning to make humans extinct.
- Gunnerkrigg Court: Kat draws cats on a few of her machines. Antimony carries a wolf doll at almost all times. Reynardine is a fox demon who seems to be undergoing a Heel-Face Turn since possessing said wolf doll. Ysengrin, on the other hand, fits the evil wolf stereotype, with the twist that he's less a wolf than he used to be. Coyote is Coyote.
- Later on Ysegrin has been shown to be sagely and wise. He just doesn't like humans at all. He's simply pretending to be a dumb brute.
- Kat also has enough of a connection to pigeons that during one chapter Zimmy sees one on her head spouting out all her thoughts.
- Outside Interference has a rabbit named Hollie, who's apparently quite hung up on... what rabbits are famous for.
- The Dawn Chapel features a short story, The Apex Predator, wherein a proud lion is presented with a series of affronts to his dignity, none of which are handled gracefully.
- Homestuck features twelve characters, the trolls, all of which have a theme animal. When the troll is a match for their theme animal, it's usually played straight, as with the eternally angry Karkat, who's theme animal is a crab, but on the other hand, Tavros is a general subversion of his bull, being shy, slow-tempered, and generally harmless, as opposed to bold, easily-angered, and intimidating.
- Fridge Brilliance: Prior to the story, Tavros was injured in an "accident" which left him completely paralyzed from the waist down— including, presumably, the family goods . He's not a bull, he's a steer.
- There is a spell some magic users in Roommates know, that animates the target's shadow in the shape of an animal that fits his/her darker nature. The main cast got: owl (the Monster Roommate, Jareth), wolf (Inspector Javert), panther (the Trap Master Mad Artist, Erik) and eagle (the Token Good Teammate, James). The most interesting and to date unexplained is Jareth's father who has human for some reason.
- In Whateley Universe, one of the superhero classifications is 'Avatar', meaning someone who can absorb a spirit and keep it alive, gaining its powers in exchange. These spirits are often (but not always) animal totems/kami of some kind or another, and animal Avatars tend to take on the behavior characteristics of their spirit(s), sometimes physically as well. Aquerna (Middle English for 'squirrel') has the power of the SQUIRREL! She's curious, persistent, family-oriented, and sees herself as insignificant. At Super Hero School Whateley Academy, she's thought of as one of the school losers. She's still better off than the unnamed girl who has the spirit of the hamster, and has grown fur and cheek pouches too. Mongoose has the spirit of the mongoose, and as a result is playful, adventurous, and always looking for new things. There are lots more examples.
- Aside from the Sentient Apes that populate the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, there are also a category of characters called "Moreaus" (after the titular Mad Scientist from "The Island of Doctor Moreau"), scientifically altered animals that can now speak and think.
- The Zoo is a heroic team of Moreaus that have banded together for self-protection and to show humanity that they aren't monsters. They've unimaginably named themselves after their original species (Bloodhound, Buffalo, Fox, and Giraffe), and fight crime in Los Angeles.
- Beast Wars: It's both averted and utilized, depending on the character. Some, like Rattrap, Cheetor, Silverbolt (wolf/eagle hybrid), Inferno, Tarantulas and Blackarachnia fit their animal's stereotypes exactly. Others, like Tigatron, Rhinox and Optimus (a gorilla) don't have the kind of personalities their animal implies. For instance, Tigatron (a tiger) is a pacifist, Rhinox (a rhino) is the smartest and calmest member of the Maximals and Optimus (a gorilla) is the most serious member.
- Looney Tunes both uses and inverts the trope for irony's sake. Bugs Bunny is the ultimate in "tricky" rabbits (the most famous Karmic Trickster), while Porky Pig is an uptight neat freak and Sylvester is an uncommonly stupid and ungraceful cat.
- Each of the martial artists in Kung Fu Panda, being animals who each practice a style specifically designed after their species. But no one associates a cute and cuddly species like a Giant Panda with aggression, and yet lead character Po learns to be exactly that.
- Codename: Kids Next Door featured an episode where all the kids were turned into animals. Japanese Numbuh 3 turns into a crane, fat Numbuh Two into a hippopotamus, and Australian Numbuh Four into a koala. The highlight, however, is the bossy and belligerent Numbuh Eighty-Six turning into an Irish Setter. A female Irish Setter.
- Skunk Fu! subverts Rabbit, Tiger, and Mantis, while Skunk, Fox, the Monkeys, and Turtle are played straight.
- Donald Duck of Disney is clumsy, dim but strong willed. Gladstone Gander is a chronically lucky arrogant dandy.
- On the topic of Disney, the stereotypes follow the main characters very well. Mickey Mouse has been portrayed as humble and inoffensive, however recently he's been shown to be going back to being mischievous, like he was in his earlier cartoons. Goofy is a very loyal friend, but he's known for not being the brightest. Pete, Mickey's rival, is a cat, and is shown to be arrogant, lazy, and manipulative.
- Madagascar subverts several of these tropes. Alex the Lion is hardly brave or powerful (proud on the other hand...) Marty, the Zebra is the farthest thing from elegant, noble, and hard-working (although he is really stereotypically black). Gloria is far from a lazy, slobby hippo. The Penguins are the farthest thing you'll ever get from clumsy. And they don't even like cold weather. In the TV show, the elephant comes across as rather dense, the gorillas are somewhat thuggish, and Phil and Mason (chimps) are rather reserved and dignified.
- As well as being the source of a Punny Name, the use of dogs in Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds reinforces the Musketeers' virtue of loyalty. The villain Milady, a cat, exhibits feline cunning.
- Almost everyone in Kaeloo. Mr. Cat is Smileyland's resident jerk, Stumpy the squirrel is hyperactive and a bit dim and Kaeloo the frog seems to be in constant bliss and is smotheringly "friendly". Subverted with Quack-Quack and Bad Kaeloo as Quack-Quack is a diaper-wearing genius incapable of speech and Bad Kaeloo is a monstrous she-toad with little obvious intelligence and a horrific mean streak.
- In ThunderCats (2011) this is frequently Played With with Third Earth's many varieties of Petting Zoo People, with accompanying Intelligent Gerbil characterization. Cats can be mean, magic or superior, Lions are the King of Beasts, Lizards are abhorrent and so on. Elephants, while very wise, notably subvert the classic "an elephant never forgets" by collectively having incredibly poor memories, for which they are apparently infamous.
- Get Muggsy! plays raccoon, opossum and beaver straight, but averts most of the spider stereotypes.
- The episode of Darkwing Duck that has Bushroot creating and wanting to marry the vampire potato also has a weasel trucker pick up the heroes and give them some intelligent advice. He LOOKS evil, but was very amiable.
- Polish animation series Hip-Hip and Hurra has plenty of jokes based upon stereotypes of various animals. Some are however averted.
- In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012), Tiger Claw and Bradford discuss how Xever thought the two of them wouldn't get along, just because Tiger Claw is a cat and Bradford is a dog. Both of them agree that it's ridiculous to hate each other for such a silly reason. Tiger Claw then admits that he wants to eat Xever because he's a fish. Bradford wants to eat Xever too, but only to shut him up.