Cunning Like a Fox
"Is [your plan] as cunning as a fox who's just been appointed professor of cunning at Oxford University?"Foxes occupy a unique place among Animal Stereotypes. They can be good guys, bad guys, or completely neutral, but they're always crafty, clever, and cunning. Their sly nature sometimes results in illegal activies, so it's not uncommon to see them portrayed as thieves or con-artists; in other words, they're a classic Trickster Archetype. Although it is not unknown for them to be too clever; another term for Too Clever by Half is "outfoxing yourself". Sometimes this trope invoked under the phrase "crazy like a fox" for when the brilliant plan seems crazy to anyone who isn't quite as brilliant. This stereotype is, to some extent, Truth in Television: Foxes do live in family groups like wolves, though they tend to hunt by themselves, and they are more known for stealing farm animals in the dark of the night than outright attacking them in broad daylight. The "crazy like a fox" part has roots in real fox behavior as well; red foxes have been known to jump around and act crazy to entice curious rabbits into coming closer. If the work in question is Japanese (or inspired by Japanese culture), expect the fox to be a Kitsune, a fantastic fox-like creature with the same stereotype of guile and trickery associated with it. See Fantastic Foxes and Kitsune for the myths, legends, and fables that inspired this trope. Compare Those Wily Coyotes, for another stereotypically clever wild dog. Not to be confused with a certain Desert Fox
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- "Mr. Fox, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?" Though in a subversion, he actually admits that he's less well-informed than Mr. Turtle and Mr. Owl.
Anime and Manga
- Kurama from YuYu Hakusho is a fox demon possessing the body of a human boy. He's as cunning as the trope would indicate. He always used to be a lot more a jerkass than he is now.
- His arms and legs were once paralyzed during a fight. He still wins
- Later all of his plant powers are sealed inside his body. He wins by wounding himself on the enemy's blade and planting seeds into the open wound.
- Similarly, Tamamo from Hell Teacher Nube is a youko, a "sorcerer fox" whose natural form is as an enormous half-fox, half-human demon who removes human skulls from his victim in order to assume a true human form. Very, very cunning as well.
- Kitsune in Pom Poko were driven from their homes the exact same way tanuki are, by human cities expanding into their hills and forests. However, instead of declaring all-out war on humans, kitsune found a more cunning solution. They used their transformation skills to become humans and live in their society. You can still distinguish them by their pointy, angular faces that vaguely resemble a fox's snout.
- Which refers to the Japanese term 'kitsune kao', and traditionally someone with those features is held to be this clever. The opposite is a round, wide face, 'tanuki kao', which makes sense, considering the end of the film.
- Kyuubi-fox Sakura in Hyper Police is an 8-and-1/5 tailed version. She tends to fall into Too Clever by Half role.
- Bleach: Ichimaru Gin gets nicknamed "Fox Face" by Ichigo fairly early on. He has proceeded to earn that nickname throughout the series.
- The Medicine Peddler from Mononoke, but you'll only notice if you're ready to read between the lines quite a bit. His Kitsune-mask-like face is not the only reason for this comparison — but it certainly helps.
- Occasionally, Naruto shows some shades of this, even though he is (at least initially) largely an Idiot Hero.
- Megumi from Rurouni Kenshin is often compared to a fox, being nicknamed Kitsune-onna(fox lady) by Sanosuke and others, having fox ears pop up above her head, and one memorable Imagine Spot by Saitou.
- Tomoe from Kamisama Kiss is a Little Bit Beastly fox demon. While most of the time he is regular asshole, he is both intelligent and cunning.
- An old fox from Wolf Children Ame and Yuki, a guardian of the mountain, becomes Ame's sensei, teaching him everything he needs to learn about the wild. Near the end of the movie, the old fox gets flattened by a falling tree, leaving Ame to leave his human life behind and live as a wolf and the mountain's new guardian.
- Reynard from Fables, who happens to be the original trickster fox.
- John Constantine the Hellblazer was described as a fox by God himself.
- Kitsune from Usagi Yojimbo. She is a fox, but "Kitsune" is her artist name, not her real one.
- The Dutch comic Tom Poes has a recurring The Barnum character, Joris Goedbloed, who is a fox.
- Paulus De Boskabouter: Reintje is a very sneaky and cunning fox.
- The eponymous main character of the Danish comic Hieronymus Borsch is a fox. He is smart, but thinks he is smarter, and is often hindered by his many psychological weaknesses more than by This Week's Murderer.
- Ireyon of newer Danish Paperinik stories fits the clichés, since she is a cunning thief who runs a Robin Hood-like operation of taking from the rich and giving to the poor. (Fun fact: in some of her appearances, the artist was Mårdön Smed, who is the creator of Hieronymus Borsch, above.)
- Avoided with most fox characters in Bamse, who aren't very sly or cunning. But played completely straight with the rather recent Reinard, who is a crafty villain more or less introduced because most "bad guys" in the comic had deteriorated to the point they only worked as Ineffectual Sympathetic Villains.
- Diabolik has a character known only as Altea's Uncle, The Fox and Altea's Fox Uncle. He's possibly the most intelligent and cunning character in the series, with his debut having him getting Diabolik easily arrested (with him being Genre Savvy enough that, had he been in command, Diabolik would have been 'accidentally' shot in the process in case Diabolik somehow escaped Ginko's latest measures to keep him caught until execution, as he in fact did) and his latest appearance at the time of this writing showing him easily manipulating Diabolik (a Chessmaster on his own) into killing a group of terrorists and keeping Diabolik under surveillance just to enjoy the show. For obvious reasons, he doesn't appear often.
- Blud misuses this phrase in Light and Dark The Adventures of Dark Yagami.
“YOU HAVE LEARNED WELL FROM ME!” he whispered like moldy bread. “LEARNED WELL LIKE A FOX WHO WENT TO SCHOOL AND DID WELL AND THEN WENT TO COLLEGE”
Films — Animated
- Disney Animated Canon:
- Disney rather appropriately turned Robin Hood into a fox for the animated movie. Maid Marian is also a fox, which leads to the amusing inversion of a chicken guarding a fox (her duenna is a white hen).
- Song of the South features Br'er Fox, who's clever enough to think up a Tar Baby (trapping Br'er Rabbit with his own temper), but isn't as clever as he thinks he is — something Br'er Rabbit can use to his advantage, and does.
- Pinocchio features a trickster fox, just like the original novel (see Literature).
- The Fox and the Hound played with it, in part because the fox starts out as a pup. He did avoid getting killed on a hunt on more than one occasion.
- Their upcoming Zootopia will be adding yet another to the canon, a slick fella named Nick Wilde.
- The title character of Vuk the Little Fox regularly outsmarts humans once he's grown up.
- The main villain of Wilbur's Great Adventure, a Direct-to-Video sequel to Charlotte's Web, is a fox named Farley, who even gets a Villain Song about how cunning he is.
Films — Live-Action
- Mary Poppins features a fox that needs rescuing from a foxhunt, but once safely on a merry-go-round horse will mock his pursuers - a common criticism of the Guile Hero is that he is, in essence, a coward.
- Fox, an incorrigible chicken thief from Fantastic Mr. Fox (see also Literature).
- The film version of The Plague Dogs (see Literature) has the fox in the same role as in the novel, with a disarmingly guileful Geordie (i.e. Newcastle) accent.
- In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the fox is definitely pretty cunning. He manages to outsmart a couple of wolves by giving them the wrong direction.
- American folklore:
- Br'er Fox is a common opponent to Br'er Rabbit in Joel Chandler Harris's Br'er Rabbit Tales. As is typical of folk stories, sometimes Br'er Fox wins, sometimes he's outsmarted.
- Asian folklore:
- In Far East folklore, interpretation of foxes can vary, but most of them treat foxes as cunning, deceptive, and extremely intelligent shapeshifters and schemers that prefer to take the form of an attractive young woman to seduce the obviously-innocent man, and possess up to nine tails. For more details, see Fantastic Foxes and Kitsune.
- European folklore:
- Reynard The Fox is a classic Trickster Archetype from French folklore. Classic enough to rename the whole species after himself.
- The fox (usually female) is most always a sly trickster in Russian folklore and works based on it.
- In one Russian fairy-tale, a living round bread who had managed to escape an old man and his wife, a hare, a wolf and a bear, was easily tricked by a fox and eaten.
- If a fox shows up in a Scandinavian folktale, you know that it's going to at some point trick or at least deceive someone in an amusing way — and if a bear shows up in the same story, it's going to be the victim. There are several tales dedicated purely to the tricky rascal fox tricking and outwitting the simple-minded dimwit of a bear in various ways. (This is so common that the one story where the bear comes out on top Lampshades the entire thing by pointing out that this time the bear was the clever one, even if he's usually Too Dumb to Live.)
- A common punchline in Hungarian fairy tales is that a fox manages to trick several people (usually of a Slavic ethnicity) until he's double crossed by a Szekler, who are also known for their wits and unusually non conventional way of thinking.
- Aesops Fables, probably the Ur-Example:
- The original to declare something Sour Grapes.
- The Fox And The Crane
- The Ass, the Fox, and the Lion
- The Dogs and the Fox
- The Eagle and the Fox
- The Fox Who Had Lost His Tail
- The Fox and the Goat
- In some fables the trope is subverted - the fox's attempts at trickery only get it into trouble, like in The Ass, the Fox and the Lion.
- The foxes place in British folklore is as a trickster similar to other cultures. However it has a special emphasis because aristocrats began hunting them when the boar were played out. In Anglo-American culture, the term fox is often given to warriors renowned for cunning. Manfred Rommel in the intro to one history said he thought lion would better fit his father Erwin Rommel. But British preferred fox.
- The Magic Garden had a fox known as "Crafty Fox".
- The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. A children's classic wherein a fox and his family help the rest of the burrowing creatures rob three evil farmers.
- The foxes in Redwall tend to be much more into subterfuge than all the other bad-guy species, which often veers into Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, especially when they're the main villains of the book.
- Le Roman de Rénart is an anthology of tales about a cunning fox called Renart who outwits other animals (see Mythology). Those stories were satires of medieval society at the time it was written. They were loosely adaptated in an animated series, Moi Renart.
- In Dick King-Smith's books, especially The Foxbusters (an Affectionate Parody of The Dam Busters), foxes are occasionally portrayed as cunning. But this is decidedly secondary to their main characteristic of being vile Nazi stand-ins. (King-Smith, unlike most of the authors here, was a farmer...)
- Mat Cauthon from The Wheel of Time is associated with the fox as part of his trickster archetype. He has a fox head medallion that makes him invulnerable to the One Power and his signet ring has a fox scattering ravens. He is sometimes clever but at other times a bit of a buffoon.
- Carlo Collodi's novel Adventures Of Pinocchio features a con-artist fox.
- So does its Russian adaptation by A.Tolstoy, The Adventures of Buratino.
- Some versions of the The Odyssey have Circe saying that a fox would be a fitting animal for Odysseus, what with him being a Guile Hero. She says this because she's a sorceress who frequently does Baleful Polymorphs.
- Daniel P. Mannix's The Fox and the Hound has the fox Tod constantly outsmarting the hunter pursuing him. He's not even anthropomorphic.
- Mr. Croup from Neverwhere is characterised extensively with fox-related imagery and is generally the more cunning of he and his associate, Mr. Vandemar, who's more oafish and is compared to a wolf or a hound in the same way.
- Lord Russel the fox in The Book of the Dun Cow is a chatty but well-meaning fellow who is, in an interesting case of Carnivore Confusion, a firm ally of the rooster hero, Chauntecleer.
- The crafty female tribute "Foxface" in The Hunger Games is describe by Katniss as sly and elusive. Foxface demonstrated her cleverness by figuring out the path into the Careers'supply pyramid and reached the bulk of supplies, takes an unnoticeable amount of food, and then runs back to the safety of the woods.
- Tom McCaughren's Run With the Wind and its five sequels (think Watership Down but with Irish foxes instead of British rabbits). All of them are depicted as being cleverer than any of the other animals but a few are crafty even for foxes, like Old Sage Brush, a blind Trickster Mentor or Hop-Along, who uses an eclipse to fool a hare into thinking he can leap high enough to take a bite of the moon.
- In Andre Norton's Catseye, two Uplifted Animals are foxes.
- In The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli said that princes must be like this, as well as fight like lions.
A prince, therefore, being compelled knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves. Those who rely simply on the lion do not understand what they are about.
- In C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces, the Greek slave bought as a tutor is called "the Fox" for it.
- Silas Fennec, villain, spy and Manipulative Bastard from The Scar by China Miéville.
- In Polish children book Little Orphan Mary and the Gnomes by Maria Konopnicka, a fox is clever enough to trick a naive gnome scholar that he is also a great scholar because of the collection of goose feathers (allegedly quills) he has.
Live Action TV
- Crazy Like a Fox: Named after a variation of the trope, describes the lead Harry Fox, a crafty private eye with red hair.
- Criminal Minds: Serial Killer Karl Arnold's official nickname is "The Fox". Coincidentally, he is red-haired.
- "The Fox" is also the name of the episode he was in back in season one and he returns in a season five episode called "Outfoxed".
- Blackadder: Goes Forth gives us the page quote, in question to Baldrick's (final?) cunning plan.
Blackadder: Baldrick, I have a very, very, very cunning plan.Baldrick: Is it as cunning as that fox what used to be Professor of Cunning at Oxford University but has since moved on, and is now working for the UN at the High Commission of International Cunning Planning?Blackadder: Yes, it is.Baldrick: (Impressed) Mmm!... That's cunning!
- Becomes a brick joke at the end of Blackadder Back & Forth:
- "The Fox" by Nickel Creek, is about a fox who steals a goose.
- "Raven" ('Foxwoman') by Hedningarma is the song of a wicked shapeshifting vixen who lures men to their deaths.
- Slylock Fox features a cunning fox detective. Even his name is a pun on "sly".
- Pogo had Seminole Sam, a con-man. He tended to wobble between antagonist () and neutral.
- The opera The Cunning Little Vixen was based on an early comic strip with a similar premise.
- In The Space Gypsy Adventures main characters Gemma and Damien Mildury are a brother-sister pair of anthropomorphized vulpine con artists.
- In Kitsune: Of Foxes and Fools the players are mystical foxes who compete with one another by playing tricks on foolish mortals. "Wits" is actually one of the key stats.
- Hanse Davion of BattleTech was known as The Fox during the days of his rule, and he proved more than deserving of the name; some of the setting's most brilliant plotting can be laid at his feet, not the least of which was laying the groundwork to unify two major realms and nearly conquer a third.
- Pipefoxes in Pathfinder are a variation, in that they're clever and sneaky (the sneaky part being helped by the fact that they are very small creatures), but more scholarly than tricky.
- Pathfinder also has kitsune as a playable race, who fulfill the "quick-witted trickster" stereotype.
- The Cunning Little Vixen (Příhody lišky Bystrouky), best known as an opera by Leoš Janáček, tells the story of a vixen who is orphaned as a cub, captured by a forester, but eventually escapes, tricks a badger into leaving his hole and taking it for her own, finds and marries a handsome fox, and raises a family of cunning children.
- Referenced in The Taming of the Shrew when Gremio refers to himself as "an old Italian fox". Ironically, Gremio is a rather foolish character (being based on the Commedia dell'Arte character of the "pantaloon"), and at that point in the play he's trying to talk down Tranio—a true trickster who's already thought circles around him.
- Invoked by Wheatley in Portal 2. At least, halfway invoked. "Braindamaged... like a fox!"
- Dark Lord Ninetails from Ōkami is an evil fox that spends more time on complex plots than most of the other villains.
- Crazy Redd from Animal Crossing. His deals are CRAAAAZY!!
- Vulpes Inculta (Latin for "Desert Fox") of Fallout: New Vegas is The Spymaster of Caesar's Legion.
- Some fans believe, due to his skills, that Tails is this.
- Zorua and its evolution Zoroark from Pokémon Black and White.
- The first gen had Vulpix and Ninetales, which were Kitsune-based. Gen VI has Fennikin, which appears to be based on a desert fox.
- Fox McCloud, the leader of the titular Star Fox team.
- Foxy the Pirate Fox from Five Nights at Freddy's is a villainous example. Instead of sneaking around like the other animals, Foxy will wait at the right moment to rush to your room and attack when you aren't watching him on camera.
- He also is one of the only animatronics besides The Marionette, who doesn't fall for the Freddy mask the player can wear in Five Nights at Freddy's 2.
- Phantom Foxy is also among the most difficult hallucinations to handle in Five Nights at Freddy's 3.
- However, he suffers a bit of Villain Decay in Five Nights at Freddy's 4 and is arguably less lethal than his fellow Nightmares Chica and Bonnie.
- Gunnerkrigg Court features Reynard (The selfsame fox from folklore), who becomes the main character's companion. He's better known as Reynardine, the name given to him by Antimony's mother, Surma.
- Dusk from Faux Pas is the typical cunning vixen and also rather amoral. Cindy is much nicer but also clever. The guileless, naive Randy is an aversion.
- Kitsunefoxy in Gai Gin is a Petting Zoo Person with fox tail and ears, and has a habit of telling elaborate lies about her supposed friends behind their backs.
- Hunter Ravenwood of Suicide for Hire doesn't seem particularly cunning at first glance, being something of a Cloud Cuckoo Lander (dancing around brandishing handguns on a public street, shooting the television on a regular basis, and telling random strangers he has "banged yer sister" being just a few of his eccentricities). However, he's deeply involved in highly illegal activities and has managed not to get caught yet, so evidently he has more street smarts than are obvious at first.
- In Strays the Affectionate Pickpocket is a Little Bit Beastly — fox form.
- Thistil Mistil Kistil Loki's first form.
- The embodiment of Greed in Jack is a fox, though he's so heavily mutilated that this is a bit hard to tell.
- The Story of Anima has Kit Vulpes, a fox beastkin who fights with his wits and agility.
- SCP-953 is a very, very nasty nine-tailed Kumiho. She once slaughtered 27 people at a furry convention, and the first time a group of agents cornered her, she used Master of Illusion abilities and a Yamato Nadeshiko act to horribly murder all of them except the one Korean agent on the team; the rest assumed that she was a kitsune and fell for it badly. Yeah, she's smart. Really smart. In the most disgusting, horrifying way possible.
- Mr. Fox in Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time lives up to his name in full. This is a guy who manages to strategically win against the Chef in almost anything, is not afraid to play dirty when he doesn't (like pulling a gun on his opponent during an arm wrestling match), and loves playing pranks on the chef, like stealing all the toilet paper when he's on the toilet and sending him links leading to Rebecca Black's Friday.
- Moi Renart is an animated series loosely based on the Le Roman de Renart tales (see Literature and Folklore). Featuring much more anthropomorphic animals than the original work, Renart is a cunning fox who goes to make a living in Paris.
- Fox (birth name "Janine Renard") of Gargoyles. Though her husband Xanatos is better known than she is for trickery, she's had her moments. Also notable is that among the canid Theme Naming of her old team, the Pack, her name represents the only one that isn't a pack animal.
- Brooklyn of the Manhattan Clan was known for using stealth and guile among other tactics whenever he had to take command, which is one of the reasons that Goliath eventually chose him to be his second in command and replacement if necessary. Brooklyn's knack for trickery sets him apart from Goliath, who was usually very direct and powerful, and reflects their personalities and physiques: Goliath could get away with being more direct because he happened to be the biggest, strongest Gargoyle around, while Brooklyn was less than half Goliath's size and not half as strong, so naturally Brooklyn had to rely more on being sneaky and cunning since he didn't have the brute force of Goliath.
- Reginald Fox from the Tex Avery short, "Out-Foxed" was not only clever, but a Stiff Upper Lip mixed with a Karmic Trickster, with an added touch of Sophisticated as Hell.
- The Simpsons:
- Homer Simpson tries to invoke this while trying to get Springfield's lemon tree back from Shelbyville's car impound, responding to the man in charge saying "Bust in here and take it?! You must be stupider than you look!" with "Stupider like a fox!" and immediately attempting to climb over the fence, right in front of them. He fails.
- In another episode, Homer smuggles illegal booze in hollow bowling balls, and gutters each one (so a contraption can carry them to Moe's bar). Bart sarcastically comments on how much Homer sucks, prompting him to reply "suck like a fox!" It is indeed one of the most elaborate and successful schemes he's carried out.
- Dora the Explorer: "Swiper, no swiping."
- Fox of The Animals of Farthing Wood.
- The Knowledge Seekers from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
- Trope averted in the Columbia studio's The Fox And The Crow cartoons, where the fox is kind of prissy, naive, and a constant patsy to the trickster crow.
- Foxes can be amazingly cunning predators. One was observed swimming across a lake carrying a branch, so he could look like a piece of floating debris and get close enough to some ducks to grab one.
- They have also adapted far better to the urbanization of their natural habitat than many species. The population density of foxes is actually higher in urbanized areas.
- Being omnivores really helps them there. They can polish off basically an entire bin's worth of discarded food without issue, regardless of what the food actually is.
- They have also adapted far better to the urbanization of their natural habitat than many species. The population density of foxes is actually higher in urbanized areas.