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Expressive Ears

Michael (Fat Tony's son): No.
Homer: What about my ears?
Michael: *shakes head*.
Homer: *ears droop* Hrmm.
—Homer Simpson and Michael D'Amico, The Simpsons.

Exactly What It Says on the Tin: A character's ears are used to express his or her emotions.

An animation convention, similar to Cartoony Eyes or Disembodied Eyebrows.

Unlike its cousin tropes, Expressive Hair (in most cases) and Expressive Mask, this trope actually leans toward being realistic because this is one way many animals in Real Life communicate their feelings. This obviously doesn't apply to human ears, though, so it's guaranteed all of the characters who use this trope are Not Quite Human. In many animated series, characters that have ears on top of their heads will often sport hats or helmets that allow them to stick through (barring Fridge Logic of not being able to hear otherwise). This trope is probably part of the reason why.

Compare Unusual Ears.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • Many Pokémon, including Pikachu and Meowth
  • Elves and other long-eared folk, or even folk with anything approximating long ears, in anime often have expressive ears. It's rare for a long-eared character not to have Expressive Ears.
  • Expressive ears were found on Deedlit in Record of Lodoss War. Being the first of those foot-long eared elf varieties helped.
  • In Utawarerumono, the people have expressive tails as well as expressive ears.
  • Holo from Spice and Wolf, whose ears twitch when she hears something interesting and sag when she is feeling sad.

     Comic Books 
  • In Blacksad characters ears will go back when they are threatened (or are being threatening), they'll droop when they are sad, and perk up when excited. The creators know their animal mannerisms.
  • Kill Wolfhead in The Incal series.

     Film 
  • Shrek
  • Na'vi in Avatar are another example.
  • In Godzilla VS Mechagodzilla and Godzilla Final Wars, King Seesar's ears would perk up whenever he was excited or surprised.
  • The Empire Strikes Back: When Luke manages to lift the X-Wing fighter partly out of the swamp, Yoda's ears rise slightly in awe. When Luke fails to lift it all the way out, Yoda's ears droop down.
  • Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon.
  • Sloth from The Goonies.
  • Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.
  • Rémy of Ratatouille, has this in spades, even though his behaviors and mannerisms are slowly becoming more human.
  • In Hop, E.B.'s ears are very expressive. His dad's, not so much, perhaps as a distinction between the two.
  • Barf the mog from Spaceballs.
  • Laurel and Hardy: In "A Chump in Oxford" Stan Laurel is able to wiggle his ears whenever he gets mad. It's still a pretty convincing effect, by the way.

     Literature 

     Live Action TV 

     Newspaper Comics 
  • Garfield will sometimes lay his ears back when he's angry, when he's frightened, or when he's groggy in the morning and hasn't had his coffee yet.
  • Similarly, in Peanuts, Snoopy's ears rise when he is startled or receives good news. In one strip from the 1950s, Schroeder was listening to music on the radio, and Snoopy made a square with his ears.
  • Dogbert from Dilbert has ears that fly up sometimes.

     Table Top Games 
  • Space 1889: Martian ears express their mood.
  • The Traveller Adventure: Vargr [bipedal wolf] characters were shown as having Expressive Ears, including flattening the ears against the skull when afraid.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, a number of monster races have this, depending on how much focus the writer puts on them other than "Kill them and take their stuff." Goblinoids are a common example.

     Video Games 
  • Blood Elves and night elves in World of Warcraft do this with the emote system: if they're sad or scared, their ears will droop, and when they cast spells in general, their ears wiggle along with the casting animation.
  • Laharl and Etna's ears from Disgaea: Hour of Darkness change with their mood.
  • Ratchet & Clank likes to make use of this trope. The first game in particular features a lot of ear movement, as Ratchet is essentially the Lombax equivalent of a moody teenager; later games tone it down, though his ears will still droop if he's low on health or otherwise in a particularly negative mood.
  • The Asura in Guild Wars 2 even shrug with their ears.
  • Raven's ears in Tales of Vesperia wiggle when he lies.

     Webcomics 

     Western Animation 
  • Bugs Bunny's ears do this too.
  • Stitch from Lilo & Stitch.
  • Orko from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) has been shown to have his ears droop down when sad.
  • Toothless in the film of How to Train Your Dragon has ear-like projections that serve the same function.
  • The ponies of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic have these.
  • Everyone in the Watterson family (except Darwin) have these in The Amazing World of Gumball.
  • Next to his eyes, Gromit's ears are his most expressive feature. It's also seen on some of the characters in the Aardman productions Shaun the Sheep and Timmy Time.
  • Human example: Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
  • All the animals in Bambi, Bambi and Thumper in particular.
  • Roger Rabbit's ears are all over the place.
  • Pluto has expressive ears. Goofy, however, seems to have lost that ability.
  • Rabbit on Franklin will generally droop his ears when he's sad about something. Snail also these little ear-stalks that will droop when he's sad. Fox can do it too, though it is nearly as noticeable or common. Moose as well, though he's only seen in one episode of the TV show and a smattering of the original books.
  • Roo on Winnie the Pooh does it when he's sad. I'm not sure if Rabbit does it, but I've definitely seen it with Roo. Piglet can do it, too.
  • Used with Rabbit and possibly Mouse as well on My Friend Rabbit.
  • Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Slaver Weapon". The Kzinti (cat-like humanoid aliens) lay their ears back when angry.
  • Fievel in An American Tail, whose ears go down when he's sad and up when he's alert. There's also a couple of scenes in which he shifts them around to try to listen for his father's violin. They're forced down whenever he wears his iconic hat though.
  • Horton in Horton Hears a Who!.
  • The Nutbrown Hares on Guess How Much I Love You: The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare both express emotions through their ears, though it's generally much more noticeable with Little Nutbrown Hare, whose moods, as a youngster, shift much more frequently. Some of the other characters can do it, too.
  • Sometimes seen with Buster on Arthur. Lamp Shaded in the teaser of "Arthur's New Glasses" in which his ears are in a continuously droopy state and Muffy thinks that he's sad, but he keeps insisting there's nothing wrong.
  • Skip the rabbit on Wild Animal Baby Explorers has ears that he can droop and move about. It's sort of Lamp Shaded when the characters are observing real horses and he notes that they can move their ears, just like he can.
  • Occasionally seen on the Piplings, the main characters of Waybuloo, a preschool-targeted series aired on CBeebies in the U.K. and Treehouse TV in Canada.
  • Dinky, a fully anthropomorphic elephant on the stop-motion Disney series JoJo's Circus, has these
  • Beast Boy from Teen Titans has pointy ears that flip downward when he's upset.
  • Seen on the characters, all anthropomorphic cats, of TOTO (This One and That One), a short-form series presented on-demand on Kabillion on some U.S. cable/satellite providers. The series can also be watched officially and for free on YouTube.
  • Timothy has them on Timothy Goes to School. His ears can pin all the way down when he's really sad about something. Yoko exhibits this too and possibly some of the other characters as well.
  • Yakko, Wakko, and Dots's ears from Animaniacs, they raise them when listening to something, they droop when they're sad, they also point straight up when they are aroused, shocked, or frightened.
  • On Peter Rabbit, this is seen on occasion. In "The Tale of the Angry Cat," when Peter tells Cottontail that it's way too dangerous for him to catapult her into Mr. McGregor's garden, her ears droop straight down and she cries.
  • On Peg + Cat, Cat has them; they can get quite droopy when he's sad about something.

     Real Life 
  • Ear movements and positioning can be key in reading the body language of dogs, rabbits, horses and cats. Possibly other animals as well.
  • Apparently Japanese inventors have managed to replicate these in real life.
  • Some people wiggle their ears when they wiggle their eyebrows, meaning if they're expressing an emotion with their eyes it might also show up in the ears. Much less extreme than other examples, though.
    • Humans still retain some of the vestigial muscles that were once used to reposition our ears to better hear potential threats. And while we can't match the expressiveness of dogs or other animals, with practice most humans can learn to wiggle their ears on command.
  • Cats. Their ears perk up when excited, and fold back when angry.


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Star Ocean: The Second StoryImageSource/Video GamesStar Ocean: Till the End of Time

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