Tom Servo: Today I begin anew, no longer Tom Servo, mere robot; I emerge from my metal chrysalis, Tom Servo—real live boy! Haha! Snips and snails and puppy dog's tails, that's what Tommy's made of!
Joel: Yeah, really.
Crow: No, paint, actually.
Tom, y'know, I knew this was gonna happen sometime. You're experiencing the Pinocchio Syndrome!
The extreme of I Just Want to Be Normal
. The character either isn't human to begin with, or has a curse
that has taken away their humanity. Often involving an artificial being such as a robot wanting to be a flesh-and-blood creature — or at least closer to one in ways it feels are important, like becoming creative
They are looking for a way to obtain it. Despite Applied Phlebotinum
and magic being able to do everything else, it seems the power to turn someone into a mortal human being is incredibly rare. In those cases where someone does
get the instant magical cure, they'll often throw it away, saying they want to earn it, or "it's the path, not the destination." Whatever that means. Of course, Failure Is the Only Option
, at least until the Grand Finale
This is often a goal of robots, vampires, werewolves, and so on. In these circumstances, sometimes a more Genre Savvy
character will be taken in by this trope, but instead make some important logical deductions. Namely, that if you're a robot, you probably already act like a normal human,
to the point of being able to pass the Turing test. If you're a vampire or werewolf, you're substantially stronger and hardier than a typical human
. Or maybe, in the most extreme cases, you'll become convinced that Humans Are Bastards
, and you're better off being what you are. As a result, as cool as these "emotion" things may be, it may not be worth being Brought Down to Normal
just to enjoy them. In these cases, the character in question can often be found looking for a third option
that will allow for the best of both worlds.
Named, of course, for the puppet who wanted to Become a Real Boy
, but much older than that. Likewise, the Shapeshifting Lover
or the Talking Animal
who is really a victim of a Baleful Polymorph Curse
are figures of long standing in Oral Tradition
Very often overlaps with What Measure Is a Non-Human?
. Contrast Humanity Ensues
. See also Humanity Is Infectious
, where a human mindset is catchy.
Not related to Pinocchio Nose
. For the sister trope Become a Real Boy
, see The Adventures of Pinocchio
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Anime & Manga
- Livewires subverted this trope — the protagonist, Stem Cell, was an Artificial Human built with all the emotions of a human, who needed to learn to alter those emotions in order to survive.
- Swamp Thing's origin changed him from a man into a living pile of vegetation, and his main goal was to return to normal. In a twist, when Alan Moore took over the book (in his first major writing gig for DC), he took away this motivation with a Retcon that didn't directly contradict any previous material. Swamp Thing discovered that he was not a man who became a plant monster; he was a mass of plants possessed by the memories and spirit of that man, who was, in fact, dead. Regaining his humanity was then no longer a goal, and he instead became an Anthropomorphic Personification of nature.
- Comet the Super-Horse from pre-Crisis DC. He was originally a centaur called Biron who wanted to be fully human, unfortunately Circe made a mistake and made him fully horse instead. The reason he has superpowers is because the spell couldn't be reversed, so Circe gave him superpowers to try and make up for it.
- Likewise, Scud The Disposable Assassin is fond of stating, "It's cool to be a robot." When a screenwriter tells him of a script similar to his life, Scud is disappointed at the ending, where the hero is rewarded with humanity. He hangs a lampshade on it by asking the writer to not pull a Pinocchio. "Make him proud of what he is, and you've got my $7.50."
- Mr Eff from JtHM was a Styrofoam pastry display. His master fed off Nny's imagination to make him more real when he needed. Unlike Psycho d-boy, who only wished to please his master and get Johnny to commit suicide, Mr Eff tried to keep Johnny alive and killing for as long as possible till he can become fully real. He failed. Johnny killed himself at the end of Issue #4, and issue #5 he was "Taken back into" his master, along with Psycho d-boy, saying "Fuck! I was so close!".
- Subverted in The Mighty Skull Boy Army, Unit 1, a cute, toy-like robot, once voices his hopes to never be a real boy...because he fears puberty, and all those snips and snails...
- X-51, aka Machine Man, aka Aaron Stack, of Marvel Comics has wanted to be/believed he really is human in most of his incarnations. In Earth X, Uatu the Watcher strips him of his human appearance. Late in the trilogy, an alternate universe version of himself appears who used his creator's DNA to create a human body for himself and tells his robot counterpart that his programming makes him human enough already.
- He's been subverting the hell out of this since Nextwave, spending most of his time drinking and boasting of his robot superiority.
- Played with in ElfQuest. After the defeat of Big Bad Winnowill, who spends some time in human form, Mender (who has the same fleshshaping/shapeshifting powers as Winnowill - though none of her experience) decides to try it out for a while too. He doesn't do very well.
- Fables. Many of the non-human characters want to become human simply so they can get out of 'The Farm' (or in the case of Reynard the Fox, seduce Snow White). The Farm is a grand place but a gilded cage is still a prison. Too bad the magical resources are expensive and limited. What there is tends to be turned towards survival. What's worse is that most of the non-humans are immortal. Hundreds of years have passed by the time the series starts and there is no end in sight. No wonder there was a civil war. Later on, it gets better. And complicated. New lands are accessible for all.
- Beast in "Beauty and the Beast"
- "The Frog Prince" and variations, such as "East of the Sun, West of the Moon".
- In "The Greek Princess and the Young Gardener", a fox demands that the hero cut off his head at the end; this is needed to transform him back to a man, as he is the enchanted brother of the Greek Princess. Similarly, in "Lord Peter", the cat demands that her head be cut off, which proves to turn her back into a princess, and "The Seven Foals" demand the same, which turns them back into seven princes.
- In "The Seven Doves", "The Twelve Wild Ducks", The Seven Ravens, and "The Six Swans", the sons turned to birds are rescued by their sister, turned back into human form.
- The hero of "East of the Sun and West of the Moon", "The Black Bull of Norroway", "The Brown Bear of Norway", "The Enchanted Pig", the dog in "The Daughter of the Skies", and "The White Wolf" each wish to marry the heroine because if she lives with him for a time, he will be freed of his curse. Unfortuantely, she invariably violates a prohibition, which puts him in the power of the person who transformed him, and she must find him again to free him.
- Subverted in many other fairy tales, especially if the main character is born or was an animal, but it is a "skin" that covers a human body. These characters are forced into permanent human bodies due to people, usually a fiancée, burning their animal skins. It gets so bad at times, you wonder if this is really a happy ending, even though it is supposed to be one, as in one story, a girl who gets her goat skin burned tries to jump in after it, having to be held back by the prince.
- The Chinese "Legend of the White Snake", which inspired the movie Green Snake below.
- A lot of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles fan fictions portray Cameron as an example of this.
- Lyra in the MLP:FIM fanfic Anthropology desperately wants to become a human, even through nopony else has even heard of them. She gets her wish, and it is revealed she wasn't born a pony.
- Pauline from the Tamers Forever Series desperately wants to be human so that she can be with her master and also for the simple fact that she doesn't have a body that can express her emotions like humans do, meaning that every feeling she has is bottled up inside her without release.
Films — Animated
- The entire plot of the The Princess and the Frog revolves around this (featuring the song "When I'm Human").
- In The Little Mermaid, Ariel has a desire to become human after seeing all the gadgets humans are able to invent, but it gets greater when seeing a handsome prince. Even though her father is strictly against such a dream, she asks help from Ursula, who complies to her wish if she gives up her voice. She seals the deal.
Films — Live-Action
- Pinocchio, of course.
- Isaac Asimov's The Bicentennial Man is about a robot who, over the course of two hundred years, deliberately becomes more and more human.
- In the end in order to be recognised as human by the world's government body, he decides that the last most important remaining difference between himself and humanity is that his positronic brain could conceivable keep working for centuries. He then arranges an operation to cut that time down drastically. The World government declares him human shortly afterward.
- A fairly rare example of an animal with Pinocchio Syndrome and a rare example of someone who wants to be human for all the wrong reasons is King Iofur from Northern Lights/The Golden Compass (depending on which side of the pond you are from). It is also a quite rare example of where a character wants to be perceived of human by their actions but knows that there is never going to be a chance of physically becoming human.
- Several characters from Charles de Lint's Urban Fantasy novel Memory and Dream.
- The classic "The Little Mermaid" story.
- Minerva in Robert A. Heinlein's Time Enough for Love. An administrative computer who learns to be human and falls in love. Eventually has a human body created so she can implant her personality into the body and experience love as a human, and not incidentally become the lover of the man she fell for in the first place.
- The Cat Who Wished To Be a Man by Lloyd Alexander is about a cat that wants to be a man.
- Arguably more of a subversion, since Humanity Ensues after the first five pages.
- Zora Zombie from Xanth would've been happier to be alive or all-the-way dead, but was content to muddle through until she got to Become a Real Boy. Well, real girl, but same idea.
- The children's book The Velveteen Rabbit is about a toy rabbit who wants to be real.
- "8 Bits" by mind.in.a.box is sung (with a Synthetic Voice Actor) from the POV of a Commodore 64 game character running under emulation who longs for the real C64 computer of her ancestors.
- The Spine from Steam Powered Giraffe longs to be human, and seems to admire many aspects of human culture such as love and Spaghetti Westerns.
Mythology and Legend
- Korean Mythology features a tiger and a bear, who wishes to become humans. The god Hwanung(Heavenly Emperor's son) tells them to eat only garlic and mugwort for 100 days in a dark cave, without seeing sunlight. Tiger gives up, but the bear passes the ordeal and on the 21th day, transforms into a beautiful woman(named Ungnyeo, 'bear-woman'). Ungnyeo marries Hwanung and gives birth to a boy named Dangun-Wanggeom, first king and forefounder of the Korean people.
- Kumiho in Korean Mythology often seek to become human, but how they go about it varies between each one. Some eat people (specifically their livers), others believe True Love's Kiss will do it, and some just gorge themselves on spiritual energy they steal from people they seduce.
- The legend of Pygmalion is an odd variation. A sculptor who wasn't interested in women (in some versions, this was because the women in Cyprus had been cursed by Aphrodite for denying her divinity, causing her to strip them of their pride and "reduce" them to prostitution) but a statue of a woman he sculpted was so incredibly perfect, he fell in love with it, wishing that she was human. Eventually, after making an offering to Aphrodite on her festival day and wishing for a bride who would be "the living likeness of my ivory girl" (as Ovid's version says), she took pity on him and made her human.
- The overriding goal of the player's characters in the role-playing game Promethean: The Created is to complete "the Great Work" — transforming from dismembered, animated corpses into human beings. This is actually possible (if very hard), making this one of the few examples of the trope where the goal can be achieved in the end. Sadly, achieving that goal almost invariably involves creating more of your kind, an endeavor in which success is immoral, and failure is... undesirable.
- Maligno, the "carrionette" darklord of Odiare in the Ravenloft D&D setting, thought he was the real son that Giuseppe created him to be, but the parents of the children he entertained destroyed his delusion. In revenge, Maligno murdered them with the help of other animated toys. Ironically, while all other carrionettes can achieve this goal by possessing human victims, Maligno lost this ability when he became darklord of Odiare; despite being the most powerful carrionette and their leader, he must always have the body of a puppet. Like all darklords, he is cursed for his crime.
- This is also a common trait of a Clockwork Swordsman, an intelligent construct (not always male, roughly half are designed to resemble females) originally found in the Red Steel campaign. While most of them try to hide it behind a dashing swashbuckler façade, the fact that they aren't truly human pains them to no end.
- The "Transformed Animal" archetype in Feng Shui are animals that managed to become humans (or their offspring, in later Junctures) because being human offers better opportunities. However they fear magic since it may cause them to revert to animal form, which spells the end for the character as far as playability goes. In other words, they've all become "real boys", and just want to avoid going back.
- In their current incarnation in Warhammer 40,000, there are several Necron who are looking for ways to become mortal again after having survived as robots for a very long time.
- This is the goal for most of Organization XIII from Kingdom Hearts II, although they were humans before losing their hearts. The leader, Xemnas, instead would rather become a "great being", just like every other incarnation of Xehanort.
- Xenosaga inverts this with Ziggy, who used to be human, but is now mostly robot. He wants the rest of him to be robot too.
- Aigis of Persona 3. She gradually does become more human as the game goes on in terms of personality.
- To a lesser extent, Teddie from Persona 4, even though it's more of a sideeffect of his deep fear of being left alone again in his case. Like in Aigis' case, his human characteristics grow stronger over the course of the game and he manages to create himself a rather convincing human body halfway through the game.
- To a far greater extent, Labrys from Persona 4 Arena, who was deeply traumatized due to her nature as a sentient robot and came to hate her mechanical body.
- In World of Warcraft's third expansion, Cataclysm, the Worgen of Gilneas have developed a cure to allow them to retain their humanity while transformed into their Werewolf forms, but are still looking for a way to get rid of the curse completely.
- While a majority of the Forsaken have resigned themselves to undeath, there are many who see their existence as a curable disease or curse and long for a return to full life.
- While part of Yomiel's deal with the blue people in Ghost Trick is for revenge, he also wants them to find some way to have an artificial life. His real dream is to grow old in a society that accepts him and die surrounded by loving family, rather than "living" forever as a ghost in isolation.
- The goal of Daniella in Haunting Ground is to become "complete". Understandable, given that she's a homunculus. But in order to do that, she's got to slice open the protagonist to get her Azoth first...
- The villain of Comix Zone has liberated himself from the comic book he was formerly a character in, but is still a 2-D drawing. In the Game Over sequence, the death of his creator embodies him in true flesh and blood, giving him the potential to Take Over the World.
- One possible ending of Dragon Age: Origins reveals that Shale the golem plans to seek a way to become a dwarf again, which she once was, despite her frequently expressed disdain for "soft, squishy" beings.
- In the first chapter of Dragon Quest IV, Healie the healslime wants to become a human. He reasons that since he wants to become human, if he hangs around humans, he'll become one so he joins Ragnar on his quest. It actually works and he leaves Ragnar to start his own life after Ragnar joins the hero/heroine in the fifth chapter.
- A sidequest in Borderlands 2 has you helping out a Loader who wants to become human, but has a rather flawed idea of what that entails.
- Hinted at in the Mega Man (Classic) series and made obvious in the Mega Man X games. Endings to Mega Man games often showed the hero walking home when he could easily teleport. This seemed to imply he needed time to contemplate the totality and meaning of his adventure. In the ending of Mega Man X, the narration pointed out that X wondered how long he would have to destroy fellow robots before there would be peace. In Mega Man 7, Mega insists he "is more than just a robot" in what was a minor world of cardboard speech before the roof caved in and Wily escaped. Either way, the main characters of Mega Man consistently flirt with sentience.
- In Halo AI Cortana generally seems content being an AI. By the time Halo4 rolls around, she shows signs of wanting to be human. This could be caused by the fact that she's entering rampancy which will end with her insanity and death. This statement sums it up best:
Cortana: I can give you over forty thousand reasons why that sun isn't real. I know it because the emitter's Rayleigh effect is disproportionate to its suggested size. I know it because its stellar cycle is more symmetrical than that of an actual star. But for all that, I'll never actually know if it looks real...if it feels real.
- For all of her vast array of knowledge, there are some things that Cortana will never be able to experience, and now, confronted with her own mortality, she regrets the things she can never have. It's subdued, quiet, and heartbreaking.
- Valkyria Chronicles subverts this with Alicia, who is convinced that her powers mean she isn't human. She's wrong, naturally, it's all in her head, but she's so dedicated to defining herself by bad examples that the only way she can deal with them is by rejecting them completely in favor of becoming Welkin's wife.
- Octodad is about an octopus attempting to live life as a human and trying to prevent other humans (particularly his wife and kids) from discovering what he is.
- Sora in Ever17, complete with its very own reference to the Pygmalion Plot. She's a little worse off than many of the characters here: She doesn't even have a body. No really, she doesn't.
- Shannon and Kanon (though Kanon especially) from Umineko: When They Cry have this, though Kanon will still insist that they are only "furniture". As it turns out, they are human, but they don't consider themselves human for reasons that are very complicated and tragic.
- Interesting variant in Homestuck: Cronus Ampora is a kind of alien otherkin. While physically a troll, he claims to identify as a human, going as far as to dress like a stereotypical 1950's greaser in an attempt to seem more human. Despite this, he frequently uses his blood color as justification for poor treatment of others - which is something a human most likely wouldn't think to do.
- Humorously subverted in a letter to Ask Dr Eldritch: a robot writes in to ask why everyone around him thinks he secretly desires to be human, when he's actually quite satisfied with being a robot, something he considers to be far better than being human.
- Grace from El Goonish Shive went through this between the Painted Black and Birthday Party arcs by refusing to use her abilities to shapeshift from her full human form. She was still willing to use other means to transform i.e. via the Transformation Ray Gun and only used her abilities to transform back to human when she was told it was the only way to do so and even then she only used them reluctantly.
- The "Suicide Fairies" from Gunnerkrigg Court need to be killed by someone else in order to pass some manner of test in order to become human. This is apparently something that happens with reasonable frequency among the creatures of the Gillitie Wood, although why they want to become human is something the comic has yet to explore. There's also an inverse version; humans can take a test to become creatures of the wood, although in their case it apparently doesn't involve getting killed.
- In Sinfest, there is a Reality Zone, in which the art is far more realistic than the cartoony style, and devil characters catch on fire. The reforming succubus Fuschia no longer catches fire, but starts to crumble in it. In a Wish Fulfillment comic, Fuschia is inside the zone without suffering any harm.
- Parodied in this comic. Just because robots want to be alive, doesn't mean it's pleasant.
- Sluggy Freelance: The story of Stiks is a twisted horror version of Pinocchio: A crude stick figure of a marionette made by a poor (in both senses of the word) toymaker is brought to life by the Moon Twin, but in seeking to become human, he is given advice by the malicious Basphomy, leading to his stealing his "father's" face, hands and feet to complete himself. This angers the Moon Twin, who curses him for eternity, and he goes on forever seeking replacement parts in place of what he's currently wearing rotting away. ...This counts as a bedtime story in the land of Halloween, though it also appears to be true.
- In the Paradise setting, humans are randomly, permanently transformed into Funny Animals. Pinocchio Syndrome affects most characters after the Change, especially the ones who changed gender at the same time. One particularly poignant case affects Christopher Mattiaz, a character from MatthiasRat's stories, who changed genders six days after getting married and hasn't been able to be intimate with his wife for the past two years at the time the story begins.
- Happens a few times in We Are Our Avatars, most notably to 3Dee but also to Mega Man & Bass, twice, but it was inverted with Sonia Belmont, who was happy to try her hand at being a robot.
- Repeated with Sunny via a wish and inverted with Brian by being resurrected as a puppet.
- Hinted to be the AI Sigma's motivation in Red vs. Blue, with his obsession with theoretical "metastability" stage (where an AI is essentially a full person) and his attempts to collect other AI "fragments" that, like himself, were based on an original "Alpha" AI (he is evidently unaware that he and the other fragments aren't copies, but literal fragments after Alpha's mind was destroyed through torture) and merge them into a single entity known as the Meta.
- A tiny number of humanoid SCPs in the SCP Foundation suffer this syndrome. One of them is a sentient drawn girl.
- Subverted by Futurama where Bender's transformation into a human in a comedic What If? episode was disastrous.
- Jenny in My Life as a Teenage Robot, despite the fact that without her powers Earth would have been enslaved and/or destroyed dozens of times. (But you can't expect her to think rationally, she's a teenager after all.)
- It's a variation, as Jenny's problem isn't that she's a robot, it's just that as a robot she doesn't quite fit in.
- Spot/Scott in Teacher's Pet.
- The version of Mega Man (Classic) seen in Captain N: The Game Master.
- Brainiac 5 becomes a Real Boy (...somehow) in the finale of Legion of Super Heroes season two, after he defeats the Brainiac 1 programming within him. The fact that he was already a Mechanical Lifeform was actually lampshaded: "I was emotional as a robot, can you imagine me as a human?"
- The four main characters of Street Sharks spend some of their time trying to figure out a way to get turned human again. Mostly they seem more concerned with finding their dad though. Also, when they did find a cure in one episode, they ultimately chose to turn back into sharks to continue to fight crime.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the first animated series) had an episode where the Turtles found tainted cookies that would've turned them human. Michelangelo swipes some because he was sick of being treated like a freak by the people of New York. Of course his brothers had to turn him back because the transformation would've eventually killed him.
- As he was Hamato Yoshi in this version, Splinter wishes to return to human form and does in "Splinter No More". After he mutates back into a rat and realizes Humans Are Bastards, he no longer has the desire.
- Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, the main character Rusty is turned into a human boy by a villain in one episode. Unfortunately this means he has to deal with pain when trying to fight, when his normal catch phrase is "No pain receptors!" He's glad to be back to full robot at the end of the episode.
- A repeated problem for T. O. Morrow in Young Justice—his first two androids, Red Torpedo and Red Inferno, believed they were human to infiltrate the Justice Society of America, and neither turned into The Mole like they were supposed to. His third attempt, Red Tornado, knew he was an android but turned on his villainous "father" anyway. Red Volcano was his only success—and promptly killed Morrow, saying "No more Pinocchios." Turns out this Morrow was Actually a Doombot himself, though.
- BMO from Adventure Time spends his/her free time talking to his/her reflection, claiming to be a "real living boy" while badly mimicking human activities. Likewise, the episode "BMO Noire" focuses on BMO pretending to be an adult male detective in an elaborate fantasy world he/she has created. Averted with NEPTR, the household's other Robot Buddy.