This is a subtrope of Carnivore Confusion. In fiction, particularly if the prey can talk, carnivores are often Always Chaotic Evil, and all the heroes are herbivores. The predator's desire to eat the prey makes the predator a villain, or at least, a Designated Villain. If the heroes are mice, for instance, this often means that Cats Are Mean. In works involving talking animals, carnivores almost always fail to catch their prey. A lot of times, their prey actually defeats them.
This is by far the most common way to deal with predators in talking animal fiction. This trope has been around for a very long time. It may be one of The Oldest Ones in the Book. It can be a bit of a Wall Banger, and a lot of Hypocritical Humor, since Most Writers Are Human, and humans are not just an omnivorous, predatory species, but apex predators to boot! Other problems with this trope include:
The fact that predatory species serve a vital function in nature by keep other animals in check, thus preventing them from over populating and throwing the ecological balance out of whack.
Such creatures are often carnivorous as a fact of their digestive physiology, and thus you cannot simply expect them to "swear off meat-eating" without them becoming dreadfully ill and eventually dying a horrible, painful death.
On the other hand, when you're a mouse (a much smaller omnivore species), whatever the cat or the snake or the tarantula chasing you might be like on the inside isn't really relevant when they're trying to eat you. When the story is focusing on a prey animal, there's really not a whole lot of ways to keep predators from being monstrous.
Related to this, particularly in Xenofiction, this can overlap with Humans Are the Real Monsters, and maybe even Humans Are Cthulhu. Goes hand-in-hand with Herbivores Are Friendly. May be one of the reasons why Reptiles Are Abhorrent, since many lizards and all snakes are carnivores.
A notable exception is that fish-eating characters are usually spared sympathy; see No Cartoon Fish for a deconstruction of this trope.
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Walking with Dinosaurs averts this with most predators, but plays it dead straight with Liopleurodon, which is shown as a "villain" of both episodes it appears in just because it preys on other animals. A bit of a bizarre example, in that in both of the episodes it appears in ("Cruel Sea" and "Giant of the Skies") the creature it is shown preying on or trying to is itself a carnivore.
Walking with Monsters, however, plays it straight, as anything that preys upon a human ancestor is shown as a vicious brute.
Films — Animated
In The Land Before Time, carnivorous dinosaurs, called Sharpteeth, are the main villains. In the first movie, a T. rex named Sharptooth is the main villain. He is a nearly invincible killing machine, killing huge Apatosauruses twice his size, surviving a 700-foot drop with just a mild coma, and leaping and running effortlessly. He is ultimately dispatched by being tossed into a lake and being hit on the head with a giant rock.
One of the many sequels does give us Chomper, a child Sharptooth who does not attack Littlefoot & co because they raised him for some time after he hatched. He and his parents show up in a later sequel, where they do refrain from eating the protagonists again (although it's implied that if the parents had found them without Chomper around, they would have eaten them anyway. The dad implies that the main reason he isn't interested is because they were hiding in smelly plants and thus were unappealing).
In Tarzan, a leopardess named Sabor is one of the main villains. She is eventually killed by Tarzan when he kills her by impaling her with a knife after an epic battle. It helps that the bug-eyed, feral Sabor is not in any way adorable and is, quite frankly, a bloodthirsty brute.
Averted in The Lion King, where the heroes are predators, and the circle of life is a major plot point. They're not actually shown killing, although Simba does mention eating antelope.
Then again, the only ones actually shown eating animal bits are the villain, Scar, and his hyena lackeys. Scar tosses them a haunch of zebra (which has somehow been neatly butchered).
Both inverted and played straight in The Jungle Book where although Mowgli's archnemesis is an evil, bloodthirsty tiger named Shere Khan, his two best friends are a sloth bear named Baloo and a black leopard named Bagheera.
Inverted and played straight in the Kung Fu Panda films where the main character is a presumably omnivourous giant panda, who is trained by a similarly omnivorous red panda, who is partnered with a tiger, a Chinese viper, a praying mantis, a golden langur, and a Chinese crane (though the last two are technically omnivores). By contrast, while the villain of the first film is a clearly carnivorous snow leopard, the villain of the sequel is instead a presumable omnivorous albino peacock, whose minions are either carnivorous wolves or presumably omnivorous gorillas.
However, none of the characters is actually shown eating meat, only vegetables, noodles or tofu, regardless of their natural diet.
Played straight than subverted with the weasel in Leafie A Hen Into The Wild. It seems like a normal, antagonistic predator (scar and all). Later we learn she's a starving mother who's just trying to eat and can barely produce milk for her young. In the end, Leafie allows the weasel to eat her in order to feed her young.
The Redwall series tends to do this a lot, with the villains almost always being predatory or omnivorous species such as weasles, foxes, stoats, snakes, rats, hawks and other 'vermin' species, and explicitly eat meat-often making comments about eating the hero or hero's friends. The heroes, however, are never said to eat any kind of meat, fish being the only animal they will consume, otherwise being completely vegetarian, even though mice, badgers, hedgehogs and otters, commonly featured among the heroes, are omnivores, domestic cats (which are carnivores), rabbits (herbivores), and dormice (herbivores) don't take sides, bees (herbivores) are bad, and many normal, non-sapient herbivores have been seen. This does bring morality into question as there has been at least one talking, intelligent fish.
Brilliantly handled in Watership Down, where the the rabbits refer to their multitude of predators as "u embleer hrair" - "The Stinking Thousand." The rabbits live in constant fear and hatred of their predators, casting them as demon-like entities in their mythology. But when confronted with the wanton destruction that humans inflict for no comprehensible reason, they acknowledge that their predators only kill because they have to and that they are struggling for survival not unlike themselves.
Perhaps one of the most famous examples is Three Little Pigs. The villain is a The Big Bad Wolf who huffs, and puffs, and- well, you know the story. Anyways, the three little pigs defeat him at the end of the story. In reality, however, pigs and wolves are both omnivores, like humans, eating both animal and plant material.
This is very well understood in the older version of the story, where the only surviving pig cooks the wolf for dinner.
In Larry Niven's Known Space novels, the carnivorous alien Kzinti are aggressive conquerors who nearly defeat humanity.
Averted with the cowardly, herbivorous Puppeteers — who are possibly the most ruthless and dangerous beings in the Galaxy.
Played with in the Astrosaurs children's series. While most of the villains are carnivorous dinosaurs and most of the good guys are herbivores, there are exceptions on both sides. Some carnivores are outright heroic while others are Noble Demons at worst, and there are more than a few evil herbivore characters.
Played with similarly in Dinoverse. In the first book Bertram and Mike repeatedly, firmly consider school's bullies "predators". When they're dinosaurs in the Cretaceous era, most of the Tyrannosaurus Rexes and others they meet are mostly portrayed as just hungry animals going for prey. Only one is really considered as cruel, and becomes a Super-Persistent Predator. In a later trip to the dinosaur age a Deinonychus pack is seen as extremely cliquish and harsh that way, but not evil, and a clan of Acrocanthosaurs are seen as noble - even the one who took a bite out of one of the main characters is considered chivalrous and later travels with said character without even eyeing him.
Averted in the Harry Potter series. Owls are an integral part of wizarding society (being a huge part of their postal service, at least in Britain), and the lead character even has his own, very beloved pet owl, who's shown to be affectionate - if not a bit haughty and standoffish when she's mad. Ron also has a very friendly, excitable owl that can be described as downright adorable.
Hermione's cat, Crookshanks, is also an aversion, although he doesn't necessarily seem so at first since he keeps attacking Ron's pet rat, Scabbers. He has good reason, since that rat is actually a wizard long presumed dead, who betrayed his closest friends and caused their deaths, as well as the deaths of many others and the imprisonment of another one of his best friends. Since Crookshanks can sense that Scabbers is untrustworthy, he goes on the offensive. Later installments find him perfectly friendly and gentle.
Also averted with the thestrals, skeletal winged horse-creatures visible only to those who have witnessed someone's death. They're lured in with a carcass during one of Hagrid's classes, which they happily munch away on, and are perfectly benevolent, if not rather uncomfortable to ride on. Also averted with Hagrid's hippogriff, Buckbeak, who routinely chows down on animals. He's proud and haughty, but otherwise gentle unless you insult him. Then, he'll attack - but given that Draco's a dick and he knew better than to insult Buckbeak, it's really hard to blame the hippogriff for attacking him.
Played straight with dragons, as even the hatchling Hagrid attempts to raise with the utmost kindness is a snapping, dangerous creature that injures him repeatedly.
Fool Moon: Played straight and averted. The hexenwolves revealed to be FBI agents driven insane with power are killing to fulfill to own bloodlust. Tera West, another werewolf actually a wolfwere, a wolf that becomes a human however, points out that wolves don't kill for pleasure, only for food and defense.
Manga and Anime
Inverted in Toriko: We're told of the Death Gore, a gargantuan herbivore beast who almost caused the end of the world by devouring whole tracts of forests and woodlands on his way. Eventually the disaster was averted when the Death Gore's pack was totally annihilated by a single predator, the Battle Wolf, which is carnivorous.
In the first episode of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, Piplup is captured in the web of an Ariados and has to be freed by Dawn. Later on, an entire swarm of Ariados come back to trap them, and Piplup is forced to use Bide in order to fend them off.
Averted in Putt-Putt Travels Through Time. One carnivorous dinosaur does appear and is just as friendly as the herbivores. It's also one of few of the dinosaurs to seriously wonder about the car traveling in prehistoric times.
Also pretty much every carnivore in the games are friendly.
Both inverted and played straight in Dinosaur King where even though the villains primarily use carnivorous dinosaurs, one exception is a Saichania.
Played mostly straight in the Monster Hunter series. Predators are likely to attack you on sight while herbivores tend to shy away and get killed.
In The Land Before TimeTV Series, the main villains are, again, carnivorous dinosaurs. Well, at least they get names. The main villain is a T. rex named Red Claw who has two Utahraptor henchmen named Screech and Thud. Anonymous "Sharpteeth'' also appear in the TV series, including two Acrocanthosauruses and several anonymous deinonychosaurs.
Dink, the Little Dinosaur is a complete rip-off of The Land Before Time, so it's no wonder that it also has meat-eating dinosaurs as villains. The main villain is, guess what, a T. rex named Tyrannor.
In South Park's Woodland Critter Christmas, most of the titular critters were prey animals (though there was a bear and a fox among them) and had a conflict with a mountain lion who would always come down before Christmas and eat the poor little virgin critter impregnated with their lord and savior. Stan, hearing their story, goes out to kill the mountain lion. It turned out that the predator was good all along because she was stopping the birth of the Antichrist, and it had three cubs who came to mourn their mother's Mufasa-style death.
In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, this trope might be better called "Predators are Jerks" — there don't seem to be many creatures that actively go out of their way to prey on ponies, but it's noteworthy that several episodes' worth of more unsympathetic antagonists like Gilda the griffon, the diamond dogs, and assorted dragons at the very least look quite carnivorous. On the other hand, the ponies' pets are quite naturally immune and the trope has an occasional habit of getting (sometimes hilariously) subverted around Fluttershy...
The spider, the cat, and Pete (who plays a dogcatcher here), in the 1937 Mickey Mouse short The Worm Turns. Mickey gives their victims, a fly, a mouse, and Pluto (don't think about that second one too hard), a serum to make them more powerful and beat their tormentors up.
The introduction of Speedy the Super Squirrel in the Power Puff Girls has this, with the eagle that originally tries to kill Speedy for food is treated like a monster for, you know, being a predator. But then, Bubbles never did care much for animals that werent cute.
In Alfred J. Kwak, almost all heroic characters are herbivores. Krabnagel the cat is the only anthropomorphic animal that eats other animals, and although not specifically called out for it is therefore considered especially vicious. The only other predatory animal is the lion King, who averts it.
In Polish animated series Miedzy Nami Bocianami (Between Us Storks), a hawk, major Kirkor, is the most usual antagonist.
Averted with the harmless whale sharknote a filter feeder, which makes it a predator, just not the kind most people think of; they're the biggest of all sharks, but they're also the gentlest.
Most sharks species are harmless in fact. Only ten of 360 shark species could harm a human and only four of them, the ocean whitetip, the great white, the bull shark, and the tiger shark, are really dangerous. They only attack by accident or because they feel threatened by the human's presence.
Sometime sharks attack surfers only because they mistake them for seals. They don't find humans tasty as a blubbery seal.
Averted with most spiders; 98 to 99 percent of all species are harmless.
Of all nonvenomous snakes, only large constrictors can be a threat to humans. As for venomous snakes, only 250 of 725 species can kill a human with a single bite.
And with snakes, venomous ones usually give out warnings before attacking, as they can't eat humans and strike in self-defense, not for food. Scaring us off is preferable to wasting venom.
Averted with many land predators, who only attack humans by accident. However, some animals' reputations are so ingrained into human culture that politicians have made campaign issues out of wanting to eradicate wolves; in fact, predator fear is so strong that linguists believe the Proto-Indo-European words for "wolf" (''*wlkwos") and "bear" ("*rktos") were treated as taboo words.
Wolves do not necessarily threaten human lives, but rather human livelihoods. Ranchers would prefer their herd, especially the new calves, not be eaten.
Indeed, averted by most predatory animals. Except a few Always Chaotic Evil species like, surprisingly, dolphins, which are infamous for infanticide of their own young, rape, and killing other marine mammal species for fun or for no observable reason.
Actually, the observable reason for the infanticide part is that they're eliminating a competitor. Most predators will do this, given the opportunity: lions and hyenas don't prey on each other, but they'll kill members of the other species if they find an opportunity to do so without serious risk to themselves (most easily done by killing any unprotected cubs they find).
Averted with dogs, cats and ferrets, which are the three most popular pets in the world.
Though of course, people can still view these animals as mean. Cats in particular tend to get hit with this trope - notably, a cat with a relaxed expression will be viewed as looking arrogant or scheming by folks who don't know how to properly read feline body language.
Inverted for most big herbivores. Hippopotami are responsible for more human deaths than any other animal (save mosquitoes and humans), and Elephants will attack people even when unprovoked.
Certain species animals such as big cats, bears, and canines (including some domestic dog breeds) are known to maul, and sometimes consume, humans.
There's various reasons for this, the most common being desperation (too little natural food around), the human invading territory, or threatening the animal's young. This is why every precaution must be exercised when working out in the wild - you never know when you might accidentally anger an animal.
In the case of domesticated dogs like (any dog, be it a Pit Bull or a Pomeranian), it's all to often the result of abuse, poor training, and in some cases bad breeding.
This trope had a major distorting effect on early conservation efforts in late 19th and, to some degree, in early 20th centuries. Many early conservation advocates felt that, while "moral" species like the deer were worth preserving, "immoral" species like wolves were not and deserved to be hunted to extinction.