We've switched servers and will be updating the old code over the next couple months, meaning that several things might break. Please report issues here
What's that, Tropey? Timmy fell down the well?
A Stock Plot in which the family pet or another animal (usually domesticated) displays unusual intelligence or skill in order to save one of the characters from danger. Parodied to the point of being a Discredited Trope
by now, maybe even a Dead Horse Trope
. Heck, just the above phrase
is common sarcasm for when someone has no idea what is being non-verbally communicated. (Incidentally, while Timmy was menaced by many things in his young life, confinement at the bottom of a well was never one of them
The animal at the center of this trope is often a dog, though many animals have doglike characteristics
in fiction, meaning the starring role can be played by anything from a goldfish to a T. rex
See also Speech-Impaired Animal
, Come Back My Pet
open/close all folders
- Spoofed in a black-and-white TV spot for General Electric Security Services. Lassie and Timmy encounter a mountain lion, whereupon Lassie saves the day by showing off her incredible martial arts skills.
- An ad for Capital One credit cards features a collie trying to tell her owner about an old man who literally fell down a well. Her efforts grow increasingly elaborate (at one point, she draws a picture of the man at the bottom of the well, and ad ends with her dialing 911), while the owner keeps Comically Missing the Point.
- Parodied mercilessly in a Chevrolet pickup commercial. The truck plays the role of the dog and notifies the parents of their kid falling down a well...then getting stuck in a cave...then in the belly of a whale...then a balloon, then a VOLCANO. The last part is even mentioned by the father saying "I didn't know we lived near a volcano!" as he and his wife are running out to the truck.
- Another parody was the series of "Sassie" radio PSAs from around 2010. When "Jimmy" would get in whatever predicament he found himself in (including finding himself in a well), Sassie would run off to tell people... about the benefits of adopting a dog from the local shelter.
- Spoofed in a Rolo ad, where Skippy is in the Outback with two kids, one of whom gives his last Rolo to the other instead of to Skippy. The scene cuts to Skippy fetching a policeman ("What's that, Skip? Someone's pushed the boys down the billabong? Who could've done that?") while looking guilty.
Anime & Manga
- Pao from Deep Love knows exactly where the train station is even though he's never been there and fetches Ayu. At the end he delivers two Christmas presents.
- The dub of Keroro Gunsou has a joke about this in a flashback to when Koyuki first met Dororo; Koyuki's dog Zeroyasha found him caught in a bear trap and barked to get her attention. She was momentarily concerned it was "another kid stuck in a well."
- In the Pokémon anime, this is done a bunch of times. Ash's Pikachu once led the gang to its teammate Bulbasaur using an advanced version of this — actually imitating the Pokémon that was kidnapped.
- Snowy from the Tintin comics does this a lot.
- In the French comic Les Tuniques Bleues (about two cavalrymen in the Union army during the American Civil War), one of the cavalrymen, Blutch, has a horse that has saved his life on multiple occasions. Also, because he is a Dirty Coward, he has taught his horse to play dead whenever anyone signals a charge.
- Rex the Wonder Dog is probably the king (no pun intended) of this trope. Among other things, he can drive cars, become an award-winning photojournalist, be parachuted into enemy territory with a machine gun and proceed to use it, and beat up a T. rex (nuking it with an atomic bomb). Eventually, this became too absurd even for DC Comics, and in the late 1980s he drank from the fountain of youth, giving him the ability to speak human languages, removing the need for this trope.
- Pardon My Planet strip for February 1st 2013. A woman in a shoe store is buried under a pile of shoes and shoeboxes, while a clerk listens to her dog barking.
Clerk: What is it, girl? Owner needs a size six in patent leather slingbacks?
- Parodied by Doonesbury, in 1972! That's how long this has been considered a joke.
Television: "What? You say a hunter has fallen into the abandoned mine shaft and has broken his legs, and needs insulin?" "Woof, woof!"
- Parodied many times in Garfield.
- At one point, Garfield even tells Jon this:
Garfield: Jon! Little Timmy has fallen down the old well! And, as it turns out, he LOVES it down there! He's got a TV and a VCR, and he's away from his evil foster parents... so PLEASE don't rescue him!
Jon: This is one of those days I'm glad I don't speak cat.
- One occasion involved Garfield watching a "heroic cat" TV show in the style of Lassie.
Man: Oh no! Timmy's fallen down the well!
Man: ... You pushed him, didn't you?
Garfield: You want a hero? Get a dog!
- The strip for July 15th 2012 had a dog trying to communicate with his master (with the master saying "Is it trouble, boy? Is the barn on fire?" It turns out they were out of peanut butter.
- The Sept 15 2013 strip has Garfield watching a program and this comes up:
Is it Timmy? Is he in the well? The Dog:
Yes! That rotten kid is in the well! AND I PUSHED HIM! REFUSE TO GIVE ME A NUM-NUM, WILL HE? I SHOWED HIM! I SHOWED EVERYONE! MWA-HAHAHA! uh ... I mean arf.
- Red and Rover
Red: Timmy's fallen in a well behind the old Johnson place? Come on, we've got to get help!
Rover: (thinks) I was just trying to tell him about the new Lassie episode...
- Mark Trail, on the other hand, constantly plays this straight with resident imbecile child Rusty and one or both of the Trails' dogs.
- Parodied in The Far Side, in which Lassie lands an airplane.
- In Beetle Bailey Sarge falls over a cliff (again) and is hanging by a tiny branch. He tells his dog Otto to get help. Otto runs to base and makes every effort a (non-talking) dog can to get people to go with him, including jumping on them and pulling on their legs. The strip ends with Otto in the lockup and Sarge still hanging from the branch.
- Bizarro. In the strip for December 9th 2012◊, a man and Lassie are standing on a beach. The man asks Lassie "Timmy's in a well? What well?" In the ocean behind them, a whale is diving under the surface, with poor Timmy inside of it!
Films — Animation
Films — Live-Action
- Played entirely straight in 2011's The Artist. Justified in that the dog in question is shown beforehand to be a well-trained stage dog — and maybe also justified by The Artist being a deliberately old-fashioned silent film.
- Double Subversion from the movie Good Burger: A dog runs up to Cloudcuckoolander Ed, who reads his barkings as "A bunch of clowns are stranded on the highway with a broken radiator." His partner tells him not to be stupid and that the dog's just hungry. At the end of the scene, Gilligan Cut to a bunch of clowns, standing by a broken car, wondering where the dog went.
- In The Wizard of Oz (1939), Toto escapes from the Wicked Witch's castle, finds the other members of the group and starts barking at them. The Scarecrow says "Why, don't you see? He's come to take us to Dorothy!" Toto then does just that, arriving just in time to save Dorothy from death.
- Joe Dirt has a hilarious subversion. A man has his leg stuck between railroad rails and a train is coming so he sends the dog for help. The guy had been mean to the dog, so the dog walks away... and is next seen having, uh, relations, with a female dog. Later, the guy returns... missing one leg. And with a shotgun. It doesn't end well for the dog.
- Fido has a perfect example of this trope. It contains pretty much the exact same scene as Lassie, but the dog is replaced by the family's pet zombie. They presumably named the boy "Timmy" just to set up that joke.
- Parodied in Broken Lizard's Club Dread. Dave & Juan are cleaning up the Pac-Man maze, when they run into Putman (who is still in Banana costume) who is trying to tell them that he found Cliff's dead body, but is in such a state of shock that he can't speak. Says Dave, "Are you trying to tell us something boy? Is little Timmy trapped in a well?!"
- Stanley Ipkiss' dog Milo in The Mask. He finds car keys, tracks down and rescues his master from jail, can open car locks, and figures out how to activate the title artifact, among other tricks.
- Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy: Ron's dog is able to bark at him in both English and Spanish (though, Ron mistakes English spoken with a mild Hispanic accent for actual Spanish later so there's some doubt.) He's also able to communicate with a bear later on, talking the bear into not attacking Ron.
- Parodied in Up The Creek, in which the dog informs the rafting party that one of their number has been tied up and abandoned by the competition by playing charades, complete with "sounds like" clues and number of syllables. Plus, the dog whistles to get the humans' attention, one paw to its mouth.
- Parodied in The Jerk. Navin is sleeping in a hotel and a dog starts barking at him in the middle of the night. Navin "translates" his barking to a warning about a fire and frantically wakes everyone up, has the building evacuated and even calls the fire department. Turns out there is no fire.
- Parodied in Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!. A boy is fishing when his dog hears the tomatoes coming and goes to investigate. The boy notices and asks, "What is it, Spot?" An articulate voice is heard from off camera: "Gosh, Billy, I don't know! You stay there; I'll go look!"
- Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Germans have an agent in Cairo man who wears an eye patch and has a pet monkey. The monkey sees an escaping Marion trying to hide in a basket, jumps on the basket and screeches, calling the German agents to capture her. Also, at one point it gives a Nazi salute.
- Spoofed on a few occasions in Discworld.
- In Guards! Guards!, the Librarian (a wizard-turned-orangutan) laments having to resort to charades to inform Constable Carrot that a book has been stolen when "so-called intelligent dogs, dolphins, and kangaroos" have an easier time alerting people to danger.
- In The Last Continent, a talking kangaroo named Scrappy (a Shout-Out to Skippy, see Live Action TV below) informs Rincewind that the kangaroo language has a gesture that means "come quick, someone's fallen down a deep hole."
- Also played with in Moving Pictures, where the main characters have been trapped in a cave and it's up to 'Laddie' (an incredibly stupid dog who plays a Lassie-esque movie character) to go for help. Despite doing nothing more than turn up in the pub, the genre-savvy trolls recognise the trope from the movies Laddie's been starring in and decide to follow him back, while completely ignoring the real intelligent talking dog, Gaspode, who's trying to tell them what's going on in their own language.
- The original melodrama that spawned the Sweeney Todd mythos has the dog of one of the victims repeatedly lead people to and then make menacing noises at Sweeney's barber shop. The heroes don't especially take the hint.
- Used in exactly this way in American Gods when Shadow is lost in the woods and a talking bird gives him a message and then caws at him to follow — "You want me to follow you? Or has Timmy fallen down another well?" Only this isn't a cute woodland creature: it's an oversized and frankly scary raven which has just been "brunching on Bambi". (This is Neil Gaiman, after all.) Shadow then proceeds to demonstrate why it probably should have played this one straight.
- Averted in Animorphs when Tobias (stuck as a red-tailed hawk) knows where a missing kid is, he decides to screw the Animorphs' usual paranoia and just tells the kid's father to follow him. Tobias is genuinely impressed that the dad doesn't freak out over a bird is talking to him; the dad just goes with it because he loves his son that much and just wants him to come home safely.
- In John Dies at the End, Molly the dog drives a car into a burning building to save her owner.
- Done in David Weber's Empire from the Ashes series, with a set of dogs that have been genetically enhanced to near-human intelligence and then fitted with vocoders to translate their thoughts into speech. It goes into some depth about how they have simple sentence structure and don't have temporal verbs (speaking only in the present) but otherwise treats them as being pretty wise, if not always smart.
- In White Fang by Jack London, White Fang barks only once in the entire novel, to alert the humans to his master's peril.
- Subverted in a Father Brown short story. A man is murdered and his dog's actions are interpreted as meaningful by some of the characters. They are meaningful, sort of, but not the way this trope does it.
- Dave Barry Turns 50 notes that a real dog would reply to questions of her being hungry with "Hell yes!" and then spend the evening licking himself, forgetting all about Timmy.
- In Reserved for the Cat by Mercedes Lackey, a sentient, talking cat alerts two mage-talented theater owners that his mistress is in trouble. The sensational account makes the papers, with the story changed so that the cat runs for help, finds the two men, and leads them to her, as per this trope. (The cat is disgusted to be portrayed so doggishly.)
- Spoofed in Legally Blonde The Musical:
Margot: Bruiser, where is Elle?
Margot: She doesn't have an engagement outfit?
Margot: She's totally freaking out?!
Margot: She's trapped in the Old Valley Mill?!
Margot: Oh, whoops, sorry... the Old Valley Mall?!
- Spoofed in Fallout 2, in one possible option:
Laddie: Woof! Woof! Woof!
Chosen One: What's the matter, boy, are you trying to tell me something?
Laddie: Woof! Woof! Woof!
Chosen One: Is Johnny someplace close by in Modoc?
Chosen One: He was playing cowboys and Indians when he accidentally fell down the well and you want me to use my rope and go down and rescue him. Okay, let's go! [Astounding!]
- In Fallout: New Vegas, if you have the Wild Wasteland trait and Rex as a companion. It's the only way to get the Abilene Kid LE BB Gun.
- In the MMORPG EverQuest, there is a quest called Timmi Fell Down the Well!. You need to follow the dog La'See to save Timmi.
- In a different version of this trope, Sonic Chronicles features a Timmy who really is down a well. But it's subverted — "Timmy" is actually "Timothy", a grown man whose job is maintaining the well. His father, who asked you to go make sure "Timmy" was safe, is too old and senile to remember that his son is supposed to be down the well.
- Played with in The Secret Of Monkey Island. One of the first characters you can speak to is a dog, who can (apparently) explain the entire plot of the game, but speaks in woofs and barks with the occasional real word thrown in. This is about as helpful as it sounds.
- In Space Quest V, Roger's pet facehugger Spike jumps on the cryopod holding a mutating Beatrice and then on the transporter. There are four options of what Roger can claim Spike is trying to say. One is "Timmy fell down the well". Another is a method of using the transporter to reverse Beatrice's mutation (The intended answer), which implies that Spike is a lot smarter than most of the people on that ship.
- In the Bloodmoon expansion of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, a man named "Lassnr" sends you to look for his son "Tymvaul", who has gone down a well near their house. The names and the well are an obvious reference to Lassie and Timmy, though the outcome is somewhat different. Tymvaul has joined a group of necromancers that live in a cave at the bottom of the well, and you pretty much have to kill him.
- Played with in Ghost Trick. Missile is fiercely loyal to and protective of his owner, but doesn't come off as terribly bright: he's easily distracted by flashing lights, loud noises, and spinning doodads, all of which will incite him to bark incessantly. On the other hand, in a previous timeline, he tracked down the people responsible for his owner's death without any outside help, and after time traveling into the past and taking The Slow Path to the present day, he skillfully manipulated Sissel into setting things right.
- At one point in Deadly Premonition, the Dalmatian Willie leads York all around the art gallery, to where his owner, Forrest Kaysen, has become stuck in a secret room beneath the museum. Later on, when York himself is taken hostage, Willie leads Emily to where he's being held in the clock tower. According to Word of God, this is justified: Willie isn't really a dog; he's an incredibly powerful being from a hellish otherworld who takes a doglike form on Earth to blend in.
- The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang:
: RRRRAAAA... RRRRAAAA... Spike
: What's that? One of the Cloves stole the key? Where is it now? Sid
: RRRRAAAA... RRRREEEERRRR... RRRROOOO... Spike
: To the right of the castle door? Thanks pal!
- Spoofed in this El Goonish Shive strip.
- Parodied in this Kevin & Kell strip.
- And more directly in this one.
- Spoofed in Freefall (original / colored version), with Helix (a robot) barking to alert Florence (a gengineered wolf) that Sam has fallen down a ventilation shaft.
Helix: Things go so much faster when you speak the lingo.
- And in Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures too...
- The Order of the Stick:
- A dark variation◊ from The Perry Bible Fellowship.
- Another webcomic parody in Arthur, King of Time and Space (based on an actual scene from Le Morte D'Arthur)
- Spoofed in Darths & Droids in this strip, when Anakin interpret R2's beeping as:
Anakin: What's that Artoo? Timmy's trapped down a gravity well?
- One early Adventurers strip has Ardam unable to communicate except through Visible Silence. He tries to tell Karn, "Help, giant octopus! Run!" Karn, hearing "...!!!", responds: "Jimmy fell into the old well?" He runs off to the well as Combat Tentacles close in on Ardam.
- Samael does this in Abe & Kroenen in a futile attempt to tell Rasputin he's found Abe. Rasputin doesn't get it.
- Used and referenced in Emergency Exit when the cat, Fred, is trying to alert people that a spell caused Karl, the only one who understand her, to gain an Enemy Without who has locked Karl up in a closet. When she tries to tell Eddie he references the trope.
- Parodied in this Wapsi Square strip. The dog involved doesn't think it's funny.
- In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, Snookums the Tentacle Bunny goes to find Molly when Bob and Jean are captured by Bigfeet,
- Given a dark turn in Homestuck when Grimdark!Rose finds herself unable to speak English to John
John: What's that, Rose? Are you getting aggravated that I am talking to you kind of like you are a dog?
- Parodied in AH.com: The Series "The Gates of Dawn," in which Doctor What's cat Mynx meows at him and he interprets her sounds perfectly as an ongoing recount of events, until at one point the non sequitur "and then Timmy fell in a well?" comes up, upon which Mynx hisses angrily at him and Doc realises "he conjugated the verb wrongly."
- Avatar: The Last Airbender's Appa and Momo. Both show an unbelievable level of intelligence over the course of the show. But while Appa understands human speech, Momo does not (at least situationally). When Katara and Sokka were metaphorically stuck in a well and asking him for help during "The Blue Spirit" he could tell they wanted something but had no idea what it was. There could be a justification for Appa, who is Aang's spirit guide. It seems that all avatars have them in some form, and they all seem to show surprising intelligence (see Roku's dragon Fang and Korra's polar-bear dog Naga). Interestingly, Momo was originally going to be a reincarnation of Aang's mentor Gyatso, so his intelligence might be a left-over from that.
- Parodied in Family Guy, when Brian, the talking dog tries to tell Peter something in English. Peter starts acting like a Lassie character, guessing (badly) what Brian is trying to say. He finally gets the message when Brian deadpans "Woof."
- Also parodied in American Dad!: Stan is fighting a Brainwashed and Crazy Hayley in the back of a moving limousine, he tries to pull his gun only for Hayley to force him to drop it on the road. Said gun essentially being considered part of the family, Stan does like the MST example above and shouts "Gun! Call for help!"
- Tiny Toon Adventures also did a similar parody, with a talking Lassie telling Elmyra that Montana Max has fallen off a cliff. Elmyra just barks.
- In a flashback episode of Futurama, Fry's dog leads the family to the cryogenic unit he's in, but they don't notice him there and are instead worried about the weird way the dog is acting.
- Hanna-Barbera shows:
- Jonny Quest TOS episode "Skull and Double Crossbones." After the Quests are taken hostage by pirates, Bandit goes for help and brings back the police to save the day.
- Tagg, Gulliver's dog in Hanna-Barbera's The Adventures of Gulliver cartoon. He is highly intelligent (for a dog) and often acts on his own initiative to warn Gulliver and the Lilliputians of danger (and sometimes save them from it).
- Blip the monkey in Space Ghost. He often saved Jan, Jace and Space Ghost himself, sometimes by retrieving Space Ghost's power bands after they were taken by a villain.
- Ork the flying dodo in the Mighty Mightor. He regularly saved the child Little Rok from danger and often winked at the audience at the end of episodes.
- The Herculoids. Gloop and Gleep often acted in an intelligent manner to communicate with and protect the human members of the team on their own initiative. The other animal members could do the same but not quite as well.
- Birdman. Avenger the eagle did this all the time, and Birdman seemed to understand what his screeching cries meant.
- Young Samson & Goliath. Goliath was Samson's pet dog, who could be turned into a super-powered lion by Samson's power bands. Golaith could understand English and carry out complex orders as well as a human being.
- The Simpsons:
- Some of Laddie's many skills include gathering fruit, rescuing Baby Gerald, and sniffing out marijuana.
Bart: He's trained to do all sorts of stuff. He can herd sheep and perform CPR.
Marge: (reads from the manual) Some call it the dog that never sleeps, though it actually does — while jogging!
- Mr. Burns is also impressed by a dog.
Burns: Smithers, I've just seen the most heroic dog on television. He pulled a toddler from the path of a speeding car, then pushed a criminal in front of it. Find this dog. I want to make him my executive vice-president.
- Doesn't involve an animal rescue, but in "Radio Bart," Bart puts a radio down a well and, using his microphone, claims to be a boy named Timmy O'Toole.
- Parodied in "Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind."
Homer: Santa's Little Helper! Hey, boy, do you know where the family is? Show me on Mapquest!
Homer: Fine, Google Maps.
- On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Jimmy sends Cerbee to get Heloise after he and Beezy are trapped in prison. He quickly gets distracted when Heloise thinks he's hungry and offers him a steak.
- Parodied on Freakazoid!, when he sends Foamy the Freakadog to get Cosgrove to save him from the deathtrap he's currently trapped in. Foamy crosses the desert, overcoming several great obstacles before reaching Cosgrove... and running right past him to a fire hydrant.
- Darkwing Duck:
- "Just Us Justice Ducks":
(Neptunia runs into her octopus friend)
Neptunia: Hey Hal! What, what is is?
(Hal motions with his tentacles)
Neptunia: Someone fell into Devil's Gorge and has a compound fracture of the lower mandible?
- Becomes a Brick Joke late:
Launchpad: What is it, Archie? Someone fell into Devil's Gorge and has a compound fracture of the lower mandible?
- In the King of the Hill episode "Raise the Stakes", Hank is helping out a hippie-run co-op; late in the episode, one of the hippies runs over (while the neighborhood is having a barbecue) and tells Hank there's trouble at the co-op. Dale remarks "He's like a human Lassie!"
- The Fairly OddParents:
- Despite having no animals involved this time, the trope was also played here. When Dr. Bender and his son stole Chip Skylark's teeth, Chip couldn't speak properly and Chet Ubetcha somehow assumed Chip was trying to tell about a boy down at a well.
- And in a recent episode concerning Sparky the Dog, Timmy Turner was trapped in a well. Although granted, it was a ruse to try to make Sparky feel more heroic. This is somewhat amusing considering Timmy's name making it a very literal example of this trope
- Because of the masquerade of dogs being unable to speak in Pound Puppies (2010), this tends to be a regular occurrence in the eyes of the in-universe humans. Perhaps the best example was in the episode "Snow Problem", in which the puppy Tundra coordinated a rescue of a (fellow) sled dog by jumping down a mountain face and barking instructions to the Pound Puppies team who agreed/were volunteered to be his sled team.
- Tex Avery's Homesteader Droopy sets up a home and runs a fence around a pond — a bull grazing there runs to the office of "Dishonest Dan the Cattle Man" and starts shouting "Moo! Moo! Moo moo, moo moo!" Dan replies "What? A dirty homesteader just fenced in our watering hole at Red Rock Canyon?"