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Literature / The Gruffalo

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The Gruffalo is a 1999 children’s book, written by English writer Julia Donaldson and illustrated by German-born illustrator Axel Scheffler.

Told entirely in rhyme, the book tells the story of a clever mouse walking through a forest in search of a tasty nut is beset by a series of predators, all of who want to eat him. Each time, he manages to scare them off by telling them that he’s on his way to meet a "gruffalo", which he describes in such frightening terms that they all run off, whereupon he chuckles to himself that "there’s no such thing as a gruffalo" — or so he thinks. Eventually, he does meet one which looks exactly as he described, and it wants to eat him too!

The book is easily Donaldson’s most popular, selling over 13 million copies, winning numerous awards and being translated into more than 30 different languages, including four different Scots dialect versions. A highly successful sequel, The Gruffalo's Child, was published in 2004.


Both books would eventually be adapted for animation Max Lang and Jakob Shuh, with the voice cast including James Corden as the mouse, Robbie Coltrane as the gruffalo, Tom Wilkinson as the fox and John Hurt as the owl. Helena Bonham-Carter also stars as a newly-created mother squirrel character narrating the story in a framing device. The same team would go on to adapt Donaldson's other book, Room On The Broom, in the same style.


The Gruffalo uses the following tropes:

  • Badass Boast:
    "Good?" said the mouse. "Don't call me good.
    I'm the scariest creature in this wood.
    Just walk behind me and soon you'll see,
    Everyone is afraid of me."
  • Batman Gambit: In the book, this appears to be the mouse's plan to deter predators: he tells the fox, the owl and the snake that he's going to meet a bigger and more dangerous (but imaginary) predator than them, and that each of them is that predator's favourite food. It backfires when his imaginary predator turns out to a.) not be imaginary, and b.) have mouse as his favourite food.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Gruffalo in the film, when the snake runs away.
    Gruffalo: [flat] Amazing.
  • Dirty Coward: Played for laughs with the fox, the owl and the snake. And ultimately with the Gruffalo.
  • The Dreaded: The whole story is about who gets to be this.
  • Dumb Muscle: The Gruffalo.
  • Engineered Heroics: The mouse tacitly invokes this trope to scare off the fox, the mouse and the snake. And then, once he's met the Gruffalo, he does it all over again; but in a brilliant twist, he's not using a friend to make him look scary but the Big Bad, who is too dumb to realise he's being played.
  • Evil Laugh: The Gruffalo drops one of these, on hearing the mouse's Badass Boast.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The fox, the mouse and the snake, all of whom invite the mouse to have (respectively) lunch, tea and a feast with them in their respective homes, and all of whom intend him to be the one thing on the menu; the fox traps the mouse against a rock, the owl chases him all over a tree, and the snake wraps himself around the mouse's neck, but they still keep the tone of the conversation light. Averted with the Gruffalo, who doesn't even bother to be polite.
  • Guile Hero: The mouse.
  • Interspecies Friendship: Inverted. When the fox, the owl and the snake all meet the mouse walking with the Gruffalo, each of them assumes it's because the mouse and the Gruffalo have one of these. This is the opposite of the truth, but it's precisely what the mouse wants them to think.
  • Miles Gloriosus: What the Gruffalo thinks the mouse is. He's right, but it's part of the mouse's Xanatos Speed Chess that he wants the Gruffalo to think he's this, so that the Gruffalo will follow him to see if his Badass Boast is true.
  • Oh, Crap!: The mouse, the snake, the owl and the fox all have these, the first time they see the Gruffalo. Also the reaction of the Gruffalo himself, once he's convinced that all the other animals are terrified of the mouse.
  • Real After All: The mouse makes up the Gruffalo and what he looks like to scare off the fox, the owl and the snake. But then he meets the real Gruffalo and it's exactly as he described it!
  • Scared of What's Behind You: Played with, in that mouse knows all too well that the other animals are not scared of him but of the Gruffalo, but he figures the Gruffalo is too dumb to realise it.
  • Tempting Fate: The mouse does this every time he reminds himself "There's no such thing as a Gruffalo."
  • Trademark Favourite Food: The mouse loves a hazelnut, but he also invokes this trope with every other character he meets.
  • Wham Line: "Gruffalo Crumble."
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: In both the book and the film, this is what the mouse resorts to in order to defend himself from the Gruffalo.

Tropes distinct to the animated film:

  • Adaptational Context Change: In the book, the lines beginning "But what is this creature with terrible claws..." are the narrator describing the mouse actually encountering the Gruffalo. In the film, they're the predators comparing notes on what they've been told.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The film expands a good deal on the book, making it a story told by a mother squirrel (voiced by Helena Bonham-Carter) to reassure her frightened kids, and adding various bits of business involving the things the mouse sees in the forest; the fox, owl and snake literally comparing notes on the mouse and banding up to go and find him; and explicitly showing the mouse's threat of the Gruffalo to be an Indy Ploy.
  • Adaptational Badass: The Gruffalo in the book isn't exactly a wimp, but he's depicted as being about six times the size of the mouse. The Gruffalo in the film is about twenty times the size of the mouse.
  • Art Shift: While most of the short is in 3-D CGI, the thought balloons where the gruffalo is described are drawn in 2-D.
  • Big "NO!": The Gruffalo utters one when the mouse finally succeeds in persuading him that he's about to be made into Gruffalo Crumble.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The mouse looks slyly at the camera after scaring the snake away.
  • By the Lights of Their Eyes: The eyes of the fox, under the log, when the mouse's sneezing wakes him up.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: The mouse has a hilarious one of these when the Gruffalo is dangling him by his tail.
  • Framing Story: The film has the story being told by a squirrel to her children. Continued in the sequel.
  • Friend to Bugs: Downplayed in that the mouse isn't beloved by all insects, but when he comes across a line of bugs walking along the forest floor and up a tree where they are being picked off one by one by a woodpecker, he quietly diverts the trail so that the bugs march away from the tree instead.
  • Growling Gut: After he manages to scare off all of the mouse's previous predators, the gruffalo's stomach growls so loudly that it scares birds out of the trees and nearly knocks the mouse over by sheer force. Then, when he manages to scare the gruffalo himself, the mouse's stomach growls, making the gruffalo afraid that the mouse is going to eat him.
  • Indy Ploy: Unlike the book, we see the mouse "invent" the Gruffalo on the fly, inspired by the fox's growl. When he meets subsequent creatures, he adds more features based on their own; the owl has a green spot on its beak which inspires the 'poisonous wart on the end of his nose', etc. Again, it backfires when he meets the real thing.
  • Meaningful Background Event: The book hints at them, with many images of predators and prey, but the film expands on them in a scene where the mouse is walking through a swamp full of creatures eating each other (a bunch of flies follow the mouse, but all but one of them get caught in a spider's web, while the sole survivor gets eaten by a frog; a toad eats a worm.) The crowning example: a trio of water-skaters which are quickly and successively eaten by an unseen fish, whereupon a heron's beak plunges into the water and comes up bearing the resigned-looking fish, which is taken out of frame and, presumably, swallowed.
  • Satiating Sandwich: The Gruffalo plans to make the mouse into one of these.
  • Smug Smiler: Whenever the mouse gets one-up on his enemies he tends to turn into one of these (when the snake is having his Villainous BSoD the mouse even winks at him), but he's up against such fearsome enemies that you forgive him.
  • Violent Glaswegian: The Gruffalo comes across like a downplayed version of this: he's voiced by Glaswegian actor Robbie Coltrane but although he's clearly prepared to eat the mouse, he's also ominously quiet.

How well does it match the trope?

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