Characters get hit with a spell, Curse, or Transformation Ray, causing an instantaneous and involuntary transformation into a form that is harmless or otherwise seriously impairs their ability to pursue their goals, until they can revert to their usual form by some means. This is commonly some sort of animal creature (whether real or fantastic), though it can also be a plant or a lifeless object. They may or may not lose their voice, or even their mental faculties (in which case someone else will have to seek the cure for them).
Frogs, newts, and toads are so common that they have their own subtrope, Bewitched Amphibians. Other common choices include mice, chickens, pigs, and sheep.
In role-playing or video games, this is frequently a Standard Status Effect that will disable or greatly weaken most attacks and magic, but will rarely affect the victim's Hit Points or armor. People may get turned into toads, but hot damn those toads will be Made of Iron! A notable exception is when insects are involved, in which case the victim is not long for this world.
This is common in fiction, as it's a way for a spellcaster to defeat foes with magic without simply killing them, or as a form of punishment (e.g. underlings who failed their boss one time too many). It's also generally less permanent and more palatable than actual death. Often requires a hero to find the magic "cure" to turn his friend back into a person. This can be also be used to show a specific aspect of the character's personality, such as gluttons turned into pigs, or cowards into chickens.
Occasionally, this may function as a Transferred Transformation; in such cases, one character stuck in an undesirable form can only break the curse by shunting it onto someone else.
Occasionally in fiction a character may manage to save the day while still under this effect, sometimes through use of the animal form's abilities. This will lead to the Aesop that it's brains, not strength, that's important. Or that courage is more important than size. Or that you can lay an egg and still feel like a man.
Whether or not a Baleful Polymorph is effective against a Voluntary Shapeshifter varies, depending on whether or not it also imposes a Shapeshifter Mode Lock otherwise the shapeshifter can just transform themselves back to normal, or at least something else. Thus, it is a subtrope of curses.
Depending on the method, clothing may be transformed as well, or it may not, resulting in Shapeshifting Excludes Clothing if the characters or audience are aware of this fact, or Empty Piles of Clothing if they are not. (In either case, naturally, when they get turned back they're going to need those clothes back...)
Polymorphing into a nonliving form is much less likely to be played for laughs and much more likely to be permanent.
Can be used as a Karmic Transformation. Characters transformed this way may also exhibit Morphic Resonance. See also Emergency Transformation, Shape Shifter Mashup and Beauty to Beast. Compare Taken for Granite (turning into a statue), Unwilling Roboticisation (turning from flesh into something mechanical). Contrast with Hybrid Overkill Avoidance, where the subject is immune to further polymorphing because they're already supernatural. Compare Involuntary Shapeshifter.
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- Western Animation
- A series of commercials for the Ratchet & Clank series showed weapons from the games being used in real life in a Jackass inspired way. Many of these included involuntary one-way transformations, where one guy gets turned into a chicken despite protesting, a few friends turn one of their mums into a sheep by accident and two guys transform their friend's girlfriend into a cow just to mock him. And yes, they're all as full of Fridge Horror as they sound.
- In this GEICO ad, Wicked Witch Grizwalda uses a potion to turn her roommate into a cat, slowly and with Body Horror.
- Happy Heroes: In Season 8 episode 22, Huo Haha feeds Happy S. a magic candy cracker that turns him into a candy cracker. Not only does this strip him of his superpowers, but it also makes him susceptible to melting when in the rain or near a fire, on top of making him edible.
- Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: In Mighty Little Defenders, Wolffy is accidentally transformed into a dog, making it difficult for him to catch the goats like he would normally do.
- Satellite Girl and Milk Cow: In the world of the movie, anyone who has their heart broken turns into an animal. The Witch Of the North theorizes Kyung-chun was turned into a cow because of his "cow"ardice to admit his feelings to the girl he had a crush on.
- Magic: The Gathering has a lot of these:
- Ovinomancer later got a reprint and shout-outs in the Time Spiral block in the form of Ovinize (Transforms target into a sheep) and Pongify (Transforms target into a giant ape). Shadowmoor has Snakeform (Transforms target into a snake). Unglued has Fowl Play(Transforms target into a chicken). Mechanically similar "restraining" cards can instead represent a new state of mind or magical bindings. There are a few cards that turn the target into something nonliving. Some polymorphs can be undone (enchantments that can be destroyed), others are permanent (because they remove the original creature from the game and replace it with something else).
- Then there's Mass Polymorph which (at least in terms of flavor) transforms all your creatures into other creatures basically at random.
- German comedian Otto once told the story of Susi Sorglos, whose hairdryer claimed to be a transformed prince. This turned out to be a lie, it was actually a transformed razor.
- Calvin and Hobbes:
- When Calvin and Hobbes use the Transmogrifier, like most of their cardboard box technology, it never turns out well. This might be why The Princess and the Frog used the word as well in the above song lyric.
- Calvin is once turned into an owl by the Transmogrifier Gun, but accepts it when he realizes that he won't have to go to school. He is actually disappointed when the transmogrification wears off.
- Calvin once uses it to turn himself into a tiger; he ends up looking like a shorter Hobbes.
- In some of the Witch Hazel stories in Little Lulu, Hazel often transforms Lulu (or a nameless girl who is drawn as Lulu) into various things, such as a cat, a parrot, a monkey, a mermaid, a mouse (twice), and even a water pipe!
- Exploited by Brian in the Knights of the Dinner Table a few times.
- The Wacky Adventures of Pedro often has Pedro the Mailburro forced to take on a new form, such as an amoeba or a grotesque alien.
- SnarfQuest, Prince Raffendorf had been transformed into a rat man by Suthaze's magic, and only Suthaze possessed the ability to reverse the curse.
- In Earl of Mar's Daughter, the hero's mother is a "queen o state and wealth" who is so "well skilld in magic spells" that she transformed her son into a dove so that he could fly to distant lands to "charm such maids" as the heroine. In another version, the mighty queen does this to her puny son because he wouldn't obey her.
- In Brother and Sister, Brother is transformed into a deer by his Wicked Stepmother and can only turn back after her death.
- In The White Duck, the queen is turned into a white duck, and her children are born as ducklings.
- In The Greek Princess and the Young Gardener, a fox proves to be the enchanted brother of the Greek Princess. (Note that many other variants of this tale have the fox as a Talking Animal).
- The Six Swans were princes changed to that form by their Wicked Stepmother. They could turn back into humans once an evening, but would turn into swans again after a short time.
- The Lambkin and the Little Fish were a brother and sister changed to those forms by their Wicked Stepmother.
- In The Wonderful Birch, after the hero marries the heroine, the Wicked Stepmother turns her into a reindeer and puts her own daughter in her place; a wise woman brings her child to the forest and she turns to a woman to tend it, and her husband burns her skin.
- In the child ballad Tam Lin (Child #39), Tam Lin is transformed in Fair Janet's arms by The Fair Folk, who want her to let go of him.
- In The White Bride and the Black One, the Wicked Stepmother turns her stepdaughter into a duck.
- In The Seven Doves the heroes are turned to birds by their sister's carelessness; similarly for their mother's in The Twelve Wild Ducks and their father's in The Seven Ravens.
- In Lord Peter, a variant of Puss in Boots, the cat turns out in the end to be an enchanted princess.
- In Beauty and the Beast, a prince is turned into a beastly creature by a fairy/enchantress he angered.
- The hero of East of the Sun and West of the Moon was made a bear, albeit a Talking Animal, by his Wicked Stepmother (for refusing to marry her daughter and let her become his mother-in-law) and can only take on his human form at night. Similarly with 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.
- Little Bunny Foo-Foo is threatened with getting turned into a "goon" if he doesn't quit hitting field mice.
- In Iron Hans, Iron Hans turns out to be have been a king, turned into a wild man.
- In The White Dove, the dove is a kidnapped princess. The witch also tries to hide her from the prince in other shapes.
- In "The Love of Three Oranges", the princess is turned into a canary by the servant who tries to take her place.
- In "The Frog Prince", the prince is turned into a frog before the story.
- In Asbjørnsen and Moe's "The Seven Foals", the foals are the king's transformed sons.
- In "The Blue Bird", Prince Charming is cursed to live seven years as a bird by Princess Truitonne's Fairy Godmother. At the end of the story, Truitonne herself becomes a pig.
- At the end of The Baker's Daughter, the daughter is permanently transformed into an owl as punishment for her greed and dishonesty.
- In "The Nix In The Mill Pond", the wife and her husband are turned into a frog and a toad, respectively, by a malicious and vengeful nixie.
- In "The Laidly Worm Of Spindleston Heugh", the titular monster used to be Princess Margaret. She is saved by her brother, who then turns the tables on the Wicked Witch and changes her into a toad.
- The Troll's Daughter": The troll turns his servant into three different creatures (a hare, a bird, and a fish) after giving him permission to take a break for a while. The transformed boy spends a lot of time running because the troll has enchanted and caged up all the rest of the creatures. However, the third transformation backfires on him when the boy-turned-fish ends up finding and falling in love with the troll's daughter.
- The first of the Endless Quest pick-a-path books, Dungeon of Dread, is a surprisingly-grim adventure in a dungeon where all the monsters were created by an evil wizard casting this spell on enemies or innocent bystanders. There's nothing you can do to restore the victims, but the villain gets Hoist by His Own Petard, succumbing to this trope in turn, in the best ending.
- Radiohead's music video for "There There" ends with Thom Yorke becoming a tree, as his apparent punishment for stealing some enchanted clothing he found in the woods.
- Nearly every mythological tradition has examples of the gods turning some unfortunate, or sometimes favored, human into an animal, demon, angel, plant, or mineral; either permanently or temporarily. Sometimes, even the gods themselves are affected, usually as a punishment inflicted by a more powerful or Trickster God. This is particularly common in Greco-Roman mythology.
- Older Than Feudalism from Classical Mythology: Circe in The Odyssey takes revenge on Odysseus's men by turning them all into pigs.
- One version of the myth of Atalanta ends with Atalanta and her lover transformed into lions as punishment for having sex in a temple (less of an Unishment as it may seem: the Greeks thought lions and lionesses didn't reproduce with each other but with leopards).
- Occurred with considerable frequency in Celtic Mythology, to the point that it's actually difficult to find stories that don't feature at least one instance of it. The Children of Lir were turned into swans, a Welsh king got turned into a boar, Gwydion and Gilfaethwy were stuck spending three years as a breeding pair of animals that changed every year, Oisin's mother was changed into a doe, and so on.
- The Ars Goetia has a particularly scary practitioner in Ose. A conjurer can have Ose transform someone into most anything else. The scariest part: the victim begins thinking that they've always been what they've just been turned into.
- While the cause for the ability varies between versions, the story of King Midas has his touch act like this, turning anything touched into a gold statue. Very unfortunate when his daughter goes to hug him. Fortunately for him, not only is this power removed, but the victims are restored. In some versions, though, the power is never removed and he ends up starving to death because any food he touches turns into gold. At this point, "the Midas Touch" has become synonymous with "Be Careful What You Wish For."
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- Named after the 4th-level baleful polymorph spell, which turns involuntary targets into small, weak animals and can make them lose their minds. Turning them into something that would kill them (a non-lunged fish on land, or a non-flying animal in a situation where only a flying creature has a reasonable chance of survival) makes the spell easier to resist, as though the target instinctively knows what he's being turned into and that the situation is even worse. Though the duration is permanent, the subject gets a second save to retain their mental faculties and their special powers.
- The Book of Vile Darkness has a magic item that gets around this, as it allows single aspects to be changed (also applying a rule that if a creature becomes unfeasible it instantly dies); thus, a lethal change can be made through several otherwise harmless additions, such as giving a flying creature several dozen additional wings.
- There is also polymorph any object, which does Exactly What It Says on the Tin: you can turn pretty much anything into pretty much anything. Unlike the above it's usually temporary, though.
- This can affect more than player characters. After an insurrection called the Reckoning that rocked the politics of the Nine Hells of Baator, Baalzebul, Lord of the Seventh, was transformed by Asmodeus from a humanoid with a fly's compound eyes into a enormous, disgusting, slug-like form that constantly generated filth and garbage, which quickly turned the layer of Maladomini from Hell's bureaucratic heart into a reeking ruin covered in sewage. As of current background material, this transformation was the retroactive effect of a curse Asmodeus placed on Baalzebul, which will change his form into a slug for a year if he lies to any devil. The Lord of the Flies has since worked off his old "debt," and is now scrupulously honest with his fellow Baatezu for fear of reverting to his hideous slug form.
- Ravenloft: Yagno Petrovna, the Darklord of G'henna and High Priest of Zhakata, can turn victims into mongrelmen, which he usually does to punish his subjects for heresy or blasphemy. This was one benefit he got from becoming a Darklord; it doesn't work on anyone who does not believe in Zhakata, so Player Characters are usually immune, seeing as nobody except Yagno's own subjects believe in him. (Zhakata isn't real, having been dreamed up in Yagno's insanity.)
- Mage: The Awakening has several spells like this, including one that not only turns the target into an animal but forces them to claw the way out of the excess mass. Also one that targets your entire future lineage, making the polymorph hereditary.
- Pathfinder, being based on D&D also has baleful polymorph (though it's harder to cast, requiring a higher level) and polymorph any object. Pathfinder also has mythic baleful polymorph, which lets the caster transform almost every creature within a 1-mile radius into harmless animals.
- Ponyfinder: In addition to the base spell, chaos hunters can permanently transform chaotic creatures into ponies of a random tribe if they can pin them down with a grapple, causing them to lose all memories of their previous lives in the process.
- Warhammer, Warhammer: Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40,000:
- A particularly nightmarish variant of this is a staple of the daemons and sorcerers of Tzeentch. The demon gods grant gifts, usually in the form of mutations. Once you gain enough, there are two options. The first is a good one: badass daemon prince. The second is insanity, many eyes, and general fun and games. You live off grubs and act as cannon fodder. Fun. A common psychic power for Chaos Sorcerers in 40k, the ironically titled "Gift of Chaos", lets them immediately transform anyone, friend or foe, into a Chaos Spawn. Various editions of fantasy have also included various Chaos Magic spells that transform the victim into Chaos Spawn — some Tzeentchian spells instead allow the warlock to turn their victim into a Horror of Tzeentch.
- Of course, the Orks aren't always that much better, given that their stronger Shamans or Weirdboyz have a nasty habit of turning people into Squigs (little bouncy things that are mostly Fungus and Teeth)
- In the Warhammer expansion, Storm of Magic, miscasting while standing atop an Arcane Fulcrum can result in a multitude of destructive and/or amusing effects, one of which turns all wizards on the table into frogs. There's also a Bretonian Cataclysm spell that can do the same thing.
- The Skaven have a spell known as "the Dreaded Thirteenth Spell", castable only by their strongest units (Grey Seers of 4th-level wizardry and Vermin Lords). If it hits, an entire unit of the enemy is turned into Skaven.
- Exalted has Pattern Spider Touch, from the Charcoal March of Spiders Style. It allows a Sidereal to fundamentally alter their opponent in some interesting way. Typically, it's used to punch people in the face and turn them into ducks.
- Witch Girls Adventures allows characters to do this with the Alteration-class spells of Animalize Human or Monsterize Human.
- Super Dungeon Explore has an expansion set Von Drakk Manor including happy looking witches with the ability to turn heroes engaged in combat into Miserable Toads. Far from Miserable, they acquire several defensive abilities and a knack for stealing potions and healing from their foes. They are even reverted with a kiss from a friendly model.
- The "Transformation" trick in Kitsune: Of Foxes and Fools, appears to show the Scumbag Lawyer turned into a toad.
- This is a new spell available to spellbinders of the Svaldon disciplines in Kaisers Gate. Actually uses the same name, requires not only the casters Spellbinding skill roll, but it must beat the targets Spirit roll, and doesn't last too long. Cannot be used against those who teach it, and is also useful for turning polymorphed beings back to their original state, as well as returning those who have been turned to stone to their normal state (though they are not guaranteed to survive that.)
- In John Milton's Comus, the Attendent Spirit speaks of how Circe did this, and Comus after her.
(For most do taste through fond intemperate thirst),
Soon as the potion works, their human count'nance,
The express resemblance of the gods, is changed
Into some brutish form of wolf or bear,
Or ounce or tiger, hog, or bearded goat,
All other parts remaining as they were.
And they, so perfect is their misery,
Not once perceive their foul disfigurement,
But boast themselves more comely than before,
And all their friends and native home forget,
To roll with pleasure in a sensual sty.
- In Richard Wagner's opera Lohengrin, this is what actually happened to Elsa of Brabant's little brother, Duke-Child Gottfried, who was cursed by their Evil Aunt Ortrud. She and her husband Count Telramund framed poor Elsa and accused her of murdering him, which prompted the titular Lohengrin to step in her defense. It turns out that the swan that drove Lohengrin to the bank was the cursed Gottfried; Lohengrin prays to God and manages to undo the magic, then elects the newly-humanized boy as the official Duke before taking off.
- Swan Lake (Also adapted as The Swan Princess) is about a princess who becomes a swan during the day due to the spell of a sorcerer.
- Mixels has "murps", a mix gone horribly wrong in some way. Murps still have abilities of the two Mixels that are part of it, but with the catch that the Murp has his own personality with neither of them controlling it and no control of his own powers. Most of the time, they just giggle and let their powers affect them. Some are worthless (like the Flain/Slumbo Murp, which is just a log that does nothing), while others can be very dangerous and only make things worse (like the Scorpi/Glurt one, which encases everything in slime and can cut down trees with its tail).
- Bad Days: At the end of Thanos's episode, Deadpool steals the Infinity Gauntlet and uses it to turn the Mad Titan into a chicken.
- Reversal of the Heart:
- The Mother Dragon turns The Princess into a dragon, as retribution for The Prince killing her baby and giving the gem in its chest to her as a gift.
- Possibly the fate of The Prince, depending on how you interpret the ending.
- In one episode of Puffin Forest, Asiago defeats a kraken by turning it into a cat (Ben is very surprised to discover that Krakens don't any of the typical kinds of Contractual Boss Immunity to this), and then they form an alliance with it.
- This is the backstory for animation blogger, Neil Sharpton's persona the Unshaved Mouse, who used to be human, but as a child was turned into an animated mouse by the immortal warlock, Walt Disney (just go with it) for the crime of... not thinking Disney's Beauty and the Beast was as great as everyone else. Though unlike most examples, Mouse has largely accepted this and moved on. (Being happily married to Mrs. Mouse probably helps.)
- SCP Foundation:
- SCP-731 ("Rathole Cover") is a manhole cover which causes anyone who steps on it while not being observed to fall through it and turn into a sewer rat.
- SCP-748 ("Industrial Dissolution"). One of the products created by SCP-748 is cigarettes. When they're lit, anyone inhaling their vapor is turned into a basking shark over a period of 30 minutes.
- SCP-1537 ("Akul'hil"). Anyone hearing a specific phrase in the SCP-1537 language Akul'hil is 99% likely to die and be transformed into SCP-1537-A (a Shapeshifting Blob Monster) after a two week period.
- SCP-2950 ("Just A Chair"). It's just a chair. Nothing world-ending about it at all. Trust us. It is actually an anomaly that takes the form of whatever the majority of people think it is. A book describing it as an extremely dangerous monster used to mean that it was a monster, but after figuring out the true nature of the object, the Foundation wrote a fake document claiming it was an extremely comfortable metal chair and spread information of it among their members in order to turn the monster into said chair.
- Thanks to DovSherman at DeviantArt, Mary Sue-ification now works like this too.
- In the Castle of the Night has this Played for Drama. All of Von Krolock's victims have their souls implanted in Pricolici wolves, which are ravenous beasts that kill innocents who try to leave his castle's premises.
- In Thalia's Musings, Hera is very fond of visiting this fate on Zeus's paramours. Io in particular was turned into a cow and then given to Thalia as a pet.
- In Moonflowers, Ned Song is turned into a white wolf by the Hunter, The Fair Folk leader of The Wild Hunt, then gets unwittingly adopted by his own daughter Alima. The curse means he can't communicate with anyone living or the Irish gods trying to help him out, and it also makes humans mistake him for a wolf-dog instead of a full-blooded wolf. Ned can't do much as Alima's pet, but by the twentieth chapter he makes a Blood Oath with a spirit to kill the Hunter.
- In The Adventures of the League of S.T.E.A.M., episode "Prehistoric Peril!", the bad guy turns an henchman who's failed him into a white mouse, which scrambles out of the pile of clothes.
- In the 2014 campaign of D 20 Live, Tomb of Horrors, Roo's wizard character ends what should've been a terrible encounter prematurely by turning the 10th-level, four-armed Gargoyle into a kitten. Said kitten is then tamed by the party, christened Fussy Britches.
- In Critical Role this quickly became the Mighty Nein's M.O. for dealing with difficult or potentially lethal encounters, including turning a blue dragon into a weasel, a fire giant into a giant tortioise, a frost worm into a turtle, and turning a turtle dragon into a sea slug... and a sea turtle.