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Big Shadow, Little Creature

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"Yes, I know you were Expecting Someone Taller."

A very small man can cast a very large shadow.
Lord Varys on Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones

We see a large, terrifying shadow on the wall. It turns out to be cast by something tiny and harmless. Less often, the tiny creature is only seemingly harmless after all.

Sometimes a diminutive hero will invoke this trope to try to impress or intimidate someone. Whether or not it succeeds depends largely on the intelligence of the person being intimidated — and on the Rule of Funny.

Subtrope of Big Little Man, shadowy brother trope of Depth Deception, and the inverted relative to Shadow Discretion Shot. See also Scary Shadow Fakeout. This trope is predominantly Played for Laughs.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Eden of the East, when Akira and Saki first enter Akira's shopping mall, they see this sort of shadow, cast by a small, friendly puppy.
  • Done in Makai Senki Disgaea with Laharl.
  • Done in One Piece; the Straw Hats before reaching Jaya see what look like the silhouettes of giants in the sky. Later on, after Eneru is defeated, the audience learns that the 'giants' are actually the shadows of people living in Sky Island.

    Asian Animation 
  • In the first episode of Nana Moon, Keke sees a shadow on a nearby bush and freaks out, thinking it's some kind of monster that's after her. The shadow turns out to be from Princess Amy, a harmless moon genie who isn't even as tall as Keke.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman: Odyssey: When Doctor Psycho interrupts the fight between Wonder Woman and the brainwashed Amazons the first visual indicator is a giant shadow before his diminutive true form walks around the corner.

  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: In "Mukrezar's Return":
    A huge shadow, almost as broad as it was tall, moved across the mildewy wall as its owner approached with quiet footsteps. The being that stepped into the weak torchlight was much shorter and less imposing than the menacing shadow it cast. An eyebrow rose curiously over half-lidded, fist-sized imp eyes.

    Film - Animated 
  • The Land Before Time 2: The Great Valley Adventure does this with the recently-hatched Chomper.
    • The first movie had a more poignant example: Littlefoot sees a large shadow and mistakes it for his mother. Only when he approaches it does he realizes it's his own shadow.
    • Used again in ''The Land Before Time 5: The Mysterious Island',' where Littlefoot and his friends get stranded on an island and cower from the shadow of an approaching Sharptooth, which turns out to be a slightly older Chomper, the T-Rex from the second film.
  • Mulan: Mushu casts a nice dragon-shaped shadow, until Mulan realizes he's only a foot high.
    • This scene is repeated in the game, Kingdom Hearts II, which Sora and the gang initially mistake for a heartless attacking Mulan.
  • Dumbo: As Timothy Mouse approaches the ringleader's bed to whisper in his ear, he casts a huge shadow that is a direct homage to Nosferatu.
  • Mama Odie's introduction in The Princess and the Frog. The DVD Commentary references What's Opera, Doc? as an inspiration.
  • In The Emperor's New Groove, when Yzma drinks one of the last potions, she briefly casts a huge shadow, and is then revealed to have transformed into a cute kitten.
  • The Galloping Goose (an old truck designed to run on rails) briefly seen at the beginning of Cars 2, mimicking a freight train barreling through a tunnel to scare Lightning McQueen out of his old route.
  • The introduction of movie mogul L.B. Mammoth in Cats Don't Dance.
  • An American Tail: As Fievel the mouse is wandering the streets of New York looking for his family during a Sad-Times Montage, he casts a huge shadow on the wall behind him. More of a visual effect than played for humor.
  • At the start of Kung Fu Panda, Po is called downstairs by his father, who first appears as a large panda-like shadow, that turns out to be a goose holding a cooking pot piled with food.
    • Kung Fu Panda 2. Not really a little creature, but done for the same effect when Lord Shen first meets Po, the legendary panda warrior prophesied to defeat him. Shen is practicing the speech he'll give to Po, who has just been captured. Then a huge shadow appears on the staircase, accompanied by growls and panting. Shen nervously reaches for one of his knives turns out to be one of his gorilla mooks carrying Po, exhausted from the endless stairs leading up to Shen's throne room.
  • Brave: The triplets exploit this trope to lure the warriors to the roof of a tower so Merida and Elinor can escape.
  • Done close to the beginning of Flushed Away when one of the Toad's rat goons tries to intimidate Rita and Millicent Bystander (Roddy). He then falls on his face, completely ruining the effect.
  • The imp does this to Sunny Strange Magic.
  • Near the end of Coco, Pepita casts a shadow resembling her Alebrije form in the living world, but then enters in the form a normal-sized cat.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • The movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King portrays the scene where Sam scares away the orcs of Cirith Ungol as this, unlike the book where it was the Ring's evil aura that frightened them. This was likely done because the latter is an abstract concept that's a lot harder to convey in a visual medium.
  • When Mini-Me first appears in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, we first see his full size shadow behind a screen door, before the door opens and we get to see what his real size is.
  • In The Third Man, police on a night stakeout see a threatening shadow cast two stories high. It turns out to be a balloon peddler.
  • The 'Burbs uses this; a menacing-looking shadow (accompanied by heavy footsteps) ends up belonging to Henry Gibson.
  • Zathura, when the Robot first appears, it's preceded by a huge menacing shadow, but turns out to be only a few inches tall. It's the kind that shortly proves to be more dangerous than it looks.
  • In the film version of Inspector Gadget, the villain makes a giant shadow puppet with his hands on the city's skyscraper, tricking people into thinking that a giant monster is attacking.
  • Used in Tremors 2: Aftershocks to introduce the second stage of Graboid metamorphosis: the Shrieker.
  • Joe's entrance into the Giant Scary Stadium in Idiocracy makes it looks like he's driving a Monster Truck, just like his opponents ... until the Reveal, when we see his vehicle is more on the scale of a Smart Car.
  • In Spy Hard, the mook who captures the woman spy at the beginning is initially shown as a shadow on the wall. He then walks on-camera, and turns out to be a midget with a machine gun.
  • A promotional image for The Phantom Menace showed the shadow of Darth Vader belonging to a young Anakin Skywalker (albeit a completely visible one), foreshadowing his eventual turn to the dark side.
  • The Spartans in 300 inspect a village that has been destroyed by the Persians. They turn to see a huge shadow against the smoke and sunset. It turns out to be a local boy, traumatized and mortally wounded.
  • in Peewees Big Adventure, we see an enormous shadow stretch across a wall at night, only to discover that it's our pint-sized hero Pee-wee storming down the street in a very bad mood.

  • How the Mouse convinces the Gruffalo's Child that the Big Bad Mouse is real in Julia Donaldson's The Gruffalo's Child.
  • The dwarf Tyrion Lannister's Establishing Character Moment in A Game of Thrones has him Pet the Dog and then get in a position where the shadow he casts is as large as that of a giant. It's meant to establish that despite his hideous appearance and reputation, he's a good man at heart.
    • The exact words are "as tall as a king". This has led to the inevitable Epileptic Trees among fans.
  • In Warrior Cats after lying about killing a dog, Scourge is sent by some other cats to get rid of a dog in an alley. He manages to frighten it away through the use of this trope.

    Live Action TV 
  • A Barney & Friends video where Barney and several children tour a farm had a scene where BJ tell everyone that's he's been chased by a large bull who's "black as night", has "eyes red as fire", and "roars like a lion." Cue a black lamb running out of the barn BJ's in and as a result everyone starts singing "Baa Baa Black Sheep."
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Plato's Stepchildren", our heroes beam down to the planet and are greeted by a booming voice and an enormous looming shadow, which turns out to be cast by Alexander, the four-foot-high court jester. The actor playing Alexander (Michael Dunn) was 3 feet, 11 inches tall.
  • In Supernatural, before we find out that Dean has been infected with a condition causing overactive panic attacks that might eventually kill him, the How We Got Here Cold Open starts as he runs from a ferocious canine with a large shadow, warning that it's a killer. It turns out it's a puppy.
  • In Lassie, Jeff and Lassie notice the shadow of someone walking through the barn. He alerts his parents, noting that it looks like there's a big guy in there. They go in to investigate, only to find a young orphan named Timmy.

    Tabletop Games 
  • An early Dragon article detailed a fan-designed shadowy monster called an "umbra", which could only be slain with the shadows of weapons rather than the weapons themselves. Shortly after it was published, the magazine's letters column included a reader's inquiry about what to do about a sneaky player who'd invoked this trope against it, having his PC hold a sword very close to his party's torch and create a gigantic sword-shadow.

  • Westeros: An American Musical: An uplifting take on the trope shows up in "The Siege of King's Landing", when Tyrion is giving himself a pep talk:
    Tyrion: A very small man can cast a very large shadow.

    Video Games 
  • In Ace Attorney Investigations, the culprit engineers a fake giant shadow of Yatagarasu emblem on a wall by inventively applying light to local statues.
  • In The Elder Scrolls Online there is a quest on Vvardenfell to assist an archeologist. When you first encounter him in an ancestral tomb he has you investigate what appears to be a large menacing shadow, failing horribly to hide how terrified he is. The source of the shadow is actually a tiny spider that happens to be right in front of a lantern, and the archeologist splutters, saying that is obviously what he had expected.
  • At one point in Metal Gear Solid 2, Snake sees the shadow of a boss who unambiguously died in Metal Gear Solid; it turns out it was cast by a flashlight a few inches behind an action figure.
  • Occurs in the opening scenes of Snatcher, when the main character's Robot Buddy (also named Metal Gear) enters the room. Both its silhouette on the wall and the background music echo the Final Boss fight of the original Metal Gear (MSX).
  • This turns up in Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia with a slight twist. The little creature is one of the bosses, and the big shadow is what he uses to attack you - and deals more damage than almost any other boss, unless you complete a specific quest to unlock the accessory that reduces Darkness damage.
  • One of the secrets in Serious Sam: The Second Encounter has a demon shadow on the spiral staircase room in The Pit. The caster of the shadow is a very tiny variation of one of the enemies.
  • Done at one point in the Old Clockworks of Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon. One of the game's normal spiders is sitting right next to a light source, casting a giant shadow on the wall. Luigi is predictably a little freaked out by this until the camera catches up and shows the spider. Made more impressive when you notice that every light source in the game can do this if it's aimed right, even with Luigi himself.
  • Final Fantasy VIII, in the Tomb of the Unknown King, after the party runs into Sacred (one half of what will become the Brothers Guardian Force) the second time, he tells the heroes that he's going to call on his older brother to aid him. The screen briefly gets obscured by a huge silhouette, until it shrinks to reveal Minotaur.
  • Dracula spends the entirety of Incredible Dracula 3: Family Secret chasing an unspecified beast called Vlad which does an enormous amount of property damage. In the ending sequence he and his zombie minions are faced with a giant shadow resembling a werewolf - which is cast by a deceptively cute-looking dog about the size of a chihuahua.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • In the Blaze and the Monster Machines episode "T-Rex Trouble", this is how the baby t-rexes were introduced.
  • The Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoons
    • "Scaredy Cat". In the scene where a group of killer mice have Porky bound, gagged, and on his way to be decapitated, large shadows of the mice (with one carrying an executioner's axe) appear on the wall.
    • Early in "Claws For Alarm", Sylvester is terrified by a gigantic shadow belonging to a tiny spider.
    • The opening of What's Opera, Doc?, where the muscular shadow commanding the elements belongs to Elmer Fudd in an ill-fitting armor.
    • In "Bye, Bye Bluebeard", a mouse tries to convince Porky he's a hatchet-wielding serial killer. At one point his shadow looms, large and menacing, on a wall.
    • In "Porky's Movie Mystery" we see a shadow of presumably a giant muscular police officer interrogating and threatening Frankenstein's Monster, it turns out to be a very small police officer.
    • At the beginning of "We The Animals Squeak" it shows a younger Kansas City Kitty's shadow and she appears to be a large and menacing cat that frightens away a gang of rats, then it turns out she was a very small kitten.
    • A decade before "What's Opera, Doc?" we have the Fantasia parody, "A Corny Concerto", which begins with the silhouette of a tall, strapping figure stepping up to a podium in a fashion similar to Leopold Stokowski, only to be revealed to be Elmer Fudd in a suit that seems to hang off of him like a set of drapes.
  • Futurama with Nibbler in the episode I Second That Emotion. Immediately subverted: scary-shadowed Nibbler is followed by an actual giant monster.
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius: Subverted in one episode where they're camping - we see the shadow, and it turns out to be a squirrel. Then we see the bear who's really casting the shadow.
  • Scooby-Doo sometimes plays this straight, but an interesting variation was in the classic episode "Mine Your Own Business," when as a plot to scare the old Miner '49er into a trap, the Miner runs when he sees and hears what appears to be a train approaching, but is revealed to actually be Shaggy making train noises while Scooby ran down the tracks with a flashlight and speaker Shaggy's train imitations were coming out of.
  • Mr. Mind in Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
  • Mr. Big, a villain on Rocky and Bullwinkle, appeared as an enormous shadow on the wall for several episodes before finally being revealed to be smaller than Rocky.
    • For all Big's tiny size, the villains, including Fearless Leader, are still scared of him.
    • The Beetlejuice cartoon also had a gangster named Mr. Big who initially appeared as an ominous looming shadow before turning out to be a midget.
  • One of the Shadow Discretion Shot examples was the first appearance of Momo in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Huge shadow. Little bat-eared flying lemur.
  • The Angry Beavers - the beavers and their sentient, yet visibly nonmoving, tree stump get trapped in a cave and try to find a way out. Along the way they encounter the shadow of what appears to be a giant shadow of a frilled dinosaur. Cowering in fear, they are relieved that its just a small lizard - with a frill taped to its back. The lizard then proceeds to attack and bite the Butt-Monkey Dagett, whose grip never lets go even after the end of the episode.
  • The Wild Thornberrys - Done deliberately by Eliza Thornberry, who uses her shadow puppet skills to cast a lion shadow to frighten away the wild hyenas mauling the friendly, domesticated hyena she released earlier.
  • Both played straight and terrifyingly subverted in the 1990s version of X-Men when the Ultimate Sentinel Nimrod - a robot that would give a Terminator nightmares - shows up. We see the massive shadow on the wall as Bishop yells "Oh, no! It's Nimrod!" — when a man-sized, pink robot appears, and everyone breathes a slight sigh of relief... which disappears completely as Nimrod then promptly proceeds to beat everyone present like a red-haired stepchild.
  • Catscratch: Waffles runs away from home and tries to live life on the streets as a dog. Seeking shelter he sees an ominous shadow against some flames: "Who dares enter the sanctity of my domain? Name yourself!" Waffle: "W-W-Waffle. Wh-who are you?" Dark Shadow: "History has given me many names. You may call me...(Shrimpy dog arrives) Barkmeat."
  • In Pippi Longstocking, two crooks see Mr. Nilsson's oversized shadow at Pippi's window, and mistake it for that of a large, formidable man. Mr. Nilsson is, of course, a small monkey. Unlike most examples above, the audience is in on the joke.
  • Jerry's magician uncle at the very beginning of "The Haunted Mouse."
  • The first appearance of Lloyd Garmadon in Ninjago uses this trope, causing the Ninja to initially believe that his evil father, Lord Garmadon, had come to terrorise Jamanakai Village.
  • Used in Wakfu with a monkey worshipped by a Wacky Wayside Tribe.
  • Gravity Falls uses this in "The Hand that Rocks the Mabel", when the mysterious psychic Gideon is seen as a huge shadow standing behind a curtain, but turns out to be a little kid no taller than Dipper (and that's only counting his hair).
  • In The Smurfs episode "The Smurf Who Would Be King", the Norf Nags are Smurf-sized creatures that cast giant shadows to make themselves big and fearsome in order to scare the Pookies into delivering them more jewels from the mines.
  • The Owl House: King's introduction. There's quaking footsteps and a big monstrous shadow is cast on the wall… then the diminutive King emerges, wearing bath towels and clutching a rubber duck.
  • The opening of the Animated Adaptation of Iznogoud shows a large, menacing shadowy figure climbing the steps of the sultan's (yes, he's a caliph in the comics, but a sultan in the cartoon) palace while a voice says 'Good... Good... Good'. Then when it reaches the top, it is finally shown that the figure is actually the short but menacing titular Grand Vizier, and the voice finishes by saying 'Iz No Goud'.


Video Example(s):


"Crusher, attack!"

On Mischief Night, the boys run from what they expect is some kind of big mean dog, until it catches up to them...

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