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Expressive Ears

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Judy Hopps: I'm fine.
Bonnie Hopps: You are not fine, your ears are droopy.

Exactly What It Says on the Tin: A character's ears are used to express his or her emotions.

An animation convention, similar to Cartoony Eyes or Disembodied Eyebrows.

Unlike its cousin tropes, Expressive Hair (in most cases) and Expressive Mask, this trope actually leans toward being realistic because this is one way many animals in Real Life communicate their feelings. This obviously doesn't apply to human ears, though, so it's guaranteed all of the characters who use this trope are Not Quite Human. In many animated series, characters that have ears on top of their heads will often sport hats or helmets that allow them to stick through (barring Fridge Logic of not being able to hear otherwise). This trope is probably part of the reason why.

Compare Unusual Ears.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Elves and other long-eared folk, or even folk with anything approximating long ears, in anime often have expressive ears. It's rare for a long-eared character not to have Expressive Ears.
  • All Catians in Cat Planet Cuties have this as well as expressive tails. They do things like perk up when excited and droop down when sad or disappointed.
  • Any of the elves from Delicious in Dungeon. Marcille in particular.
  • Culumon on Digimon Tamers has rather large ears that somehow retract when he's sad, scared, or lonely. In contrast, they pop out when he's happy.
  • A variant in early anime film Momotaro's Sea Eagles. A rabbit signalman on the aircraft carrier doesn't need semaphore flags, because he can signal with his ears!
  • Aisha Clan-Clan in Outlaw Star has large ears that twitch when she hears something interesting or gets excited and droop when she's sad, as appropriate for a Cat Girl.
  • Many Pokémon in Pokémon: The Series have expressive ears, including Pikachu and Meowth, which they use to communicate to others of what they're feeling.
  • Deedlit from Record of Lodoss War is an elf with very long, tapered Pointy Ears, and in the anime adaptations she frequently wiggles them to express stronger emotions.
  • Lulla has these on Suzy's Zoo: Daisuki! Witzy. She's a stuffed rabbit, but all of the stuffed characters on the series generally behave fully anthropomorphically.
  • In Utawarerumono, the people have expressive tails as well as expressive ears.

    Asian Animation 
  • Noonbory and the Super 7
    • Sometimes, Jetybory's ears fall into this; flapping (and allowing her to fly) when she's excited, and twisting when she hears something bad.
    • A variation; the head leaves Totobory uses as taste receptors also move around in different ways depending on his emotions, such as drooping down when he is sad and sticking straight up to indicate surprise.

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
  • Garfield will sometimes lay his ears back when he's angry, when he's frightened, or when he's groggy in the morning and hasn't had his coffee yet.
  • Similarly, in Peanuts, Snoopy's ears rise when he is startled or receives good news. In one strip from The '50s, Schroeder was listening to music on the radio, and Snoopy made a square with his ears.
  • Dogbert from Dilbert has ears that fly up sometimes.

    Fan Works 
  • In I've Got Your Back, Pearl's ears twitch and move around at the slightest stimulation. She's not proud of them, but Marina is fascinated by them.

    Films — Animation 
  • The title character of Shrek has green ears that go downwards when he's unhappy and perk upwards if excited.
  • Disney uses the trope a lot, especially for rabbits (Bambi) and elephants (Dumbo, Tarzan).
    • Stitch from Lilo & Stitch.
    • The Beast has these in Beauty and the Beast.
    • Kenai and Koda have them in Brother Bear.
    • Human example: Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
    • All the animals in Bambi, Bambi and Thumper in particular.
    • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: Roo does it when he's sad. Piglet can do it, too. In My Friends Tigger & Pooh, there's also Holly, a young reindeer.
    • Zootopia:
      • Judy, who is a rabbit, has ears that go down when she's sad or annoyed while staying straight up when she's happy. The same can be seen with the other animals. The supplementary book Zootopia: The Essential Guide notes that Judy's mother, Bonnie, can always tell if her children feel bad by the way their ears droop.
      • Nick the fox's ears droop a little if he's nervous, as seen when in when he gets caught loitering in Mr. Big's car.
    • While it's more subtle than typical examples in The Lion King (2019), given the nature of the film, but ears do indicate emotions and moods in certain cases, including the lions.
    • It's also used in the original. When Mufasa says that he has to teach Simba a lesson, he crouches down and pins his ears back, frowning. When Mufasa calls his name to call him over, he winces and his ears pin back even further.
  • Fievel in An American Tail, whose ears go down when he's sad and up when he's alert. There's also a couple of scenes in which he shifts them around to try to listen for his father's violin. They're forced down whenever he wears his iconic hat though.
  • Horton in Horton Hears a Who! (2008) Sour Kangaroo displays this as well, when the animals of Nool isolated her.
  • Rémy of Ratatouille, has this in spades, even though his behaviors and mannerisms are slowly becoming more human.
  • Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon.
  • Most ears in Kung Fu Panda are quite expressive, but especially Shifu's, perhaps because his are the size of small satellite dishes; they twitch when he's irritated and lie flat on his head when he's afraid or upset.
  • Unsurprisingly, a good portion of the animal characters in The Secret Life of Pets have them, given that even though we see them speaking to each other and doing human-like things, they still often behave like real pets.
  • When Queen Elinor in Brave is turned into a bear, she gains a lovely pair of expressive ears. Which is rather helpful, as she can no longer speak intelligibly, instead making various bear noises when she tries.
  • Turning Red: When Meilin Lee is in her red panda form, you can tell her general emotional state (happy, sad, angry, scared, etc.) just by watching her ears. Her eyebrows occasionally get in on the action too.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Na'vi in Avatar are another example.
  • In Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and Godzilla: Final Wars, King Seesar's ears would perk up whenever he was excited or surprised.
  • The Empire Strikes Back: When Luke manages to lift the X-Wing fighter partly out of the swamp, Yoda's ears rise slightly in awe. When Luke fails to lift it all the way out, Yoda's ears droop down.
  • Sloth from The Goonies can wiggle his ears.
  • Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.
  • In Hop, E.B.'s ears are very expressive. His dad's, not so much, perhaps as a distinction between the two.
  • Barf the mog from Spaceballs.
  • Laurel and Hardy: In A Chump at Oxford, Stan Laurel in his persona as Lord Paddington is able to wiggle his ears whenever he gets mad. It's still a pretty convincing effect, by the way.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Roger Rabbit's ears are all over the place.
  • In Peter Rabbit, all of the rabbits have them.
  • Gremlins: The Gremlins and Mogwai have very large, expressive ears that are often used to display their mood, like pulling their ears back when startled. They can also swivel them in any direction to better detect sounds, so it's difficult to sneak up on them.

  • In the Animal Antics A to Z picture books, Jeremy Jackrabbit has these. Possibly other characters too.
  • Eo from Argo has unusually expressive ears for an android.
  • Canim (giant wolfmen) have this in Codex Alera. They quiver when the Canim in question is amused and the 'tell' that a Canim has been Taken by the Vord is that their ears don't look right (with Alerans, the tell is that there's something wrong with their eyes).
  • This Disney picture book called Disney Bunnies: All Ears makes special point of this in relation to the ears of Thumper from Bambi. In fact, the book can basically be described as "Expressive Ears: the interactive version," as the text describes various moods of Thumper and indicates for the reader to move the fuzzy ears attached to the top of the book to match those moods.
    The bee didn't stay and play. When I am sad, my ears are sad, too. Can you make them lie back?
  • In Fire Engine By Mistake, a factory foreman Mr Billings can wiggle his ears, but does not like anyone seeing him doing it at work.
  • Maia, the elf/goblin emperor of The Goblin Emperor, keeps his ears (which would stick out horizontally, if the cover illustration can be believed) down so as to appear calm and in control. He also pays attention to his posture and his breathing. He is (at least provisionally,) Emperor of the Elves, who value self control and dignity.
  • Hopper, the grumpy bunny of the Grumpy Bunny books, has these. The narrative text even notes that they perk up when he hears the name of his crush, Lillac, the music teacher.
  • The ears of the fey in Heralds Of Rhimn contribute to their emotional expressions. Meparik admits that he has trouble reading human emotions since their ears are “useless.”
  • Seen on the title character in Anna Dewdney's Llama Llama picture books. Netflix's trailer for the animated show depicts him dropping ears, pinned back against head, when Mama Llama announces a shopping trip.
  • The Laundry Files (by Charles Stross): In The Nightmare Stacks, 'Cassie' decides to drop her glamor when going to meet the parents of Alex Schwartz (she's worried they might be powerful sorcerers who see past it). Fortunately the parents are quite mundane and far too distracted by Alex's sister marrying a transgender boy/girlfriend to pay much attention to Alex's quirky cosplaying girlfriend, but Alex's sister wants to know if her cosplay ears are a Japanese invention that responds to brainwaves, because they keep moving according to her mood. Alex on the other hand finally tumbles to what should have been obvious all along, glamor or no.
  • In the novel Prolecto, it's Lampshaded. The Succubi wonder how people got along WITHOUT expressive ears!
  • Matt Stover's novelization of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith makes several references to Master Yoda's ears moving in tune with his moods. "He curled his ears at Anakin." While this novel is now part of Star Wars Legends, the canon novel Dark Disciple also references Yoda using his ears to express his moods.
  • The orcs in The Sorceress's Orc have this kind of ears. Their ears are often the only sign that they are angry, as they pride themselves on superior self-control (and would also not be well-advised to display any anger towards humans, due to Fantastic Racism against orcs)
  • Holo from Spice and Wolf, whose ears twitch when she hears something interesting and sag when she is feeling sad.
  • The Hrdani in The War Gods series have large, fox-like ears. These are frequently described as twitching comically, or standing to attention, or going back with fury, or otherwise demonstrating the owner's emotions.
  • Ogier in The Wheel of Time.
    • Lampshaded several times by Perrin (after he becomes a wolf-brother) in his POV he mentions his ears trying to lay back in emotional high stress moments.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek:
  • Spitting Image: Prince Charles' puppet was able to wiggle his ears separately.
  • The Mandalorian: The Child, an infant from the same species as Yoda, has wide ears that communicate his mood. They're upright when he's happy and droop if he gets sad or scared.
  • Sweet Tooth: Being half deer, Gus' ears rarely stop moving. In one episode, he had stop twitching and swiveling them in order to fool people into thinking he's wearing an Animal-Eared Headband. It doesn't work very well.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Space 1889: Martian ears express their mood.
  • The Traveller Adventure: Vargr [bipedal wolf] characters were shown as having Expressive Ears, including flattening the ears against the skull when afraid.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, a number of monster races have this, depending on how much focus the writer puts on them other than "Kill them and take their stuff." Goblinoids are a common example.

    Video Games 
  • Blood Elves, Night Elves, and Trolls in World of Warcraft do this with the emote system: if they're sad or scared, their ears will droop, and when they cast spells in general, their ears wiggle along with the casting animation.
  • Laharl and Etna's ears from Disgaea: Hour of Darkness change with their mood.
  • Luigi's ears droop in Luigi's Mansion 3 when low on health.
  • Ratchet & Clank likes to make use of this trope. The first game in particular features a lot of ear movement, as Ratchet is essentially the Lombax equivalent of a moody teenager; later games tone it down, though his ears will still droop if he's low on health or otherwise in a particularly negative mood.
  • The Asura in Guild Wars 2 even shrug with their ears.
  • Raven's ears in Tales of Vesperia wiggle when he lies.
  • In Sonic Heroes, Rouge the Bat's ears droop slightly as she trails off from telling Omega, who's on a mission to destroy all other Eggman robots, that Shadow is one of them.
  • QP in QP Shooting has this trait, being a dog-girl and all. They'll droop whenever she's feeling down, as shown in Dangerous!!.
  • In Star Fox: Assault, after Tricky casually suggests Fox to come with Krystal to his home for a honeymoon, his ears take some time to wiggle in shock when he realizes what he just said.
  • In Odin Sphere, Cornelius, the Pooka Prince, has these in his pooka form. Possibly other pooka as well, though it's only ever really seen with him.
  • In Final Fantasy XIV, some emotes for the Miqo'te have them move their ears in a similar fashion to cats, twitching slightly when pleased and folding back when downtrodden or scared.
  • At one point in Fairy Fencer F, Lola offers the party Dorfa brand bunny ears, which you can wiggle using your brainwaves. As it turns out, Ethel already owns a pair.
  • RemiLore: Lost Girl in the Lands of Lore: Lore's ears are located in the top corners of his front cover. They droop down when he's unhappy.
  • Grim Fandango: Glottis' small ears wiggle when he's excited, scared or he has an idea.
  • In Xenoblade Chronicles, Nia and Mio have their cat-like ears change with their faces.

    Web Animation 

  • The angels in Misfile, particularly Rumisiel.
  • Frequent for any long-eared characters appearing in Awkward Zombie.
  • Lackadaisy is a webcomic where the creator received several awards based off the expressions of her anthropomorphic cats.
  • In Drowtales the elven races have expressive ears, as seen in the first and third panel.
  • Corner Alley 13 demonstrates this regarding elves.
  • In Roommates: Misto (he is a cat or a Cat Folk) and Jareth (He is a Fair Folk in this fanwork but it's not clear yet if this is a family trait or not).
  • Many characters in Precocious, but of the main characters Autumn's "mood ears" are the most versatile.
  • In Concession, Clive's ears hang down, while his alternate personality Ernest's ears stick up.
  • In Commander Kitty, it's to be expected in a Galaxy of Funny Animals, and pretty much embodied by Mood-Swinger Zenith and her long, rabbit-like ears.
  • Florence from Freefall, although sometimes it can be hard to tell if she changes angles between scenes.
  • Marena from Keychain of Creation has very expressive fox ears as part of her Tell.
  • In El Goonish Shive, when Sarah is experimenting with furry morphs, her cat ears reflect her mood by drooping and even wiggling.
  • In tinyraygun, both Nepta and her alien "pet" Doppler have long and expressive ears that show their mood.
  • Members of species X from DNA have very large ears that can show their emotions.
  • In Prezleek Comics, Prez's Helm of Neitiznot serves this function, with the wing attachments drooping when he's nervous or annoyed.
  • In Yokoka's Quest, Yokoka in cat form is especially emotive, with her ears changing along with her expression almost every other panel. Many of the other animal characters follow suit to a lesser degree, as do Yokoka and Mao in their cat person forms.
  • Dregs: Coney's fake rabbit ears droop when he's unhappy.
  • Aurora (2019): One of the main characters, Alinua, is an elf whose pointy ears droop or lift depending on her emotional state.
  • The Whiteboard: Especially applies to species with large triangular ears: foxes, lynxes, dogs, to lesser degree raccoons and housecats; lagomorphs too, but their ears prove somewhat unwieldy. Swampy and Sandy are prime examples as foxes with most screen time.
  • Common among appropriately equipped characters in Kevin & Kell. Kevin (a rabbit) and several fennec fox characters, most notably Fiona, have been seen using their ears for semaphore. Kevin can also use his to make shapes like hearts or Teletubby top-of-head shapes.
  • Out-of-Placers: Yinglets have very large 'rabitish' ears and show the standard pattern of upright ears when alert or cheery, pinned back when scared or angry, etc.
  • Beyond the End: Roman and Cain both have these, with their ears drooping and perking up with their emotions.

    Web Original 
  • Ruby Quest: As she's an anthro rabbit, Ruby's ears droop whenever she's shocked or upset.
  • Inugami Korone of ''hololive is a dog person and has rigged her model to move her ears when she's surprised.

    Western Animation 
  • Bugs Bunny's ears do this. So do Wile E. Coyote's ears.
  • Orko from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) has been shown to have his ears droop down when sad.
  • Toothless in the film of How to Train Your Dragon has ear-like projections that serve the same function.
  • The ponies of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic have these.
  • Everyone in the Watterson family (except Darwin) has these in The Amazing World of Gumball.
  • Next to his eyes, Gromit's ears are his most expressive feature. It's also seen on some of the characters in the Aardman productions Shaun the Sheep and Timmy Time.
  • Pluto the Pup has expressive ears. Goofy, however, seems to have lost that ability.
  • Rabbit on Franklin will generally droop his ears when he's sad about something. Snail also these little ear-stalks that will droop when he's sad. Fox can do it too, though it is nearly as noticeable or common. Moose as well, though he's only seen in one episode of the TV show and a smattering of the original books.
  • Used with Rabbit and possibly Mouse as well on My Friend Rabbit.
  • Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Slaver Weapon". The Kzinti (cat-like humanoid aliens) lay their ears back when angry.
  • The Nutbrown Hares on Guess How Much I Love You: The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare both express emotions through their ears, though it's generally much more noticeable with Little Nutbrown Hare, whose moods, as a youngster, shift much more frequently. Some of the other characters can do it, too. In later episodes, Little Field Mouse is sufficiently sensitive to Little Nutbrown Hare's moods and ears that he's able to tell when Little Nutbrown Hare is getting a good idea just by watching his ears.
  • Sometimes seen with Buster on Arthur. Lamp Shaded in the teaser of "Arthur's New Glasses" in which his ears are in a continuously droopy state and Muffy thinks that he's sad, but he keeps insisting there's nothing wrong.
  • Skip the rabbit on Wild Animal Baby Explorers has ears that he can droop and move about. It's sort of Lamp Shaded when the characters are observing real horses and he notes that they can move their ears, just like he can.
  • Occasionally seen on the Piplings, the main characters of Waybuloo, a preschool-targeted series aired on CBeebies in the United Kingdom and Treehouse TV in Canada.
  • Dinky, a fully anthropomorphic elephant on the stop-motion Disney series JoJo's Circus, has these.
  • Beast Boy from Teen Titans (2003) has pointy ears that flip downward when he's upset.
  • Seen on the characters, all anthropomorphic cats, of TOTO (This One and That One), a short-form series presented on-demand on Kabillion on some U.S. cable/satellite providers. The series can also be watched officially and for free on YouTube.
  • Timothy has them on Timothy Goes to School. His ears can pin all the way down (which isn't too much since they're pretty short) when he's really sad about something. Yoko exhibits this too and possibly some of the other characters as well.
  • Yakko Wakko and Dot from Animaniacs raise their ears when listening to something, they droop when they're sad, they also point straight up when they are aroused, shocked, or frightened.
  • On Peter Rabbit, this is seen on occasion. In "The Tale of the Angry Cat," when Peter tells Cottontail that it's way too dangerous for him to catapult her into Mr. McGregor's garden, her ears droop straight down and she cries.
  • On Peg + Cat, Cat has them; they can get quite droopy when he's sad about something.
  • In the Leap Frog Scout and Friends videos, Penny certainly has them. Possibly some of the others as well.
  • On Star Wars Rebels, Garazeb Orrelios has them. Likely a trait of the Lasat species. Cikatro Vizago has them too.
  • On Guess with Jess, Jess has these, as well as several of his friends.
  • In the 2003 Strawberry Shortcake, Honey Pie Pony has these, and the other fillies. Pupcake has them too.
  • On Max and Ruby, they are most likely to be seen on Max.
  • Zou the zebra has these on Zou. Possibly the other characters too, as they're all zebras.
  • These are seen on Pickles the bunny in "Bunny Blues" from Doc McStuffins and on the toy bear doctor Tundra in "McStuffins School of Medicine." Also, Stuffy, a stuffed dragon, has these antenna-like things that can get rather droopy when he's sad about something. These are also seen on the Karate Kangaroos, Angus and Sydney.
  • Toot & Puddle has an unusual type— if Toot's ears wiggle, it may mean that snow is on the way. Also, most of the pigs, and possibly other characters are shown demonstrating it more normally in the special I'll Be Home for Christmas.
  • The bunny Mim-Mim has these on Kate & Mim-Mim when in his anthropomorphic form in Mimiloo.
  • On Care Bears & Cousins, Lottie's elephant ears fold inwards towards her head when she's upset or bashful about something. If happy or excited, they expand all the way out or even perk back a bit.
  • Kaeloo: Sometimes when Mr. Cat is annoyed, one of his ears may move down. When he is sad, both ears may move flat against his head. Almost any time he has an Oh, Crap! moment, both of his ears move all the way down.
  • On ToddWorld, Sophie has no ears, but two large pigtails in the position where the ears would be and which essentially serve the same function.
  • On the Amazon animated series of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Mouse's ears are very expressive of his moods, particularly dropping about halfway when sad or bothered by something, but perking back up when he's excited or happy.
  • Though not common on The Lion Guard, these are occasionally seen on characters where it is appropriate from a real-life animal sense, such as Dhahabu the zebra in "The Golden Zebra."
  • On Babar and the Adventures of Badou, Jake the fox kit has these - in particular, his ears will pin all the way back when he's scared.
  • On Olivia, certainly Olivia has these; her ears noticeably droop when she's upset about something. All of the other characters are anthropomorphic pigs too, but it doesn't really seem to be very noticeable with them, possibly because of Olivia being the lead.
  • Moose A. Moose (former mascot of Nick Jr. and seen in the shorts Moose and Zee) doesn't actually have visible ears, but has antlers sticking out of where the ears would be that function in the exact same way. It can be seen in this promo in which he realizes he doesn't know what sound a hedgehog makes.
  • As portrayed on DC Super Hero Girls, Batgirl has these both on her costume's cowl and in the bat-themed hoodie she wears as Barbara Gordon.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power:
    • Catra's long feline ears move around to reflect her emotional state.
    • Hordak's long bat-like ears droop during moments of physical pain or sadness.
  • On Chip and Potato, Chip's ears will droop when sad.
  • The titular character of the PBS Kids Go! animated series. FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman has his ears go up when he's excited or his ears droop when he's sad or nervous
  • Depending on the Artist, All of the characters in Bluey has these.
  • Jay Jay from Jay Jay the Jet Plane; when excited his wings rise upward; when he's sad his wings droop.
  • 101 Dalmatians: The Series: The dogs' ears droop when they are upset about something.
  • Elinor Wonders Why:
    • In "Colorful and Tasty," Ari's ears droop when Elinor tells him that he can't have a cupcake because they're supposed to be selling them to their friends.
    • Discussed in "No Need to Shout." Upon hearing that Elinor has lost her voice from practicing a a song too much, Mr Dog's ears droop. Olive points it out, asking if he's sad for Elinor. He says that his ears do show how he's feeling and that he doesn't feel sad, but he does understand how he feels because dogs are very empathetic. Olive says that everyone knows how he's feeling because they see his tail and his ears.
  • Rayla from the The Dragon Prince is able to move her ears, though on a far less drastic scale than most other examples. At the end of the episode 'Heroes And Masterminds', if one looks closely at Rayla as she is watching Callum explain her bravery and good heart to Nyx, one can see her ears lower in bewilderment(and possibly humbleness) just a tiny bit.
  • A few characters in Blue's Clues and Blue's Clues & You! have these, particularly Blue herself.

    Real Life 
  • Ear movements and positioning can be key in reading the body language of dogs, rabbits, horses and cats. Possibly other animals as well. Humans have the same muscles — a group called the auriculares — around the ear lobes that other mammals do, but they're vestigial, and normally too weak to move the ear as obviously as in other mammals, though some people are able to move their ears freely, most likely through a combination of genetics and training of the muscles.
  • Dumbo Octopi don't have ears, but they are named for fins that look like the famous elephant's ears, and not only do they use these fins for locomotion but also to express state of mind.
  • Apparently, Japanese inventors have managed to replicate these in real life. These have apparently become a rather popular product for cosplay.
  • Some people wiggle their ears when they wiggle their eyebrows, meaning if they're expressing an emotion with their eyes it might also show up in the ears. Much less extreme than other examples, though.


Video Example(s):


They Laughed at Me

Little Nutbrown Hare's friends all laugh after he falls skating. They think it's funny and he claims to agree, but you can tell by his ears that he doesn't really think so. But they perk back up after his father promises to help him.

How well does it match the trope?

4.83 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / ExpressiveEars

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