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Impossible Shadow Puppets

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Dear Strong Bad, how do you make shadow puppets with boxing gloves on?

Shadow puppets are a fun manipulation of light, shadow, and one's body parts (generally hands) to create images that are unexpected given the standard human body design. However interesting they are, there's only a limited number of times you can show "doggy, deformed rabbit, hand-shaped cactus" before it gets old.

Not with this trope.

With Impossible Shadow Puppets, a character makes a shadow of something else that is clearly not possible to create using only one's hands or body, or a normal sillhouette. For maximum effect, this is usually preceded by several more plausible shadows.

Compare Scary Shadow Fakeout.


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  • A commercial for Nationwide Insurance has the Nationwide sales rep doing shadow puppets to illustrate the company's policies to a client. The shadows become more and more improbable, even adding a third hand... at the end of the commercial the insurance agent is shown having three arms.
  • A Cartoon Network VHS bumper featured Dee Dee from Dexter's Laboratory making shadow puppets against the Cartoon Network logo, culminating in her making a very detailed swinging monkey shadow with just one or two fingers.

    Anime and Manga 
  • A chapter opening image early in the Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple manga shows Shigure doing a shadow puppet of Apachai (who will be starting his tutoring of Kenichi) against a spotlight to scare Kenichi... And her hands look like she's just doing a dog or something.
  • Inverted in One Piece: Gekko Moria's Shadow Revolution allows him to manipulate shadows into any shape and, with it, the shadow's caster, as demonstrated when he turned the giant Oars into a Rubber Man and a giant ball.

    Asian Animation 
  • In the Simple Samosa episode "Dadi Ke Saath", Samosa's grandma makes a shadow puppet vaguely resembling a samosa as she tells her story about chewed-up foods living in the forest. The shadow puppet somehow has a pupil in its eye.

    Films — Animated 
  • At the end of Despicable Me, one of the Minions makes a perfect shadow puppet of Gru.
  • In Mulan, Cri-Kee makes a little shadow puppet of Mushu — especially impressive since he doesn't have fingers.
  • During the "B-Movie" musical number in The Brave Little Toaster, one appliance stands in front of a light and casts a shadow that quickly falls apart and becomes a flock of bats, leaving behind no shadow at all.
  • In Rugrats Go Wild!, Nigel Thornberry entertains the babies with a rendition of "Old MacDonald" that includes several exotic animals, with puppets for each. By the end, he's singing the Latin name of a single-celled organism, with a weird blob shadow to match.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • In Moving Pictures, Victor's uncle does (so he claims) "Lord Henry Skipps and his men versus the trolls at the battle of Pseudopolis" and mopes when nobody can guess it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The "Family Values" episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! starts with Teller doing shadow puppets on a wall. The last one is a shadow of a traditional American family, complete with two parents, two kids, and a dog.
  • An episode of Scrubs has the cast (in one of J.D.'s Imagine Spots) create an impressive naval battle out of shadow puppets.
    • Complete with a small human shape running along a ship, with visible tiny arms and legs, and at one point a giant alligator ("battleships are boring!")
  • One video from America's Funniest Home Videos once had a woman doing some impressive puppets, a dove, a peace sign, the Seattle skyline, and a 1980s Mustang. It was an illusion; the shadows were done using props by an off camera puppeteer.
  • One episode of Barney & Friends has Barney making a very realistic shadow puppet of a dog, despite the fact that, being a T. rex, he has only two fingers on each hand.
  • On Toast of London, Toast and his paramour make shadow puppet versions of Abraham Lincoln and the London Bridge using only their hands.
  • In the Odd Squad episode "Odd Squad in the Shadows", Omar encounters a group called the Shadow League, which is dedicated to making shadow puppets. He ends up becoming the leader of the group when he demonstrates his vast knowledge of shadow puppets, and Odin, the (presumed) former leader, challenges him to a shadow puppet duel for the leadership spot. The shadow puppets start off normal, with the two agents making things like bunnies and bats, but then they begin making things more complex, like human warriors and dragons. Later on, when attempting to distract Symmetric Alice from ruining the North Carolina agents' golf tournament, the four agents of the League make symmetrical puppets such as a beating heart, an arrow, and even the Taj Mahal, using only their hands. What's more, all of the shadow puppets seen in the episode aren't even made by the agents themselves — they're purely special effects.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin makes a shadow puppet which looks like, as Hobbes calls it, "a bug-eyed tentacled thing." Turns out it's the real thing, to the duo's horror.
  • Subverted in The Broons. The family have just watched a home movie and the children want to make shadow puppets in the light from the projector. The final shadow puppet is a remarkably realistic cat, which turns out to be made by a real cat that has just stolen the salmon that they were about to have for lunch.

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 


    Western Animation 
  • Near the end of The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Pest", Billy uses makes elaborate finger puppets with his Fingerless Hands to explain why he was bullying Anais.
  • Sid the Squid in Batman: The Animated Series once makes a squid shadow on the wall, using just his fingers.
  • In Batman: The Brave and the Bold's Animated Adaptation of Emperor Joker, at the beginning of "Where's the Fun in That?", a Bat-Signal appears, and suddenly a silhouette of the monstrous Joker devours the bat shape and sings, "Where's the Fun in That?" before the scene moves to the Joker on top of the beacon, using his fingers to mimic his monster form the whole time while he sings.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog: Courage sometimes does this; one episode even has a Living Shadow that "projects" itself to scare him.
  • In an episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy, Edd manages to create a highly detailed skeleton-creature shadow (and in one commercial, the Cartoon Network logo) with just his two hands. Ed manages to invert the trope; no matter what pose he puts his two hands into in front of the light, it just looks like his hand.
    Ed: I think it's broken, guys.
  • One episode of Futurama had Bender use his hands to make a Professor Farnsworth shadow puppet convincing enough to fool a sniper. Talented, but not that much of a stretch. He then used his circular feet to make shadow puppets of himself and Fry to match it.
  • Done on Jimmy Two-Shoes, when Jimmy needs to fight boredom.
  • Looney Tunes:
  • This was also used in the Mr. Bogus episode "Bad Luck Bogus", while Bogus is trying to figure out the problem for the power failure caused by his evil lookalike. The shadow puppets that he makes are a parrot, a chicken and a horse.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • For the talent portion of the pet contest in "May the Best Pet Win", one of the animals decided to do shadow puppets, ending with a figure of a galleon in full sail. For added hilarity, the animal that did it was a wasp.
    • During the transitions from Rarity's storytelling to the actual animated story segments in "Campfire Tales", she uses her hooves to depict the form of the character Mistmane, creating a full silhouette a walking pony despite — being a pony — not having any fingers. Her first demonstration takes the form of Twilight as a ballerina, the shadow even detaching itself from her offscreen hooves in a dancing leap.
  • This is one of the more benign skills of Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz on Phineas and Ferb.
  • In one episode of Rocko's Modern Life, Mr. Bighead does shadow puppets of the Thinker statue, a running deer and the Eiffel Tower. Much to his frustration, everyone else is way off on their guesses as to what he's making.
  • Scooby-Doo:
    • In one episode, Shaggy and Scooby entertain themselves by making shadow puppets, and the last one is the Monster of the Week.
    • In one episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, Don Adams is making and identifying shadow puppets of various insects as exterminator training for Shaggy and Scooby. When the last one appears:
      Shaggy: What's that?
      Don: I don't know. I'm not making it.
    • Similarly, an episode of What's New, Scooby-Doo? showed that Scooby is skilled at making shadow puppets. At one point, he makes Bugs Bunny, a dragon and Abraham Lincoln's head.
  • Happens more than once on The Simpsons.
    • In one episode, Lisa subconsciously makes a hand shadow of a California condor.
    • As part of a Villain Song in which he made full shadow impressions of various villains, Mr. Burns did hand shadows of Iago, The Joker, Voldemort and John McEnroe "on center court", even making the McEnroe shadow throw his racket and throw a tantrum.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Handemonium", shadow puppets portraying a brawl between a superhero and a dinosaur was cast by a brawl between Hans (the photorealistic arm from the theme song) and the hand that held the Chum Bucket's bail (now sentient and gone rogue).
  • In Steven Universe episode "Historical Friction", Jamie somehow managed to make a dolphin and a frowning face with both of his hands.
  • In The Super Hero Squad Show, Thor, stranded on the far side of the galaxy, decides to practice his shadow puppetry. He starts with a rabbit ("Fluffy"), a detailed wolf ("Fenrir") and concludes with an impossible dragon ("Fáfnir"). Having mastered shadow puppetry in seven seconds Thor then goes mad with boredom.
  • Titan Maximum: "Bunny, horsey, ducky, 10-speed bike, Eddie Van Halen, Titanic, Titanic sinking, scene from Titanic where Leo drew Kate."
  • Buzz Lightyear does this in the Toy Story Treats short "Shadow Play", creating shadows of an eagle flapping its wings, the American flag being hoisted up and a rocket blasting off.
  • VeggieTales in the House: In "Sorry, We're Closed Today", Junior and Laura, and then Ichabeezer, make shadow puppets on the walls in Pa Grape's store. Probably the most impossible example of all, since none of them have hands!
  • In the Ready Jet Go! episode “My Three Suns”, the kids learn how to make some very hard shadow puppets at the end of the episode.
  • The Dragon Tales episode "Cassie Catches Up" opens with Emmy making shadow puppets. Max tries making one of himself.
  • In the PAW Patrol episode "Pups Save a Robo-saurus", Rocky makes a fairly decent dinosaur shadow puppet out of only a roasted marshmallow.


Video Example(s):


Lassie Come Home

Porky gets his cats to leave the house by setting his dog Lassie (actually a shadow puppet) on them.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / ImpossibleShadowPuppets

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