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Narrative Shapeshifting

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An Intellectual Animal in a cartoon just saw something strange land in the cornfields. It is something beyond description. The animal wants to tell his owners about the dangerous thing he just saw. Unfortunately, he can't talk. So how does he convey what he saw? He alters his physical appearance to resemble the strange thing he just saw.

It's a form of Voluntary Shapeshifting in which one character changes his appearance to tell a story or warn of a danger, especially if that character cannot speak or has trouble speaking. It could be especially jarring if the character shows no signs of being able to shapeshift in any other time.

The character does not have to be The Speechless in order to invoke this trope, and may indeed combine shapeshifting with spoken dialogue to get the idea of the story he is telling across.

A minor variation is when a speechless character attempts to warn the others of the impending danger by playing a nice game of charades.

Compare Metaphoric Metamorphosis, which is when a character morphs into a Visual Pun or other imagery to convey a particular emotion or trait.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Pokémon: The Series: Ash's Pikachu has pulled on its face to imitate humans and other Pokemon on occasion.
  • The opening credits of My Neighbor Totoro.
  • Despite not being mute (quite the contrary), Mako in Kill la Kill turns into several other characters and things during her crazy monologues that happen Once an Episode.
  • Pompo: The Cinéphile has the titular Pompo briefly inflating herself like a balloon while explaining to her assistant that she hates movies that are too long and bloated. It comes off as a bit of a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment since the film is fairly realistic in its setting and characters, with no overly cartoony or animesque tropes.

  • In Enchanted, Pip the chipmunk can't speak outside the fairy tale world, so he tries using charades to warn Prince Edward that Nathaniel is planning to poison Giselle with an apple. It doesn't work; Edward just thinks the chipmunk is praising his greatness.
  • In The Little Mermaid, as Flounder tells King Triton where he and Ariel have been, he briefly turns into a seagull when he comes to the part when they talk to Scuttle.
  • In The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, when Mindy talks about the "cyclops" to SpongeBob and Patrick, her eyes merge into one big eye.
  • Abu and Iago do this in Aladdin.
    • The Genie does this liberally as well.
  • In Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, Jaq and Gus do this while explaining to Cinderella that her stepmother stole the Fairy Godmother's magic wand.
  • Olaf's Frozen Adventure: Sven is trying to convey to Kristoff that Olaf is missing and surrounded by wolves, but the message isn't getting through, so Sven resorts to this instead, complete with turning into a snowman shape and growing one huge tooth for the parts Olaf was involved in.

  • Greg Egan included a subtle and rare literary example in his Orthogonal trilogy. One application of the Starfish Aliens' Voluntary Shapeshifting ability is that they write by raising shaped ridges on their skin, then dusting their skin with dye and pressing it to paper for posterity, like a stamp. But when characters can't hear each other, either because the environment is too noisy or because they are in the silent vacuum of space, they can also communicate by "writing" notes on their skin for others to read.

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 
  • In RWBY, after learning new information on Salem's plan, Cinder decides to prioritize her mission over Neo's revenge. This upsets the mute Neo, who uses her Semblance to take on Ruby's appearance and tell Cinder she doesn't care for the change of plans.

    Western Animation 
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog: Courage would often do this to warn Eustace and Muriel of the Monster of the Week.
    • In one episode, Muriel doesn't understand what he's trying to warn her about since she can't "hear" him without her glasses on.
  • A Pup Named Scooby-Doo: Scooby would also do this to tell the others about the monster.
    • The other incarnations of Scooby-Doo may have done this to some degree, but not as much.
  • In Doug, Porkchop briefly turns the same color as Mr. Dink and replicates his laugh to suggest to Doug that they visit Mr. Dink for assistance.
  • Tom and Jerry:
    • In "Of Feline Bondage", Jerry uses this trope to tell his fairy godmother about his cat troubles.
    • The older cartoon, "The Flying Cat", has Jerry do this when attempting to describe that there's a... what it says on the title... to his canary pal.
  • A Simpsons short on The Tracey Ullman Show had Maggie briefly turn into Bart in order to convey the idea "Bart stole the cookies."
  • Doom Kitty in Ruby Gloom uses her extremely thin, flexible and strong tail to make shapes - not strictly shapeshifting, but it does alter her appearance after a fashion. Of course, only Ruby can understand her.
  • In the South Park episode "Up the Down Steroid", Timmy attempts to tell Mr. Mackey about Jimmy using steroids, but doesn't have much luck since all he can say is "Timmy" and "Jimmy". So he mimics Jimmy shooting up and then getting all muscular, but Mr. Mackey still doesn't get it.
    • In "A Very Crappy Christmas", Stan is told to fill in for Cartman for the boys' cartoon. When imitating Cartman, Stan briefly gains his double-chin.
  • Baby Beaker in Muppet Babies (1984), explaining his fear of the monster under his bed to the other babies (since, like Adult Beaker, all he can say is "Meep!").
  • Slimer does this a few times in The Real Ghostbusters, especially when he gained a more prominent place.
  • Robin in Teen Titans Go! is really good at mimicking other characters. He mimics Batman, Beast Boy, Cyborg, Starfire, and Raven at one point or another, taking on their general shape while doing their best impressions of those characters.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In "The Camping Episode", Squidward gains SpongeBob's eyelashes and buck teeth when imitating his laugh.
    • In "Rock Bottom", SpongeBob makes himself look like his grandfather, complete with a walker, while quoting him.
      Spongebob: I guess Grandpa Squarepants was right. Never run for a bus. " Especially one that's going up at a 90-degree angle!"
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In "The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone", Rainbow Dash does an imitation of Twilight and her hairstyle briefly straightens up to match her's.
    • In "Celestial Advice", Spike quotes some advice from Rarity and, in addition to imitating her Mid-Atlantic accent, briefly slicks back his scales to resemble her trademark mane-style.
    • In "Rock Solid Friendship", Pinkie Pie briefly imitates Maud's mane and deadpan expression while quoting her.
  • Justified in Beetlejuice, as Beetlejuice shapeshifts on a regular basis anyway.
  • In the Mike, Lu & Og episode "Repeat After Me", parrot Skipper repeats Mike's comments about Og's "dorky hairdo" while his head feathers take on said do.
  • Looney Tunes:
  • The Warden in Superjail! shapeshifts often, though only to emphasize his talking points.
  • Tom Terrific was able to shapeshift into whatever a situation would call for and he'd always have that hair curl and funnel on his head.
  • Classic Disney Shorts: In the 1934 short Orphans' Benefit, Donald Duck loses his temper and shouts Jimmy Durante's catchphrase "Am I mortified!", complete with his bill taking on the shape of Durante's trademark schnozzle. This doesn't occur in the 1941 remake, however.


Video Example(s):


Mario acts out the begining

Mario flawlessly acts out saving Toadstool from Bowser, being kicked out of the castle, and the bridge collapsing, so the chandler knows what happened to the princess.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (24 votes)

Example of:

Main / NarrativeShapeshifting

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