Follow TV Tropes


No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me

Go To

Sweeney Todd: The years, no doubt, have changed me, sir. But I suppose the face of a barber...the face of a prisoner in the not particularly memorable.
Judge Turpin: Benjamin...Barker!
Sweeney Todd: BENJAMIN BARKER!!!
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, just before the title character's final vengeance.

This is a set-up where Alice reappears after a long absence disguised and/or changed by the passage of time and then reveals herself to Bob and other characters. Typically, she will be unrecognizable until she tells Bob to look closely, at which point her identity will be obvious. Whether Bob's reaction is pleased or horrified will depend on his relationship with Alice, although this trope is notably present in fiction dealing with revenge, particularly in plots where Alice Came Back with a Vengeance.

One specific case of this is Old Friend, New Gender. Compare Something Only They Would Say. Contrast Did You Get a New Haircut?, which is when a character is still recognized despite the drastic change in appearance. When removing a mask, it overlaps with a Dramatic Unmask.

Not to be confused with She Is All Grown Up, in which the person who's changed is usually still recognisable.

Unrelated to any changes No Doubt has made over the years.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • When Goku shows up for the tournament after the big timeskip in the original Dragon Ball, no one recognizes him because his hair's wrapped in a turban to protect from the rain. Krillin is also shocked at Goku's huge growth spurt.
  • An early episode of Fullmetal Alchemist (2003) has a mad alchemist trying to replace his "dead" love. Surprise! She's not dead, she's that old lady we've been seeing throughout the episode. When The Reveal finally comes along, he doesn't believe her because he's so caught up in his fantasy.
  • InuYasha: Inuyasha and Kikyo both knew Kaede prior to the former's sealing and the latter's death, when she was a child. Upon reuniting with her fifty years later, neither initially recognize her.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2016), while Link recognizes Darpa on sight, Darpa nearly puts an arrow through Link's skull before realizing who he is. Then he teases Link for getting "old" when he finally does.
  • How Kakashi recognizes Obito in Naruto.
  • In Speed Grapher, Suitengu's plans ultimately involve taking revenge on the man who sold him and his sister into slavery as children, and he pulls this on this man the Prime Minister of Japan at the end of the series.

    Comic Books 
  • See the Sin City example in film, as it was word-for-word (and shot-for-shot) for the comic that preceded it.
  • A graphic novel adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has Mr. Hyde comment to one of Jekyll's friends: "Do ye not recognise the face of Henry Jekyll?" - despite the fact that the two should be totally different people, as was in the original story.
    • Although in the original novel, the only physical differences described is that Hyde appears to be more youthful, shorter and crueler than Jekyll, implying they don't look radically different. In that way, Hyde's statement invokes the fact he's simply the dark reflection of Jekyll's inner-self.

    Fan Fiction 
  • When Jaune's family comes to Beacon in Professor Arc, they barely recognize the competent and confident Hunter as the awkward and nervous Jaune he used to be mere months prior.
  • In I'm Freaking Out, and I Feel Fine, a reader hypothesizes and Word of God confirms this is the reason why the Batfamily isn't alarmed when the young man they believe to be a time-displaced Bruce Wayne shows no familiarity whatsoever with Alfred — with twenty to twenty-five years to grow old, it's not hard to see "Bruce" unable to recognize his faithful butler.

    Film — Animated 
  • Pops up a bit in The Breadwinner. Idrees recognizes Nurallah, though can't put a name to the face. Idrees himself acts like he's doing this though Nurallah recognized him right away. Shauzia pulls a rare cheerful example of this when she recognizes Parvana also disguising herself as a boy.
    "Remember? From school? My hair was long then, but so was yours."
  • In The Incredibles, Syndrome reveals that he was Mr. Incredible's fan and wannabe sidekick who was shunned years ago.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Back to the Future Part II:
    • Parodied when Doc Brown returns from the future to pick up Marty in the beginning, he's wearing a latex mask of himself so Marty will recognize him, as he's received rejuvenation treatments. When he takes off the mask, telling Marty to brace himself for a surprise, he looks pretty much the same, just minus a few wrinkles. In real life this was for a few reasons: first, it's funny; second, it was so Christopher Lloyd wouldn't have to wear makeup to play Doc anymore; and finally, to ensure that Doc can start a family and live long enough and see his sons grow up, making it a parody and a Hand Wave.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo:
    • Attempted by Edmond after his time in prison when he meets his old employer. He leans in close and pushes the hair from his face, but the old man does not recognize him. Apparently, the years had changed him a little too much.
    • Played straight, however, when Edmond reveals his identity to the various targets of his revenge plot. His victims don't take it well.
  • Deewaar: When Daavar and Vijay meet for the second time, Daavar doesn't recognize Vijay. In fairness to Daavar, Vijay has aged from a young boy to a grown man by this point. It is also not a Forgotten First Meeting; when Vijay reveals how they met, Daavar knows what Vijay is referring to.
  • In The Irony of Fate 2, lovers Zhenya and Nadya meet again after 30 years apart. She asks "Have I changed a lot?", he says she's just the same, and she thinks he's just flattering her.
  • The revenge variant appears in Kill Bill, when O-Ren Ishii kills Yakuza boss Matsumoto on behalf of her parents. Partial example, as Matsumoto only recognized her because she resembled her mother. She is only eleven years old when she takes her revenge, which makes it all the more chilling. "Do I look familiar? Do I look like somebody...YOU MURDERED?!"
  • 1980 Russian film Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears. In 1958, Rudolf the TV cameraman films Katya at the factory for state TV, knocks her up, and dumps her. 20 years later Rudolf re-enters Katya's life when he is once again called to the factory to film her for TV, now as the plant director rather than an ambitious Wrench Wench. He thinks she looks familiar but doesn't realize who she is until someone else calls her by name. When he finally figures it out, a bitter Katya says "Have I changed so much?"
  • In The Princess Bride Rugen is surprised to recognize Inigo Montoya as the young boy whose father he killed.
    • Earlier, Westley does a similar reveal for Buttercup. Pleasant surprise.
  • Played for laughs in Sabrina when the title character returns from two years in Paris and is met at the train by her lifelong crush, over whom she tried to kill herself previously. He doesn't recognize her for a long time because she's gotten so elegant and lovely over there.
  • In Sin City, the "Yellow Bastard" uses this to reveal himself to Detective Hartigan as Roarke Jr.
    Yellow Bastard: Recognize my voice, Hartigan? Recognize my voice, you piece of shit cop? I look different, but I bet you can recognize my voice! I'd be really fucking insulted if you didn't recognize my voice!
    Hartigan: Yeah, I recognize your voice, Junior.
  • Parodied in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. C-3PO meets Han Solo for the first time in many years, and Threepio ecstatically asks Han if he still recognizes him, even though he's gotten a red arm by this time. Han just glares at him, leading him to shut up and walk away.
  • In the short film The Stranger Left No Card (later remade as the Tales of the Unexpected episode "Stranger in Town"), a man shows up in a small town dressed in flamboyant rags, and quickly becomes known as a lovable loon due to his clever magic tricks, kindness to children, and harmless eccentric antics. He then goes to see a prominent businessman who is about to leave work and after performing a couple of tricks handcuffs the man (with cuffs he was able to escape but the man cannot). At this point, he drops his Obfuscating Insanity and takes off his flamboyant disguise, and as he does so, inquires if the businessman recognizes him- eventually revealing that the man framed him for murder, causing him to have been imprisoned for the past 15 years. After killing the businessman, he calmly leaves town, having committed The Perfect Crime, as no one connects his nondescript true appearance with that of the Stranger.
  • Inverted in the 1960 version of The Time Machine (1960). During his trip through time, George stops briefly in the year 1917 and meets James Filby, son of his good friend David Filby. When George meets James a second time during a stop in the 1960s, James is visibly shocked by the realization that George's appearance — including his outfit — hasn't changed at all in the 45 or so years since the two last met.
    • Likewise played with previously, when George initially reacted with atonishment that Filby hasn't aged a day since 1899, only to be corrected that he's mistaken James for his father, David.

  • There's a non-revenge variant in "broken token" ballads. This version, along with the appearance change, is used in the Grimms' fairy tale "Bearskin", where the title character breaks a ring in half to give to his betrothed while filthy and ragged in appearance as part of a Deal with the Devil, and and later returns with his appearance restored to claim her.
  • In The Count of Monte Cristo, which was an influence on the Sweeney Todd musical, Dantes does this type of reveal to three of his four enemies.
    • He first does it to Caderousse to prove that there is a God causing him to repent because he still had some remorse over his participation in Dantes' downfall).
    • He then does it to Morcerf, who, out of guilt and shame, returns to his home to find that his wife and son have abandoned him, after learning the truth about his (many) misdeeds, driving him to suicide.
    • He then does it to Villefort, but it backfires when Villefort is already half-mad at the revelation that Benedetto is his son and that his wife had killed herself and their son, going mad soon after and unable to respond to Dantes.
    • He doesn't do it to Danglars out of guilt at what happened with Villefort, instead leaving him to starve to death as he caused Dantes' father to starve to death, only letting him out with the money he'd "earned" by not spending it on food as with the five millions he'd embezzled.
  • In the last third of The Divine Comedy, the light of Heaven has so changed Piccarda that Dante can't recognize her by voice or sight until she explicitly tells him that she was an old friend of his.
  • In Damon Runyon's story "Dream Street Rose", the protagonist is ruined by her good-for-nothing husband as a young girl. She waits a couple of decades, when he's remarried and is on top of the world, and confronts him as her wrecked old gin-soaked self:
    'Well, Frank,' she says, 'do you know me?'
    'Yes,' he says, after a while, 'I know you. At first I think maybe you are a ghost, as I once hear something about your being dead. But,' he says, 'I see now the report is a canard. You are too fat to be a ghost.'
  • In Enoch Arden, after being shipwrecked on a Deserted Island for ten-plus years, Enoch is "so brown, so bow'd, so broken" (and prematurely gray-haired) that no one recognizes him when he returns.
  • At the beginning of The First Law, dashing soldier turned deformed torturer Glokta interrogates his former army buddy Salem Rews, a Big Fun merchant regarding financial impropriety, and under threat of torture, forces him to implicate other merchants in a conspiracy. Following his confession, Rews is to be sent to a penal colony in the far North. At the very end of the trilogy, it is revealed that the hideously burned convict Pike, who had befriended Colonel West (another friend of Glokta from his army days) is Rews, who had an accident in the forge on his first day in. Pike reveals himself to Glokta and goes to kill him, but is persuaded to instead become his partner.
  • The Flashman novel Flashman and the Redskins starts out with Flashman as a young man in America under an assumed identity and then has a second part in which he returns several years later under his own identity, as a person of importance. In the first part, he betrays a woman and sells her into sexual slavery, and she returns in the second part to take revenge in this style.
    • Also, in a rather bizarre example, Flashman and the Tiger reveals that a cabin boy Flashman met in Flash for Freedom, who offered him his sexual services grew up to be Sherlock Holmes villain Sebastian Moran. Moran saved Flashman's life in battle and seemed to be a friend, but was actually plotting revenge the whole time.
  • Played with in Harry Potter, when Harry has seen current photographs of Sirius Black, and photos of the best man at his parent's wedding, and only discovers later (to his horror) that they are the same person. Odd in that it is the changed-by-the-years identity that is both real and static, and the man in the past who's identity is revealed. Sort of a "No doubt the years will change me" moment.
  • Subverted in Les Misérables with Jean Valjean as M. Madeleine. Madeleine is introduced as a fully separate character, but it's exceedingly obvious to the reader that he is Valjean. It looks as though Hugo is setting it up for a reveal as though this were supposed to be some sort of surprise, but instead, after following Madeleine for a while, he simply remarks that the reader has by now certainly guessed that they are the same person.
    • Played straight in-universe. Javert almost figures it out, but apologizes for suspecting Madeleine when the "real" Valjean turns up. Then Madeleine reveals himself as Valjean during the trial, to the shock of all present.
  • Another variant is in Guy de Maupassant's story "The Necklace", where a woman who borrowed some jewelry from a rich friend lost it and had to take menial and laborious jobs to secretly buy a replacement for it. The story explicitly states that the years of hard work are not kind to the lady, and when she eventually runs into the rich friend she is not recognized, whereas the rich friend looks exactly the same.
    • It's worse than that; at the end of the story, when the woman reveals to her friend what had happened, it's revealed that the friend had given her little more than costume jewelry; she had toiled away for all those years for nothing.
  • In the second Red Dwarf novel, this occurs when the crew reunites with Lister after some time dilation with a black hole, who at this point has spent several years on a ruined Earth trying to make a new life for himself.
  • A tear-jerkingly depressing one in the Torchwood linked-short-story collection Consequences. In the story "Kaleidoscope", a Torchwood screw-up means that a nice young lad called Danny Dillard is left with an addiction to an alien artifact, and runs away from home to find something to fill his growing hunger. In "The Wrong Hands", set maybe a year later, Gwen arrests the leader of the drug-dealing Dillard Gang, and there isn't a flicker of recognition from either of them: he's changed too much for her to recognize, and he's too out of it to recognize her.
  • In one of the Travis McGee mysteries by John D. Macdonald, a woman fails to recognize a man as someone she had known years earlier (and who had a reason to want to kill her) because he had contracted cancer since she had last seen him. This resulted in him losing vast amounts of weight and shaving his head.
  • A very unusual example: in Andrzej Sapkowski's Witcher Cycle: Emhyr var Emereis, Emperor of Nilfgaard and one of the main antagonists from the second book onwards, turns out to have been Duny, a fairly likable cursed prince whom Geralt, the main character, helped during one of the early stories. What's more, Duny didn't seek revenge at all; rather, he just happened to be the exiled prince of Nilfgaard rather than a more innocuous kingdom, not to mention enough of a Magnificent Bastard to reclaim his throne and launch an Evil Plan to take over/save the world. Not too long after the Reveal (Geralt actually somehow recognising him when they finally meet face to face), the Emperor pretty much abandons his pursuit of the heroes and also signs peace with the Northern Kingdoms, ceasing to be an antagonist (it's not nearly as absurd or anticlimactic as it sounds, mind you).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blackadder:
    • Parodied in the second series with The Evil Prince Ludwig the Indestructible: His previous interactions with Blackadder and Lord Melchett were in sexual encounters as a tavern wench and a sheep, respectively. The first reveal is most clearly a subversion of the trope, as Ludwig initially makes reference to a Bad Guy Bar at when Blackadder knew a certain criminal, raising the expectation that he would be that criminal.
    • A similar setup is given when he reveals to Queen Elizabeth that when she used to go riding on her magnificent pony, that he was actually the German stable boy with whom she didn't sleep, which isn't another of Ludwig's terribly impressive costumes.
    • Also parodied in the first season episode "The Black Seal", when the old man that had been traveling alongside Edmund for much of the episode reveals himself to be "The Hawk", a childhood enemy. Is subverted when Edmund fails to recognize "The Hawk" because the latter is still wearing the bushy eyebrows from his old man disguise. It's only after he tears them off and reveals a set of identical bushy eyebrows that Edmund is able to recognize him.
  • Bones took a while to recognize her father when he first reappeared. Justified in that he also had some plastic surgery done to hide his identity, being a wanted felon.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hell's Bells", a future Xander shows up at Xander and Anya's wedding and has to perform this trope to himself, convincing present Xander of his identity. This is actually a subversion as the "Future Xander" is one of Anya's previous victims from her time as a vengeance demon who has come to try and break up their wedding to spite her. And it works.
  • The US Deal or No Deal once attempted to reunite a contestant with her sister by disguising the sister as one of the models. Howie Mandel tries to give increasingly obvious clues, and not only does the contestant fail to recognize her sister for over a minute, but so does their mother.
  • Doctor Who: From "The Stolen Earth", Davros to the Doctor:
    "Your voice is different, and yet... its arrogance is unchanged."
  • Kickin' It: As the series began, Bobby Wasabi was a former movie star who hasn't been seen in public for at least two decades. When he first made an appearance, he was so overweight people had problem linking him to the movie star. No wonder the producers making a movie of his life wanted him to be portrayed by somebody else.
  • Daniel Meade's brother on Ugly Betty was presumed dead at the beginning of the series. It's eventually revealed that he had only faked his death so that he could get a sex change. When "Alexis" finally reveals herself to Daniel after claiming to be one of Daniel's brother's exes, she says "Take a good look at my eyes; that's about the only thing they couldn't change."

  • There is a Swedish poem/ballad usually called something like "The Carolin's Wife" about a soldier's wife receiving a visiting officer who makes advances at her which she rebuffs, as her husband has not returned from the war yet. The last lines reveals that the officer IS her husband, having spent years in Russian captivity and then been promoted.
    • There's an English ballad called "John Riley" with the same plot. (Although apparently some versions have a final verse where after he gets what he came for he's revealed not to be John Riley after all.)
    • All the "broken token" ballads, which include some versions of "John Riley". So called because the returning soldier proves his identity with a Memento MacGuffin comprising half a ring or coin.
  • The shanty song "The Mariner's Revenge Song" by The Decemberists tells a tale of two sailors trapped in the belly of a whale, but one has a last tale to tell the other.
  • In the Tanya Tucker song "No Man's Land", Molly Marlo and Barney Dawson meet again years after Barney had raped Molly. Molly has since become a beautiful nurse, and Barney has since been sent to prison and is a suffering shell of a man. Barney is at first glad to see the nurse — up until he realizes just who the nurse truly is.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • In the Book of Genesis, Joseph's brothers are unable to recognize him after twenty years of separation. It's not surprising, considering that they last saw him as the Annoying Younger Sibling whom they sold to slavery, and now he's the Vizier of Egypt and Pharaoh's Number Two.
  • In Homer's The Odyssey, Athena uses magic to make Odysseus appear as an old beggar when he finally returns home, and after defeating his wife's suitors in an archery contest, reveals his identity and kills them all.

  • In Arsenic and Old Lace, Jonathan Brewster who has been away for years and had multiple, disastrous plastic surgeries, so it's understandable that his aunts fail to recognize him.
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street:
    • The source of the title is taken from a quote from Sweeney Todd to Judge Turpin directly before he finally kills him.
    • As well as, tragically, the Beggar Woman, who is revealed to be Lucy Barker, Sweeney's wife who he believed to be dead and whom he had killed just prior to his final vengeance on Turpin. Sweeney finally does recognize her when the fire from Mrs. Lovett's oven reveals her face and her yellow hair to him.

    Video Games 
  • Happens in Vandal Hearts 2 when the hero runs across a prostitute in a large city who turns out to be his little sister, Rosaly. His childhood friend Clive is her protector. He then finds the ousted king and current drunken lout, Nicola, at the same pub. Small world.
  • Averted in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones: The missing prince of Jehanna, Joshua, has been gone from his homeland for ten years, but steps up and is clearly recognized by Queen Ismaire right before she dies. It helps that red hair appears to be common in Jehanna.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 4, Old Snake and Meryl meet up again but Snake has aged so much that she doesn't recognize him at first. Justified by the fact that Snake has aged much more rapidly than would have been possible under normal circumstances. Meryl would not likely jump to the conclusion that the old man in front of her was the same 30-odd year old guy that she had dealt with just a few years before.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, very few people realize that Child Link and Adult Link are the same person (and mostly the ones who do are the ones in on the plan to fight Ganondorf). Justified in the case of his Kokiri Friends - they thought that Link was one of them and no Kokiri child grows up.
    • This is also used in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, when Link fails to recognize the Skull Kid as the one he met in Ocarina of Time, but then it was a rather brief encounter and entirely optional at that.
    • When Link meets with Impa at Kakariko Village in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild after his century-long slumber, she states her hope that he still recognizes her despite her being much older now. Turns out Link has totally lost his memories and doesn't remember Impa whatsoever; it's never made clear whether or not he would have recognized her with his memories intact. Similar scenes play out between Link and several Zora characters he was Childhood Friends with before the Great Calamity.
  • In Hatoful Boyfriend's Bad Boys Love route, Kazuaki Nanaki reveals himself to be Hitori Uzune, Nageki's brother, who disguised himself to prevent Shuu Iwamine, the one who indirectly drove Nageki to suicide, from recognizing him until he could take his revenge on him.
  • In Disgaea 4, Valvatorez's refusal to drink blood has caused his body to degenerate so that he is much smaller and younger-looking than he used to be. The change is drastic enough that Artina isn't able to recognize him until he gives his name.
  • In one of the endings of Star Fox Command, a haunted Krystal leaves the Lylat system to start a new life as a bounty hunter named Kursed. She crosses paths with Fox again many years later, but he doesn't recognise her.
  • In Dynasty Warriors, the various members of the Ma Clan are all taken aback at the sight of Wang Yi, who had set out on a quest for vengeance after Ma Chao killed her family. Though we never see her past self, the Ma Clan's dialogues heavily imply that she was a much different person before the murders.
  • The King of Fighters XV: Despite numerous other playable characters having seen Krohnen before he changed his looks, as he is K9999 having gone incognito, only 3 (K', Angel and Kula) show awareness of who he really is.

    Visual Novels 
  • Being much taller, broader, darker-skinned, and more white-haired than he was in the past, Archer from Fate/stay night is almost completely unrecognizable as the man used to be, Shirou Emiya.
  • The protagonist of Melody doesn’t initially recognize Isabella when he runs into her due to the length of time during which they haven’t seen each other.

    Western Animation 
  • In Beast Wars, Optimus Primal explains to a new character, "I've changed since we last met, Depthcharge". This is more literal than most, as Primal had actually literally gone through three different bodies between the beginning of the series and Depthcharge's introduction: his Beast Wars form, his Transmetal form, and the Optimal form Depthcharge found him in.
  • Justice League: Inverted between Shayera Hol and Hro Talek in "Starcrossed", when she tries to convince Hro to relocate the hyperspace generator:
    Hro Talak: Have you forgotten why we fight? Of what horrors the Gordanians are capable of? Have you forgotten my long years rotting in their stinking prison camps?! [takes off his headress, revealing the scars on the side of his face] I haven't!
    Shayera: I have forgotten nothing. But this war is no excuse to-
    Hro: I am your commander! You will not question me!
    Shayera: I don't even know you anymore.
  • Reversed and parodied in The Simpsons, in the episode "Lisa the Simpson", in which Jasper attempts to freeze himself in the Kwik-E-Mart freezer, in a bit to behold the wonders of the future. He defrosts and reanimates within a few days of his hibernation, and, assuming that he had indeed been frozen for many years, gazes in amazement around him. Upon encountering Apu, Jasper laments to him that "time has ravaged [Apu's] once youthful looks".
  • Gargoyles: In part 5 of the series premiere, Demona opines that "The centuries have made [Goliath] weak." Later in the episode, Goliath throws this back at her when she reveals the full extent of her hatred of humans.
    You said that the centuries have changed me; they have changed you, too. You have become hard, unforgiving... You're not as I remember you.

    Real Life 
  • One notable real life example: Syd Barrett, after being apart from his bandmates in Pink Floyd for a number of years, walked anonymously into the mixing room during the sessions for Wish You Were Here (1975). The formerly lithe and wavy-haired pop idol had become quite overweight and shaved his head, and was not recognized by his old friends for the better part of an hour. Reportedly, the song being recorded when Syd walked in happened to be about him (the most common story goes that it was the album's Title Track, with the second most being "Shine on, You Crazy Diamond")