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Pantomime Animal

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"Shhh! It's me! I'm the horse's head! Ha-cha-cha-cha!"

Nowhere did I describe it as a four-legged beast on loan from Panto-Horses-Are-Us.
Johnny Byrne, scriptwriter for Doctor Who, "Warriors of the Deep"

A traditional feature of British Pantomime occasionally also seen elsewhere, the Pantomime Animal is a non-talking animal played by a human actor wearing an animal suit. For obvious reasons this is most often seen on stage; the most common animal given this treatment in pantomime is a horse. Larger quadrupeds (such as horses) may require two actors. Children or dwarfs, on the other hand, may be needed to play smaller creatures. Though pantomime animals don't talk (at least, they're not supposed to talk), they may make appropriate animal noises on cue and often can dance as well — pantomime is a highly stylised, non-realistic theatrical form where Rule of Funny is the norm. Having a pantomime animal avoids all the hassle of working with real live animals — although sometimes real animals, usually ponies, appear briefly for the effect.

"The back legs of a pantomime horse" is sometimes used as a byword for an uncomfortable, humiliating job, especially in a show-business context. After all, the actor in that role is invisible to the audience, has to spend all their time bent over and trusting their partner to lead, and has a job which involves keeping their face adjacent to someone else's backside.

A sub-trope of Pantomime. See also People in Rubber Suits. In-Universe examples can overlap with Animal Disguise. A human version of this would be Totem Pole Trench; some inhuman versions include The Worm That Walks and Combining Mecha.


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In-universe examples

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman #1: Diana and Etta wear a two-person baby elephant suit while trying to figure out what is killing some circus elephants. Their act almost works, but the other elephants treat them like something odd and they're figured out by the villains.

    Comic Strips 
  • A The Far Side comic has two pantomime actors arguing. One (whose ass is a good three or four times wider than him) demands to know why he's always the rear end of the horse.
  • Loriot has a subversion - the pantomime horse doing all the impossible gags only possible by two pantomimes is played — by a horse.
  • MAD: Don Martin shows a bullfight. The bull in reality are two pantomimes. Of course, this is no gag and is exaggerated: the bullfighter is a bull in a bullfighter costume.

    Film — Animated 
  • Pain and Panic briefly dressed up as a female Pegasus near the end of Hercules, with the two forming the individual halves of the Pegasus.
    • Those two do this sort of trick quite often. One time they attempted to do a huge lion, and ended up getting confused on who was doing which half.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: One of the costumes worn at the Feast of Fools is a horse with two rear ends.
  • Shows up at the Mardi Gras party in The Princess and the Frog.
  • In Sherlock Gnomes, Sherlock and Juliet disguise themselves as a squirrel so they can move about a park in daylight.
  • In Trolls World Tour, the two mercenary Yodeller Trolls dress up in this fashion to pose as a centaur-like Country Troll.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Played with in Snow White & the Huntsman. At one point when the dwarves are sneaking into the castle they walk on the other side of a horse that's between them and the guards.
  • The two rebels disguised as a cow in Top Secret!. One insists on playing the rear end, causing his compatriot to gripe, "Fine, be an asshole!" Ironically, the fake cow is really played by a real one with boots on.
  • Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen actually did this with an ice cream truck.
  • The Pink Panther has two police inspectors undercover in a zebra costume at the costume party meant to ensnare the Phantom. When the Phantom and his nephew make a break for it, they gallop down the street...while everyone else in the chase is in a car.
  • In The Bold Caballero, the Commandante holds a bullfight for Isabella's birthday. It at first appears to be a burlesque bullfight with a 'bull' consisting of two men in a costume. However, he later releases a real bull into the ring. The first thing it does is attack the fake bull.
  • Two Three Stooges shorts, "What's the Matador?" and its remake "Sappy Bullfighters," revolve around a gag identical to the one used in The Bold Caballero; Moe and Larry stage a comedy bullfight by dressing up in a costume, with Curly (Joe in the later short) acting as their matador, and end up facing off against the genuine article.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Wolf mascot from A.N.T. Farm.
  • Call the Midwife: In the series 7 Christmas Episode, Trixie and Christopher appear as a pantomime cow when the much-delayed Christmas pantomime is finally stage. Trixie complains that she went to all the trouble of getting her hair done and a manicure when no one can see her.
  • Dad's Army: In "Operation Kilt", the platoon attempts to use a pantomime cow to sneak up on a highland regiment during a training exercise. Things do not according to plan when a bull takes an interest.
  • In a Dave Allen at Large sketch, a German POW camp guard searches the cargo and even the straw in an outgoing wagon thoroughly, to make sure there are no prisoners hiding inside. Not finding anyone, the guard waves the wagon through the gate, failing to notice that it's being pulled by a pantomime horse.
  • The Edison Twins: Tom spends an episode trying to find a horse for a football game as a subplot for an episode's story and finally has to make do with a pantomime horse costume with a partner at the end.
  • Father Brown: In "The Tree of Truth", Father Brown and Sid play the Daisy the Cow in the Christmas pantomime.
  • (ding-dong) WHO'S THAT AT THE DOOR?!? Secretariat on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.
  • Parodied with the pantomime horses in Monty Python's Flying Circus. To say nothing of the pantomime Princess Margaret.
  • Buttercup the QI cow made an appearance at the beginning of the "Groovy" episode to help demonstrate the first question.
    Stephen: Never, ever in the history of show business has the phrase "Don't milk it, Luv," been more appropriate.
  • Dobbin the Pantomime Horse in 1980s BBC kids' show Rentaghost, supposedly an empty costume animated by a misfiring magic spell.

    Music Videos 
  • The music video for Sorry for Party Rocking by LMFAO features a pantomime zebra performing the Running Man.



    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-1545, Larry the Loving Llama. Once people get inside the costume, they adopt the personality of Larry, and the person in the back starts dancing with the intention of entertaining people, never stopping until the people inside die or are forcefully removed.

    Western Animation 
  • Arthur: In "The Fright Stuff", Binky's idea for a prank on Francine and Muffy is illustrated by an imagine spot of him and Arthur riding a tandem bicycle underneath a horse costume, with an empty jacket on the back, pretending to be a "headless horseguy".
  • Bob's Burgers: In "Two For Tina", Jimmy Jr. tries to impress Tina at one point by dressing up in a horse costume with his pal Zeke and singing a song about her.
  • Donald Duck and the Gorilla: Huey, Dewey and Louie put on a three-person gorilla suit (one controlling the head, one controlling the arms and one controlling the legs) to play a prank on Donald.
  • In the Classic Disney Short Moose Hunters, Donald and Goofy don a two-person moose costume (supposedly female, though it has antlers) to lure a male moose to Mickey.
  • The Doug episode "Doug's On Stage" has Doug Funnie and Roger Klotz having to play Grendle the brave horse in the Bluffington Founders' Day School Play, which of course they don't enjoy.
  • In the Family Guy episode "The Fat Guy Strangler," Peter skips out on his physical to go eat steaks with his friends. For no particular reason, he insists that he and Brian "fool" Lois by leaving the house dressed in a horse costume. Lois doesn't notice them wearing it, and Brian is very confused.
  • Looney Tunes:

Examples of a real-in-universe creature being portrayed using this method:

    Anime and Manga 

    Film — Live-Action 

    Live-Action TV 
  • Sesame Street has Mr. Snuffleupagus and Barkley the dog.
  • In the Doctor Who serial "Warriors of the Deep", the Myrka, a genetically engineered sea monster, is played by two guysnote  in a costume approximating to a green pantomime horse. It... doesn't really work. Michael Grade would later screen footage of a scene involving the Myrka to justify his axing of the series.
  • Blake's 7: Bryan the Spider from "The Harvest of Kairos". The actor operated the Giant Spider by sitting in the costume backwards, operating the front legs with his feet. Unfortunately, this resulted in a very slow walk.
  • Some quadruped Ultra Series monsters are played by two people in a suit, such as Dodongo, Paragon, Brocken, Jumbo King and Zogu's second form. Occasionally suits that have the actors joined side-by-side appear too, with Pestar being the most notable example.

  • As noted, common in Pantomime.
  • The lion in Androcles and the Lion is played this way.
  • Traditionally, Nana the dog in Peter Pan.
  • Imogene the Spotted Calf, who replaced Toto in the original 1902 stage version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. No, really.
  • The elephant and rhinoceros costumes used in the Broadway musical version of The Lion King.
  • The theatre adaptation of War Horse, although it uses a more elaborate rig including a puppeteered head to avoid triggering the "pantomime animal = comedy" connection.
  • Rainbow the dog from the Skyline Gang, as well as various other animals.

    Theme Parks 

    Western Animation 
  • George the horse in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "I Had an Accident", who shows up at the end to ride into the sunset with the gorilla when SpongeBob questions how a gorilla is underwater in the first place.


Video Example(s):


Brum and the Pantomine Horse

Brum was trying to get away from the fierce opera lady, where he meets the pantomine horse.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / PantomimeAnimal

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