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We see a large, terrifying shadow on the wall. It turns out to be cast by something tiny and harmless. Less often, the tiny creature is dangerous after all.

Sometimes a diminutive hero will invoke this trope to try to impress or intimidate someone. Whether or not it succeeds depends largely on the intelligence of the person being intimidated—and on the Rule of Funny.

This is the shadowy brother of Depth Deception, and the inverted relative to Shadow Discretion Shot. This trope is predominantly Played for Laughs.

Examples of Big Shadow, Little Creature include:

Anime & Manga

  • Done in Makai Senki Disgaea with Laharl.
  • In Eden of the East, when Akira and Saki first enter Akira's shopping mall, they see this sort of shadow, cast by a small, friendly puppy.

Film - Animated

  • Land Before Time II movie does this with a recently hatched T. Rex. The first movie had a more poignant example: Littlefoot sees a large shadow and mistakes it for his mother. Only when he approaches it does he realizes it's his own shadow. Used again in The Land Before Time V where Little Foot gets stranded on an island and cowers from the shadow of an approaching Sharptooth, which turns out to be a slightly older Chomper.
  • Mushu, the dragon sidekick in Disney's Mulan does this: he casts a nice dragon-shaped shadow, until she realizes he's only a foot high. This scene is repeated in the game, Kingdom Hearts II, which Sora and the gang initially mistake for a heartless attacking Mulan.
  • The Movie of The Jetsons.
  • Dumbo: As Timothy Mouse approaches the ringleader's bed to whisper in his ear, he casts a huge shadow that is a direct homage to Nosferatu.
  • Mama Odie's introduction in The Princess and the Frog. The DVD Commentary references What's Opera Doc as an inspiration.
  • In The Emperors New Groove, when Yzma drinks one of the last potions, she briefly casts a huge shadow, and is then revealed to have transformed into a cute kitten.
  • The Galloping Goose (an old truck designed to run on rails) briefly seen at the beginning of Cars 2, mimicking a freight train barreling through a tunnel to scare Lightning Mc Queen out of his old route.
  • The introduction of movie mogul L.B. Mammoth in Cats Don't Dance.
  • An American Tail: As Fievel the mouse is wandering the streets of New York looking for his family during a Sad Times Montage, he casts a huge shadow on the wall behind him. More of a visual effect than played for humor.
  • Not really a little creature, but done for the same effect in Kung Fu Panda 2, when Po is being carried up a massive flight of stairs.

Film - Live-Action

  • Oddly, the movie adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King turns Sam Gamgee sending Orcs running before him because they sense the power of the One Ring which holds into this, played entirely straight in the middle of a climactic scene despite still looking very funny.
    • Probably a necessary adaptation, as conveying their awareness of the Ring's invisible aura of menace would be hard to do on camera, rather than in prose form.
  • When Mini-Me first appears in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, we see his full size shadow first, before we see what size he really is.
  • In The Third Man, police on a night stakeout see a threatening shadow cast two stories high. It turns out to be a balloon peddler.
  • The Burbs uses this; a menacing-looking shadow (accompanied by heavy footsteps) ends up belonging to Henry Gibson.
  • Zathura, when the Robot first appears.
  • In the film version of Inspector Gadget, the villain makes a giant shadow puppet with his hands on the city's skyscraper, tricking people into thinking that a giant monster is attacking.
  • Used in Tremors 2 to introduce the second stage of Graboid metamorphosis: the Shrieker.
  • Joe's entrance into the Giant Scary Stadium in Idiocracy makes it looks like he's driving a Monster Truck, just like his opponents ... until the Reveal, when we see his vehicle is more on the scale of a Smart Car.
  • In Spy Hard, the mook who captures the woman spy at the beginning is initially shown as a shadow on the wall. He then walks on-camera, and turns out to be a midget with a machine gun.


  • How the Mouse convinces the Gruffalo's Child that the Big Bad Mouse is real in Julia Donaldson's The Gruffalo's Child.

Live Action TV

  • In Supernatural, before we find out that Dean has been infected with a condition causing overactive panic attacks that might eventually kill him, the How We Got Here Cold Open starts as he runs from a ferocious canine with a large shadow, warning that it's a killer. It turns out it's a puppy.
  • A Barney and Friends video where Barney and several children tour a farm had a scene where BJ tell everyone that's he's been chased by a large bull who's "black as night", has "eyes red as fire", and "roars like a lion." Cue a black lamb running out of the barn BJ's in and as a result everyone starts singing "Baa Baa Black Sheep."

Tabletop Games

  • An early Dragon article detailed a fan-designed shadowy monster called an "umbra", which could only be slain with the shadows of weapons rather than the weapons themselves. Shortly after it was published, the magazine's letters column included a reader's inquiry about what to do about a sneaky player who'd invoked this trope against it, having his PC hold a sword very close to his party's torch and create a gigantic sword-shadow.

Video Games

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • The Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoons
    • "Scaredy Cat". In the scene where a group of killer mice have Porky bound, gagged, and on his way to be decapitated, large shadows of the mice (with one carrying an executioner's axe) appear on the wall.
    • Early in "Claws For Alarm", Sylvester is terrified by a gigantic shadow belonging to a tiny spider.
    • The opening of "What's Opera, Doc?", where the muscular shadow commanding the elements belongs to Elmer Fudd in an ill-fitting armor.
    • In "Bye, Bye Bluebeard", a mouse tries to convince Porky he's a hatchet-wielding serial killer. At one point his shadow looms, large and menacing, on a wall.
    • In "Porky's Movie Mystery" we see a shadow of presumably a giant muscular police officer interrogating and threatening Frankenstein's Monster, it turns out to be a very small police officer.
    • At the beginning of "We The Animals Squeak" it shows a younger Kansas City Kitty's shadow and she appears to be a large and menacing cat that frightens away a gang of rats, then it turns out she was a very small kitten.
  • Futurama with Nibbler in the episode I Second That Emotion. Immediately subverted: scary-shadowed Nibbler is followed by an actual giant monster.
  • Subverted in one Jimmy Neutron episode where they're camping - we see the shadow, and it turns out to be a squirrel. Then we see the bear who's really casting the shadow.
  • Scooby Doo sometimes plays this straight, but an interesting variation was in the classic episode "Mine Your Own Business," when as a plot to scare the old Miner '49er into a trap, the Miner runs when he sees and hears what appears to be a train approaching, but is revealed to actually be Shaggy making train noises while Scooby ran down the tracks with a flashlight and speaker Shaggy's train imitations were coming out of.
  • Mr. Big, a villain on Rocky and Bullwinkle, appeared as an enormous shadow on the wall for several episodes before finally being revealed to be smaller than Rocky.
    • For all Big's tiny size, the villains, including Fearless Leader, are still scared of him.
    • The Beetlejuice cartoon also had a gangster named Mr. Big who initially appeared as an ominous looming shadow before turning out to be a midget.
  • One of the Shadow Discretion Shot examples was the first appearance of Momo in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Huge shadow. Little bat-eared flying lemur.
  • Angry Beavers - the beavers and their sentient, yet visibly nonmoving, tree stump get trapped in a cave and try to find a way out. Along the way they encounter the shadow of what appears to be a giant shadow of a frilled dinosaur. Cowering in fear, they are relieved that its just a small lizard - with a frill taped to its back. The lizard then proceeds to attack and bite the Butt Monkey Dagett, whose grip never lets go even after the end of the episode.
  • The Wild Thornberrys - Done delibrately by Eliza Thornberry, who uses her shadow puppet skills to cast a lion shadow to frighten away the wild hyenas mauling the friendly, domesticated hyena she released earlier.
  • Both played straight and terrifyingly subverted in the 1990s version of X-Men when the Ultimate Sentinel Nimrod - a robot that would give a Terminator nightmares - shows up. We see the massive shadow on the wall as Bishop yells "Oh, no! It's Nimrod!" —when a man-sized, pink robot appears, and everyone breathes a slight sigh of relief... which disappears completely as Nimrod then promptly proceeds to beat everyone present like a red-haired stepchild.
  • Catscratch: Waffles runs away from home and tries to live life on the streets as a dog. Seeking shelter he sees an ominous shadow against some flames: "Who dares enter the sanctity of my domain? Name yourself!" Waffle: "W-W-Waffle. Wh-who are you?" Dark Shadow: "History has given me many names. You may call me...(Shrimpy dog arrives) Barkmeat."
  • In Pippi Longstocking, two crooks see Mr. Nilsson's oversized shadow at Pippi's window, and mistake it for that of a large, formidable man. Mr. Nilsson is, of course, a small monkey. Unlike most examples above, the audience is in on the joke.
  • Jerry's magician uncle at the very beginning of "The Haunted Mouse."
  • The first appearance of Lloyd Garmadon in Ninjago.