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A blithe spirit is a free-spirited Fish Out of Water who goes to strait-laced land and shakes things up there despite the insistence of everyone else that the way things are can't possibly be changed.
Common variants of this character include:
- An American abroad, usually in The Theme Park Version of Europe.
- A Magical Nanny in a strict household.
- A Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
- A Cool Teacher at a school run by crusty, old-fashioned types.
- Alternatively, a savvy new kid at a High School ruled by an Alpha Bitch and/or a Jerk Jock.
- A Fish Out of Temporal Water can become this.
- Mighty Whitey.
- In fanfiction, a Fixer Sue.
- Robin Williams.
Not to be confused with the Noel Coward play or the classic film of the same name (both of whose titles derive from Shelley's 'Hail to thee, blithe spirit'). Interestingly, there's a famous quote by Matthew Arnold about Shelley's hopeless attempts to be a blithe spirit to the world himself: a "beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain"
The Complainer Is Always Wrong is an inverse of this trope. Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a subtrope that serves as a shaker-upper of one particular person. Contrast Fisher Kingdom, which tends to eat these people and turn them into cogs (not usually literally).
Anime and Manga
- Majou Shoujotai. Also known as Tweeny Witches or Magical Girl Squad Alice
- Judai of Yu-Gi-Oh GX. Then the plot happened...
- Great Teacher Onizuka: Onizuka Eikichi, 22 years old. Virgin. And very available.
- The titular Manabi from Manabi Straight.
- Mikan in Gakuen Alice.
- Haruhi Suzumiya tries really, really hard to be one of these, hence the whole SOS Brigade thing, explicitly created to "fill the world with fun!". Actually a subversion, as should the world be shaken up as she would want it to be, it could very well be the end of reality as we know it. Again. The Fish Out of Temporal Water does a better job of this, as The Woobie.
- However it's The Snark Knight who moves against the consensus that she should only be observed from afar.
- The landlady Taeko's mother, Kimi, in Otaku no Musume San. This is a point of contention between mother and daughter as Kimi left Tae to be raised by others throughout her life.
- Rosette from Chrono Crusade has a tendency to rush into people's lives and change them for the better. This is lampshaded at the end of the manga when Azmaria, looking back at things from when she was a kid, says "It was a time that Rosette ran her way through all too quickly. But the course her life took wasn't all sad. Rosette was always filled with a powerful light. That light was so strong...it lit up an era blackened by the darkness of night.
- In Simoun, Aer/Ael/That blond girl with the Odango Hair and the music box is this, to an insane degree. Coupled with her endless enthusiasm and her total lack of tact, she causes no end of frustration (or, in some cases, bringing up terrible memories) to the more straight-laced Sybilla, particularly Paraietta and Neviril/Neville/that pink-haired girl who doesn't smile.
- Sometimes averted and sometimes played straight in Irresponsible Captain Tylor: Tylor is made skipper of a starship, despite no training, no military or space experience, and a penchant for nonsensical and irresponsible schemes. On the other hand, he is given command of a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, half of whom are on the verge of mutiny anyway. Still, near the series' conclusion, one of Tylor's Obstructive Bureaucrat antagonists admits Tylor's adherence to this trope is the likely factor of his success.
- 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) based on a darker novel The Circus of Doctor Lao (1935).
- Notably averted in So Bad It's Good American Shaolin - it looks like the protagonist will shake things up in the monastery... but he ends up shaken up by staying there - humbler, wiser, not to mention about 5 points up on the badass scale and getting a girl to boot.
- Babe The Gallant Pig (1994)
- Black Knight (2001)
- Chocolat (2000)
- Dead Poets Society (1989)
- Also Good Morning Vietnam (1987), Patch Adams (1998), and even Robots (2005), Happy Feet (2007) and Night at the Museum (2007) have heavy doses of this. Apparently, just having Robin Williams appear in your movie at all causes Blithe Spirit. Doesn't even have to be Robin's character.
- Popeye (1980) has traces of this as well. As does Mork and Mindy (1978-1982)
- One could say his role in the Law and Order SVU episode "Authority" is a dark version of this.
- Enchanted (2007)
- Footloose (1984)
- How High (2001)
- The live-action Bratz movie puts the four main girls in this type of role. (2004)
- Jungle 2 Jungle (1997) features a Mighty Whitey character who leaves his home in the Amazonian jungle and comes to New York to shake up his stockbroker father's stodgy yuppie lifestyle.
- Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
- Pete's Dragon (1977) has Pete and his Dragon acting as Blithe spirits for the town they visit, but the Dragon is also acts as one for Pete.
- Pleasantville (1998)
- And has the hell subverted out of it in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which initially makes the title character seem like the typical kooky free spirit who teaches the kids to break out of their shells to find happiness, but soon reveals that she refuses to accept any idea about what that happiness should consist of other than her own. Eventually many of the children meet tragic fates due to her meddling in their lives.
- Not to mention that she's a fascist.
- Well, fascism was considered "cool" and "cutting-edge" by quite a few intellectuals in the 1930s, just as communism was. It was democracy (or constitutional monarchy) that was viewed as old-fashioned and repressive.
- Not to mention that she's a fascist.
- School of Rock (2003, The Power of Rock in full effect!)
- Sister Act (1992)
- The Sound of Music (1965)
- Step Up (2006)
- Tangled: Rapunzel is an excellent example of this trope.
- Subverted with Holly Martins in The Third Man. He's a brash American who comes to Vienna and thinks he's going to prove everyone wrong about his dead friend Harry Lime, only to end up in over his head and screwing everything up.
- To Wong Foo... (1995)
- WALL-E. (2008) Ironic that it's the robot that shows everyone what it means to be human again.
- What a Girl Wants (2003)
- Inverted in Lean On Me (1989; Very Loosely Based on a True Story)
- Leslie in The House of Yes fits the Manic Pixie Dream Girl example of this trope.
- In You Can't Take It With You the entire Sycamore family has this effect on the stuffy Kirby family.
- Cold Comfort Farm
- John the Savage of Brave New World is this entirely. He protests against the loss of art, truth, and passion, despite the fact that for everyone else, it works.
- Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in A Strange Land
- Daisy in Henry James' story Daisy Miller is also just like this, the quirky American girl trying to shake things up in Europe. Except the European aristocrats don't lighten up, and things end tragically, to say the least, for Daisy.
- Pippa in the poem Pippa Passes by Robert Browning - a young girl in Asolo, Italy who strolls through the town (on her single annual day off from the factory) singing a song which influences the lives of all who hear her for the better.
- Pippi Longstocking
- Caitlín Mulryan, the eponymous character of Poul Anderson's The Avatar.
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, where McMurphy shakes up an asylum
- A Sudden Wild Magic by Diana Wynne Jones - the women who go survive the trip to Arth start trying to deliberately upset 'the balance'. Except a few of them are quite mean-spirited about it - the people of Arth have been essentially robbing earth for centuries.
- Granola Guy Capricorn Anderson in Schooled is the high school version of this.
- The title character of Pollyanna certainly qualifies.
- Leslie Burke from Bridge to Terabithia seems to fit this trope.
- The eponymous protagonist of Heidi.
- Anne of Anne of Green Gables.
- Which makes her married name all the more fitting.
Live Action TV
- The Doctor in Doctor Who. All the time.
- In LazyTown, Stephanie is theoretically responsible for helping to get everyone exercising again (at least, according to the theme). That she's just as likely to have the lazy ball in a given episode is apparently irrelevant.
- Also, Sportacus is new to the town at the beginning of the show and wants to inspire the kids to eat healthy and become fit.
- Every single episode of Touched By an Angel.
- The Vicar of Dibley
- Andy of WKRP in Cincinnati started off as one.
- Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
- Lwaxana Troi in TNG's "Cost of Living."
- Accounting Prof. Whitman on Community thinks he's Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society".
- Subverted on an episode of Frasier, in which the eponymous psychiatrist is hired to testify on behalf of an elderly philanthropist whose son is trying to have him declared mentally incompetent. After meeting with him, Frasier becomes convinced that the man is just a blithe spirit trying to enrich the lives of those around him...and is humiliated when he has a complete breakdown in the middle of Frasier's testimony.
- Inverted in another episode: Frasier hires a butler, who doesn't directly change the characters lives in any significant way, but has his own revelation that his British Stuffiness and class-consciousness may have been getting in the way of being with his One True Love. Which, conveniently enough, means he quits his post.
- Fran Fine in The Nanny is this trope.
- Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother thinks he's this trope, gracing his friends with his presence to guide them through life and make them "awesome" like him. He refuses to acknowledge the fact that his friends all actually consider him a walking, batshit insane, Your Approval Fills Me with Shame generator, and only indulge his ridiculous shenanigans out of loyalty to him (and on occasion, amusement).
- In Final Fantasy X, Tidus fills this role in the world of Spira, questioning the current way of dealing with Sin and generally being an over anxious Fish Out of Water
- In Flipside, this describes Maytag perfectly. In a fantasy setting with fairly standard levels of prejudice and bigotry, she's a free spirit who believes in loving widely and unconditionally, complete freedom of expression, and total acceptance of herself and the people around her. In fact, she's so good at this that she is almost completely immune to torture, due to accepting her pain rather than fighting it; and is uncommonly resistant to magical compulsion, due to seeing the world so clearly. She also loves to help repressed people find themselves.
- Xkcd shows how this does not work in science.
- In Sluggy Freelance Torg plays this role when he's transported to the Dimension of Lame, being the only person there who doesn't epitomize Pure Is Not Good. When Demonic Invaders show up and starting eating people, the average Dimension of Lame citizen considers throwing food at them a monstrous overreaction. Then Torg shows up to organize a resistance movement and start hacking demons to pieces with his magic, talking sword.
- Both used straight and subverted in Cartoon Network's Mike Lu and Og. Mike is a hip American girl and the islanders are all descended from Brits (although they're "going native" by adopting faux-Polynesian customs), but they often manage to surprise her by being a lot less strait-laced than she expects.
- The Simpsons has an episode like this with Lisa Kudrow as the voice for the new, hip, fashion-savvy girl at Springfield Elementary. Lisa learned to be comfortable with her self image (again) and New Girl learned that you don't have to grow up so fast, and can appreciate fun for what it is.
- Fry in Futurama unwittingly acts as one of these, when his twentieth-century outlook persuades Leela and Bender to abandon their thirtieth-century ruts and follow him.
"It's funny, you live in the universe, but you never do these things until someone comes to visit."
- Jimmy Two-Shoes is practically built around this trope. Jimmy is a textbook pollyanna in Miseryville, where he constantly tries to cheer people up despite the fact that Lucius wants everyone miserable.
- Santa Claus is Comin' to Town reveals that Santa Claus was this as a teenager. He avoided growing up in Sombertown when he was adopted by toy-making elves who lived up the nearby mountain. When he finally made the climb down the mountain to hand out toys to Sombertown's citizens, he was stunned to find out that toys were illegal and instantly became a toy-delivering outlaw, explaining his habit of going down chimneys and hiding gifts in stockings.
- Many Westerners who go to China immediately find themselves in this position. This is especially true with educated Chinese expatriates who speak Mandarin well, as they can communicate with more of the natives but usually have a mindset that is completely different. This usually manifests as the foreigner seeming to have an enormously expansive personality that both intimidates and fascinates those around them, coupled with a directness that seems comically rude. The result can be very funny to watch.
- And also Japan. While it's certainly not universal, the average Westerner does a lot better at thinking outside of the box than most Japanese are encouraged to.
- The above statement is actually true for pretty much every Western tourist in Asia. Heck, sometimes the natives can speak English just fine and the Blithe Spirit effect goes boomerang.
- Speaking of boomerangs, it's not just in the East that this holds true. Australians (and other Westerners) often have the same reaction to Americans.
- This can depend on the nationality. Italians, Spanish and Frenchmen, for example, are perceived as more laid back than the ultra-serious Germans. Russians have the whole "depressed vodka-swigging Russkie" stereotype, and Canadians are seen as more mellow and polite. Depending on how the Americans are perceived and the nationality they clash with, there can be different results.
- African-Americans who go to Africa. It's an interesting conversation to have when a native is explaining to you that you are a white man, too.
- Socrates. He described himself as a gadfly stinging Athens into life.
Evil Counterpart Trope
Sometimes, the shaker is a villainous character, causing trouble for their own ends and means which might not be in the target's best interests. Sometimes involves a Deal with the Devil with them as the Devil. Examples include:
- Mr. Dark in Something Wicked This Way Comes
- Haruko Haruhara in FLCL
- The original Dr. Lao in The Circus of Dr. Lao came more as a punisher of wicked deeds than an aid.
- "Professor" Harold Hill of The Music Man starts as one of these, but gets better.
- American McGee's Grimm, who turns the Tastes Like Diabetes Disneyfied fairy tale worlds and return them to their Crapsack World roots.
- There's a term for this in the international tourism industry. "Walking Talking American Flag". One of the most offensive things a group of American tourists can do is break into a fervent chant of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" while visiting another country.