It occurred to me recently (in my twisted, mossy, stygian, cavernous imagination) that little furry animals lurk everywhere in our pop culture memories. Little kids like animals (well, most of them do, anyway) and even if we’re romanticizing ponies or elephants or larger animals, the versions of those animals that toy manufacturers will market to our impressionable little brains are typically little fuzzy, easily held, cuddly animals. Even animals that are decidedly not cuddly (alligators, giraffes, killer whales, microscopic viruses) have been made into cutesy plushie versions at this point. “Cute” is an easy sell. Especially to kids. Most geeks, for instance, know the meaning of the Japanese word “chibi”.
And cute little furry imaginary animals are just as common as the cute little furry real animals. Furry little monsters. Little. Furry. Furry little things. Little balls of fluff with a face and maybe legs. Think about it. Those miserable little creatures are everywhere, ready to cuddle and to give you cavities. Or sometimes kill you. But they always look so cuddly. And furry.
Let’s look at a list of little furry things. Geeky things you want to hug.
10) Those things from “Meet the Feebles”
from “Meet the Feebles” (1995)
While Peter Jackson is best known for his big-budget CGI features, I prefer to think of his as a purveyor of twisted cult films like “Meet the Feebles,” an X-rated puppet film that plays like a down-and-dirty version of “The Muppet Show.” If you haven’t seen this film, seek it out immediately. I see interviews with Jackson, and while he seems comfortable with big budgets and high-profile feature films, I sense that he longs to return to the goofy, funny lower-budget, practical effects films of the 1990s. I fear “Lord of the Rings” will do to Jackson what”Star Wars” did to George Lucas; stymie his creativity.
Anyway, one of the characters in “Meet the Feebles,” a melancholic elephant, had achieved fame in the Fabulous Feebles Variety Hour with an unseen act of trained furballs. They were smiley little creatures that would coo, squeak, and, when left unattended, get into mischief. They would frequently pee on the elephant’s belongings. They were colorful and cute. These creatures were never named, and were of an unknown species, but they seemed friendly. Sadly, near the outset of the film, the entire lot of them were crushed to death by a rolling barrel. Little is known about these little monsters, but I would love to pet one. Well, provided it didn’t pee on me.
9) The Furries
from “Fury of the Furries” (1993)
This one wins the obscurity prize for the week. “Fury of the Furries” was a computer game that was released in the early 1990s by a company named Kalisto Entertainment. It was a puzzle game in the style of “Lemmings,” in that you had to direct a group of creatures – each with an assigned talent – through a maze-like corridor full of pitfalls, traps, and other dangers. The challenge was, like the Lemmings, you could only use one talent at a time, forcing you to switch between them.
The creatures in this game, the titular Furries, were, mercifully, not the plushie fetishists you’ve heard so much about. The Furries were little fuzzy cotton balls with faces, hands and feet. Their scale was never exactly given, but I imagine they were about four inches tall. The red Furry could eat through rock. The blue Furry could swim. The yellow Furry could throw fireballs. The green Furry could swing on a grappling hook, Spider-Man style. Each one made a cute little noise as it used its talent. It’s been many years since I’ve played his game (I think I last encountered it in 1994), but that I still so vividly recall these little Furries speaks to their strength. They earn a spot on this list.
from “Pokémon Gold and Silver” (2000)
From Wikipedia: “Swinub is a pig covered in brown fur with dark brown stripes, and is found in icy areas. It roots around with its nose to find food, its favorite being a certain mushroom that grows under dead grass. Swinub’s nose is so tough that even the frozen ground poses no problem. Occasionally, it will find hot springs while rooting around in the ground.”
A confession: I played some of the Pokémon games well into my 20s. I got hooked on them when I was about 23, and managed to catch ‘em all in both “Pokémon Gold” and “Pokémon Emerald.” I’ve also seen the first ten “Pokémon” feature films. This is not something I’m particularly proud of, but it certainly ups my know-how on newer video games a skosh, and, if looked at in the right light, makes me much cooler; I bothered to give an adult analysis of something for kids.
It makes me cooler, right? Right?
from the TCFC toy line (c. 1986)
From the people who thought up the Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake came another big toy sensation that was augmented by a TV program, and further warped out childhoods. Popples were cuddly little bear-like creatures with round bodies, short limbs, and marsupial pouches on their backs. You could push the ritters inside out, and push them into their own back pouches, turning them into little balls of fluff you could toss about. Cute idea for a toy. It’s a teddy bear and a soft soccer ball.
There was, of course, an animated TV program to feature the Popples, which featured two young children trying to conceal the existence of Popples from the world at large. The creatures had cutesy names like Potato Chip, Puffball, Pancake and Pretty Bit. The show, from what I recall, sucked roundly. I learn from some cursory internet research, however, that the pilot for the cartoon was actually a live-action puppet show with Shelley DuVall. That sounds pretty amazing.
The Popples, in my mind, could easily defeat the Shirt Tales, but were inferior to Wuzzles.
6 ½) Ryo-Ohki
from “Tenchi Muyo!” (1992)
Part cat, part rabbit, and all meows, Ryo-Ohki was the mystical pet of the inter-dimensional princess in the anime series “Tenchi Muyo!” one of the first big anime hits to strike the geek crowd back in the early 1990s. The series followed a teenage boy, and his constant staving off of the aforementioned princess, as well as other potential suitors. This seems to be a common theme in a lot of anime; young boys are constantly fighting off female attention.
Ryo-Ohki was so goddam cute. It would twitch and meow, begging to be petted. Indeed, Ryo-Ohki was so adorable a critter, that it sort of, for many years, became the de facto face of all anime. I know many girls who can do perfect impersonations of Ryo-Ohki, even if they haven’t seen “Tenchi Muyo!” Go to any anime or comic book convention, and you’ll find scads of Ryo-Ohki dolls for sale, equally cute, and just as ready to be cuddled. No one can do inscrutable super-cuteness like the Japanese. Ryo-Ohki is, in my mind, some sort of archetype.
from “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (1995)
Dr. Clayton Forrester realized that people respond to cuteness in a way that makes them docile, pliant, and easily influenced. As such, he created the single most adorable creature he could think of in order to unleash it on the public, and control the world. He creation was Nummymuffincoocolbutter, a little pink dog-like create that was completely immobile, and did little other than coo, wag its tail, and shed copiously. Another benefit of Nummymuffincoocolbutter was that it would imprint on its owner like a baby duck, making for a complete breakdown of cute defenses.
Of course, the experiment proved to be too effective, as TV’s Frank ended up bonding with the animal thing, causing Nummymuffincoocolbutter to become ill with loneliness. Nummymuffincoocolbutter was just the right kind of furry thing: undeniably cute, but somehow insidiously calculating. I always liked my furry creatures to have a bit of an edge. I’m also astonished I just typed the preceding sentence.
5) The Cheat
from homestarrunner.com (c. 2002)
The Cheat is a wedge-shaped creature covered with yellow hair and black spots. His anatomy is just plain baffling. He can’t speak English, really, speaking in little squeaks and noises. He often say “meh.” He’s a cute little bugger, and has led a varied career as a show animal, as an Icelandic miner, and as a criminal. The Cheat is the sidekick of Strong Bad, the sometime villain of the Homestar Runner universe. He is aptly named, as he is well know for his cheatin’ ways, often pulling off capers, and comitting random acts of vandalism and theft.
Imagine if Pikachu was a little shorter, a bit more mean spirited, actually had some personality, and took a great deal of pleasure in petty tyranny, and you’ll have a good idea of what The Cheat is. The Cheat is often playfully mistrated, usually taking kicks from Strong Bad. You can get a plush The Cheat doll from the homestarunner.com website, and the makers encourage that you kick it. It squeals when you do.
from “The Dark Crystal” (1982)
Jim Henson’s 1982 fantasy film is still, to this day, one of the best-looking fantasy films ever made. It’s oddly atmospheric, and the puppets are first-rate. Watching the scene where the army of evil Skeksis have dinner around a table, not really speaking, and savoring their disgusting epicurean fare is a marvel of puppetry and pacing. The evil Skeksis are balanced by the slow-moving and ancient Mystics, and they all tie in somehow to a great purple crystal that was broken many years ago.
The film is, however, not without the usual Disney pitfall of Cute Animal Sidekick. The film’s hero, Jen, manages to accumulate a little ball of fur called Fizgig, which looked like a cross between a flat-nosed puppy, and Animal from The Muppets. It had cute little round eyes, and could scurry about in an adorable manner, but, when upset, would scream at the top of its lungs, exposing rows and rows of teeth. I know a lot of kids who were a little scared by Fizgig. I always liked the little bugger.
3) The Crites
from “Critters” (1986)
They came from outer space. They roll up into little hedgehog balls, and look like you can pet them. They unfold, revealing little wicked red eyes, and enough teeth to chew through a cow. They traveled in packs, eating everything in sight, usually like piranhas, skeletonizing people in a matter of seconds. If you try to run, they can even fire poison darts out of their backs, stunning you. There things are wicked little critters.
There were four “Critters” movies over the years, and they would do battle with Earthlings, other aliens, and even went into space at one point. Their size might have you thinking they’re sure and easy to dispatch of, but they proved to be formidable foes. They could be punted, yes, but were so lightweight, they would simply roll up and roll back for more. Seeing the films on TV as a kid scared the bejebus out of me, especially that once scene in “Critters 2: The Main Course,” where hundreds of Crites roll up into a single giant ball, and roll over a human, leaving a still-quivering skeleton behind. Jibblie jibblie.
from “Gremlins” (1984)
Joe Dante’s Christmas-themed monster film “Gremlins,” definitely not o.k. For little kids, was still, like “Poltergeist” before it, seen by an entire generation, and inspired hundreds of nightmares. It also served as the inspiration of all kinds of little-tiny-monster-wreak-havoc movies, from “Critters” to “Ghoulies,” to (choke) “Munchies.” It’s such a weird film, it’s kind of surprising to see how popular it became.
The Mogwai, as we all know, had some very clear guidelines and rules. For one: bright lights kill them. Second: Merely getting them wet makes them multiply. Third: If they eat after midnight (I’m guessing in their own time zone), they spit up gooey cocoons, and hatch into the evil, destructive, reptilian Gremlins of the title. As Mogwai, they are pretty complacent. As Gremlins, they’re evil. The spokes-Mogwai for the film was, of course, Gizmo, a cute little creature with big bat ears and large, friendly eyes, and who seemed regretful about his potentially destructive body. He seems to regret the unruly natures of his children. One Mogwai can, as we have learned, lead to the deaths of untold thousands. Talk about a cute little critter with an edge.
from “Star Trek” (1966-1969)
Their trilling sound can break through the sternest of characters. Even Spock becomes hypnotized by their little noises. They are born hungry, and tend to eat grain at an incredible rate. Oddly, by eating, they become pregnant, and more hungry tribbles are out to eat more grain. They are bisexual. They are too! Dr. McCoy said so. They have no features beyond their hair. They have no faces, no limbs, no nothing. They are little purring balls of fur, and easily the most notorious furry things in pop culture history.
Tribbles hate Klingons. We don’t know why, but they freak out when a Klingon is nearby. They shriek. Maybe Klingons smell funny to them. Y’know, if they had noses. It was explained in an episode of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” that the Klingons went on a fatwa against the tribbles, seeking out their homeworld and destroying it. Just because they found tribbles to be annoying. That’s very cold, sir. How could you reists that little purring wad of fur that’s so much fun to pet? Well, we’ll leave that one for the ages.
QuvlIjDaq yIH tu’be’lu’jaj.
Witney Seibold is a green furry monster living under your bed. He sneaks out at night and feeds on dryer lint. He likes to hide ball-point pens, and puts mold on your fruit. He has a ‘blog called Three Cheers for Darkened Years! which features hundreds of film reviews. He is half the voice of The B-Movies Podcast on Crave Online, and he is the ersatz professor behind that same site’s Free Film School. He is also the mastermind behind The Series Project.