It seems I bare my soul quite a bit while blogging about the past. I have admitted that I have Furry tendencies (but not in THAT way), that I was bullied for being a comic book dork, that I was a D&D fanatic since I was a child, and I have a fear of a creature called the Goatman. So now I get to reveal something else that might be viewed as odd even for a bunch of nerds, geeks, and dorks…
“I like Fairies”. There, I said it.
It’s not the most accurate statement but it’s in its most simplest form. To be more accurate I like “little folk” or “forest folk”. Maybe if I explain what the appeal is it might make it easier to surmise. Now don’t get me wrong, fairies are pretty rad classically and in folklore. I grew up with the Gnomes and Fairies books as required reading for any fledgling fantasy dork in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Plus it had boobies. No, that’s not the reason!
Growing up, my house had many yards and flower beds. Situated on a hill, these yards and flower beds were stepped into a few different levels. These levels were retained by hand stacked rock walls that were there since before the civil war. Held together by decades of sifted soil, moss, and roots these walls offered me a secret world where anything could live. The walls stretched for hundreds of feet and had many different stairways and stone walkways coming and going. The flowerbeds were old and at times overgrown and had natural bird baths and outcroppings that allowed the imagination to run wild. I would find acorn caps perched and thought that “little folk” used them as cups, in honesty it was from chipmunks that lived in the walls. Really glad I never stuck my hand to deeply between the rocks…ugh. Anyways, back to the topic at hand. I always enjoyed thinking about how different and cooler the world would seem to a tiny creature like a fairy, gnome, or Little. What’s a “Little” you ask, well we’ll get to that in a second.
I would spend hours playing within the rocks of the gardens and walls with my action figures and Matchbox cars and envision it as everything from an over grown prehistoric world to just plain thinking my G.I. Joes were actual little people that stood 3 3/4 inches tall. When not outside playing, I would draw pictures of houses built within the roots of trees or within trees and map out the rooms and cool makeshift gadgets they would have from tree bark or pebbles. Kinda like this picture from the Gnome book, if I had talent.
Then, in the Fall of 1983 I saw a show that felt like it was made for me, The Littles.
The Littles began as a book series by author John Peterson. The first book, The Littles was released in 1967 and since then numerous books followed. The Littles were a race of tiny people who stood 6 inches tall and lived everywhere from between a home’s walls to the deepest parts of the forest. They were known to reuse old and lost items from the humans, which I always thought was awesome. The books were always criticized for being very similar to British author Mary Norton’s series The Borrowers which began its 5 book series in 1952. There were differences between the to series’, the biggest of which was locale as Peterson’s books were set in America while Norton’s series was set in the U.K.. Another difference was that The Littles share traits with mice like having tails, having pointed ears, and mouse like teeth (most of which came later).
In 1983 The Littles were adapted into a Saturday morning cartoon by DIC Entertainment. The Littles were DIC’s first network show, their past endeavors had run in syndication. The Littles ran from 1983 until 1985 and had a total of 29 episodes and 2 movies.
The show featured the same heroes that made their debut in the book series 16 years before. The main protagonists were brother and sister Tom and Lucy Little, their bumbling pilot cousin Dinky, and their tough as nails grandfather, Grandpa Little. While the Littles lived in secrecy (and by the way, Littles is their last name and the name of their tiny race. It would be like if your last name was Human.) the Little family befriended one human against the wishes of their people, Henry Bigg. The Little family lived within the walls of the Bigg household and met Henry after falling into a suitcase he was packing for a trip. Henry is a kind boy who is anywhere from 10 to 13 and is quick to help people big or Little. Henry also has a pet turtle named Slick that acts as a go between for The Littles and Henry. This cute little fellow wears roller skates to make him faster and seems to spend equal parts time with Henry and Tom and Lucy.
Like 99% of all cartoons of the ’80s, The Littles had a firm hand in the realm of morals. Most of the morality lessons surrounded Henry and the Littles severed as the “outsider” looking in for explanation so it didn’t seem like the writers were preaching directly to you. Some of the morals I remember the most were ones like drug use (duh, it’s the ’80s), bullying, dangerous dares, and animal cruelty. Henry was a good kid but it showed how good kids could be lead down a bad path just because they wanted to make friends or by being a good friend to bad kids.
But not everything was sunshine and rainbows in the world of The Littles. Every few episodes they would skip the morality play and focus on Henry and The Littles running from one other human who “knows” about their existence, Doctor Hunter. This scientist stops at almost nothing to gain evidence on The Littles. Dr. Hunter feels that if he can prove The Littles are real he would be famous worldwide and within the science community. In most shows this villain type would be bumbling and stupid, but in The Littles Dr. Hunter is a straight-up asshole who has zero scruples. He is aided by his assistant Peterson who isn’t really a bumbler but isn’t as hell-bent as Hunter.
Another thing The Littles have to fear in their small world are animals and insects. Everything from rats, spiders, and cats are out to eat them while indoors, and while outdoors the threats grow. It’s a theme I for one love. While I would be playing outside as a wee lad, pretending of tiny worlds and big adventure, I could see how deadly things like birds and squirrels could be. So I have always liked this dynamic of the show and other “little folk” media. I also like when mice, wrens, and other friendly animals are used as mounts or beasts of burden.
Another thing I really like about the world of little folk and shows/movies like The Littles was the repurposing they do of human world items. Either it be Dinky’s rubber band powered plane or playing card walls for houses, I love it. Also the use of natural items like plants, trees, and toad stools being used for a myriad of different things. A cool feature they use to have in the show after the last commercial break and the story was tied up with a nice little bow, was a segment called ” Little ideas for big people”. In this segment they would show you how to make some of the things The Littles used in their tiny world. Mostly it was rubber band powered boats, planes, or cars -or- tin can telephones and stuff like that.
During the shows last season they switched things up a bit and had the Bigg family traveling the world. Henry brought along The Little family and they lived in a converted camera case. With their backdrop of globetrotting adventure, the show took a different spin and broke away from the childhood morals. The show focused on world cultures and the involvement of The Littles from all over the world. Because the Little race has been right there with us since the dawn of time, just hidden away. This was something the show also gave glimpses of while they were still in the Bigg house in season 1 and 2 as Dr. Hunter would try and uncover ancient Little artifacts to prove their existence. Also the capper of the show was called “Little known facts” which told facts about the place they were visiting that week.
After the show wrapped in 1985 a theatrical release was made called “Here Come The Littles”. This movie return the Littles to the Bigg house and retold the origins of the show and their meeting of Henry Bigg. It was an odd thing to release a movie like this at the end of the show but it told the origin we never really saw before. When the show started in 1983 it picked up with Henry and the Littles already friends. After that they made a TV movie called “Liberty and the Littles” and it told the tale of the Littles traveling to New York for the Statue of Liberty’s 100 birthday. After a storm causes them to crash on Liberty Island they meet a group of Littles from France whose ancestors help build the Statue. They uncover a plot to blow up the Statue of Liberty and must save the day. Both of these movies were chopped up and made into episodes that ran for the show’s remaining time on ABC and in syndication.
The Littles didn’t do much in the way of marketing. There were of course a fair share of books that focused on the cartoon and the original books were rereleased. There were also the normal puzzles, board games, and knick knacks.
Recently I found that all (or at least a good deal) of the episodes are on YouTube. I watch them when I can, but sadly my kids could care less. Oh well, can’t win them all.