Everyone likes miniature versions of things, and this is what leads to the success of a story, cartoon, and movie during the 80s.
The Littles was the story of miniature, humanoid-like creatures that lived in the walls of a house. The cartoon version was released in 1983 and based on the books of the same name. The Littles ran for three seasons and led to two different movies.
The Littles were something I didn’t realize went back as far as they did. Not only are the books from the 60s, but the cartoon was also earlier in the 80s than I remember. The Littles were able to capture that sensation of shrinking down into the world which is always a big hit a la Honey I Shrunk The Kids.
They created a very cool mythology with the Littles, and they feel like a bit of the inspiration behind the Fraggles. The cartoon and movie were pretty big hits in their time and carved out a nice little niche in the juggernaut that was 1980s cartoons.
This is a look back on the Littles
The Borrowers & The First Books
I was not as familiar with these books and knew the Littles more from the cartoon and the movie. I mentioned that they go way back, and they really did. The books were written by John Peterson and were first published in 1967 for crying out loud.
The books featured a group of people called “The Littles” who were tiny, humanoid type creatures. They looked a little like mice and seem like a distant relation to Peter Pettigrew from Harry Potter…
They are said to be around 4-6 inches high and in the books, their main feature was the long tail – this would change when the cartoon came around. There was a big connection between Peterson’s book and the book called “The Borrowers” by Mary Norton. The Borrowers go back to 1952 and is about a family of tiny people that live in the walls of a regular human house.
These tiny creatures have to “borrow” from the humans to survive and this book was a significant success. It won the Carnegie medal for children’s books and is considered a top ten medal-winning book for all-time British children’s books.
The Story Of The Littles
So whether this was a deliberate rip off or not, the story of The Littles also involves them living in the walls of the home of the Bigg family. The Little family is made up of William T. Little, and Wilma Little, along with their children Tom and Lucy. There is also Uncle Pete, Granny and Grandpa, and baby Betsy.
These names will sound unfamiliar if you’re more familiar with the show, but this was the basis from the original books. Tom and Lucy are seen as good-deed doers and they live in the house with regular size human, Henry Bigg. In the book series, he never discovers that he’s living with these tiny people which differs from the cartoon.
So the original books were a big hit and Peterson wrote 17 different stories up until 2003. The series was continued from there for another 11 books that were not written by Peterson. There was also a series developed for younger readers called the Littles First Readers Series that had another 10 books added to the whole collection.
It’s Cartoon Time!
The 80s was an explosion of cartoons and pop culture and for producers, they barely had time to think. There was so much content being created that you had to put out something that would stick. If you’re stuck for ideas, it’s worth looking back on things that worked in the past and hope they can find a new audience.
ABC was looking to do just such a thing and 16 years after the original book was published, they took a crack at turning this unique idea into a cartoon. DiC Entertainment would be the ones who would put together The Littles and they weren’t actually based in North America but in France. DiC would eventually bring us Inspector Gadget and the Heathcliff cartoon, but the Littles would be their first entry into the American market.
The animation, as is usually done, was outsourced to Japan and to a company called Tokyo Movie Shinsha. The post-production would be done in my home country of Canada by Animation City Editorial Services.
The Premise Of The Littles Cartoon
The idea was similar to the books but there would be some new direction in character and storytelling. For the characters you now had:
- Tom Little
- Lucy Little
- Grandpa Little (Helen’s father)
- Dinky Little (who had been in the books)
- Frank Little – the father
- Helen Little – the mother
- Ashley Little – A second cousin to the family
- Henry Bigg
- Slick the turtle
This time around, Henry is aware of the existence of the Littles and he’s best friends with them. You now also had some villains in the form of Dr. Erik Hunter, who has never seen a Little but is always trying to find out if they exist. His assistant is the aptly named James Peterson.
A lot of the episodes of the first two seasons focused on teaching moral lessons and I think this was what the show wanted to do to stand out. A lot of cartoons were action and violence centered, and I think ABC wanted to appeal more to families who were maybe trying to keep their kids away from that. Another feature of the show, if you remember this, was at the end there would be an arts and craft project featured. The second season would take suggestions that were written in by viewers to try to make it more interactive.
Some More Differences From The Books
Henry is aware of the Littles which is already different from the book, but it’s never explained how he actually got to meet them. In the second season, it was mentioned that Henry first knew of the Littles when Tom and Lucy had fallen in his suitcase while he was moving. They would eventually jump out of it for their “meet cute”. This also differs from the movie which we’ll get to in a bit.
The two villains are also obviously unique to the cartoon series but were necessary to keep the pace of the show moving and give them an adversary. Every good cartoon needs a villain and these two would serve as Gargamel to their Smurfs type situation. I’m seeing some more crossover here now…
Some Of The Notable Voice Actors
Man, the 80s were the golden age if you were a voice actor as there were so many jobs coming up every day. You need to check out my article about one of the kings of voice acting, Frank Welker (and we’ll see him again in a moment). But here are some notable actors who provided voices on the Littles.
- Jimmy Keegan voiced Henry Little – Keegen ended up being a drummer who played with Santana
- Alvy Moore voiced Granpa – Moore played the iconic Hank Kimball on Green Acres
- Gregory Berger voiced Frank Little – Berger did some amazing voices including Odie on Garfield and Friends, and was Grimlock on Transformers!
- Patricia Parris voiced Helen Little – She’s been on a lot of shows including Smurfs, Super Friends, DuckTales, Gummi Bears, and the Fraggle Rock cartoon
- Bettina Bush voiced Lucy Little – Bush was the voice of Megan on My Little Pony, Dotty Dog in the Get Along Gang, and was the singer in the original “I’m Lovin’ It” McDonald’s commercials.
- Frank Welker voiced Slick – seriously, check out my article all about his amazing work
- Ken Sansom voiced Dr. Hunter – Sansom was the voice of Rabbit on the New Adventures of Winnie The Pooh
Changes Going Into The Third Season
The show was doing ok but the first two seasons were devoted to adventures taking place within the Bigg Household. There is only so much you can do contained to that setting and the producers of the show also wanted to do something to boost the popularity.
They took a new direction and started having the Littles traveling around the world. The third season was only 8 episodes and included the Littles traveling to places like the Amazon, Egypt, Ireland, Italy, and even in the Space Shuttle for some reason.
The show was still doing decently good numbers, and it allowed for the usual merchandising that included tie-in storybooks, a Milton Bradley game, and regular things like stickers and coloring books.
The Littles Movie: Here Comes The Littles
This movie came out in 1985 and was also produced by DiC Entertainment in France. It was a hybrid type movie as it was connected to the TV show but also to Peterson’s original books. The movie reintroduces the story of the Littles and meeting Henry Bigg who’s uncle is trying to turn the area that their house is in into a mall. There’s a sweet VHS rip of the movie if you want to watch it on YouTube.
Henry has found out his parents have been lost on a trip to Africa and his Uncle Augustus is now going to become his guardian. The Littles, who are living in the walls of Henry’s house are able to stow away in his suitcase and reveal themselves at his uncles. Well, not ‘reveal’ themselves, they present themselves, wait…
Henry is basically being treated like Harry Potter and Augustus finds the Littles, mistakes them for toys, and locks them up. It is also found out that Augustus has faked the papers to become Henry’s guardian.
Basically, all the Littles escape and they all make their way back to Henry’s house to stop the demolition of it. Augustus is arrested by the police and Henry finds out his parents are alive after all. All’s well that ends well.
Here Come The Littles was released by Atlantic Releasing and was put out in theatres on May 25th, 1985. It did around $6.6 million but, not surprisingly, didn’t do well with critics. It’s no surprise that movies from this time period are cranked out quickly to try to capitalize on the success of a popular franchise.
The movie was forced to show mainly during matinees which makes sense for its audience base but limited the number of screenings it could show. A sequel was made that was a TV movie called Liberty and the Littles. It aired on ABC in 1986 and was broken into three, 30-minute episodes spread out over a few weeks in the fall of 1986. This time, the Littles meet their French cousins at the Statue of Liberty.
Liberty and the Littles was supposed to be a theatrical release but some problems internally led to it just being put on regular television.
Final Thoughts On The Littles
The Littles were a memorable part of the 80s and had a whimsical/fantasy aspect to it. There’s always an appear with things smaller than regular life and seeing what the world is like from that perspective. This approach has worked well with The Smurfs, and Fraggle Rock, but the Littles were able to carve out their own little niche amongst all these 1980s cartoon heavyweights.