How 'The Littles' Tried to Combat the Cartoon Violence of the 1980s

James Logie

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 is based on books of the same name. The Littles ran for three seasons and led to two different movies.

The Littles were able to capture the sensation of shrinking down into the world which is always a big hit with kids.

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.

The show worked well as it served as a family-friendly alternative to the many violent cartoons which dominated the airwaves. This is a look back on the Littles

It Starts With the Books

The books were written by John Peterson and were first published in 1967.

The books featured a group of people called “The Littles” who were tiny, humanoid type creatures. They looked a little like mice.

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

The Littles live 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 Granpa, and baby Betsy.

if you’re more familiar with the show, these names will sound unfamiliar. But this was the basis of the original books.

Tomy 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.

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.

The Littles Cartoon

The 1980s brought an explosion of cartoons and pop culture. For studios, they barely had time to think. There was so much content being created that they had to put out something quickly and hope it would stick.

When 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 turned this unique idea into a cartoon.

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. There were also some villains in the form of Dr. Erik Hunter, who has never seen a Little but always tries to find out if they exist.

Many episodes of the first two seasons focused on teaching moral lessons--and this was an attempt for the show to stand out.

A lot of cartoons of the 80s were action and violence-centered, and ABC wanted to appeal more to families trying to keep their kids away from that.

Another feature of the show would be an arts and craft project at the end.

The second season would take suggestions that were written in by viewers to try to make it more interactive.

Changes Going Into the Third Season

The first two seasons were devoted to adventures taking place within the Bigg Household.

There is only so much you can do contained in that setting and the producers of the show wanted to do something to boost the popularity.

They took a new direction and had The Littles travel around the world. The third season was only 8 episodes and in it; the Littles traveled to places like the Amazon, Egypt, Ireland, Italy, and even in the Space Shuttle.

The show still did 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 a hybrid-type movie. It was connected to both the TV show and Peterson’s original books.

The movie reintroduces the story of the Littles meeting Henry Bigg whose uncle is trying to turn the area their house is in into a mall.

Henry has found out his parents have been lost on a trip to Africa and his Uncle Augustus will now become his guardian.

The Littles, who live in the walls of Henry’s house, stow away in his suitcase and reveal themselves to his uncle.

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.

All the Littles escape and make their way back to Henry’s house to stop its demolition.

Augustus is arrested by the police and Henry finds out his parents are alive after all.

Here Come The Littles was released on May 25th, 1985. It made around $6.6 million but, not surprisingly, didn't do well with critics.

The movie was forced to show mainly during matinees. This made sense for its audience base but limited the number of screenings they could show.

A sequel was made for TV 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.

This time, the Littles meet their French cousins at the Statue of Liberty.

Final Thoughts

The Littles were a memorable part of the 80s and had a whimsical/fantasy aspect to it.

Anything that is miniature often appeals to kids, and this was the approach taken with The Littles.

It 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.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.

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