One humorous way to demonstrate that a mechanical device is primitive, of amateurish construction, or simply underpowered is to have it propelled, not by internal combustion or electricity, but by Pocket Pet Power. Hook it up to a wheel-shaped or spherical cage, and let a small animal -- usually a hamster or mouse -- run its little legs off inside to generate torque. The larger the device, and the tinier the animal, the odder this arrangement looks.
More-plausible variants, which use large animals or human workers to turn their wheels, also appear in fiction. These aren't particularly funny, and may be Played for Drama
if the arduousness (and boredom) of walking inside a wheel for hours on end is emphasized.
Other odd methods of powering a device by muscle action, such as pedaling or pushing levers, may also rate as variants of this trope, provided they're similarly Played for Laughs
A common power source for Homemade Inventions
or Bamboo Technology
. Often combined with Rube Goldberg Device
for maximum wackiness.
- Non-wheel variant: In a Geico commercial, a man powers his laptop from a team of guinea pigs he'd trained to row a miniature boat.
- Referenced in a Kia commercial in which cars of other brands are represented by giant (stationary) hamster wheels.
- This nokia ad. Played straight and spelled out: "Hamster-powered phone charger". Genius.
- Episode two of the Pokémon Anime shows that the Pokemon Center's backup power generator is several Pikachu running on a horizontal wheel around a tesla coil.
- One episode of Archie Comics Explorers of the Unknown had the Villain of the Week's superweapon powered by "1,000,000 hamsters in running wheels."
- In The Dark Knight Strikes Again, it's revealed that a major source of electricity for the whole world is actually a giant hamster wheel where The Flash is running in superspeed.
- In The fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Phineas devises a car, powered by a hamster on a treadmill - which is on cocaine.
- In "My Little Denarians", Discord foils Nicodemus' plan of running away and leaving him to fight the heroes alone by turning the engine of his car into a hamster ball.
- In Chicken Run, the chickens escaped on a plane that ran on pedals.
- In Madagascar 2, a plane was similarly powered by monkeys.
- A short film by San Gabriel Union Church had the church van break down, so the driver goes to "check the engine." Once he opens the hood, he yells inside "Come on, Samson! You can do it!" Samson is revealed to be a hamster in a wheel.
- Archchancellor Ridcully has one such device under his hat that may prevent baldness, powered by a hamster.
- Large-scale versions have also appeared in Discworld, powered by golems (Making Money) or human prisoners (Small Gods). A subversion in Eric was a giant wheel propelled by damned souls (and, briefly, by the Luggage), but it didn't power anything and was merely one of Hell's torments.
- At the end of Chet Gecko: The Hamster of the Baskervilles, the titular were-hamster is defeated by luring into a science fair exhibit about perpetual motion, which features an enormous spinning wheel. The were-hamster is caught inside the wheel and remains running, rendering it harmless.
- James Blish's short story "Surface Tension" features genetically engineered rotifer-sized people who build a "space ship" (we would think of it as a land vehicle) to travel to another pond on the surface of their planet. It is powered by diatoms running on treadmills.
- In Secret of the Sixth Magic, farm boys walking in wheels provide kinetic energy which thaumaturges then transfer into a magic-powered harvesting apparatus. Doubly cruel, in that the wheel-walkers end up with massively-overdeveloped thighs and no other skills to make a living, while the "harvesting apparatus" consists of cages with human peasants inside, steadily forced forward by mechanisms that beat them if they don't cut grain fast enough.
- A white mouse in a wheel powers part of the Rube Goldberg Device shown in the opening credits of Elementary.
- When the theater lost power on The Muppet Show, Dr. Honeydew rigged a giant hamster wheel generator that ran on "Beeker power". When Beeker got tired, Honeydew activated a power booster - he released a tiger inside the wheel to chase Beeker.
- Stephen Colbert once suggested that puppies licking peanut butter off turbine blades to make them spin might be a viable alternative-energy option on The Colbert Report.
- On Gilligan's Island, Gilligan pedals a stationary bicycle in order to generate power for the radio and a few other devices. At least once the stationary bicycle became non-stationary, sending Gilligan flying through the underbrush.
- In an episode of Bones Booth & Brennan visit an organic farmer who makes smoothies out of his vegetables, using a stationary bicycle to generate the electricity to run the blender. Brennan thinks it's ingenious; Booth thinks it's this trope.
- Gnomes in the Spelljammer D&D-in-space setting use giant space hamsters to power much of their goofy technology.
- Doomwheels in Warhammer are Skaven warmachines bristling with warpstone weaponry, powered by a Rat Ogre running inside.
- In the adventure game Journey to the Center of the Earth, you can lure a tiny fruit-eating dinosaur into the cage on a strange cart, so it will run inside the ball-shaped cage and propel the vehicle.
- In the Collectors' Edition of the casual game Surface: Mystery of Another World, catching a hamster and putting it into such a device is necessary to open the portal home.
- The video game The Incredible Machine uses these almost exclusively for power sources.
- In Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (the video game) there's a rather convoluted puzzle wherein you put a rude French mouse on a wheel, and giving him the proper motivation (not cheese) makes him run so as to open a door.
- One of the locks in Ravenhearst opens when you get a mechanical mouse to enter and use a wire exercise wheel.
- The main characters' ship in Melonpool is powered by Sammy the giant hamster running on a wheel.
- Many powered devices used by the Kids Next Door were hamster-driven.
- Norm, a giant robot from Phineas and Ferb, runs on squirrel power.
- This is how many devices work on The Flintstones, such as the record player.
- In the Upsidasium story arc of Rocky and Bullwinkle, it is revealed that vehicles in Pottsylvania are revolutionary (or "revolves"), thanks to the power of tiny squirrels running in wheels.
- At the end of the Looney Tunes short "Boobs in the Woods", Daffy Duck takes out the motor out of Porky Pig's car, so Porky forced Daffy to pedal the crankshaft instead. When he complains that Porky had no right to do that, Porky produces a license that allows him to do just that (a Call Back to a gag about licenses earlier in the cartoon).
- Animatronio, a Renaissance robot built bu Leonardo da Vinci in the Futurama episode "The Duh-Vinci Code", is powered by a rat-wheel in his chest.
- Some Real Life exercise balls for pocket pets are enclosed in a framework that makes them look like racecars, emulating this trope.
- Cranes used in the construction of Real Life medieval cathedrals and castles were sometimes powered by humans walking inside giant wheels.