Hamster Wheel Power
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 or melodrama. A common power source for Homemade Inventions or Bamboo Technology. Often combined with Rube Goldberg Device for maximum wackiness. You may see Wheel of Pain for a slave-driven variety of the serious version.
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- 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.
- Not actually powering it, but Volvo actually attached hamster wheel to the steering wheel of a truck and then drove it up a cliff by making the hamster drive it. Yes, a Hamster driving a Big Badass Rig by running on a wheel.
- Referenced in a Kia commercial in which cars of other brands are represented by giant (stationary) hamster wheels.
- Even better when the drivers of the Kia itself are (wait for it) giant hamsters!
- This nokia ad. Played straight and spelled out: "Hamster-powered phone charger". Genius.
- A PSA from Enroll America promoting the ACA's health insurance exchanges features various pets beseeching their owners to get covered. One is a hamster whose exercise wheel powers a digital "C'mon, you can do it!" sign.
Anime and Manga
- 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.
- There have also been cases where Team Rocket has captured Pikachu and used him to power their latest device for stealing Pokemon. It makes sense, since, much like the example above, Pikachu do generate massive amounts of electricity making them akin to small furry generators.
- During Mega Man Gigamix's Battle and Chase arc, Auto comes across Napalm Man's crashed car and gleefully opens it up, intent on scavenging it for high-quality parts. Instead of an engine, however, he's disturbed to find a three-person bike along with a KO'ed Charge Man, Crystal Man, and Wave Man inside.
- The Cool Boat of Kill la Kill, the Naked Sol, turns out to be powered by one of these, despite being roughly the size of a standard aircraft carrier.
- 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 Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog, a fairly often-used occurrence is to use Sonic's speed to power various devices, usually by having him pedal on a modified bike, or running on a treadmill. Amazingly he's even used this to power not one, but two Humongous Mecha!
- 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.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- 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.
- Parodied in The Absent-Minded Professor. The evil businessman, Alonzo Hawk, switched Model T's on Professor Brainard in a cruel joke. The "flight" of the car was ostensibly powered by a flock of doves; its engine was a hamster in a wheel. The joke would have worked, had Brainard not remembered that his car had a radio in it, and this one did not.
- 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 (the Big Penny in Making Money), trolls (the riverboat from Witches Abroad), oxen (the Wonderful Fanny from Snuff) or human prisoners (the door-opening device in 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.
- Complaining about her PD's microscopic budget, police chief Arly Hanks claims in Merry Wives of Maggody that her computer is powered by squirrels running in a wheel. She tells Sheriff Dorfer that one of his deputies will have to run background checks on some suspects because her computer's on the blink: one of the squirrels died.
- A decidedly non-comedic example in The Lost Regiment, where thousands of Cartha slaves are forced by the Merki to walk in huge wheels for hours each pay, powering their primitive manufacturing facility. This is because they don't have time to build efficient steam engines to do the job, not that the Merki care about the fates of a bunch of slaves, who drop like flies from the exhaustion. Later, the more advanced Bantag do the same, although their leader Ha'ark is determined to improve the process with steam engines.
- The time-travel device Sonic and Tails use near the end of the book Sonic the Hedgehog in the Fourth Dimension is cobbled together using a treadmill as the power source. The faster the duo run the quicker they travel in time; this becomes a plot point.
- 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 "Beaker power". When Beaker got tired, Honeydew activated a power booster - he released a tiger inside the wheel to chase Beaker.
- 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.
- Appears twice in Red Dwarf, first in White Hole when the ship's power is turned off and the Cat makes Lister peddle in an attempt to fry an egg with a hairdryer (before insisting he power the electric blanket while he sleeps) and secondly in a metaphorical sense when Ace Rimmer attempts to train Rimmer to take on his mantle by encouraging him to 'be the cougar running free', and Rimmer's efforts are visualised as a hamster in a wheel.
- Hamsters came to the rescue when the power went out during Puppy Bowl X, running on wheels to generate electricity for the stadium.
- A Ray Stevens music video "Surfin' USSR" had a nuclear sub powered by a hamster in a wheel and a menacing looking Red with a bullwhip.
- 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 swarm of rats running inside.
- They are essentially rolling circular chariots, quite obviously based on a giant hamster's exercise wheel, and not merely static gun platforms powered by rats.. Given that the Skaven themselves are a race of anthropomorphic rat-men, and the Doomwheels have a tendency to malfunction spectacularly and go rolling over and zapping their own side, they are more often than not played for laughs.
- In Rocket Age some of the worst off Martian Principalities are forced to resort to using slaves in wheels to provide some little power to the palace. Understandably this is seem as pathetic by everyone else.
- In world 2-3 of Super Paper Mario, this is one of the punishments that Mimi uses for those tricked into her slave labor. You can do this yourself to earn the money needed to pay for a crucial hint to pay off your own debt.
- 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.
- Also used in another Surface game, The Soaring City, in which a hamster running on a wheel powers up some thrusters that levitate its cage, revealing a trapdoor underneath.
- The video game The Incredible Machine uses these almost exclusively for power sources.
- In Monty Pythons The Meaning Of Life (the video game) there's a rather convoluted puzzle wherein you put a rude French mouse in a wheel and attempt to make him run by giving him the proper motivation (not cheese). Later on you get a small elephant who can be convinced to run if given a peanut, which result in a door being opened.
- One of the locks in Ravenhearst opens when you get a mechanical mouse to enter and use a wire exercise wheel.
- In Eyezmaze's Black Box, one of these provides mechanical power to the contraption.
- Ferries in Final Fantasy X are powered by chocobos running in hamster wheels. Justified, since a more advanced engine would presumably break Yevon's taboo against machina.
- One puzzle in Limbo involves luring a creature to a wheel to get it to power a Weather Control Machine.
- After building an airport in Tropico 4, Penultimo and Sunny may report about it. When Penultimo describes how high-tech the air traffic control system is, Sunny claims to see a hamster wheel powering it.
- One puzzle in the Voralberg Factory in Syberia involves getting a clockwork rat into a wheel to provide power. This is also a bit of foreshadowing for the sequel, where you need to get a youki into similar contraptions to provide motive power for other devices.
- The main characters' ship in Melonpool is powered by Sammy the giant hamster running on a wheel.
- In Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, turning the crank on a generator was determined to be Superman's best way of helping humanity, resulting in his preserved body being labeled as "a transitional power source".
- In the Protectors of the Plot Continuum, electrical power to HQ is provided by generators driven by dead authors spinning in their graves by reason of all the terrible fanfic.
- Many powered devices used by the Codename: Kids Next Door were hamster-driven.
- Norm, a giant robot from Phineas and Ferb, runs on squirrel power.
- Drusselstein, home of the Doofenshmirtz clan, runs on a big shaft driven by goats, as seen in The Doonkleberry Imperative It would work, if the citizens could agree upon which way the goats should turn.
- Zach Varmitech used a cheetah to power his cheating racer in Wild Kratts
- The Arkansas Chuggabug in one episode of Wacky Races runs on squirrels. The squirrel speeds up when Luke feeds him H.R.P.: "Hot roasted peanuts, for more 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 (which is to say, they "revolve"), 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 forces 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 by Leonardo da Vinci in the Futurama episode "The Duh-Vinci Code", is powered by a rat-wheel in his chest.
- The wooden spaceships that carry people to and from the Amish planet in "Ghost in the Machines" are powered by oxen on a treadmill.
- A freeze ray in League of Super Evil was powered by a hamster running in a wheel. It wore little jogging accessories.
- The Technodrome from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 had an Emergency Pedal Power Generator in case it would run out of fuel. Which it did often. Justified, as the generator clearly isn't meant to be the primary energy source of 500-feet tank-fortress, it provides just barely enough power for the main computer to work.
- In The Fairly OddParents, Timmy's dad made a computer whose "Power Source" was a hamster in a wheel.
- An episode of Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers involved the Mad Scientist Dr. Nimnul hypnotizing mice and forcing hundreds of them to run on wheels to power his latest evil invention.
- Russian animation film Adventures of Captain Wrongel (and the novel it was based on) plays with this trope. When eponymous Captain saves a bunch of squirrels from forest fire and tries to unload them in a zoo, local Obstructive Bureaucrat tries to charge him with contraband, since the animals obviously aren't included in the ship's cargo manifest. To fend off the charge, Captain declares the squirrels to be part of his ship's propulsion system and proves it by quickly building two giant squirrel-powered paddle wheels.
- Star vs. the Forces of Evil
- In "Quest Buy", it's revealed the power source of Star's magic wand is a tiny unicorn running on a treadmill.
- In "Freeze Day", all of time itself is run by Father Time running inside the Wheel of Progress. When Star makes Time Stand Still, Father Time gets off the wheel for the first time in literally forever and now doesn't want to go back inside the wheel and start time running again.
- 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.
- The Turnspit was a breed of dog (now extinct) created for the purpose of operating wheel-powered meat spits in kitchens.
- MMORPG players tend to jokingly refer to their game's servers as being powered by either "server hamsters" or a similar creature from the game's universe (for example, tribbles in Star Trek Online)