A parent's rite of passage.
"You dumb babies! Stop having fun! It's just a stupid box!"
— Angelica Pickles
, "The Box"
Kids covet boxes while ignoring the (presumably valuable) contents inside. Many parents learn this the hard way — little Cindy's birthday is coming up soon, and unsuspecting Alice and Bob want it to be super-special for her, so they search high and low for a super-special ultra-rare highly-expensive toy as her present. As the birthday approaches, the two of them bubble over with excitement as they imagine how vivacious she'll be when she finally receives it.
So the party is held, cake gets eaten, and Cindy goes through her gifts. At the end, she opens Alice and Bob's present, yelps with glee... then carelessly tosses it aside while she trills at the most awesome
cardboard box it came in! Just imagine the possibilities!
A common gag in comedies with small children, and a case of Truth in Television
for a lot of parents.
Also see Mundane Object Amazement
, My New Gift Is Lame
, Unwanted Gift Plot
and Worthless Yellow Rocks
. Compare Blanket Fort
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- Archie Comics:
- An old issue showed the gang as cave people, given presents by Santa: Modern clothes in the sorts of boxes high end stores once used. They find the modern clothes useless, but thank the strange red guy for the wonderful gifts - the immensely useful boxes.
- Betty makes paintings, and one is finally bought by a man raving about how it was just what he needed. He then tosses the painting away as he leaves, continuing to rave about the frame.
- Dangerverse Living with Danger hangs a lampshade:
Nearly an hour and about an acre of shredded wrapping paper later, the children were ignoring all their new toys and playing in the large cardboard box one of them had come in.
"Never fails," Remus said. "We should stop getting them presents and just get them boxes."
"Don't think I haven't considered it," Danger said ruefully.
- From Ask Fluffle Puff, the short ''All Boxed Up'' shows Fluffle Puff playing with a box after throwing away the book it contained, destined to Twilight (and with the mention "last copy ever, handle with care").
Films — Animation
- WALL•E did that with a diamond ring; he chose the ringbox. No infant would fault his logic. It opens and shuts and makes a clicky noise!
- The Nightmare Before Christmas plays with this trope, as Jack is obsessed with the concept of a "present" (particularly in Kingdom Hearts II), but doesn't understand that the present is what's inside the pretty wrapped box with the bow. He clearly has some idea (or realizes later) that the box needs to have an item inside it, because the citizens of Halloween Town fill the boxes with scary toys rather than leaving them empty.
- In Winnie-the-Pooh, Pooh intends to give Eeyore a jar of honey... and then absentmindedly eats the honey. Eeyore doesn't actually like honey, but he's very happy to be given the empty jar.
- In an episode of Modern Family, Claire and Phil mention that their son Luke is like this. One year, they decided to just give him a box for his birthday. Unfortunately they put it in a nice bag and he spent all day playing with the bag.
- On Dave's World, after Dave has gone through hell and high water to get the year's hot toy for his son, the boy opens the box, says the toy's name in an awed voice, and proceeds to play with the wrapping paper.
- Referenced in Power Rangers Zeo. Sprocket begs his parents for a new toy, and Machina points out "But when we got you that lovely nuclear reactor, you only played with the box."
- In an episode of Full House, Michelle got a cute little outfit from her family but she didn't care, all she wanted was the box.
- Roseanne hangs a lampshade on this trope in the season 9 Christmas episode: "You kids have a big day tomorrow of ignoring all your toys and playing with the boxes they came in!"
- Top Gear: Richard Hammond confessed during one news segment he still hasn't given this trope up; even as a grown-up, he still can't bring himself to throw away boxes because of the possibilities for fun. His co-presenters were baffled.
Clarkson: Richard, are you all right? Seriously, because this is a man with... there's no other way of putting this... a helicopter license.
Hammond: The CIA said I was all right...
Clarkson: I know, the CIA, if they're watching this they're going to think, "He's a madman!"
May: Well, it's not a real helicopter. It's just the box his fridge came in.
- Both played straight and inverted in the Good Luck Charlie episode, "Charlie 4, Toby 1", where Amy just gives Toby an empty box for a toy train for his first birthday. While Toby is having a lot of fun playing with the empty box, P.J. asks Amy if she still has the toy train for him to play with.
- Played with on Sesame Street: The shifty salesman Lefty tries to sell Ernie an empty box, telling him that at least it doesn't have worms in it, and that he could put jellybeans or a pet mouse in it. But Ernie doesn't have any money on him, prompting Lefty to walk away in disgust. Immediately afterward, Bert comes by with a box full of donuts — and Ernie promptly dumps out the donuts and takes the box, saying that now he'll be ready when jellybeans start raining from the sky.
- Similar to the Archie Comics example, one episode of Kenan & Kel had the two sell one of Kel's paintings for $5 - only for the buyer to throw away the painting and keep the ornate frame.
Myths & Religion
- There's a Buddhist parable in Chinese Mythology about a shopkeeper that tried to sell a valuable pearl by putting it inside a pretty box. Unfortunately the person that bought it was only interested in buying the box and left the pearl. The Aesop to the story is not to ignore the deeper meanings of Buddhism in favor of the superficial.
- Dragon Fable:
- One of the game's Mascot Mook enemies are an entire Planet of Hats species of goblins called Sneevils, who make a point of stealing boxes and discarding any of their contents.
- It was heavily implied during Nythera's flashback that Sneevils used to be human children before being shifted into their goblin-like appearance to collect boxes for her boxfort.note Most of the children were reverted back to normal but the few who escaped became ancestors of the modern Sneevils seen today.
- In an extra, if you look closely, you can see Sunny in Metal Gear Solid 4 playing with a cardboard box. No surprise, since she is raised by her Uncle Snake.
- Short-lived, but Isaac of Mother 3 initially finds more use for the Happy Box's box than the Happy Box itself (the "Happy Box" is basically a television, not itself an example of this trope.)
- Bubble wrap. *pop* *pop* *pop* *pop*. Tragically, someone had to go and invent a newer type of bubble wrap made of interconnected air pockets that is becoming more commonplace. Trying to pop one air pocket will deflate all of the pockets on a row.
- Shipping containers have been used to build houses.
- Cats love boxes. They love hiding in them. It's the best way to catch a cat. Set out a box and leave. Come back in five minutes. The cat will be in the box. No muss, no fuss. They'll do the same with paper bags, if you can't find a box. Or laundry baskets, especially when there's laundry in them.
- Pet rodents usually adore cardboard boxes, both as hiding places and something to chew on. A box full of shredded-paper packing material is even better, for added burrowing and nest-building potential.
- "Cardboard box" has been added to the Toy Hall of Fame, alongside Jack-in-the-box and Candyland. That's how awesome boxes are.
- The well-established rule that kids like cookie dough better than cookies is similar.
- There is an urban legend that Japan used to buy a lot of Soviet mineral water in the '70s and throw the bottles out. They only needed the hardwood boxes to make furniture.
- A Saturday Evening Post cover featured a parent observing a child playing with a wooden toy train, which led to a purchase of a big electric train set, only for the child to continue to play with the original wooden toy.