Sylvanian Families is the name of a line of video games and anthropomorphic collectible articulated toy plush figures, created by Japanese company Epoch in 1985 and distributed worldwide by a number of companies. The characters, grouped into families, are woodland creatures such as rabbits, foxes and bears. They remain a quintessential part of the 1990s boom in craze (or fad) toys.
The general design of families, clothes, furniture and vehicles is set in 1970s rural Britain (which is when the parents who would be buying the toys would have been growing up), with most families apparently members of the middle classes, often hosting garden parties and going on short camping holidays. Many run small businesses. Most families start with a father, mother, sister and brother and add relatives on from there, often by way of grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and babies in different playsets, and then doctors, teachers and store owners (who also tend to be members of somebody's family). The product line is generally commended for the degree of detail in its teeny-tiny accessories.
Sylvanian Families are known today as Calico Critters in the USAnote , but they are basically the same toyline, the only difference being packaging and the names of products. The most popular word used to describe them is 'adorable'.
You can practically imagine them saying "Are we going out for a bicycle ride, Mother? Oh how perfectly spiffing!" If this is all too saccharine for you, you could always check out the parody Forest Friends - NOT safe for work!
Several video games for Sega Pico, GBC and GBA were also released in Japan only (but fan translations exist). Also there was also an animated series and a 3-Episode OVA series in Japan. Two more OVAs were produced in 2017 which were made available over Netflix worldwide, follow by the first set of shorts. A second set of shorts was later produced, however they were released onto Youtube instead, before being swiftly moved to Amazon Prime Video (but not Prime Video Global). The third season however was moved back to Netflix.
See also Maple Town for a similar franchise that didn't last as long, but is just as beloved by its fans.
Tropes associated with the Franchise includes:
- Adaptation Species Change: For reasons known only to marketers in the US branch of Epoch, the Walnut Squirrel family had their species changed to Chipmunks (in addition to their family name changed to Hazelnut) when marketed in the US. This is in contrast to the last squirrel set sold in the US, The Furbanks Squirrel family, which was the predecessor of the Hazelnut Chipmunks (and indeed, looks similar).
- Animals Not to Scale: the mice and hamster figures, and everything in between, are the same size as the elephant ones.
- Art Evolution: Being a Long Runner of a toy series, this is inevitable.
- Alliterative Family: Depending on the Writer in charge of the region at the time. The Cakebread toy poodle family in the International English region, for example: this started this with the third child, Melinda. The next in line are Milo, Mia and Max.
- Barefoot Cartoon Animal: Most of the cast, in both the toy line and the adaptations. Toy shoes are available as an additional purchase.
- Big Eater: Aidan is a friendly bear from the 2010's CGI series and shorts. Has has a big appetite and loves eating.
- Bilingual Bonus: Only present in the Japanese version of the franchise. Mainly due to the use to Gratuitous English on some of the playsets involving shops and restaurants.
- Black Bead Eyes: All the dolls have eyes that are just two beads glued in.
- Carnivore Confusion/Furry Confusion: Rabbit, fox, cat and mouse families all live together in the same little world peacefully (along with many other woodland species). There's even the wolf family 'Tailbury' (it's usually called a 'dog' family - even though the other dog families have their breeds named).
Official Babble: No fast food rubbish here! All the meals on offer at the Sylvanian Hamburger Restaurant are top quality, healthy, locally sourced products! If you're in a hurry, the restaurant even has a take-away window that you can drive up to!
- The families can serve a wide range of highly detailed food, go show-jumping on an actual official horse (there are also horses for pulling carts), and run a hamburger stall.
- A Farmyard Accessories set comes with milk churns. Its box shows it being run by cow and sheep families. There is also a goat family. For the contemplative among us, this can be a little 'squicky'.
- Cultural Translation: The Calico Critters version of the vehicles actually had their moulds flipped so the driver seat is on the left side of the car. On the Sylvanian Families vehicles the driver seat is on the right side. Also, the Japanese versions of the TV prop has a 16:9 wide-screen CRT compared to those sold elsewhere which are 4:3 screen CRT TVs (Japanese households have had access to widescreen HD broadcast since 1988. This still comes across as Anachronism Stew given the 1970s British countryside setting though).
- Engrish: Despite the extremely high quality grammatical and spelling checks as a huge chunk of the toys are exported to English-speaking countries, errors still slip through the cracks from time to time. For example, a recent accessory pack release accidentally printed "How to cooking" onto the recipe book accessory.
- Funny Animal: Featuring a wide range of animal characters, from cats and dogs and bears and sheep to...porcupines, for some reason.
- Immediate Self-Contradiction: One of the props is a box of Breakfast Gluten. However, the surprisingly readable fine print on the bottom corner of the box claims that the food inside is gluten free!
- Multigenerational Household: Fairly common among the Families, who tend to feature grandparents living among the parents and grandchildren.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: You can buy toy sets for your Sylvanians' children. These include miniature versions of the full-size houses that can be bought for families, and some toy sets also include teeny-tiny teddy bears that are even smaller versions of actual figures.
- No Antagonist: Would a series like this even have much of an excuse to feature an antagonist, with it being a pure Slice of Life Sugar Bowl and all? That didn't stop the 1987 TV show from adding in a couple of villains, though.
- Nobody Poops: Averted in the name of making money. There are quite a few bathroom sets with toilets. Some include toilet paper, toilet brushes and even toilet cleaner. Does a bear poop in the woods? Not in this forest!
- Long Runner: The franchise was created in 1985. That's 36 years of Sylvanian Families as of 2021.
- Pink Girl, Blue Boy: Pink is exclusively used by girls (although not all of their accessories are pink). Boys never use pink, and often use blue with their accessories. This trope is even stricter for babies.
- Subverted. The son of the main Wilder Panda Family, as they're known in the US, has an outfit consisting of pink overalls with pink suspenders, and a pink bowtie on his shirt.
- Series Mascot: Starting in 2010, Bell Hopscotch is the official mascot for the franchise and toy line. Aidan, Melinda, Dominic, Shane and Susie also serve as secondary mascots. Prior to Bell, it was Rebecca Sweetpea, who held the series mascot status from 2000 up until 2010 and with Sarah (nee Greta), Sabrina (nee Asparagus), Dennis, Aidan and Buster serving secondary mascot status. And if the Sega Pico storyware is to be believed, prior to that the series mascot is the Sister of the Cottontail Rabbit family.
- Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Male and female toys are exactly the same. You can tell who is who purely by their clothes. Girls wear dresses, decorated with bows, flowers and aprons. Boys wear dungarees and trousers. You can swap clothes between males and females and nobody will notice.
- The exception is adult male species with horns. However out of dozens of families these number only four.
- Male dolls also tend to have darker nose colors than females. However this is only true for half of the families, and isn't consistent across all species (for example, it affects the Chocolate Rabbit family, but not the Milk or Cottontail Rabbit families)
- Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: A rather strange case- as character sets get discontinued and introduced, the jobs of the characters all get shuffled around. For example, Rebecca's dad was the dentist in the village, but when the Hamster family was discontinued, he's suddenly the nursery bus driver. Likewise, Rebecca's mom was a nurse at the dentist office, but became a preschool teacher. Pier's dad somehow got saddled with double duty as both the teacher at school and as town mayor when the hound family was discontinued- the Dennis' father was previously the teacher of the school.