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Hamster-Wheel Power

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Della: Is... is that a hamster wheel?
Launchpad: Yeah! Well, obviously, a gerbil couldn't spin the propeller.
DuckTales (2017), "The Golden Armory of Cornelius Coot!"

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. (See: Powered by a Forsaken Child.)

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. The Sister Trope of Wheel of Pain may also apply, if it's for a slave-driven variety of the serious version, or if being the power source is a form of torture or punishment.


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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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon. It makes sense, since, much like the example above, Pikachu do generate massive amounts of electricity making them akin to small furry generators.
    • In Sun and Moon, Sophocles has a hamster wheel on the side of his desk. His Togedemaru runs on it to generate power.
  • 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 a set of these, despite being roughly the size of a standard aircraft carrier. A sufficiently motivated Mako manages to give the ship a massive power boost. By herself.

    Comic Book 
  • 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 Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), 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!
  • Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! once fought the Screeching Tire, a giant tire about the size and general structural design of Blackhawk's notorious enemy mecha, the Warwheel, and powered and controlled by a villainous gerbil.
  • One Short Circuits strip from the Mega Man (Archie Comics) comic had Dr. Light invent Mariachi, the robot hamster, who runs in a hamster wheel to power itself as a perpetual motion machine. Proto Man cites this as why he doesn't like him messing with his power core.
  • The Simpsons: One issue has the town nearly dragged into nuclear war between Mr. Burns and his rival, and as a result, the government outright bans any nuclear technology in town for several months. As a result, power is supplied to the town by making all of Burns' employees run on giant hamster wheels.

  • 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.
  • Jokingly suggested as the secret power source of the Alcubierre Drive in The Next Frontier. Plus the Kerbals did apparently look at hooking the treadmill in their first interstellar starship's fitness centre up to the power grid to cut their power consumption, but ultimately decided it wasn't worth it.
  • In Hellsing Ultimate Abridged, Sir Integra frustratedly assumes The Major is powered by this when he is revealed to be a cyborg. He just replies, “His name is Hamburg.”
  • Super RWBY Sisters: At the climax of "JINX's Star Allies", following their capture by the Shroobs, the Squeak Squad is forced to run on hamster wheels. After being set free, Daroach notes how embarrassing it was.

    Films — Animated 
  • Aladdin: Jafar has Iago run atop a horizontal gear to produce power for a scrying device, with which to locate the "diamond in the rough".
    Iago: With all due respect, your rottenness, couldn't we just wait for a real storm?!
  • Bolt: At the very end, it's revealed the roll of the Closing Credits is hamster-powered.
  • Chicken Run: The chickens escape on a plane that runs on pedals.
  • Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa: A plane is powered by monkeys.
  • Moana: The Kakamora use a large Kakamora-powered wheel to deploy a giant drum on their floating fortress. Another pair of them run on cylinders on either end of an axle to reel in a hauling rope.
  • My Little Pony: A New Generation: The Just Prance game played by Sunny and Alphabittle is powered by a pair of armadillos running on wheels behind the cabinet.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas: When Jack disguises himself as a snowman during his "What's This?" song, a sled full of caroling elves glides past him. The sled is propelled by a penguin waddling along in a wheel.
  • Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf - The Tiger Prowess: Lord Japper has Weslie run on a large hamster wheel-like apparatus to power the ferris wheel at his amusement park. Wolffy plays a prank on Weslie by spinning the wheel the other way, causing Weslie to lose balance and spin along with the wheel as Wolffy laughs at him.

    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.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road. Giant treadmills are used to power the vehicle lifting platforms in the Citadel, given that slave labor is cheaper than 'guzzoline' in this After the End world.
  • Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: Puttering around in the Inventing Room, Wonka stirs a fluffy white concoction by pedaling a standing bicycle that powers a blender's beaters.
  • In Evan Almighty, Evan's wife walks in a giant wooden wheel, presumably to power the hauling of materials up to the Ark's upper levels.
  • In Mortal Engines, Tom Natsworthy has a tamed rat powering some of his Old Tech in his room in the Museum.

  • 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 on 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.
  • In the Honorverse, the Solarian League is the largest, most powerful nation in the setting, but because it is so powerful it hasn't actually had to deploy its forces in literal centuries. When war breaks out between the Solarian League and the Star Kingdom of Manticore, it sends a large portion of its forces to the distant Mantirocre star system. Since the Manticoran fleet far outclasses the Solarian fleet when it comes to actual combat power, the Manticorans joke that they're amazed the Solarian ships made the journey, and joke that they didn't think the hamsters in the engine room had that much energy.
  • Much of the advanced technology in the Skyward series is powered by taynixes, brightly colored slug-like creatures with the unique ability to use cytonics without attracting the delvers.
  • In False Value, the break room at the Serious Cybernetics Company is equipped with a plasma TV that's powered by a human-sized hamster wheel.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
    • The same hamster also powered the scoreboard in Puppy Bowl 11!
  • One of the oddball survivors' communities on Z Nation used never-tiring zombies roped to a horizontal wheel of spokes to generate electricity.
  • Jokingly suggested by Tom Paris in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Demon" when the ship is dangerously low on fuel.
    Paris: We could set up a bicycle in the mess hall, attach a generator, pedal home.
    Janeway: Now why didn't I think of that?
  • 'Allo 'Allo! has a few episodes where the radio to London has to be replaced and since they lose the batteries in a Gambit Pile Up, they have to power the radio by way of a bicycle. Which leads to a great gag where Leclerc is too exhausted to carry on, but Madame Fanny shows him her legs and he immediately gets a boost.
  • The Odd Squad episode "Xs and Os" has Oona pedaling a stationary bike in order to generate electricity for the lab, as a way of cutting costs from using a lot of electricity. It works for a time but comes at a severe consequence of her not being able to repair and build gadgets, leaving Olympia and Otis defenseless when Headquarters begins falling to shambles.
  • Joked about on M*A*S*H when the 4077's generator breaks down and their backup one is stolen. There's even a Brick Joke about the hamster being put out of work after Klinger swipes them another unit's backup generator.
  • Discussed in Night Court. Bull, whose intelligence level is flaky at best, is having a particularly tunnel-visioned moment; Dan asks him what he has upstairs, a hamster in a wheel?
  • In one episode of TheMuppetShow the theater lost power, so Beaker was forced to power it up via a large hamster wheel, with a 'helpful' assist when he starts getting tired: releasing a tiger into the wheel.

  • 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.
  • The melodramatic human variant appears in R.E.M.'s video for "Shiny Happy People", in which the super-funtime backdrop in front of which Michael Stipe and Kate Pierson are singing and cavorting is kept moving by an old man on a stationary bicycle positioned behind it. Halfway through he's given a glass of water and a reprieve, and gets to watch the crowd of revelers dance in front of the now-stationary backdrop while smoking a pipe. His scenes on the bike are nicely timed to the 60-bpm sections in the otherwise 120-bpm song (these sections also serving to bring forward the unusual 12/8 time), highlighting the effort required to keep the backdrop, and the song, moving at its proper upbeat tempo.

  • A joke back in the day these things were something new was that slot and vending machines were operated from inside by a dwarf Chinese man.

  • Weird Al's Museum of Natural Hilarity: The launch trailer shows that UHF mode is started once the camera is powered up enough, which is accomplished by Harvey the Wonder Hamster running in a hamster wheel.

  • The Men from the Ministry episode "A Sense of Power" ends with Britain getting a new power source in the form of thousands of hamsters spinning a wheel-machine.
  • The Curious Cases Of Rutherford and Fry explores the subject in the episode "The Hamster-Wheel Hypothesis", concluding that powering London would require millions of hamsters, either in a cubic kilometre of habitat or possibly in the cellars of individual homes. The programme also asks if other animals might be better choices: from an efficiency standpoint quail or kangaroo rats get more speed, but from an ethical standpoint the best option is paid, voluntary humans, who are really energy inefficient.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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 seen as pathetic by everyone else.
  • In the Battletech parody 'Critter-TEK'', hamster wheels are the standard power source for TEKs.
  • In the board game Euphoria: Building a Better Dystopia from Stonemeier Games, the titular city is shown in the board artwork to be powered by humans on giant wheels.

    Theme Parks 
  • In Storm Force Accelatron at Universal's Islands of Adventure, the Accelatron device is powered by guests manually spinning the pods they're riding in.
  • Kevin Ham's Noah-themed "Ark Encounter" has a video animation display that depicts an elephant on a treadmill powering a pumping system to deliver fresh water to the animals and haul away their wastes.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • One of the game paths in SPY Fox in Dry Cereal reveals that William the Kid's fortress is powered by dozens of hamsters baited by carrots. Getting a crucial item from a room next door requires temporarily removing all the carrots, which immediately causes all the hamsters to fall asleep, thus cutting the power.
  • The video game The Incredible Machine has two flavors of this; one is a mouse on a wheel that runs when something collides with his box, and the other is a mandrill on a treadmill with a bunch of bananas hidden by a curtain which can be raised by pulling a rope. Since the game has absolutely no concept of thermodynamics, these power sources can be surprisingly effective.
  • In Monty Python's 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 results in a door being opened.
  • Mystery Case Files': One of the locks in Ravenhearst opens when you get a mechanical'' mouse to enter and use a wire exercise wheel.
  • Black Box: One of these provides mechanical power to the contraption.
  • Final Fantasy X: Ferries are powered by chocobos running in hamster wheels. Justified, since a more advanced engine would presumably break Yevon's taboo against machina.
  • In Granblue Fantasy, the Odajumoki Gang's Ultra Dog-On-Wheel Battleship Jenkins operates under this mechanism, with a dog in place of a hamster. One of the members mention that dogs are the fastest animal they can get a hold of, made them run on a giant wheel, and subsequently pull boats forward at sea.
  • Limbo: One puzzle involves luring a creature to a wheel to get it to power a Weather-Control Machine.
  • Tropico 4: After building an airport, 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.
  • Syberia: One puzzle in the Voralberg Factory 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 Last One: One of the devices with which you can equip your stronghold is powered by a zombie in an exercise wheel. A live rat dangles on a rope in front of the zombie to bait it into mindlessly trudging along.
  • Island Experiment: The Sweet Kingdom archipelago's Donut Island has an irrigation system that's powered by bunnies running inside giant hamster balls. You need to trap the escaped bunnies, put them inside, and hang carrots in front of the balls so they'll go back to running.
  • Shantae: Half-Genie Hero: Part of the plot is helping Mimic build a device to repel evil from Scuttle Town and using one of these as its power source. It's slightly more plausible in that the hamster is zombified and thus doesn't have a need for things like eating or sleeping to keep it from running the amount of time needed.
  • In Oxygen Not Included, the Manual Generator is your starting Power building, and your main source of power for much of the early game. It's an oversized hamster wheel that your Duplicants run on in order to charge your batteries and provide power to your space station's machinery. Eventually, you can tech up to coal, diesel, and hydrogen power plants, but since the hamster wheels only need a duplicant with nothing better to do, produces no waste product, and produce very little heat, it remains viable well into the late game especially as jump-starters to power plants that require a pump of some kind to feed them with. As a bonus, whichever duplicant is on the wheel gradually improves their physical stats.
  • Day of the Tentacle: Dr. Fred's lab features a hamster-powered generator, which is pretty much Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Finding it and getting it running in the future is the key to powering Laverne's Chron-O-John.
  • In 20XX, one of the bosses is the Rollster Beta, an oversized hamster-like creature inside a large, bladed wheel.
  • In Starmancer, a treadmill is the first form of power generation you obtain. When colonists use one, their job is set to "Pretending to be a hamster."
  • In RuneScape, Ashdale and Zanaris both have flour mills powered by a cow in a wheel.
    Examine Text: At least she's getting her exercise.
  • In Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the Nopon use this to power their technology, with themselves as the hamsters. Typically the runner is a volunteer, but Nopon criminals like Bana are given an extra turn on the wheel as a Cool and Unusual Punishment.
  • The Dark Souls games have many elevators that operate without any visible power source. As a joke on this, the especially-enormous Blighttown elevator in Dark Souls I is all run by a single, small dog in the upper wheel.
  • Kirby and the Forgotten Land has this as the fate of the Waddle Dees that the Beast Pack capture, powering the secret lab of the main antagonist.


    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • In the Strong Bad Email "environment", Strong Bad tries to make his energy-sapping, outdated laptop computer more environmentally friendly by rigging it to run on "green" energy... in the form of the Cheat painted green and running on a hamster wheel.
    Strong Bad: Only seventeen more hours, and I can press "send".

    Western Animation 
  • Many powered devices used by the Codename: Kids Next Door were hamster-driven. One episode centered on Numbuh 3 giving all their base's hamsters a vacation, leaving the team undefended and nearly unarmed.
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • Norm the Robot Man runs on squirrel power.
    • Drusselstein, home of the Doofenshmirtz clan, runs on a big shaft driven by rabbits, as seen in "The Doonkleberry Imperative". It stops working when they upgrade to "goat power" but the citizens can't agree upon which way the goats should turn.
  • 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.
  • Zach Varmitech used a cheetah to power his cheating racer in Wild Kratts
  • 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 a 500-foot 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. In another episode, Cosmo turns into a hamster to run on a wheel to keep The Most Dangerous Video Game going (since Timmy, Chester, and AJ will die if the power goes out).
  • 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 the 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 (they're called "millhorses" in The Magic Book of Spells, and the wand has had several different ones over the years).
    • 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. At the end of the episode, they discover that giant hamsters roam in Father Time's dimension and Star says she's figured out how to start time back up without Father Time having to get in the wheel. Marco naturally thinks she means to have a hamster run in the wheel, but instead she transforms the wheel into a hamster-drawn carriage that Father Time can ride around on. She assumes this was also what Marco thought would be the logical solution.
  • Yogi's Gang: Magilla powers up the ark's flying mechanism by running on a treadmill.
  • In the Teen Titans episode "Cyborg the Barbarian," Cyborg gets sent back in time and his drained power cells are recharged by a combination human hamster wheel/waterfall-powered dynamo.
  • In Pinky and the Brain, many of Brain's devices are powered by Pinky running along the wheel in their cage. Justified as they are mice.
  • In the Betty Boop short Be Human, Grampy punishes an abusive farmer by trapping him in a pit and making him run on a treadmill (complete with whip) to power his mechanical farm.
  • In the House of Mouse short "Futuremania", Ludwig Von Drake shows Donald a personal future where everything is powered by his three nephews on treadmills.
  • In the Rick and Morty episode "The Ricks Must Be Crazy," when Rick's car power supply fails, he takes Morty inside the battery, where Rick explains to Morty that he created a "Microverse" and waited until a sentient life form evolved that he then gave gooble boxes, a device that generates electricity when used to exercise by walking in place. After Morty tries to explain that Rick essentially enslaved an entire planet, Rick responds that since the people of the Microverse created a complex society where anyone who gets old and dies is replaced by someone younger, Morty replies "that's just slavery with extra steps," to which Rick just brushes him off. When they encounter Zeep, basically an Expy of Rick, Zeep reveals that to power his world, he created a "Miniverse," waited until a sentient life form evolved, to which he gave flooble cranks, a lever-based exercise devise that generates electricity, and thus render the gooble box obsolete. When Rick mentions that Zeep enslaved an entire planet, Zeep responds that since the people of the Miniverse created a complex society, they aren't slaves, when Rick says "that's just slavery with extra steps," Zeep just brushes him off. When they go into the "Miniverse," they encounter a scientist named Kyle who created a "Teenyverse," and when a sentient life form evolves, he'll give them a blooble yank, a pulley-based exercise device that will render the flooble crank obsolete. When Zeep tries to explain that he's planning to enslave an entire planet, Kyle responds that since the people of the "Teenyverse" will live in a complex society, they won't be slaves. As Zeep mentions "that's just slavery with extra steps" he attacks Rick, when he realizes why they are there. As they are arguing, Kyle realizes why he was born, climbs into his ship, and crashes it, stranding Rick, Morty, and Zeep in the Teenyverse. At the end, once they manage to exit the Teenyverse, and after Rick destroys Zeep's Miniverse, they enter the car, and when it starts, Morty asks how is that possible, to which Rick responds that Zeep would realize that either everyone needs to keep using gooble boxes, or Rick "would have to toss a broken battery."
  • In the Dennis the Menace episode "Wheeling and Double-Dealing", Winston's perpetual motion race car is powered by three rats running on a wheel.
    PeeBee: It's just like you to be powered by rats!
    Winston: Hey, why have friends if you can't take advantage of them?
  • Snooper and Blabber are in an auto race competing against a Villain of the Week, who late in the race steals their motor. Snooper wins the race regardless, and when the villain asks how, Snooper opens the hood and shows him: He used Blabber in a hamster wheel.
  • The episode "The Wheel Thing" of Super Mario World involved Mario and Luigi attempting to aid the cave people by introducing cars into their society. With the internal combustion engine nowhere near feasible with their current tech, Goombas are used to power the cars.
  • On The Little Rascals, many of Buckwheat's devices are powered by Pete running on a treadmill, with a bone or a piece of meat suspended above him.
  • The Riddler is subjected to this in Harley Quinn (2019), powering the crew's mall lair for a period of time. He's not happy about it.
  • Let's Go Luna!: In the episode "Lights Out!", one of the gang's methods for powering Senor Fabuloso's hat light is to have someone run on a hamster wheel that is connected to the hat light and powers it. This doesn't work, as the wheel's runner runs out of running energy and gets launched off the wheel.

    Real Life 
  • The English word "treadmill" comes from a device that was Exactly What It Says on the Tin: a mill (usually in or associated with a debtor's prison) operated by people walking inside a very large wheel of treads.
  • Cranes used in the construction of Real Life medieval cathedrals and castles were powered by humans walking inside giant wheels. Often the wheels would be operated by blind men since they would not get vertigo from looking down, and this allowed even disabled people to participate in important work that was pleasing to God. They’d have been pretty helpless up there in case of an accident, though.
  • The Turnspit was a breed of dog (now extinct) created for the purpose of operating wheel-powered meat spits in kitchens.
  • There were plans after both world wars to power Europe using handcarts with generators installed on them, given that there was a surplus of men and rail lines.
  • Some Real Life exercise balls for pocket pets are enclosed in a framework that makes them look like racecars, emulating this trope.
  • 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). As such, instances of servers being down are attributed to the "server hamsters" either misbehaving or not being properly taken care of.
  • A few brands of exercise bike use the pedals to charge the batteries for their onboard electronics.
  • On a related note, the Gilligan's Island example in Live-Action TV has some historical precedent: Military radio sets were powered this way in the field during the early years of the 20th century when compact petrol or diesel generators were unavailable.
  • There is a fitness club in Times Square whose stationary bicycles generate and store the electricity which lights the New Year's Ball.