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Kids Prefer Boxes

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A parent's rite of passage.

"You dumb babies! Stop having fun! It's just a stupid box!"
Angelica Pickles, Rugrats, "The Box"

Kids and cats covet big boxes while ignoring the (presumably valuable) contents inside. This happens to many parents when they purchase a super-special, ultra-rare, expensive present for their kid, usually for a birthday or Christmas, only for the recipient to carelessly toss it aside while they focus their attention on doing creative, imaginitve play with the awesome cardboard box it came in.

A common gag in comedies with small children, and a case of Truth in Television for a lot of parents. See also Mundane Object Amazement, My New Gift Is Lame, Unwanted Gift Plot, and Worthless Yellow Rocks.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The cat variant is used in Chi's Sweet Home, in one episode the family bought a bunch of new toys for Chi, but Chi ignored them and played with the plastic bag they came in instead.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • MAD: A comic feature drawn by Dave Berg includes a gag where a mom and dad give their little boy an expensive toy fire engine (big enough for the child to ride on) — and the last panel shows the kid sitting in the empty box it came in, yelling "CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!"
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • A story arc had Calvin sending away for a motorized propeller beanie. When it finally arrives, he's disappointed that it doesn't let him fly around town as he had imagined, and kicks it away in frustration. Fortunately, it came in a cool cardboard box, and he and Hobbes begin to make plans for the fun they'll have with it.
    • Calvin regularly utilized a large cardboard box turned different ways as a transmogrifier (opening on the bottom), time machine (opening on the top) and duplicator (opening on the side).
      Hobbes: It's amazing what they're doing with corrugated cardboard these days.
  • The Far Side: One cartoon has two scientists squabbling over who gets the cardboard box the Polaris missile came in (it says so on the box).
    "No way, Wendell. Your kids got the box last time, this one's mine."
  • One Sherman's Lagoon Sunday strip has Sherman give his son Herman an expensive robot toy and goes on about how 'Santa' waited hours in line to get one. When he sees Herman playing with the box, he's understandably upset.
  • A Cathy strip describes all the beautiful, expensive, educational toys that Andrea has bought for baby Zenith. The last panel shows that Zenith's favorite toy is an empty toilet paper tube.
  • Garfield gets presented one of these by Jon...and was not impressed. Jon says that cats like playing in empty boxes, which Garfield responds to with "Get an empty cat!"
    • Similarly, one strip has Garfield climbing into a paper grocery bag, with Jon chuckling and remarking on how much cats love doing that. Garfield's thoughts: "Darn, no food."
    • For Garfield's diet, Jon brings a box of fat-free, unsalted pretzel sticks. Garfield would rather eat the box than the sticks.
    • Played straight in a Christmas Episode on December 25, 2022, when Garfield reacts to his present — an empty box — with genuine appreciation that he displays towards Jon, in plain view of Odie and Liz. The strip ends with Garfield happily sleeping in said box.
  • In Frazz, Caulfield thinks it's great that while he has broken half his toys, he still has all these empty boxes for his cat. Indeed, he spent most of Christmas vacation juggling the cat from box to box.
  • In Luann, her dog Puddles tears into the bag that her Christmas gift, a rope toy, came in.
  • One Dennis the Menace (US) strip has Dennis make a Christmas tree out of boxes instead of playing with the toys that came inside them. Dennis' parents decide that next Christmas, they'll just give him the boxes.

    Fan Works 
  • 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 ring box. No kid 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.

    Films — Live Action 

  • 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.
  • This is deliberately used in Anna Dewdney's Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too picture book (a spin-off from the Llama Llama series featuring Llama Llama's best friend) in which Nelly and her Daddy Gnu build a box fort and then decorate it with floral patterns.
  • In Meet the Muppet Babies, a book based on Muppet Babies (1984), Kermit prepares to play with a cardboard box, but his friends all take turns using it as different things. Fozzie uses it as a bear cave, Gonzo uses it as a space station, Scooter uses it as a computer, Rowlf uses it as a piano, Skeeter uses it as a parade float, Piggy uses it as a castle, and Animal uses it as a canoe. When Nanny comes into the nursery check on the babies, Kermit tells Nanny that the box is his, but now he forgot what he was going to use it for.
  • Pet Sematary's description of the Creed family's Christmas celebration notes that "both kids had decided by midafternoon that the boxes were more fun than the toys."
  • When Ernest from Eye of a Fly was little, his mother gave him a present wrapped in red cellophane. Ernest was entranced by the way the light shone through the cellophane and stared at it for hours. Then his mother ruined it by opening the present.
  • In the children's book What Time Is It? by John Peter (1954) a clock "narrates" a typical day in a little boy's life to teach the reader how to tell time. At quarter to 3, the boy is playing with his friends out in the yard, and are playing with a "big packing case".
    Clock: One day they pretended that the packing case was a bus. But today it is a big pirate ship.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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."
  • Full House:
    • In "Little Shop of Sweaters", Michelle got a cute little Valentine's shirt from her family but she was more interested in the box.
    • In "A Very Tanner Christmas," Nicky and Alex play in a pair of boxes on Christmas morning and Joey gives them a ride by pulling the boxes across the living room.
      Joey: You know, Santa could have saved himself $39.95 if he had just bought the boys boxes and wrapping paper.
  • 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 CAA said I was all right...
    Clarkson: I know, the CAA, 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.
  • An early Playhouse Disney show, Out of the Box, had this as the premise— the hosts, Tony and Vivian, constructed a clubhouse out of cardboard that's somehow Bigger on the Inside.
  • 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.
  • An episode of Family Ties reveals that one of Alex's most beloved boyhood playthings was a box, which he called "Ba-ba".

  • One of the "good" things listed in "Definition of Good" by They Might Be Giants (from their kids' album "Why?") is "Cardboard box that a large appliance came in".

    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.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • This Christmas promo for and the Elimination Chamber playset. DX was shamelessly promoting WWE and/or DX merch as usual. After talking about all the toy's features, Shawn Michaels has a nervous breakdown talking about it, how much stress it is to put that toy together while his kids forget all the other crap they got for Christmas, and after it's finished, "AND THEN THEY ONLY WANT TO PLAY WITH THE BOX! AAAAAAHHHH!"
    Triple H: (stares at Shawn incredulously before looking back at the camera and picking up the box) It is a nice box.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Johnny and the Sprites has a variation on this. When the Sprites, who aren't familiar with the Christmas gift-giving tradition, see Johnny and Gwen exchanging fancily decorated gift boxes, they decide they want to participate too. They make a very fancy box for Johnny... with nothing inside. They didn't know there was supposed to be anything inside, they thought the entire point was giving the fancy box. Of course, Johnny is happy to get their gift, since, as any show like this will tell you, the point is the act of giving and the love and appreciation that was shown.
    Sprites: Brightly shining, shining brightly, leaves and flowers everywhere / Sprites must give a gift that's spritely / One that shows how much we care.
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • DragonFable:
    • 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 box fort.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: Guns of the Patriots 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.)
  • The Pod, your base in LittleBigPlanet, is made of a cardboard box. It fits with the game's "handmade" style.
  • Nintendo Labo is devoted to marrying Nintendo's family-friendly video games with the joys and imagination of cutting up cardboard boxes and fashioning them into toys and playsets.
  • OMORI: A series of photos from the real-world photo album show Sunny receiving a building block set for his birthday, only for him to show much more interest in the large box it came in, curling up inside of it with Mewo.
  • Soma Spirits: In Rebalance, this trope is implied, when Heart is happy to go to Box World, the land of cardboard boxes, again, and Soul says:
    We're not kids anymore.
  • Littlewood: One of the furniture options is a cat tree. If it's examined, the Flavor Text calls it "not as fun as an empty carboard box".
  • As mentioned under the Animated Films folder, Kingdom Hearts II plays this trope for drama in the Halloweentown world. When Sora and company visit the world for the second time, they discover that someone has been stealing presents from Santa's workshop and fear that Jack Skellington might be behind it—but it turns out that it's actually a massive Heartless known only as the Experiment. At one point, the Experiment throws one of the stolen gifts at the group while escaping, and Jack steps on the teddy bear that was inside to pick up the box instead, remarking that this is the "present" part of the gift. Jack and the Experiment have this in common, as the latter tries to take as many boxes as possible, regardless of whether or not something's inside. Sally eventually figures out what the Experiment was up to—a present is a way of showing someone that you care for them, which, in a way, is like giving someone your heart. Since the Heartless...well, lack hearts, the Experiment thought it could somehow become whole by taking the gifts for itself.

  • Raccoons Prefer Bubble Wrap: Sandra from Sandra and Woo gives her pet raccoon Woo a cardboard box full of bubble wrap as a gift.
  • The Daily Derp: Derpy orders a package simply for sake of playing in the foam peanuts.
  • Referenced in a pie chart from Indexed. The amount of fun had by the toddler with the actual toy is much, much less than the fun had with the box it came in.
  • Shortpacked!: Seen in a strip, except instead of a "kid" it's Shattered Glass-Ravage (an excitable, Yatter-obsessed robot cat).
  • A Dork Tower strip involved Matt buying an expensive cat toy.
    Matt: But the box arrived today, and the cats couldn't be happier.
    Igor: You finally found a toy they love?
    Matt: You weren't listening.
  • Lil' Char and the Gang: Invoked in a storyline aptly titled, "The Box":
    Squirtle: Char! Char! Guess what guess what guess what!
    Charmander: Squirtle? What's going on, what ha-
    Squirtle: Bulbasaur's dad got a new fridge!
    Charmander: So? What's cool about a fridge?
    Squirtle: The fridge was delivered! It was packed up in [dramatic panel break] a box.
    Charmander: Okay...? What's the big deal with- a box... as big as a fridge...

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • This is the punchline to Pixar's short Tin Toy.
  • There's an episode of Garfield and Friends where Garfield wants an expensive cat bed, then sleeps in the box it came in. Jon, not willing to let all the money he spent on the bed go to waste, crawls into the cat bed himself.
  • The Simpsons:
  • Rugrats:
    • In "The Box", Stu orders a ridiculously complex playset called the "Kiddy Karnival" and spends the entire episode trying to simply build the damn thing. The set is never assembled. Angelica, of course, doesn't get why the babies are having so much fun with it and tries to ruin their fun. When she rips the box to pieces, the babies pause for a few moments, and then just pick up the various bits of cardboard and play with those, leading to Angelica, completely fed up, shouting the quote at the top of the page. Eventually, Stu decides (as a toy inventor) to give up on the Kiddy Karnival and market a line of cardboard boxes, after seeing how much fun the babies are having with it.
    • In "Kid TV", Stu is struggling to invent a flying toy and is up-shown by a lavish commercial. In a rage, he throws his half-finished invention at the TV, destroying it. He then tries to look for the TV's box to return it under warranty, but the only box he can find is just barely too small. While he searches for another box, the babies cut a hole in the bottom and pretend it's a television, hosting their own shows as the others watch.
    • A non-box variation of this trope appears in "Momma Trauma", where a man is trying to sell some toy robots, but the kids are only interested in the ball which comes as an accessory.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy:
    • In "A Boy and His Ed", the Eds hear that Kevin has a box of jawbreakers and ask him for some. Kevin replies that they are too late and tosses them the empty box, and Ed proceeds to crawl inside it ("Hey, free box!").
    • In "Urban Ed", the Eds build an entire city out of nothing but cardboard boxes, and even Kevin is impressed.
    Kevin: Hoo-rah, the dorks did something cool for once.
  • An episode of Jimmy Two-Shoes has Beezy bribe Heloise with a box of gold. She takes it, then dumps out the contents to play in the box.
  • On Peppa Pig's Christmas Episode, George got a fancy electronic toy racing car as his gift but ended up playing with the box instead after his parents took too long to get it set up.
  • Played for Drama in the Daria episode "Boxing Daria". After seeing an old refrigerator box at the beginning of the episode, childhood memories beginning to re-emerge as Daria begins to remember some rather traumatic events concerning her unique personality as a child, accumulating to her remembering how her parents would fight amongst themselves due to her behavior in school. To escape it all, she would hide in a refrigerator box in her room.
  • Referenced in Littlest Pet Shop (2012): Pepper gets a new prop in the mail. The second after she takes it out, the other pets enthusiastically start playing with the box.
  • Arthur:
    • In the prologue to the episode, "Read and Flumberghast", as Arthur shows the features of his family's new refrigerator to the viewers, D.W. shows the viewers the many things the box the refrigerator was shipped in could be, including an elevator, a rocket ship, a mobile home for birds, a motorboat, and a submarine. Being older than her, Arthur doesn't get what D.W. sees in the box. In the actual episode, David builds an office for D.W. from the box, which is what sets the episode's main plot in motion.
    • In the episode, "Some Assembly Required", the Read Family orders a new playground for D.W. to play in. While David and Jane assemble the playground, D.W. goes on an imaginary adventure with Emily and Bud, pretending the box it was shipped in is a rocket ship.
  • In "Franklin's Big Box" from Franklin and Friends, Franklin's Aunt T tries to invoke this by sending Franklin a large decorated box in the mail with nothing in it. At first, Franklin and his friends think maybe she just forgot to put in a gift and decide to go visit her place to ask her about it. Along the way, however, they have fun with the box, and by the time they've reached Aunt T's, Franklin's decided to thank her for just sending the empty box.
  • In "Project: Boxes" from Floogals, the Floogals decide to investigate the boxes that have just arrived at the human household, wondering why the mother was so excited about their arrival. They have fun with the boxes and are disappointed when they learn that it wasn't the boxes themselves that the mother was excited about, saying that sometimes the humans just don't think the same way they do. Then the kids of the household take the boxes to make a space station with and the Floogals realize that the kids do get excited about the boxes themselves.
  • In the Muppet Babies (1984) episode, "I Want My Muppet TV", when the TV in the nursery breaks, the babies make a TV out of a cardboard box and act out their own TV shows with it. By the time Nanny fixes the TV, the babies continue wanting to play with their cardboard box.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Idiot Box", SpongeBob buys a big television set, and immediately tosses it in favor of spending the entire episode playing with Patrick in the cardboard box that the television was packaged in. Squidward, of course, is perplexed by the concept, but he doesn’t question the free big screen TV he gets from the ordeal... which just so happens to give him shows about boxes every time he flips the channel. (And yes, this includes championship boxing.)
  • In the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode, "We'll Always Have Tom Paris," Dr. T'ana, essentially a humanoid cat, sends Tendi to get a family heirloom. In transit, the heirloom gets wrecked, but T'ana doesn't care, she only wanted to the large wooden box it came in.
  • The Caillou episode "Caillou Computes" ends with Caillou deciding that the box his new computer came in is better than the actual device itself after having issues with learning to use it.
  • Middlemost Post: The short "Unboxing" concerns Parker receiving a package, but he prefers to not unbox it immediately and have some fun with the box first, despite Angus' protests. Among many other things, he takes it to the cinema, showers with it, and pushes it on a swing. When he eventually does open it, he finds out that there's ice cream on the inside that has since gone bad.

    Real Life 
  • 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. We need Thickie Holden to invent the Tension Sheet.
  • Shipping containers have been used to build houses, among other things. Their relatively low cost, structural strength (necessary for stacking them several rows deep on a cargo ship), and ability to be easily moved around using cranes and trailers makes them ideal for any sort of cheap movable building. Variations include portable kitchens, temporary storage units, housings for large generators, or even pop-up anti-tank missile launchers.
  • Cats love small spaces, as it makes them feel secure. They especially like 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 plastic and paper bags turned on their side if you can't find a box. Or laundry baskets, especially when there's laundry in them. Crockpots, open cupboards, sauce pans and vases are also known to work. There's an internet meme about this behavior in felines: "If I fits, I sits."
    • And there's an extension to that meme: "A cat is a cat is a cat." This box-loving behavior can also be found in larger cats, like tigers and cheetahs. Another popular meme has cardboard boxes as a tool to pacify or distract cougars in the wild.
    • The scientific reason is that cats, being ambush predators, like sheltered places where they can watch for prey without being seen, as well as safe, enclosed spaces they can curl up in to stay warm. They can also sharpen their claws on the cardboard, and their owners won't even scold them for it!
  • Even if they're given a bunch of chew toys, a lot of dogs will prefer to chew on discarded packaging like boxes or plastic bottles if given the opportunity. They might also go after their owner's shoes or socks if they leave them on the floor.
  • 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, to the point that recipes exist for egg-free cookie dough specifically intended to be eaten "raw" without the risk of salmonella.
  • 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.
  • This trope is the reason plastic bags used in packaging come with "DANGER: SUFFOCATION HAZARD. This bag is NOT A TOY. Keep out of reach of children"-type warnings.


Video Example(s):


Dolly vs Constantin

Dolly seeks the Bone of Resurrection from Constantin, who's hoarding all the Dalmatians' mail, but she outsmarts him with an empty box when she fails to pass his test.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / KidsPreferBoxes

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