Follow TV Tropes


Sliding Scale of Living Toys

Go To

In fiction, especially works aimed at children or set in worlds with a tenuous grip on sanity, it's not uncommon for toys and other inanimate objects to be depicted as having minds of their own. They can think, they can muse, they can ponder, they can rail at their arbitrary existence or gush about how perfect their lives are, and sometimes they can get up, move around and do things that you wouldn't expect them to do... though only while no one's looking, in most cases.


Sometimes they're like little people, only shaped like teddy bears or toasters; other times, they're prisoners of their plastic/fabric/metal bodies, totally incapable of doing anything but what their owner poses them to do. It doesn't matter if it's an action figure or a lawnmower or even an industrial washing machine: in a world of Living Toys, anything is fair game.

A word of caution: if it's supposed to have a mind of its own via Artificial Intelligence or Applied Phlebotinum, it doesn't belong here. A Ridiculously Human Robot that can fit in your palm is still just a Ridiculously Human Robot, not a Living Toy.

Subtrope of Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism.

    open/close all folders 

Immobile, But Still Sentient

The toy has no capacity for movement, mechanical and electrical parts notwithstanding. Its life is shaped entirely by the people that play with it. As it must be a Living Toy to fall into this category, this toy is at least capable of an internal monologue. It may also be able to communicate with other toys through some sort of ill-explained "psychic" connection.

  • There are some Real Life examples, such as: a ventriloquist's dummy, a stuffed animal with intelligent eyes, or a doll, as all these behave as if they were alive with the help of human hands and voice.
  • The Velveteen Rabbit, before becoming real.
  • Stinky the skunk in Kim & Jason.
  • Johnny the Homicidal Maniac has a couple of these.
    • First of all is Shmee, though in JTHM, he is just a toy. However, in the spinoff series Squee!, Squee has a dream in which Shmee is alive and talks to Squee, saying that he is his "trauma-sponge" that works to free Squee of all his fears. And he does a, well, okay job...
    • Native only to the original JTHM series, not any spinoffs, are the two Doughboys, Mr. Fuck/Mr. Eff and Psycho-Doughboy/D-boy. At first, you assume they only appear to speak due to Johnny's extreme imagination, but they actually have different personalities and goals. Mr. Fuck (ironically not the one with the word "fuck" written on him) wants Johnny to kill and use his victims' blood to keep the monster behind the wall at bay, thus giving the Doughboys more of the monster's power and sentience. Psycho-Doughboy instead wants Johnny dead so that he will stop giving them power and thus, both will die and stay inanimate. For a while, they become living beings and can move about, even after Johnny's death, but this doesn't last.
  • Happy Horse from Good Luck Charlie.
  • The book The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is narrated by a China doll, Edward Tulane, as he describes the different owners he encounters (and the persons they assign him) after being lost by his original owner.
  • The dolls in most of Rumer Godden's childrens' books.
  • Emily from Str.A.In.: Strategic Armored Infantry is expected to be psychic to some capacity, since the doll is only an outer shell for the Mimic, a device built for pilot-machine interface. Still, from her introduction on, she's shown to have mental capabilities outside the range of a regular Mimic, and she shares the senses and identity of the little alien girl, also named Emily. It's stated later on, when you learn their backstory, that "Sara didn't link with that Mimic — it linked with her.
  • Oz, of Pandora Hearts fame began life as this.
  • In The LEGO Movie, the minifigures can only move when controlled by the humans
  • The Steadfast Tin Soldier in the original fairy tale.
  • The Mane Six are transformed into this type in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Fan Fic Plushy
  • In Legend of Mana, you meet a junkyard of broken toys that were animated to fight in a great war. Now they're this. Legend of Mana has a pretty nasty backstory if you check your library, but this is front and center, and probably the most disturbing part of the game.
  • This is implied to be the case for all toys and stuffed animals in Nameless - The One Thing You Must Recall - and is central to much of the pathos and horror surrounding the backstory.
  • Skylanders are portrayed like this on Earth; the idea of the games is to use the toys on a "portal" to send them back home where they're fully living beings again.


Schrodinger's Toy

The toy is capable of moving on its own, but can only do so while not being observed. There may be a danger of it losing the ability to move forever if it is observed out of position from where it was last left.

  • The Christmas Toy
  • All of the toys in Raggedy Ann, both the books and the animated movie.
  • The various types of Magical Gnomes in The Sims 3.
  • The toys in the Russell Hoban book The Mouse and His Child and the film based on it
  • Possibly Lil' Cal in Homestuck.
  • In The Twilight Zone (1959) episode Five Characters in Search of an Exit.
  • This is the basis for the Doll Code in The Doll People. If a human sees them move, or thinks they've seen them move, the doll is immediately put into Doll State, which renders them immobile for 24 hours.
  • The Steadfast Tin Soldier in Fantasia 2000.
  • The family of dolls in children's book The Dollhouse Caper immediately revert to inanimate form if observed. This makes it difficult for them to warn their owners about the robbery plot they've accidentally overheard.
  • The toys in Enid Blyton's Amelia Jane stories.
  • Gene Wolfe's (The) War Beneath The Tree. Supposedly, old toys self-destruct on Christmas night to make way for the new toys. The reality is somewhat more brutal.
  • The titular toy dog in Roverandom by J. R. R. Tolkien is sentient all the time, but can only move after midnight.
  • Emmet (and presumably all the other minifigures) in The LEGO Movie, though he's only barely capable of independent motion once in the real world. In the sequel, Emmet, Rex, and Lucy are all able to move in the real world, albeit in a choppy motion not unlike stop-motion.
  • All of the toys in Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure seem to work like this, but it's hard to tell; one of the last shots of the movie shows the fantastical terrain the toys traveled over to be a mundane stretch of pavement with litter.

Toy Masquerade

The toy can switch between animate and inanimate at will, and may communicate with animals, babies, or generally anyone who can't (or at least won't) betray their secret. Such toys need to hide their sentience in the presence of older humans. The toys don't need to worry about being out of position, as humans will assume someone else moved them.

  • Toy Story, except for that one scene in Sid's yard, when they deliberately break their rules in order to teach the sadistic kid a lesson.
  • The Brave Little Toaster (mostly just appliances and household devices, but there's been at least one toy character in the trilogy.)
  • The title characters in the British cartoon series The Raggy Dolls, dolls that live in the reject bin of a toy factory. Each had a minor defect that means they could not be sold and they spend their time forgotten in a bin having adventures. Unusually for this trope, with the exception of one Very Special Episode referencing the plight of orphaned children in Romania of all things (It's a Long Story), The Masquerade was a non-issue most of the time because they didn't really belong to anyone or spend much time interacting with humans or other toys.
  • The Sanderson's toys in Chibi-Robo!.
  • Talky Tina from The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "Living Doll". She verbally threatens people, though no one sees her move on her own.
  • The lawn ornaments in Gnomeo and Juliet fall under this category, sometimes freezing into positions that would compromise The Masquerade when seen fighting.
  • Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life has a teddy bear you can buy from a traveling merchant. Apparently it can blink and move when your character is not looking.
  • The toys in The Noddy Shop, who can only be understood by Truman and Noah. Johnny Crawfish is an exception, as he is an actual living animal.
  • The 1989 Teddy Bears' Picnic short film features teddy bears that are secretly alive and sneak out to attend a picnic. The two main bears willingly expose themselves to a little girl. Later, it goes to Schrodinger's Toy level, when the other teddy bears except the main two apparently revert to permanent frozen states after being found out. But soon they become alive again and accept the girl.
  • The toys in the world of Dolltopia only ever move in the presence of humans. They can move freely around animals, though, as they have a cat who helps them out with their missions by giving them rides.

"Imaginary" Friend

The toy is fully animate, but observers will be unable to identify it as something other than an ordinary toy. Only certain members of a sentient species can see these toys for what they are, and those members will usually fail to convince others that the toy is anything more than an imaginary friend.

  • Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes
  • The clown toy from The Clown Story
  • Sakutaro from Umineko: When They Cry
  • The animals in Shoebox Zoo.
  • Screwy the baseball and Darling the baseball bat from Everyone's Hero.
  • The toys on the Disney Junior series Doc McStuffins. They come to life when around the titular Doc, but "go stuffed" when anyone else shows up on the scene, with rare exceptions. Also, it's Doc's special stethoscope which animates them.
  • Chucky from Child's Play is this level (well, except for the "friend" part perhaps) for much of his movies, showing his real nature only to the boy and anyone he's in the middle of killing.
  • The dinosaurs in Harry and His Bucket Full of Dinosaurs
  • Appropriately enough, Imaginary Friends in The Sims 3 start out this way. The child a Friend is for sees it move and can interact with it; everyone else sees a doll.
  • In the Norwegian children's book "Marens lille ugle" (Maren's Little Owl), the titular owl is a toy that's a curious mix of this and Shrodinger's Toy — but overall probably closer to this level. While he can talk to his owner Maren, and they have many conversations, he never actually moves, or appears as anything but an inanimate stuffed toy, while she's there. And yet, when nobody (including the reader) watches, he moves quite a bit — to the point where he actually does minor chores around the house when nobody's looking. These instances are so common that everyone in Maren's family, including her parents, have long since accepted that the owl is actually alive. As if this wasn't enough, a minor character at one point hears the owl hooting at him, and spends some time wondering if he's going insane.
    • In the filmatization, Ugler i Mosen, directed by Norwegian animator Ivo Caprino, the owl (represented by one of Caprino's characteristic stop-motion puppets) does move while the audience can see, though in this version it's a little more unclear whether or not he's real or just a figment of Maren's very active imagination.
  • Barney from Barney & Friends is a doll that the children in the show imagine as an adult-sized dinosaur.

I've Got No Strings

The toy is fully animate, and everyone around it can see that it is alive, but it is still quite obviously a toy, being made of wood, stuffed with cotton, etc.

  • Suzy's Zoo: Daisuki! Witzy: Many of Witzy's friends are between this and "Seems so real and living". They all are clearly toys (Lulla has a music box key sticking out of her back, Boof has a heart on his belly, Patches has strange spots for a giraffe, and Ellie Funt looks patchwork), and yet they eat and need to sleep like they're alive.
  • Pinocchio, the Level Namer
  • The sackdolls in 9
  • The Doughboys mentioned earlier briefly become this right before they are destroyed for good.
  • The eponymous dolls from Rozen Maiden. Jun is even a little shocked when he sees Shinku's and Hinaichigo's joints for the first time, despite being aware that they are dolls, because he's gotten so used to them behaving like normal girls.
  • On a similar note, the Fantasista Dolls; living avatars of trading cards that happily interact with human society.
  • The household objects in Disney's Beauty and the Beast including some toy-like Christmas decorations.
    • Subverted, in that they are humans who were cursed into their form by the Enchantress with the same magic that made the Beast what he is.
  • Toys in the sequel for The Legend of the Titanic.
  • Tools in Handy Manny.
  • Pokota from Himechan No Ribon but he hides away from anybody who doesn't know the secret.
  • Kon from Bleach, a "modsoul" trapped in the body of a stuffed lion.
  • A lot of the exhibits in Night at the Museum.
  • Puppet Angel during the Angel episode "Smile Time" (though, of course, he was previously an animate being): "I'm made of felt, and my nose comes off."
  • Supernatural has an episode in which a girl wished for her teddy bear to come alive. Supernatural being what it is, the bear spent most of the subsequent episode drinking, watching porn and trying to commit suicide.
  • Ted has a boy who wished his teddy bear come alive, and when it did, it sets up the premise of the movie.
  • The titular family in The Mennyms, who are human-sized dolls and very convincingly made, but have beaded eyes, yarn for hair and so on. But they are alive and do everything except eat. The books centre around their ongoing efforts not to have their status as dolls discovered by anyone outside the family.
  • The Commando Elite and the Gorgonites from Small Soldiers, which are sentient as a result of possessing advanced military-grade AI munitions and proceed to cause some very obvious havoc in the real world.
  • The SCP Foundation has a set of LEGO-brand bricks which, when something is built from them, immediately becomes animate and possesses signs of sentience. Just... make sure that the kids building things aren't aware of [EXPUNGED]. Nobody wants to see that again.
  • The residents of the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and its spin-offs are these, at least to the North Pole community.
  • Geno, from Super Mario RPG, a laser-blasting doll animated by a higher being from the Star Road after its destruction to assist in the recovery of the Star Pieces.
  • The toys in TinkerQuarry are alive, but fully aware that they are toys, and classify themselves into species based on what material they're made of.
  • The wonderfully bizarre and rather blackly humorous Golden Age Newspaper Comic Betsy Bouncer And Her Doll.

Seems So Real and Living

They are fully animate and everyone around them can see that it is alive, and are still toys, made of wood, stuffed with cotton, etc. However, they seem so real to the viewers that they tend to forget this and view them as if they were actually living beings. Sometimes they get "toy" or "stuffed animal" reminders to remind the viewers that they are in fact stuffed or toys, especially in the form of getting ripped.

  • Stuffed animals in Winnie-the-Pooh, because many viewers tend to forget that they are stuffed animals and sometimes treat them as if they are just as real as actual living animals like Rabbit and Owl. The Book of Pooh is the exception; Pooh and the other animals fall more under Toy Masquerade, and for whatever reason, only Christopher Robin knows that they're alive, and they can't let his mom know.
  • Some of the toys in Noddy like Noddy and Dinah Doll.
  • Likewise, the characters in Tickety Toc are just figures inside a clock. And yet they live their lives like any normal human kid.
  • A lot of the exhibits in Night at the Museum that don't fit the previous category.
  • Bob, a ventriloquist dummy, from Soap is a subversion to this, he is strictly an inanimate object but he talks so often and so life-like that often characters think he is real and he's more popular than the character who uses him.
  • Reynardine possessing Annie's toy wolf in Gunnerkrigg Court.
  • John's eponymous teddy bear from Ted is between this level and the last one.
  • Medicine Melancholy from Touhou.
  • Special Agent Oso of Special Agent Oso, more or less. The theme song refers to him as "the U.N.I.Q.U.E. stuffed bear" and occasionally when someone shouts his name upon meeting him, he replies "In the plush!" Other than that, though, it really isn't played up much that he's a toy, such that it's very easy to forget.
  • Banette is a Pokémon which, according to its various Pokédex entries, was once a normal stuffed toy, driven to life by a powerful grudge against the person who disowned it. It is said that treating it with enough care will satisfy its grudge and revert it back to its original form. Other than that, the games don't really give much indication that Banette is a toy.

Real and Living To Everyone

The toy has somehow become a living being, and no longer looks like a toy. Although these toys may be biologically indistinct from normal living beings, the fact remains that they were created and animated through unconventional means, like Love Imbues Life or Applied Phlebotinum.

  • Pinocchio, after becoming real.
  • The Velveteen Rabbit, after becoming real.
  • The Ghost of Martel, after becoming 'real' from the Innocence.
  • All the toy figures in The Indian in the Cupboard series become fully human/real (but still miniature) when the magic key is used on the item containing them (a cupboard, a chest, and a car).
  • The characters in Super Smash Bros. are portrayed this way, being trophies come to life and looking exactly like the regular game characters, with no figurine- or doll-like characteristics within their own universe aside from coming to life from trophies and turning back into trophies when killed. This can be seen in the intro and Giga Bowser's introduction in Melee, and moreso various scenes in The Subspace Emissary (which depicts "dead" trophies more akin to stone statues than figurines). The various bits of Canon Welding reinforce their being on this end of the scale; while they are dreamt up from collectible dolls/trophies in the imaginary Smash Bros. universe, some characters are the same as their fully living canon selves (such as Pit), and some can be summoned in other universes where they are indistinguishable from ordinary humans (like with Marth).
  • SCP Foundation has SCP-137, an entity that can possess toys and turn them into real, full sized versions of themselves. As you could expect from SCP Foundation, it's creepy. Imagine kid's beloved Teddy turning into real grizzly.
  • There was an early 80's children's show called Today's Special that starred a mannequin that came to life as long as he wore his magic hat and didn't leave the store.
  • In Life Size, Lindsay Lohan's character accidentally brings Eve (a Captain Ersatz of Barbie played by Tyra Banks) to life during a ritual meant to bring her Missing Mom Back from the Dead and subsequently has to deal with Eve's Fish out of Water status and Manic Pixie Dream Girl tendencies. In the end, Eve willingly turns herself back into a doll so that the things she's learned will carry over to all Eve dolls, giving them a much-needed cultural update and saving the entire line from cancellation.
  • In the Xanth series, Omni Glot Grundy Golem was originally just a golem, made from clay and other odds and ends. The Demon Xanth grants his wish to become alive, which isn't examined in detail, but he's implied to basically be a tiny human from then on.
  • In this Pirates of the Caribbean fanfiction and its sequel this happens to Captain Jack Sparrow and Will Turner respectively.
  • The titular character from Barney & Friends, when brought to life by the kids' imaginations.
  • After drinking the appropriate potion, Imaginary Friends from The Sims 3 migrate into this. They become more-or-less ordinary human Sims that everyone can see and interact with, but they can switch over to doll form at will (for no particular benefit beyond storytelling.)
  • The killer toys in Krampus, once they attack the whole family.
  • Plush and Blood: The plush characters in this story straddle the line between this level and the previous one.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: