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Toy-Based Characterization

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Your parents have probably told you about things you said or did in your childhood that showed the kind of person you would eventually become. One of those things was probably your favorite toy. While not always, the toys someone likes to play with as a child can be reflective of their personality when they grow older.

There are numerous ways to use someone's toys as a storytelling device:

  • Showing a character playing with a toy different from their peers' preferred toys means they're unusual or special. This can include gender roles i.e. a boy playing with dress-up dolls or a girl playing with action figures.
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  • A child taking good care of their toys means they are caring and gentle while playing roughly with or destroying toys (beyond the standards of normal child's play) can be a sign that they're having issues at home.
  • A homemade toy made by a parent can serve as a point of connection between them and their child, or even an Orphan's Plot Trinket. Conversely, the parents of a Lonely Rich Kid might try to buy their affection by showering them with expensive toys they don't really like, as a sign that they don't know their own child that well.
  • A Creepy Child is likely to have a Creepy Doll or some other scary-looking toy. The more it scares other children, the better.
  • An Enfant Terrible likely mistreats their toys or plays creepy games.
  • A particularly imaginative, artistic, or inventive child might create their own toys from things they find lying around.
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  • A child growing up in a militaristic culture will probably be given a pint-sized weapon as their first toy.
  • A child with highly religious parents might be given The Moral Substitute versions of secular toys, such as Bible action figures.
  • And if someone never had any toys at all, it probably means their childhood was quite sad, or that they're a serious, unimaginative, or boring person.

Can overlap with Early Personality Signs and/or A Minor Kidroduction if the character's favorite toys are shown in a flashback. Compare Character-Driven Strategy and Smart People Play Chess.

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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You: In Chapter 29, Kusuri plays with a Pentarou doll with the other girls. She's quite enthusiastic about it for the majority of the chapter, though she briefly becomes embarrassed about doing so when she temporarily ages herself up during the play session.
  • Death Note: Near is often shown playing with toys, demonstrating his view that the Kira case is something of a game to him. His precision is demonstrated by stacking dice into orderly towers, each die facing the same direction.
  • Doraemon:
    • Most of Nobita's toys are BB Guns and he's known for being The Gunslinger in their adventures, complete with Improbable Aiming Skills.
    • Gian is The Big Guy among the cast (and in the manga, The Bully) who's a fan of baseball. He's frequently seen carrying a baseball bat around — and on occasions where he's in a bullying mood, using it to beat up Nobita, Suneo, and the other neighborhood boys.
    • Suneo, who's an expert builder of models and an artist, usually owns various remote-controlled toys and model kits to highlight his creativity.
    • Shizuka, the Girly Girl, likes her dolls and plushies, and her bedroom is filled with stuffed toys.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind: While not truly a toy, Narancia's Stand, Aerosmith, takes the form of a remote-controlled toy plane. The fact that it looks like a toy in the first place (as opposed to the humanoid forms most Stands take) is reflective of his childlike personality and status as The Baby of the Bunch, and its ability to shoot bullets and bombs suits his short temper and violent nature.
    • Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Stone Ocean: From childhood, Anasui had an unexplainable obsession with taking things apart and would disassemble his toys, pocket watches, and whatever else he could find. As an adult, when he caught his girlfriend cheating on him with another man, he tore both of them apart so they could "never come back together again".
  • My Hero Academia: Eri is a little girl whose blood is being used by Overhaul, boss of the Shie Hassaikai, as the primary ingredient in his Quirk-erasing bullets. He has bought several toys for her, but she is so traumatized that she cannot bring herself to play with them. They can be seen strewn around her room, still in their original packagings. It is also worth noting that, while expensive, they're all generic little-girl toys (including a princess doll, teddy bear, and mirror set) rather than anything specific she might actually want, underlining that he doesn't really care about making her happy, only that she cooperates and isn't a liability to him.

    Fan Works 
  • Peeking Through the Fourth Wall: Episode 29 reveals that Lucy, who's a gothic, morbid young girl, once sacrificed her toy turtle to a demon.
  • The Sponge House: In "Lynn's Little Secret", each Loud sister's favourite Princess Pony toy says something about her — the bossy Lori likes a pony named Bossy Boots, Leni likes one named Beauty Foal, Luna the rocker likes a rocker pony, Luan likes a clown pony, Lynn who likes action likes a fire-themed pony, Lucy likes a black and grey pony, Lana likes one named Dirty Mudpie, Lola (who wears pink and likes diamonds) likes one named Pink Diamond, Lisa likes one named Brainy, and baby Lily likes a baby pony.
  • The Sun Will Come Up And The Seasons Will Change: Mary owns several stuffed animals (including her rabbit Mimi) and is a friendly young girl who takes good care of her belongings. Her classmate, Greg, is more rough with his toys and games and his mother Edith has to supervise him when going on a field trip.

    Films — Animation 
  • Lilo & Stitch: Lilo is a Cloud Cuckoo Lander and a mild Nightmare Fetishist who has strange thought processes and doesn't fit in with the other girls in her hula class. While they have Barbie-style fashion dolls, she has a creepy-looking, handmade rag doll named Scrump with button eyes and a stitched-up mouth. The other girls are noticeably creeped out by it, especially when Lilo explains, "I made her, but her head is too big, so I pretend a bug laid eggs in her ears and she's upset because she only has a few more days to—"
  • The Loud House Movie:
    • In the intro, Lucy is seen as a baby playing with a rattle with a skull on it. Now, she's a goth.
    • When Luan is shown as a baby, she's playing with two sock puppets. In the present as a teenager, she's a ventriloquist.
  • The Rescuers: Penny is never without her teddy bear Teddy, fussing over it like it were her child, showing her to be kind and caring. When Madame Medusa tries to force her into the cave where the Devil's Eye diamond is located, Penny claims that Teddy doesn't like it down there. Medusa's response is to take Teddy, threatening to never give it back if Penny doesn't return with the diamond.
  • Toy Story: Because the movies take place from the point of view of Living Toys, human children are shown to be nice or mean by the way they treat their toys.
    • Toy Story: Andy is a good-hearted, imaginative boy who loves his toys dearly and always takes good care of them, even stitching up Woody's arm himself when it gets ripped. He is compared to Sid, a mean boy who loves to chop toys into bits and create terrifying franken-toys out of the resulting parts—naturally, all of Andy's toys are terrified of him. Meanwhile, Sid's sister Hannah is a nice girl who takes care of her dollies, even going the extra mile to include Buzz in her tea party when she finds him.
    • Toy Story 3: Bonnie is a Cheerful Child who treasures each of her toys and is shown to be quite imaginative in her play. As Andy is about to leave for college, this is what makes him decide to give Woody to her, knowing that she'll take good care of him.
  • In Turning Red, Ming playing with Mei's Tamagotchi shows how Ming has changed and no longer bottles up her feelings.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Addams Family Values: Discussed but subverted by Debbie, who tells the story about how she wanted a Ballerina Barbie for her 10th birthday and was upset when her parents gave her a Malibu Barbie instead. For this, Debbie set their house on fire, killing them.
    Debbie: That's not what I wanted! That's not who I was. I was a ballerina! Graceful! Delicate! [beat] They had to go.
  • The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland: Grizzie plays with a doll who wets her pants, befitting a young Grouch.
  • An interesting example in Ghostbusters II: Dull, deadpan Mad Scientist Egon claims to have grown up without toys, instead having a collection of various molds.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: During his time in 4 Privet Drive, Harry is shown playing with some toy soldiers in his cupboard, looking bored and miserable. While his cousin Dudley is dreadfully spoiled and given more toys than any child could ever play with, Harry himself is treated as a nuisance and given almost nothing, his only toys being whatever's left over around the house.
    • Harry revisits the toy soldiers again in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as he is about to leave Privet Drive forever, showing that, despite his sad childhood there, he feels strange to be leaving that part of his life behind.
  • Hereditary: Charlie Graham is a Creepy Child who enjoys crafting disturbing little dolls out of various odds and ends, including metal bits and dead animal parts. In real life, A24 promoted the film by leaving her dolls outside the doorsteps of people who attended screenings.

    Literature 
  • American Girls Collection: Most of the girls have a special, usually handmade, doll that reflects the standard of the time period they live in. A lot of the time, it is also a family heirloom.
    • Felicity is usually a tomboy, but also turns out to have a girly streak when she falls in love with a doll at the milliner's shop dressed in a beautiful blue silk gown.
    • Addy has owned two rag dolls, both made by her mother. The first, Janie, was made when she and her family lived in slavery. When she's forced to leave her baby sister Esther behind as she escapes, she gives her Janie to hold on to until they're together again. Later, when she and her mother are living in freedom, her mother makes her another doll for Christmas, this one wearing a beautiful purple dress and little hoop earrings, and stuffed with beans. Addy happily calls her Ida Bean. Her love for both dolls is a reflection of her love for her family.
    • Josefina's family has a doll named Niña that was made by her deceased mother and is passed down to each daughter at Christmas the year she turns eight, along with a new doll dress. When Christmas comes and Josefina is old enough to receive Niña, her older sister Clara says she can't find the doll, but it turns out Clara is secretly keeping Niña for comfort because she misses their mother so much. Josefina is upset, but Tía Dolores convinces her to let the matter go for the time being and keeps the sisters busy teaching them colcha embroidery to fix the damaged Christmas altar cloth. Finally, on Christmas Eve, Clara feels she is ready to give Niña to Josefina, and even continues the tradition by making her a new doll dress that matches Josefina's. She explains that she thought Niña was all she had left of their mother, but repairing the altar cloth helped her realize she has their mother's gift for embroidery.
    • When Kirsten's family has to store their things in a warehouse for a few months, one of the things that has to be put away is her doll Sari. When Kirsten misses Sari, she creates a makeshift doll from an old stocking filled with milkweed floss and calls it Little Sari. Besides the dolls, Kirsten and her cousins also have toys made from things in nature, like doll cakes made from mud and doll beds made from woven twigs.
    • Molly, who lives in the middle of World War II, feels too old for a baby doll now that she's nine, and wants a doll she can have adventures with. For Christmas, her father, an army doctor serving in England, sends her a doll dressed in a nurse's uniform, representing her connection to her father.
    • Courtney is an avid gamer in the 1980s, who doesn’t initially consider herself a "doll girl". Her ability to play and make up games shows her bright imagination and nerdiness. But when her distant father sends her a Molly McIntire doll, whose character misses her dad just like she does, she feels more of a connection.
  • The kids' book Boris and Borsch features two boys, Patrick and Eugene, who are cousins. Patrick is a rambunctious, daredevil Bratty Half-Pint, who plays rough with his toys, while Eugene is a refined Neat Freak who plays with his toys in a very restrained, clean way.
  • In Cookie, one of Beauty's favorite toys is a ragdoll her mother handmade for her; she calls her PJ, short for Plain Jane. PJ is a bit lopsided-looking, but Beauty loves the doll because her mother took the time to make it for her and tends to hug her for comfort. In contrast, Beauty's father splurges on a giant pink rabbit from Harrod's for her birthday; Beauty finds it hideous and it's far too big to play with or hold close, showing how her father doesn't really know her and cares more about flashing his money around than getting something his daughter really likes.
  • The Diamond Girls:
    • Dixie has a toy budgie named Bluebell, whom she often pretends is a real budgie who has adventures with her. This helps show that Dixie has a vivid imagination, which she uses to escape her problems.
    • Mary's personality is reflected, however, in the fact that she isn't allowed to play with her mother's beloved dolls, which are extremely clean and neat but, Dixie notes, quite scary. This is representative of Mary's mother, who is an abusive Neat Freak.
  • Harry Potter:
    • When he was a baby, Harry loved flying around on a toy broomstick that was a birthday present from his godfather Sirius. Later in his life, he discovers his natural aptitude for Quidditch, a sport played on broomsticks.
    • As a young orphan, Tom Riddle (the future Voldemort) would steal toys from the other children and hoard them in his room, including a thimble, a yo-yo and a mouth organ. As an adult, his obsession shifted to collecting bigger and more impressive things—namely, artifacts of Hogwarts history to make into Horcruxes for himself.
  • In a flashback, Nigel molesworth depicts himself as a young child, smashing a model train to pieces with a hammer. This is of a piece with his self-characterisation as a "huge lout with 0 branes."
  • 1984: When inventing the obituary of a non-existent war hero named Comrade Ogilvy for the newspaper, Winston writes that as a child, he refused to play with any toys except a drum, toy gun, and helicopter as a sign of how selflessly devoted he was to serving Big Brother. From the reader's point of view, it is a symptom of mindless worship of Big Brother and the Party, ingrained into every citizen of Oceania from the moment of birth.
  • Sweetpea: Narrator Rhiannon is a Serial Killer and Psychopathic Womanchild who enjoys murder. Her other main hobby is playing with her beloved Sylvanian Families, rearranging their house, thinking and worrying about them, and treating them like real people, even though she's in at least her late twenties. This shows Rhiannon's arrested development.
  • This Present Past: Young Chiglas enjoys playing with animal skulls, pausing from play only to issue telepathic death threats to his mother, firmly establishing him as an Enfant Terrible.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Addams Family: The two children, Wednesday and Pugsley, like decapitating Marie Antoinette dolls because they're Creepy Children.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: In "Transitions", Hailey is a trans girl whose father, Mark, is not accepting of her gender identity. He keeps a photo in his wallet of a 5-year-old Hailey (then named Henry) holding a toy truck. When the detectives ask Hailey about the photo, she tells them that she asked for a Barbie that Christmas, but her father yelled at her, "No son of mine will ever play with dolls!"
  • The Sandman (2022):
    • John Dee was allowed to play with Dream's Ruby from a very early age, and as an adult, he fondly looks back on the time when his mother showed him that the Ruby could literally make dreams come true, conjuring a pony in the garden or making it snow in summer. While it's a humanising element to John's character, it's unfortunately a sign of his dysfunctional childhood, as the Ruby was never meant to be used by mortals. As a result of its effects on John's mind, it's also a good indication of how he became obsessed with the Ruby to the point of murdering several people who he believed were trying to steal it from him. It's also the first sign that very bad things are soon to follow when he gets it back.
    • Jed Walker has no toys while still in the care of Barnaby and Clarice, one of the many signs that his foster parents are mistreating him. As such, Jed's only entertainment and hope are found in the dreams given to him by Galt.
  • Sesame Street:
    • Ernie is (probably) fully grown, but he still plays with a rubber duck and a toy truck. This characterises him as a fun-loving Cloud Cuckoolander.
    • In a Very Special Episode, Karli, whose mother, up until recently, had been a drug addict, plays with two toy elephants and has one keep making sandwiches for the other. This is because, while her mother was an addict, she kept having Karli make her food.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Dr Bashir has, and treasures, a teddy bear named Kukalaka that he refers to as his "first patient," having apparently patched the bear up when he was five and his mother wanted to throw him away. This reflects that his ambition to be a doctor predates the genetic enhancements that made the ambition possible.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise: When Captain Archer (the captain of a spaceship) was a boy, he would build model spaceships.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In the episode "Booby Trap" Captain Picard compares visiting an ancient starship to "climbing inside the bottle." Nobody present, other than Chief O'Brien, has any clue what he's talking about. Riker thinks O'Brien is feigning knowledge to suck up to Picard, but O'Brien defends his knowledge. The interesting thing is that ships in bottles characterize Picard and O'Brien in different ways. For Picard, they represent a more romantic age and the opportunity to dream about the possibilities of exploration. For O'Brien, they represent pride in constructing something that is intricate and beautiful because it is more than the sum of its parts.
  • Ted Lasso: Ted's son Henry sends him a collection of his army men toys to "keep him safe" while he's away coaching in England. This shows Henry and Ted's relationship to be a strong one. He also keeps one of them nearby when he's particularly stressed (i.e. when he has to sign finalize his divorce). Ted later gives individual army men to certain people he meets in order to give them similar support, showing Ted's ability to reach out and care, and how Ted feels about the person in question:
    • Rebecca receives a rifleman to protect her in the divorce papers separating wake of all the bad publicity around her divorce. It also symbolizes that she herself is on the attack, as she is secretly trying to sabotage the team to get back at her ex-husband.
    • Sam receives a machine-gunner kneeling and taking aim to protect him as he transitions to a new country, symbolizing thoughtfulness. Sam's polite refusal to take the toy, since as a Nigerian he doesn't have a great history with the U.S. Army, shows he has a strong moral code, foreshadowing his protest of the team's sponsor in Season 2 for its direct role in polluting his country.
    • Jamie receives a scout with binoculars, symbolizing that Ted is still looking out for Jamie, even when he's playing for another team.
    • Dr. Sharon receives the radioman in the Season 2 finale, showing how Sharon got Ted to talk about his issues and that even though Sharon is moving on to another job, Ted wants to keep the lines of communication open.
  • Victorious: Jade says that her favorite toy growing up was a hammer. This reflects both her unhappy childhood and her tendency to cause chaos and mayhem.

    Theatre 

    Video Games 
  • Used as a gameplay mechanic in Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, as the toys your child plays with can influence their career when they grow up. A scratch pad can influence them to become an artist, a toy car can influence them to become a scholar, and a ball can influence them to become an athlete.
  • In Mass Effect 2, Admiral Daro'Xen, a researcher who plays fast and loose with morals, mentions at one point that she used to perform surgery on her childhood toys. Tali remarks that explains a lot.
  • TinkerQuarry has an unusual, inverted example where the toy takes on the personality of its owner. The Girl had many toys, but her favorite was Fido, the Jumping Dog. Both the Girl and Fido used to be innocent and sweet. However, it's implied that the Girl's parents eventually became abusive towards her. The Girl took out her anger by abusing her toys because she didn't know they were Living Toys. The Girl treated Fido like her partner in attacking the toys, yet she also abused him by tearing off his fur. Fido (later known as Staya) became Ax-Crazy as a result of his abuse. He feels loyal to the Girl despite what she did to him, and he wants her to come back so they can continue abusing the other toys together.

    Web Original 
  • Neopets: If a Chia plushie is played with by a Lupe, they'll break it. This is because Lupes have a rivalry with Chias and used to eat them in the olden times.
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-5832 is a long-abandoned apartment room filled with the possessions of an abused little girl, including a stuffed Webkinz dog whose fur is sullied with an unidentified substance, a copy of the game Animal Crossing: Wild World with no dialogue, a charm bracelet with a charm shaped like a birthday cake with seven candles, and a Disney Princess coloring book with every image of the Beast covered in red crayon scribbles.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • In-universe, the monks comment that Aang's preference for playing with the toys owned by previous Avatars was one of the indications that he's the next Avatar, as they would feel familiar to him from his previous lives.
    • In a flashback in "Zuko Alone", Azula sets the Earth Kingdom doll her Uncle Iroh sent her on fire. This shows her lack of respect for Iroh as well as her general lack of affection.
  • Central Park: As a kid, the toy Owen wanted more than anything was a toy street sweeper "with real spinning brushes" so he could pretend to be the guy cleaning the streets of New York. He is introduced as the manager of Central Park, so this shows he always had the same selflessness and the same interest in boring things that nevertheless need doing that he starts the series with.
  • Futurama: In "How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back", Hermes reveals through song that when he was four years old, he had alphabet blocks, and when a hurricane blew them out of order, he cried for an entire night. He then grew up to become a stuffy bureaucrat.
  • Invader Zim:
    • Dib is a self-professed paranormal investigator who is deeply fascinated with anything supernatural he can find. Even as a baby, he was spelling out the word "aliens" with his letter blocks.
    • His sister Gaz is a misanthropic goth who Hates Everyone Equally. She owns a "Bitey the Vampire" doll and several stuffed animals that she converted into security drones to guard her room. According to her, they're programmed to feed on human flesh.
  • The Loud House:
    • One of Lola's favourite things to do is play tea party, which fits with her posh personality.
    • "Room and Hoard" reveals that Lori once had a toy phone, Leni had a fashion-related board game, Luan (a ventriloquist) had a puppet theatre, and Lynn had a toy basketball hoop.
  • Moral Orel: Orel is a young boy living in a fundamentalist Christian town. He owns Bible-themed action figures like Regular God and Super God.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Thorax is an uncommonly gentle and pacifistic changeling, as opposed to the rest of his race who are vicious predators. "To Change a Changeling" shows that when he was a grub, he liked to play quietly and gently with his dollies, while all the other grubs loved nothing better than tearing apart training dummies.
    • Twilight Sparkle is such a huge nerd that her favorite childhood toy (shown in "Lesson Zero") was Smarty Pants, a stuffed donkey who "even comes with her own notebook and quill, for when you want to pretend she's doing her homework!"
  • Olaf's Frozen Adventure: While exploring the attic, Elsa finds Sir Jorgen Bjorgen, a stuffed penguin. She tells Anna that he was "a good listener", implying that she use to confide in her favorite stuffed toy, believing that she had to stay away from her family and couldn't confide in them.
  • Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated: Fred still owns a teddy bear despite being a teenager, and he calls him Mr. Trapples because he loves setting traps.

    Real Life 
  • Jane Goodall, a scientist who has contributed a lot to the study of chimpanzees, first became interested in primates when she was given a plush monkey as a young child. She even has the plush monkey to this day.

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