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Finally, a Cartoon Brave Enough to Tell 10-Year-Olds That Having a Drink Will Kill Them and Everyone They Know

The drunk Dinky takes on Grandpa on a dangerous joyride.
The drunk Dinky takes on Grandpa on a dangerous joyride.
Screenshot: WildBrain

Remember The Littles? It’s fine if you don’t. It’s one of the billions of lesser-loved ‘80s cartoons, based on the long-running but still lesser-known children’s novels of the same name. The premise is almost identical to The Borrowers, in which a group of extremely tiny people secretly live inside humans’ houses while trying not to be seen, which accounts for basically half of The Littles’ 29 episodes.

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However, the series also did not shy away from PSA episodes where it tried to teach kids important life lessons like “don’t run away from home” and “don’t tell someone you’re going to babysit their kids and then go play football because the house might catch fire and you’ll have to pay for the damage out of your allowance regardless of what the home insurance covers.”

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Today’s Worst Episode Ever is about one such PSA titled “A Little Drunk” (which is, honestly, a fantastic episode title), whose moral is likely self-evident. To spell it out, the Littles—including Grandpa, young siblings Tom and Lucy, and teenaged imbecile Dinky—go to Hollywood when their young, normal-sized pal Henry wins an all-expenses-paid trip to meet big-time action movie star Kurt Corwin. Both Henry and the Littles alike consider Kurt their hero instead of any of the characters he plays, which is weird to me; it’s like a kid wanting to go as Chris Pratt for Halloween instead of Star-Lord.

Henry (left) meets big-time movie star and bigger-time alcoholic Kurt Corwin.
Henry (left) meets big-time movie star and bigger-time alcoholic Kurt Corwin.
Screenshot: WildBrain

Alas, Kurt is a raging alcoholic, literally, who is going to disappoint every single person in this episode at every conceivable moment. Of course, no ‘80s PSA is going to portray alcohol as anything but the Demon Booze that turns people into monstrous idiots who put themselves and everyone around them in mortal danger, but The Littles goes above and beyond to make sure every child watching knows that if they see their parents enjoying at a beer at a cookout they can expect to be orphans by the end of the day.

When Henry meets Corwin on the set of the Indiana Jones-esque adventure movie he’s filming, not only does the actor have a drink already in hand, he asks Henry immediately—immediately—if he wants a drink! There is a shockingly long pause where a confused and extremely off-put Henry asks “Huh?” before Corwin clarifies it’s soda pop. Then, Corwin heads to the bar and asks the bartender for another Scotch, which is pretty insane given this scene seemingly takes place in the actor’s dressing room. Corwin gloats to Henry, who is a 10-year-old child: “I can have a drink whenever I want. It’s in my contract!” It’s a spectacular commitment to getting shit-faced, and the episode has only just begun.

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“These tiny, violent delights have tiny, violent ends.”
“These tiny, violent delights have tiny, violent ends.”
Screenshot: WildBrain

Although Henry, Tom, Lucy, and Grandpa are dismayed by Corwin’s drinking problem, they’re far more upset when they learn Corwin doesn’t do his own stunts, even though that’s beyond standard Hollywood procedure. Less standard is how the next stunt will be filmed. Instead of Corwin driving recklessly around an ancient temple full of angry, problematic natives, the SFX team has built a practically sentient, stunning accurate Kurt Corwin action figure that can drive a fully functional toy car around a miniature set.

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Seriously, it’s like a tiny Westworld Host that can’t speak—the director sets the figure down, it runs into the car, puts on the seatbelt, guns the engine, and drives through a course of hairpin curves and giant jumps without anyone using a remote control or anything. Again, this amazing technology somehow disappoints Henry and the others, who wish the actor would needlessly risk his life instead. Corwin, meanwhile, is so pleased that he orders another drink from a second bar that is located next to the set while he’s holding a completely full drink in his hand.

You know who is impressed? Dinky. Not with the toys, but all that sweet, sweet liquor. When Grandpa tsks Corwin’s drinking, Dinky says, in one of the least nuanced lines ever written, “He’s a hard-drinking, hard-living superstar, and I’d give anything to be just like him!” Dinky gets his chance when a mishap during a fight scene with a human-sized clone/stunt actor causes Corwin to drop his drink; even though it lands standing up and nothing has spilled, Corwin disgustedly gets up to procure another Scotch, indicating his problem might be more with ordering drinks than drinking them. Dinky, desperate to be like his hero, literally crawls into the glass of Scotch to get a taste of his hero’s beverage of choice. (Been there, Dinky. Been there.)

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Dinky decides to try this “scotch” he’s heard so much about. Don’t worry, guys, it’s only one drink!
Dinky decides to try this “scotch” he’s heard so much about. Don’t worry, guys, it’s only one drink!
Screenshot: WildBrain

The instantly drunk Dinky decides to take his hero-worship to the next level by stealing the toy car and going for a joyride around the temple set, despite the fact that his hero very pointedly did nothing of the sort. Grandpa, whose role in the series is traditionally to worry about and chastise Dinky for his stupidity, leaps in the car so someone is around to be appalled by Dinky’s booze-fueled rampage.

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I want to take a moment to chastise? Appreciate? The Littles’ commitment to shoehorning a “drunk driving is bad” into a series that is in no way shaped to accommodate the idea in the slightest. The hoops the cartoon has to jump through/ignore to get a five-inch character drunk and behind the wheel of an operational vehicle is absolutely bananas, especially when the show’s audience maxed out at 12-years-old at the very, very oldest. Giving tweens the message that they shouldn’t get behind the wheel of cars they’re legally not allowed to drive after getting blitzed on booze they’re legally not allowed to drink is technically a good one, but I’m not certain it was quite the problem The Littles worried it was.

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Unfortunately, the message is diluted somewhat by the shockingly long scene of Dinky’s vehicular misadventure, as the Little gets into problems unlikely to be encountered by the drunkest 10-year-old drivers. Besides the normal stunts of the course, including a few ramps and one of those too narrow “only accessible through horizontal wheelies” alleys, Dinky somehow manages to drive directly out an open window, falling the Littles equivalent of five or six stories.

Then it’s into a drainpipe, through some roof gutters, down the sheer drop of another pipe, into a candy bar, and most impressively, directly into the path of an elephant that’s inexplicably on set. The first danger that is genuinely reasonable is when Dinky manages to drive directly into a wall on the temple set, but it’s negated when the wall turns out to be made of paper; the second is when Grandpa is somehow thrown out of the car but positioned in a way that he ends up directly in Dinky’s path, although no harm is done.

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I believe I can fly / I believe I can touch the sky
I believe I can fly / I believe I can touch the sky
Screenshot: WildBrain

Though Dinky is pretty upset that he nearly murdered his grandfather, his drunken antics are impressively tame compared to those of Kurt Corwin. After Henry calls Corwin out for being a drunk, the increasingly surly actor decides to do the movie’s big stunt for real, by himself, an act that will accomplish nothing but makes sense to him now that his mind is completely booze-soaked. This big stunt apparently and inexplicably requires an actual human being to perform, which is pretty wild considering it’s a motorcycle jump over a river of lava. It’s even wilder when you discover the moviemakers have built an actual river of actual lava inside the studio for the shot.

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Okay, “actual lava” might be overselling it a little, given that Corwin instantly fucks up the stunt and drives almost directly into the lava and then through the lava. Neither the bike nor himself melt into goo before he hits the river shore, wrecks the bike, gets tossed onto a conveniently placed mattress, and immediately passes out (not from the danger, just the booze). However, it’s hot enough that the wreck causes some lava to hit some nearby pulleys, setting the ropes on fire, which ignites a wooden catwalk, and eventually the entire building is burning down with Kurt—and Tom and Lucy, who had inadvertently fallen into Kurt’s motorcycle helmet—inside it. Although the Littles are understandably too little to push open the door, Lucy and Tom are able to tie Kurt’s wrists to a forklift which they drive through the door, dragging the actor outside, which is a very reasonable thing that makes total sense.

To be fair, it’s genuinely difficult to drive directly into a river of lava but somehow survive long enough to crash into something.
To be fair, it’s genuinely difficult to drive directly into a river of lava but somehow survive long enough to crash into something.
Screenshot: WildBrain
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Between Kurt’s destruction of millions of dollars of property and film equipment and Dinky’s brush with vehicular manslaughter, the pair vow to change their ways. Kurt apologizes to Henry and promises to pay for the damages, while Dinky decides to return the mini-car to the part of the studio that didn’t burn down—not by driving it, but by pulling it with a rope. He calls it “Dinky Power.” I think he’s still drunk.

“A Little Drunk” is one of those Worst Episodes Ever that’s so terrible it butts up against fantastic. So many things are so misguided that it ends up being pretty entertaining just to see the madness unfold, and the best example might be the very end. Many ‘80s cartoons liked to stick their PSAs after the episode proper ended, but since The Littles was sort of heavy into PSAs already it spent its first two seasons suggesting arts and crafts projects and the third season, when the Littles were jet-setting around the world (and space, which would be the subject of this WEE if an adult didn’t introduce himself by seemingly offering to get a child drunk), with “A Little Known Fact” about history and geography.

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It’s sort of tragic that Tom and Lucy desperately want to sign this drunk driving contact with their parents, who are noticeably absent this episode.
It’s sort of tragic that Tom and Lucy desperately want to sign this drunk driving contact with their parents, who are noticeably absent this episode.
Screenshot: WildBrain

The exception is “A Little Drunk,” whose “Fact” is Tom and Lucy telling kids about a contract kids can sign with their parents regarding drunk driving: Kids promise to never get behind the wheel drunk or get a ride from someone else drunk and to call their parents to get picked up instead. Parents, according to Lucy and Tom, promise to pick up their children “with no questions” asked. It’s either based on, or a lazy explanation of, a similar SADD-made contract (SADD being Students Against Driving Drunk at the time) which has the key difference being that parents agree to not ask questions or give teens grief about underage drinking until a later date.

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The important word in the SADD version is “teens,” who are traditionally more likely to be in a situation involving alcohol and potential drunk driving than The Littles’ audience and would never in a million years willingly watch an episode of this dumb kids’ cartoon. While it’s foolish to think there aren’t drunk adults driving children around, those adults are mostly their parents and guardians anyway, which is a way, way heavier a problem than The Littles was ever ready to talk about with its young audience (and not exactly covered by the contract anyway). So by giving this message exclusively to preteens, the implication here is that The Littles is worried about 10-year-olds getting bombed and trying to drive themselves home so their parents don’t find out, which seems exceedingly difficult when their mom dropped them off, presumably to play Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Wait. Do kids play Smash Bros.? Should I have said Fortnite? Or do they actually drink and drive? Is TikTok slang for drinking and driving? I’m old, and all I know for sure is that they’re not watching the goddamned Littles.

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Tom and Lucy inadvertently hitch a ride to Lavatown.
Tom and Lucy inadvertently hitch a ride to Lavatown.
Screenshot: WildBrain

Assorted Musings:

  • Tom and Lucy try to wake up the passed-out Kurt since he’s the only person in the burning studio who can open the door. It’s a big deal since a significant portion of The Littles’ airtime was devoted to them trying not to get found by the regular-sized humans, especially their main foe Dr. Hunter. Of course, Kurt thinks they were a booze hallucination, which, I was surprised to find out is a rare but real thing that Kurt almost certainly qualifies for.
  • Dinky puts on the outfit the Corwin doll has on before he takes his joyride, meaning not only does the action figure move of its own accord, it was made nude so it could be dressed presumably for other scenes in the movie. Did…did it have underwear on? If it did, how far does the uncanny accuracy of this thing go?
  • Another one of my favorite drunk Kurt lines: “What’s that kid know. Lunch break. No one here to stop me!” None of this is a typo.
  • When Grandpa smells booze on Dinky’s breath—which takes a lot longer than you might imagine—Dinky’s response is, “I only had one drink!” I feel pretty confident The Littles was trying to teach kids than even one drink can impair your driving skills, but what it really teaches kids is not to drive after having an oil barrel full of hard liquor which is, to be fair, definitely a good message.
  • How did no one call Dinky “Drunky” in this episode?
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Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, the creator of the poorly named but fan-favorite news site Topless Robot, and now writes nerd stuff for many places, because it's all he's good at.

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DISCUSSION

Here’s how this article’s legacy will play out: I read it. I will forget I ever read it. Then one late drunken night on my recliner, years from now, I’ll recall it. I won’t remember what I’m recalling, nor will I understand where, who, or why any of these fantastic details are in my consciousness in the first place. I’ll forget about it again. Then, the following morning, perhaps in a hungover fog, I’ll recall it once last time, shake my head at the idea of little elf people and Indiana Jones and scotch and lava... and just chalk it up as some bonkers booze dream I must have had overnight.