Making aliens look cute is a tricky thing to get right in kids' entertainment. Make them too weird-looking, and you could freak out your audience. Make them too adorable, and you run the risk of them looking more like plush toys than creatures from another planet. And then sometimes you make them look cute... but forget to prevent them from acting like hideous, depraved monsters.
Many kids' entertainers have tried to walk this line between cute and otherworldly, and many have failed abysmally. Here are 12 supposedly "adorable" aliens that should have given everybody nightmares.
1) Mac, Mac and Me
The alien star of this cult non-classic is clearly trying to be E.T., just with a shameless lust for Coca-Cola and McDonald's food instead of Reese's Pieces. He looks like a far cuter alien was thrown out an airlock into the vacuum of space, and pulled back in just seconds before explosive decompression. His pudgy body and long legs make him look less like an alien and more like an unattractive nudist. He watches children in wheelchairs roll off cliffs, without so much as lifting an elongated finger. As the AV Club rightly points out, he has the mouth of an inflatable sex doll. Mac is disgusting.
Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po are four brightly coloured aliens whose sole mission is to occupy the minds of toddlers and begin their process of becoming mindless slaves of the television. They are a fever dream come to terrifying, Technicolor life; their dead, black eyes are belied by the TV sets in their stomachs, which frequently displays the souls of the actual children they have abducted. Also, according to their opening credits, they have set a baby's head on fire and are using it as their sun. We always assume Cthulhu and his ilk with look like tentacled squid monsters; I would posit that Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po are the Elder Gods we ought to be worrying about.
3) Podlings, The Dark Crystal
Jim Henson wasn't always interested in making aesthetically pleasing creatures, as one can easily tell by the disgusting Skeksis in The Dark Crystal. However, the Podlings — the peaceful, agrarian creatures that take in Kira — are clearly supposed to be adorable, especially since they're so kind and good and one with nature. It is unfortunate, then, that they all look like Muppets who have been microwaved for too long. Their bulbous heads, misshapen eyes and coarse hair should have terrified Kira — had she not been squatting in the lowest point of the Uncanny Valley herself.
4) The Creatures, Galaxy Quest
Admittedly, these aliens from the cult classic Galaxy Quest were designed specifically to be cute and terrifying, but even when they're in their "cute" phase they're actually revolting. These creatures look like kindlier, less LSD-happy Teletubbies; they're actually even cuter, with their child-like bodies and adorably cartoonish faces. Long before they open their mouths, revealing the dozens of razor-sharp fangs inside, they're already super disturbing.
5) Tribbles, Star Trek
I don't think people are disgusted enough by Tribbles. Sure, they multiply endlessly, they're fuzzy and cute, whatever. But can you really imagine what it would be like to hold a ball of warm, living flesh, covered in hair, in your hand? It would be creepy as hell. It would be like finding the hair clogging your shower drain had developed its own circulatory system, and picking it up. Furthermore, thanks to their insane reproductive abilities, it is literally possible to suffocate in a pile of Tribbles. To imagine what that would be like, remember the end of Akira, where blob Tetsuo's mountain of flesh basically eats his girlfriend? Imagine that… but with lots more body hair.
6) Pod People
Pod People was originally supposed to be a horror film about a group of aliens with tiny ape bodies and anteater heads who kill a bunch of stupid, obnoxious humans. But apparently the producers, believing that the movie's aliens had some kind of charismatic marketing potential, decided at the last minute to include a nice alien and a dumb kid who named him Trumpy, essentially sticking another shameless E.T. rip-off into a shitty horror flick. Imagine if while E.T. was playing with Elliott, another E.T. was out on a killing spree — that's Pod People.
7) The Great Gazoo, The Flintstones
This little green alien from The Flintstones — assuming he's real and not the byproduct of some kind of brain tumour in Fred Flintstone's head — is like a cuter, more cartoon-y version of Mr. Mxyzptlk. He may not have Mxyzptlk's complete control over reality, but he has enough alien tech to make anyone's life a living hell, and thanks to his imperfect understanding of human society and his basic dickishness, he generally does. And did you know why the Great Gazoo was exiled to Earth by his people in the first place? BECAUSE HE MADE A DEVICE THAT CAN DESTROY THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE. ON A WHIM. So one day, when all of creation suddenly ceases to exist, chances are it will be the "Great" Gazoo's fault.
Have you ever felt the Teletubbies were too high-brow? Then you might need to park your children in front of Boobah, the other brightly coloured alien-centric British show for toddlers. The Boobah are morbidly obese and covered in fur, except for the fleshy, nub-like heads that peek out of their torsos like a dog's retractable penis. These heads have their own nubs, indicating that the Boobah may be carrying some kind of horrible, disfiguring disease. But the most terrifying thing about the Boobah? They eat children's laughter. Yes, wherever children are laughing, the Boobah's Booball appears so that the Boobah can feed parasitically on those children's joy. At least the Teletubbies only made kids watch the TVs surgically implanted into their torsos.
9) Adipose, Doctor Who
Like the cute creatures from Galaxy Quest, the Adipose are supposed to be cute but evil — but in fact, they're just revolting. There's no way to talk around this, so… the Adipose are sentient balls of fat. They look like happy marshmallow people, but they are made entirely of one of the most disgusting substances in the human body. Remember that scene in Fight Club, when Edward Norton and Brad Pitt steal the bag of fat, and it gets caught on the fence, and spills out in a flood of bloody, fleshy goo? That's what's inside the Adipose. All it would take is a small squeeze to make them explode like a giant, anthropomorphic zit.
10) Puckmarin, Flight of the Navigator
Although this little alien was supposed to be David Freeman's adorable alien pet in the Disney classic, that doesn't change the fact that the Puckmarin looks like a naked mole rat with bulimia. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but this cover looks like Jabba the Hutt's foetus, so I'm judging it anyways.
E.T. is a scrotum. E.T.'s torso is a giant, winkled, hairless scrotum, and his head is a terrifyingly misshapen penis, which we know because he can (and does) extend it whenever he gets excited. Although everyone talks about how cute and nice E.T. supposedly is, here's his entire itinerary once he gets to earth: 1) drink beer, 2) play dress-up with Drew Barrymore's clothes, and 3) try to abduct Elliott by pretending he's his friend. Do you know what other people try to pretend to be children's friends? Men with thin mustaches who offer them candy from unmarked vans, that's who. And let's not forget, when E.T. gets captured by the heroic government forces, he tries to kill Elliott through their symbiotic link purely out of spite. E.T. is history's greatest monster.
12) Ewoks, Return of the Jedi
Oh, you think they're adorable little teddy bears, don't you? Wrong. First of all, like it or not, they did take down a trained Imperial legion with very little help from the human Rebels. These teddy bears are merciless killing machines that could fuck up just about anyone and anything. Second of all, they eat people. They eat humans. They were absolutely going to eat Han Solo — after cooking him alive — before Luke pulled out his Jedi shenanigans. Which means those helmets that Ewok was drumming on during the celebration at the end? Chances are the Ewoks ate the people who once wore those helmets, unless they also happened to have some Jedi powers or a golden protocol droids on hand, and they probably didn't. So while Luke and Leia and Lando and everybody was celebrating in the Ewok village, know that the Ewok's were playing their music to cover up the screams of captured Stormtroopers as they were being cooked alive.
This io9 Flashback originally appeared in March, 2013.