Get to Know Your Gentle Giants

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Why are some of the biggest fictional characters also some of cuddliest? We just love our gentle giants. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Over the holidays, my family’s movie nights consisted largely of binge-watching DreamWorks Trollhunters on NetFlix, based on the Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus novel.

One of our favorite characters turned out to be the onomatopoeic-named Aaarrrgghh, the massive pacifist who has given up his fighting ways. He’s big, stoney, brutish and brusk… and completely adorable.

For some reason, this type of character, whose hefty frame is often only matched by his giant heart, has always been popular in literature and pop culture. For some reason, we are just drawn to them.

There have been several books and stories about this type of lumbering contradiction to the man-eating, rampaging, ill-tempered behemoth. I remember George the Gentle Giant by Adelaide Holl as a kid, and the 1970s sci-fi The Gentle Giants of Ganymede series. There was also a favorite of mine, The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame.

More recently, the storytelling tree-like monster in Patrick Ness’s heart-wrenching A Monster Calls is getting some big-screen attention. Big Hero Six‘s Bay-Max, soon to part of a new Disney XD television series, was the 2015 National Hugging Day’s “Most Huggable Character.” The pet-like Elliott was introduced to a new generation of Disney fans in the Pete’s Dragon remake and came across even more lovable in his new fuzzy CGI form.

Even today, we love these characters. No matter who we say our favorite Guardians of the Galaxy member is, everyone seems to be head-over-heels for Groot, even before seeking his forthcoming “Baby Groot” incarnation. This massive creature, who was capable of kicking some bad-guy booty, was also the one who could produce dainty flowers from his hand to share with children and selflessly sacrificed himself to save his friends.

Here are ten more of my favorite “gentle giants” who I wouldn’t want to cross in battle, but I’d be very happy to call a friend:

Rubeus Hagrid (Harry Potter series). The Hogwart’s loyal gamekeeper and constant companion to Harry and his friends is actually only half giant, although he takes good care of his full-giant brother, Grawp. Although Hagrid came from a difficult childhood, had less than happy experiences as a student himself, and continued to undergo problems as an adult, he was always one to rely to be compassionate towards the needs animals of all kinds. Hagrid’s such a softie, he saw the cuddle factor in several creatures who might not be so lovable. This included Fluffy the three-headed guard dog, Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback dragon, and his grotesque spider pet, Aragog.

Ludo (Labyrinth). Ludo is a huge horned beast who ultimately accompanies young Sarah on her journey through the labyrinth in the 1986 fantasy film, but despite his monstrous appearance he’s really a big baby. He’s playful and sweet, and he has the magical power of summoning rocks. In the opening scenes of the movie, there’s a stuffed animal seen in Sarah’s room who looks suspiciously like him. Plus, she has a copy of the vintage board game “Ludo” on her shelf, which may be where he got his name.

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From books to movies to television shows, there is a huge appeal to big characters. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

The BFG. Whether you know him from the original 1986 Raold Dahl book or the recent Disney movie adaptation, this “Big Friendly Giant” goes against the grain of his fellow foul-tempered residents of Giant Country by being good-natured (most of the time), collecting and delivering good dreams to children, and, most importantly, not eating people. His shaky grasp of the English language makes him an especially fun character to read out loud.

Chewbacca (Star Wars universe). Make no mistake, this wookiee is a badass when need be (and is apparently a pretty sore loser in board games), but we can’t help but want to jump up and hug him around the neck. He was loyal to his co-pilot Han Solo, to a fault, and didn’t even complain when he never received a medal for his part in blowing up the Death Star in A New Hope. Even his warbling growls are endearing. I’ve read the name Chewbacca came from the Russian word for dog, “Coбaka.” Considering how many people I’ve run across or seen who have named their big, cuddly dogs “Chewie” or “Chewbacca,” I can believe this.

Clifford: The Big Red Dog. This one was a constant in my girls’ storytime requests. Not only is Clifford, created in 1963 by Norman Bridwell, jolly, sweet, and kind, the whole reason he grew from being “tiny ball of fur” to a huge 25-foot giant of a dog is because has was so filled with the love of his owner, Emily Elizabeth. I keep hearing there are plans for a live-action movie based on the world of Clifford, but that might still be some time off.

Eduardo (Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends). There were plenty of memorable characters in the Cartoon Network animated series, but the 542-pound, seven-foot purple monster with horns and skull-adorned biker pants was by far the most lovable. He was kind-hearted, laid back, and always ready to go along with the crowd.

The Iron Giant. The title character in this Brad Bird-directed animated film based on the 1968 Ted Hughes novel The Iron Man is about a young boy who discovers massive metal robot who fell from space. Although the robot possesses several weapons, which made him especially imposing in the Cold War-era backdrop of the story, he possessed an innocent, childlike curiosity for the world around him.

Sweetums (The Muppets). This easy going ogre (yes, he is actually an ogre) was created for the 1971 Muppet television special, The Frog Prince, and has been a big part of the Muppet world ever since. He’s friendly, good natured, and even in Muppet appearances where he’s cast as part of the villains, he is more than willing join the good guys.

Of course, I would hate to mention Sweetums without giving a nod to a couple of other lovable Henson-created mammoth muppets: the cuddly Mr. Snuffleupagus, who was known to be real to only Big Bird until the mid-1980s, and a newer addition, Bobo The Bear, the pragmatic teddy bear of a brown bear.

Treebeard (The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers) Treebeard, the guardian of Fanghorn Forest, is certainly a pacifist, almost to the point of snobbery, but I almost didn’t include this J.R.R. Tolkien creation on this list for one reason: I don’t find him very likeable. In the movie version, I love his voice, the way he looks, and his and his fellow Ents’ ultimate battle capabilities, but being gentle doesn’t make one particularly friendly. Plus, an avid readers of Tolkien know he can also be find Ents can be very, very wordy and boring.

There are so many more to mention: James P. “Sully” Sullivan from Monster’s Inc, Jungle Book’s Balloo the bear, and Dr. Seuss’s Horton the Elephant, to list a few more, but no matter what story they come from, they always end up in our hearts.

Why are these oversized characters so appealing? Perhaps it’s the idea of looking beyond the surface to find the hidden soul inside. Perhaps it’s knowing in good times, bad times, or scary times, there is something out there to take care of us that we ourselves don’t have to fear. I could be the sheer comedic and entertainment value contained in these giant frames.

No matter the reason, these gentle giants prove the bigger they are, the harder we fall for them.

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Whether trolls, dogs or robots, it’s nice to have these giants among us. Images: Dreamworks Animation, Scholastic and Warner Bros.

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Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site ihogeek.com and maintains her own blogsite at lisathegeekmom.wordpress.com. She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.