This Pop Culture Shock Therapy comic appeared on Eric Gjovaag’s Wizard of Oz Comics Facebook group, and it inevitably led to a mention of the Keebler Elves, then I brought up Snap, Crackle, and Pop. So why ARE diminutive fantasy humanoids so closely associated with sugary foodstuffs? I wonder if it’s an extension of Santa Claus’s toymaking elves, as candy is also associated with Christmas. In the movie Elf, Buddy refers to the four food groups for elves as being candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup. There’s also the general association of sweet foods with magic and whimsy.
And elves and brownies have been known to do housework for people, which would presumably include baking.
In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl originally wrote of Oompa Loompas as African pygmies who wear deer skins and leaves, and are only about knee-high.
Willy Wonka took them from their African home where they had to eat insects and dodge predators, and pays them in cacao beans. We’re told that these are their favorite food, but it still seems like a way for Wonka to avoid paying his employees. And he makes them test all kinds of dangerous substances he invents. A complaint in 1972 about the offensiveness of Wonka basically keeping black slaves led to later editions giving them rosy white skin and golden brown hair instead, but they still have no real agency and are still really tiny.
The most popular depiction of Oompa Loompas, however, is that of the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, where they have orange skin and green hair, and are played by actors around four feet tall.
The Tim Burton movie had them all played by four-foot-four-inch Deep Roy without the orange skin.
The 1971 look was so iconic, however, that “Oompa Loompa” is still used as an insult for people with bad tans.
Every version of the Oompa Loompas makes them mischievous and fond of jokes and songs, so there does appear to be an intended connection to fairies or elves. Incidentally, I didn’t realize that the book wasn’t edited to remove the references to the Oompa Loompas being black until AFTER the first movie version came out. And apparently they were called Whimple-Scrumpets in earlier drafts.
I’ve discussed before how, while the Munchkins are described as small in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (specifically about the same height as a child of unspecified age), it isn’t that significant in the Oz series as a whole. It’s really the MGM movie that popularized “Munchkin” as simply meaning a little person. And while there are plenty of whimsical characters in the books, the Munchkins generally just wear blue clothes and high peaked hats.
In the film, they wear all different colors, and many of them have spiked hair. Some also wear flowerpots on their heads.
They do a lot of singing and dancing (well, I guess just about everyone does in musicals) in exaggerated voices. In other words, they seem a lot more sprite-like than in the books. And they have a Lollipop Guild, not even just a guild for candy makers, but one specifically for lollipops.
Get your own guild, jawbreaker people! So there’s the candy association there as well, even if it’s not quite as heavily emphasized. Whatever happened to the giant lollipop Dorothy receives, anyway? When she first starts on the Yellow Brick Road, she still has the flowers she received earlier, but not the lollipop. As far as I can tell, she either drops it when the Wicked Witch of the West shows up or it just kind of disappears around then. Maybe if she’d kept it, she wouldn’t have needed to argue with the apple trees. (Yeah, I know apples are more fulfilling than candy, but still.)
The elves from the Rice Krispies commercials date back to the 1930s. Vernon Grant first drew Snap in 1933, then later added the two others.
Early illustrations made them rather elderly gnomes, but around 1949 they were redesigned to look more like children, and with more distinctive looks, if not so much personalities.
Since they represent noises, does that make them Sound Imps? Apparently the 1950s introduced a fourth elf, Pow, who was from outer space or something. I suppose Lucky the Leprechaun is similar in that he’s a fairy being associated with a sweetened cereal, although that might be more because he’s stereotypically Irish than because he’s elf-like, what with the Luck of the Irish and all.
Still, marshmallow-based magic seems to fit the theme I’m looking at here. I wrote a post on cereal mascots a while back.
The Keebler Elves first appeared in 1969, with their leader being a guy named J.J. Keebler.
He was replaced in the following year (with no indication as to whether this was by an orderly transfer of power or a cookie coup) as head elf by Ernie, whose full name is Ernest J. Keebler.
His band of snack-making elves use a hollow tree as a factory and cook their products in magic ovens. They’re said to use “elfin magic,” which makes me think of J.R.R. Tolkien’s preference for “elven.” I agree that his version sounds much grander, but I don’t think Tolkien’s Elves were known for baked goods, except for their traveling bread.