Boglins? In 'Rick and Morty' Season 4, Rick's favorite toy reveals a lot
"People have a stronger mothering or maternal instinct towards things that are not perfect," Boglins creator Tim Clarke tells Inverse.
The weirdest moment of Rick and Morty’s Season 4 premiere comes late in the episode when a panicked Rick Sanchez, stuck in the body of a Wasp Rick clone, rummages through his own garage for a precious item. He pulls out a hideous toy in a caged box labeled “Boglins” and breathes a sigh of relief before moving on to exact revenge on Morty for indirectly forcing Rick to become a wasp. But if you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering what the heck a Boglin is, and it turns out the true story of this late ‘80s novelty toy is even weirder than the Adult Swim show bringing it back into the spotlight.
Are Boglins the next Szechuan Sauce? Creator Tim Clarke sure hopes so, and he’s got a compelling theory about why Rick Sanchez treats his Boglin with such tenderness despite how terribly he treats Morty and everyone else in his life.
“People have a stronger mothering or maternal instinct towards things that are not perfect compared to something that is perfect,” Clarke tells Inverse.
"Wh-where’s my Boglin!? — Rick Sanchez
For someone as imperfect as Rick, he probably sees a bit of himself in this tiny, monstrous creature. And there’s almost nothing more imperfect-looking than a Boglin, a squishy goblin puppet that lives in a box. The toy, first released by Mattel in 1987, was inspired by Clarke’s time designing and building puppets on well-known Jim Henson projects like Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, and the original Dark Crystal. But it wasn’t until he started creating monsters like Boglins and Sectaurs that he was dubbed “The King of Gross.”
According to Clarke, Rick’s reaction to his Boglin is completely within character for the narcissistic mad scientist. In the first episode of Season 4, when Rick realizes Morty messed around in the garage and took all sorts of gadgets, there’s only one thing he’s truly worried about.
“Wh-where’s my Boglin!?” Rick cries out in a panic. He pulls out a wooden box with metal bars in the front that houses a nasty-looking green creature. It’s just an inanimate object, yet Rick talks to it like it’s his baby.
“There you are!” Rick coos. “Pop-pop’s back. Don’ t worry. I’ll keep you safe.”
We’ve never seen this thing before on the show — and we’ve also never seen Rick speak to anything, alive or inanimate, with such tenderness, but Tim Clarke says Boglins elicit this type of response in a lot of people.
Adults approach Clarke all the time and talk about how they loved taking care of these “scary-cute” creatures when they were children. They inspire maternal or paternal instincts of wanting to protect some flawed creature and they also help children conquer their fear of monsters.
“Every kid has nightmares, every kid dreams of monsters,” Clarke says. “But to have a monster that you control and manipulate gives you the power. That’s a very deep-rooted emotion in kids.”
At Dragon Con 2019 (a multi-genre pop culture convention focused on fantasy) in September, a little boy waiting in line for a Star Wars panel noticed the Boglins at Clarke’s booth. What ensued is nothing short of delightful:
“He let go of his mom’s hand and walked over to me. I said, ‘Do you want to try it?’ He just shook his head and didn’t say anything. So I handed it to him, and he’s playing with the Boglin. Then his mother suddenly rushes over to him says, ‘What are you doing!?’ His first reaction — which is most almost every kid’s reaction — which is to take the Boglin, turn around, and bite her on the arm. We all laughed and laughed.”
Boglins exist in their own canon, for lack of a better way to describe it. The implied history of these creatures is based solely on the packaging where “bogologist field notes” describe goblin-like critters that hail from “the swampy bog that time forgot,” even theorizing that their personalities and peculiar evolutions might classify them as a “missing link” between animal and man. The field notes urge new bogologists to study this intelligent species. They all even have names. All that implied depth is just fuel for the imagination.
“This is better because it leaves it up to the kid (or adult) to use their imagination and expand on the character themselves which makes the play pattern much broader,” Clarke says.
How did Boglins come to exist?
In the mid-’80s, Clarke had been working full-time on The Muppet Show when the Jim Henson Company put him on freelance, an unfortunate setback that also allowed him to pursue passion projects.
“After Fraggle Rock, Jim Henson had troubling selling TV shows,” Clarke explains. “While working on Fraggle Rock, I talked to Jim about starting up a toy division to produce toys based on concepts and materials that we were working on. The premise was that we’d do things that were a lot more innovative than what the toy companies were doing.” According to Clarke, “the idea was creating a monster that kids could control themselves,” demystifying what would otherwise be scary little critters while getting kids interested in puppetry.
"I can’t tell you how many special effects artists come up to me and say Boglins got them into special effects. — Tim Clarke
Apparently, Henson called it a “great idea” before adding, “I just don’t want to do it,” Clarke recalls. So Clarke partnered with Larry Mass and Maureen Trotto, his old collaborator in toy design. But to hear Clarke talk about the toy industry in the ‘80s, this was no easy feat, even for someone who’d spent years crafting beloved puppets that are still relevant today.
“If they don’t know you, they don’t want to see you,” he says. “Toy companies had whole cliques of toy inventors and toy designers that they dealt with on a regular basis.”
Eventually, they found success with Coleco, the toy company behind the original Cabbage Patch Kids, but that company went under shortly after. Boglins got their second chance with Mattel.
“We changed the viewpoint of the market by making this thing into a monster character, which would appeal to not only kids but all the way up to adults too,” Clarke says.
To this day, adults at festivals and conventions like Monsterpalooza or Dragon Con.
“I can’t tell you how many special effects artists come up to me and say Boglins got them into special effects,” says Clarke.
After decades of obscurity with a niche but ravenous audience willing to pay $150 today for handmade Boglins (Clarke still sells them via his website and there’s also a flourishing second-hand market), these creepy critters might be launched back into the limelight thanks to Rick and Morty. The original Boglins were made from a synthetic rubber called Kraton that had to be injection-molded under pressure in a factory with heavy machinery. It took time to figure out a more manageable material for newer Boglins.
“Luckily the chemist who was working there had played with Boglins when he was a kid and said, ‘Tim, I will figure out something with you that will work,’” Clarke says. Together they tested different materials for months. Nowadays, he’s hand-crafting them one-by-one and shipping them all over the world, but he hopes that Boglins might have a more accessible future moving forward.
Clarke had no idea Rick and Morty was about to drop a huge Boglins reference, but Adult Swim has featured the creatures before on shows like Robot Chicken. Still, leave it to Rick and Morty co-creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon to write a random joke about a puppet monster toy from 1987 that just might trigger a huge demand for something you’ve probably never heard of.
“I’ve actively been working on trying to bring them back,” Clarke says. “I’m hoping that recent events will help bring that to fruition.”
Maybe one day soon, we’ll all be able to buy a Rick and Morty-themed Boglin.
Rick and Morty Season 4 airs Sundays on Adult Swim at 11:30 p.m. Eastern.
If you want to learn more about Boglins and Tim Clarke, watch the Batteries Not Included episode “The Boglins Story” on Amazon.