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A parent's rite of passage.

"You dumb babies! Stop having fun! It's just a stupid box!"

Little Cindy's birthday is coming up soon; Alice and Bob want it to be super-special for her, so they search high and low for a super-special ultra-rare highly-expensive toy as her present. As the birthday approaches, the two of them bubble over with excitement as they imagine how vivacious she'll be when she finally receives it.

So the party is held, cake gets eaten, and Cindy goes through her gifts. At the end, she opens Alice and Bob's present, yelps with glee... then carelessly tosses it aside while she trills at the most awesome cardboard box it came in! Just imagine the possibilities!

Note that this trope is not about kids playing with boxes in general -- it's about kids (or anyone else) coveting boxes while ignoring the (presumably valuable) contents inside.

A common gag in comedies with small children, and a case of Truth in Television for a lot of parents.

Also see My New Gift Is Lame, Unwanted Gift Plot, and Worthless Yellow Rocks.

Examples of Kids Prefer Boxes include:

Comic Books

  • An old issue of Archie showed the gang as cave people, given presents by Santa: Modern clothes in the sorts of boxes high end stores once used. They find the modern clothes useless, but thank the strange red guy for the wonderful gifts - the immensely useful boxes.
    • Betty makes paintings, and one is finally bought by a man raving about how it was just what he needed. He then tosses the painting away as he leaves, continuing to rave about the frame.

Fan Fiction


 Nearly an hour and about an acre of shredded wrapping paper later, the children were ignoring all their new toys and playing in the large cardboard box one of them had come in.

“Never fails,” Remus said. “We should stop getting them presents and just get them boxes.”

“Don’t think I haven’t considered it,” Danger said ruefully.



  • WALL-E did that with a diamond ring; he chose the ringbox.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas plays with this trope, as Jack is obsessed with the concept of a "present" (particularly in Kingdom Hearts II), but doesn't understand that the present is what's INSIDE the pretty wrapped box with the bow.
    • Then again, he clearly has some idea (or realizes later) that the box needs to have an item inside it, because the citizens of Halloween Town fill the boxes with scary toys rather than leaving them empty.


  • In Winnie the Pooh, Pooh intends to give Eeyore a jar of honey... and then absent-mindedly eats the honey. Eeyore doesn't actually like honey, but he's very happy to be given the empty jar.

Live Action TV

  • In an episode of Modern Family, Claire and Phil mention that their son Luke is like this. One year, they decided to just give him a box for his birthday. Unfortunately they put it in a nice bag and he spent all day playing with the bag.
  • On Daves World, after Dave has gone through hell and high water to get the year's hot toy for his son, the boy opens the box, says the toy's name in an awed voice, and proceeds to play with the wrapping paper.
  • Referenced in Power Rangers Zeo - Sprocket begs his parents for a new toy, and Machina points out "But when we got you that lovely nuclear reactor, you only played with the box."
  • In an episode of Full House, Michelle got a cute little outfit from her family but she didn't care, all she wanted was the box.
  • Roseanne hangs a lampshade on this trope in the season 9 Christmas episode: "You kids have a big day tomorrow of ignoring all your toys and playing with the boxes they came in!"

Myths And Legends

  • There's a Buddhist parable in Chinese Mythology about a shopkeeper that tried to sell a valuable pearl by putting it inside a pretty box. Unfortunately the person that bought it was only interested in buying the box and left the pearl. The Aesop to the story is not to ignore the deeper meanings of Buddhism in favor of the superficial.

New Media

Newspaper Comics

  • A story arc in Calvin and Hobbes had Calvin sending away for a motorized propeller beanie. When it finally arrives, he's disappointed that it doesn't let him fly around town as he had imagined, and kicks it away in frustration. Fortunately, it came in a cool cardboard box, and he and Hobbes begin to make plans for the fun they'll have with it.
    • Calvin also regularly utilized a large cardboard box turned different ways as a transmogrifier (opening on the bottom), time machine (opening on the top) and duplicator (opening on the side.)

 Hobbes: It's amazing what they're doing with corrugated cardboard these days.


 "No way, Wendell. Your kids got the box last time, this one's mine."

  • Referenced with a twist in this Baby Blues comic.
  • One Sherman's Lagoon Sunday strip has Sherman give his son Herman an expensive robot toy, and goes on about how 'Santa' waited hours in line to get one. When he sees Herman playing with the box, he's understandably upset.

Professional Wrestling

  • This Christmas promo for and the Elimination Chamber playset. DX was shamelessly promoting WWE and/or DX merch as usual. After talking about all the toy's features, Shawn Michaels has a nervous breakdown talking about it, how much stress it is to put that toy together while his kids forget all the other crap they got for Christmas, and after it's finished, "AND THEN THEY ONLY WANT TO PLAY WITH THE BOX! AAAAAAHHHH!".

 Triple H: (stares at Shawn incredulously before looking back at the camera and picking up the box) "It is a nice box."


Video Games

  • Short-lived, but Isaac of Mother 3 initially finds more use for the Happy Box's box than the Happy Box itself (the "Happy Box" is basically a television, not itself an example of this trope.)
  • In an extra, if you look closely, you can see Sunny in Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots playing with a cardboard box. No surprise since she is raised by her Uncle Snake.
  • Dragon Fable: One of the game's Mascot Mook enemies are an entire Planet of Hats species of goblins called Sneevils, who make a point of stealing boxes and discarding any of their contents.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • This is the punchline to Pixar's short Tin Toy.
  • The SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Idiot Box" revolved around SpongeBob ordering a giant screen television... simply so that he and Patrick could have the box to play in.

 Patrick: "I thought it wouldn't work!"

  • There's an episode of Garfield and Friends where Garfield wants an expensive cat bed, then sleeps in the box it came in. Jon, not willing to let all the money he spent on the bed go to waste, crawls into the cat bed himself.
  • In The Simpsons, Homer attempts to persuade Maggie to give up Mr Burns' beloved teddy bear by giving her a box to play with instead. However, Homer becomes enthralled with the box and keeps it for himself despite Maggie's enthusiasm for it.
    • A variant occurs in an earlier episode, where he gives her a stuffed elephant and she puts it aside to play with the paper he wrapped it in.
  • The Rugrats episode "The Box" revolves around this idea, as does "Kid TV."
    • In the first one, Stu orders a ridiculously obtuse toy and spends the entire episode trying to simply build the damn thing. The toy is never assembled. Angelica, of course, doesn't get why the babies are having so much fun with it and tries to ruin their fun. When she rips the box to pieces, the babies pause for a few moments, and then just pick up the various bits of cardboard and play with those, leading to Angelica, completely fed up, shouting the quote at the top of the page. Eventually, Stu decides (as a toy inventor) to give up on the toy and market a line of cardboard boxes, after seeing how much fun the babies are having with it. Angelica continues to not get it.
    • In the second, Stu is struggling to invent a flying toy and is up-shown by a lavish commercial. In a rage, he throws his half-finished invention at the TV, destroying it. He then tries to look for the TV's box to return it under warranty, but the only box he can find is just barely too small. While he searches for another box, the babies cut a hole in the bottom and pretend it's a television, hosting their own shows as the others watch.
  • In one episode of Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy, the Eds hear that Kevin has a box of jawbreakers and ask him for some. Kevin replies that they are too late and tosses them the empty box, and Ed proceeds to crawl inside it ("Hey, free box!").
  • An episode of Caillou has his parents buy him a computer he can play on, he ends up liking the box it came in better.
  • An episode of Jimmy Two-Shoes has Beezy bribe Heloise with a box of gold. She takes it, then dumps out the contents to play in the box.
  • On Peppa Pig's Christmas Episode, George got a fancy electronic toy racing car as his gift, but ended up playing with the box instead after his parents took too long to get it set up.

Real Life

  • Bubble wrap. *pop* *pop* *pop* *pop*
  • Shipping containers have been used to build houses.
  • If you've ever lived on a minimal income, you've found yourself wishing not for stuff, but boxes to put your stuff in/on at least once.
  • Similar situation for dog owners; "We spend all this money on toys and they're content to chew a stick."
    • Same thing with cats and string. Or boxes, for that matter. Cats love hiding in boxes.
      • Or bottle caps or little jingly bits of metal or those $.25 bouncy balls or...
    • Pet rodents usually adore cardboard boxes, both as hiding places and something to chew on. A box full of shredded-paper packing material is even better, for added burrowing and nest-building potential.
  • "Cardboard box" has been added to the Toy Hall of Fame, alongside Jack-in-the-box and Candyland. That's how awesome boxes are.
    • Admit it: there's nothing more awesome than a big, giant box to crawl inside!
  • Packages containing dry ice.
  • The well-established rule that kids like cookie dough better than cookies is similar to this.
    • Admit it, not just kids.
      • Well yeah but then we have to admit that this trope itself isn't just for kids.
  • This MyLifeIsAverage.