Remember Sylvanian Families? Those cutesy animal toys living in luxury homes decked out with furniture sets, tree houses and mini-clothes to match? Living a better life than you and I, they were the stuff of dreams for any kid under the age of eight.
Recently, Thea von Engelbrechten, a 20-year old TikToker, has been breathing new life into these otters, beavers, rabbits and elephants as a means of procrastinating over quarantine. While you baked banana bread, she dusted off the toybox from the attic of her home in Kildare, Ireland, and began filming elaborate scenes where Sylvanian Families are the stars of the show.
Von Engelbrechten’s account, Sylvanian Drama, has amassed one million followers since last January, each one committed to its 60-second storylines. They’ve got all the drama of an episode of Desperate Housewives and the theatrics of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
“The first videos were so crazy and I didn’t think anyone would see them,” von Engelbrechten says, laughing. “The sense of humour is really strange. The first one that did really well is about an elephant getting a nose job – it got seven million views. I think people were stitching it with videos of themselves after they’d gotten actual nose jobs.”
No one is more surprised than von Engelbrecht at how well the account has performed over the last few months. The concept might sound niche, but the Internet-friendly Gen‑Z language and humour in each clip hits a very specific sweet spot. There are no holds barred when it comes to the themes in Sylvanian Drama, which include murder, shoplifting, adultery and even substance abuse, often inspired by the hit TV show Pretty Little Liars.
“Bizarre and a bit dark is how I’d describe the sense of humour,” von Engelbrecht continues. “A lot of it is quite self-deprecating as well. The elephant is me and anything that happens to her is me projecting onto that character.”
Most rewarding of all, though, is how relatable TikTokers find von Engelbrecht’s videos, in spite of the fact that they’re depicting toy animals going wild. “They’re toys, not real people, so you can kind of say things that you wouldn’t be able to if it was a video of yourself,” she says. “I did one where one of the animals is struggling with a binge-eating disorder and so many people were like, ‘That’s my exact pattern!’
“She’s on a boat and feels too insecure to go swimming. Instead, she eats and becomes even more insecure. A lot of my issues are in the Sylvanians videos, which relate to people’s own struggles as well. Not the dead body ones, though – I hope no one relates to those!”
Soon, von Engelbrecht wants to write films or TV shows with a similar sense of humour, but with the Sylvanians swapped out for real people. Thanks to the popularity of her TikTok account, a company has even reached out to ask if she’s ever considered it. For now, though, she’s looking forward to watching the Gossip Girl reboot. And who knows? Maybe we’ll see Sylvanian Drama on the big screen soon…