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Thumbs! What happened to the world's strangest movie parodies?

Mallow! Mallow! Mallow!

A few hundred billion light years from this world, where the air is little bit thinner and the kitchen tables are a little bit smaller, there exists a universe composed entirely of human thumbs. The lives of the thumbs will feel familiar to you, because their planet is a replica of ours. Our pop culture is their pop culture, but everything is a little off. Instead of Star Wars, they have Thumb Wars: the story of Loke Groundrunner, a brave young thumb who must save the universe from the Evil Thumbpire. Instead of Titanic, the have Thumbtanic, a tragic tale of two thumbs riding on a turbulent ship of love. And instead of The Godfather, it’s The Godthumb who fills his cheeks with cotton balls.

Every hand has a thumb

This is the world of Thumb!, a parody series created by Steve Oedekerk (the guy behind Kung Pow! Enter the Fist). Thumb Wars was the first installment in the series; it premiered in 1999 on UPN, a broadcast network you may or may not remember (it later merged with the WB to become The CW). The movie’s tagline, "Every hand has a thumb," was at least kind of true, if nothing else. The rest of the 30-minute shorts that followed Thumb Wars, like Bat Thumb, Thumbtanic, and Frakenthumb, were released on DVD in the early 2000s.

If there was every any ardent cult fondness for these movies, it has largely been lost to the sands of time. That doesn’t mean you can’t watch all of the Thumb movies on YouTube, but a mention of "Thumb movies" to most acquaintances will likely elicit more raised eyebrows than looks of recognition. Thumb Wars only has 185,000 views on YouTube, and it’s been up there for at least two years. This beagle has 785,000 views, and it’s been up for less than a week. On an IMDb message boards, a user asks, "Anyone else find the thumb movies really unfunny and bad?"

But most of the responses to that post are "No, no one else thinks that." Because here’s the thing: the Thumb movies are not bad. They’re objectively, scientifically, un-bad. And I’m going to remind you why.

By "scientifically" I mean "anatomically," and by "anatomically" I mean "all of the characters are thumbs." Because if you put a face on a thumb — a tiny, pinched visage with giant watery eyes and no nose — anything the thumb says will be a good joke. And for fans, the thumb aesthetic is recognizable enough that certain people start to look like thumbs.

So why have these movies, these monuments of artistic achievement, been forgotten? I think it’s mostly because parody doesn’t have a long shelf life and it’s very easy to hate. There are four Scary Movies now, because as more horror movies come out, the previous Scary Movies start to feel irrelevant, or at least dusty. The films parodied in the first Scary Movie are either a) forgotten or b) classics, like Kazaam and Scream, respectively. It’s difficult to make fun of something nobody remembers, and classic movies tend to defy parody. Have you ever seen a clever Scarface parody?

Thumb movies are happy being as obvious as possible, they don’t need to try to be anything more

The Thumb movies manage to avoid these pitfalls, I think, because they’re presented from the start as insignificant. The characters are thumbs, and many of the jokes are centered around the fact that they’re thumbs. Thumb movies are happy being as obvious as possible, they don’t need to try to be anything more. The only character who shows up in every single Thumb movie is a character known as the "Woo-hoo" guy. He says "Woo-hoo" one time per short, and then he leaves. This is objectively dumb, but parody is one of the few formats in which dumb can really shine.

Take The Blair Thumb and Thumbtanic, the stand-outs of the collection. The Blair Thumb stars Stressy, Jish, and Vic (short for Victim), who get lost in the woods while hunting for an evil thing. One night, the trio thinks they hear the Blair Thumb slowly creeping towards their tent, but the intruder turns out to be a shark. A shark in the woods — imagine! Later, when Stressy is alone and crying, she wonders out loud where the rivers of snot on her face are coming from, because she doesn’t have a nose.

You might recall a popular scene from Titanic, in which Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack stands at the bow of the ship, throws his arms out, and yells, "I’m the king of the world!" This scene is in Thumbtanic too, except Jake’s line is, "I’m the king of the globe!" Then someone behind him yells, "I’m a dentist!" The jokes roll away as quickly as they land, and the thumbs move on to new jokes, scrunchy up their thumby faces with dumb, mindless glee.

After the six installments of the Thumb series were released to a few golf claps, Oedekerk promised new movies were on the way: Thumbatrix and WTW: World Thumb Wrestling. They were both rumored to be coming out in 2003, but that never happened. (Though apparently a Kung Pow sequel is in the works). The series was revived again briefly in 2008 and 2009, when Cartoon Network aired Frakenthumb and The Blair Thumb on Halloween, but other than that, the Thumb empire has gone dormant.

The Thumb series hasn’t left much of a digital fingerprint; its comedic style seems to translate best in person, when a friend tells you to watch this dumb thing. So while no Netflix robot will ever curate the Thumb movies into a Recommended For You list, take it from me, your friend: watch this dumb thing.