A Cute Animal Friend (CAF) is an animal companion of a Mary Sue. This companion can be a familiar, a friend, a servant, or hold some other relationship with the Sue... but the purpose of a Cute Animal Friend is always to empower or mark the Sue as Speshul. Any animal or pet that doesn't do that isn't a Cute Animal Friend, but merely an animal companion or a normal critter.
Cute Animal Friends are usually 'nice' animals, such as cute domestic animals and the more majestic or romantic wild animals, including fantastical creatures. Rarely are 'ugly' animals seen as Cute Animal Friends, even if they would be just as apt companions. There is a distinct lack of iguanas, pigs, or rhinoceros, for example. However, there are occasional instances of a creature not normally thought of as cute (such as a snake or bat) becoming the companion of a Sue or Gary Stu. This seems to be more common in the case of Stus.
Having an animal companion is not a sign of being a Mary Sue, but a Sue with an animal companion will tend to extend their disruptive influence to their pets, or use said pets as cheap sentiments or substitutes for real characterization. In the worst cases, the Animal Friend may be no more than a fashion piece that the Sue adds to her image. It is not uncommon for Cute Animal Friends to be neglected by the Sue, as they are usually only there to show how special she is. They are killed or recruited at the agents' discretion. In some cases, the CAF might be able to assimilate back into the canon as a normal animal.
'Cute Animal Friend' is a negative term, and shouldn't be applied to any acceptable animal in fiction. However, a CAF's low quality is not always the CAF's fault. Usually, it is the resident Sue's fault. Even so, the presence of a very disruptive CAF, especially if it breaks canon to empower a Sue (I ride the ONLY Rainbow Dragon in Pern! I have a one-of-a-kind Pokémon! I own a telepathic raven which makes me more mysterious and amazing!) can be a charge.
Common CAF Varieties
There are a few variations of Cute Animal Friend, and some may even fall into more than one of these roles:
Usually a small furry animal or a bird, this animal is the Sue's pet. It may be a symbol of her purity or goodness: hinting at the Sue's connection to the earth, nature, or just innately cute and cuddly things. Sometimes the creature may be concealed in a pocket or a bag, regardless of the actual safety of confining animals to tiny constricting spaces.
This animal is there to aid the Sue in battle. Usually it is of a medium-to-large size, such as a wolf, a big cat, an eagle, or some other 'noble beast.' Unfortunately, many times this animal serves as just as much of an accessory as a smaller animal: serving to make the Sue look 'cooler.' There may be no mention of where the Sue keeps this animal... implying a large, threatening animal wanders through inappropriate settings with the Sue, too.
A normal animal might be augmented with a magic ability, super power, some other extra utility, or even some special destiny that is important to the story. Unfortunately, this may turn the CAF into nothing more than a plot device.
Who's got pet dragons? Sue's got pet dragons. And unicorns. And gryphons. And just about any fantastic creature under the sun... as well as some from quite sunless places. Note: the inappropriateness of a fantastic animal is related to the setting. If a fantastic creature is commonplace as a pet or even a situational necessity, owning one might make sense.
Sometimes the animal talks, making it a secondary character. The purpose of this might be to provide a mentor or extra friend for the Sue... but makes it doubly nasty when the CAF is forgotten or overshadowed, because it implies the neglect of a possibly sapient creature.
The Sue uses this CAF as transportation. It might be a horse, or a flying creature, or some other large animal. But it is always portrayed improperly: running with endless stamina, covering distances at unnatural speed for no reason... Faithful Steeds are often neglected because they are not always present: vanishing or left unaccounted-for while 'off scene.'
Note that these are all possibly bad executions of many classic animal portrayals in fiction. The Cute Animal Friend is not bad simply because it is an animal companion: it is bad because it exists in a badfic that does not depict it properly.
Evaluating Animal Companions
- Is this animal a resident of the continuum in question? If it doesn't belong, it had better have a good reason to be there.
- Does this animal serve as an accessory to another character? Does it ever inconvenience that person, or call attention to its own needs?
- Is it idealized beyond what would be understandable? Even really cool animals have weaknesses.
- Would it make sense for the owner to be able to keep this animal? Can they feasibly attain it and support it with what they have?
- Is it inexplicably tame? Does it follow a character around of its own accord, without any interests of its own?
- What does it eat? Is proper food available for it? Does its owner feed it? If none of these, why hasn't it starved yet?
- Is this creature taken for granted? Even if it's amazing? If it is taken for granted, is it just by one person, by entire crowds of people, or even by the Sue herself?
- Does it behave as an animal of its type should? Does it show normal behaviors? Or does it display puppyish affection no matter the species?
- Does the owner put effort into maintaining it, or is it just assumed to be in pristine condition all the time?
- Is it unexplained exactly how this creature receives care?
- On the other hand, are unbelievable excuses made to explain away not having to take care of the creature?
- Does this animal have a really dumb name?
- Are people attracted to a character because of this animal?
- Is it unable to die, or otherwise inexplicably immune to things that should have killed it?
- If it has special properties or powers, are they explained by the plot with care, or are they loose ends that don't tie in with anything?
- Is this animal also a Mary Sue in its own right? If so, it's a culprit, not just an accomplice.
CAFs in the PPC
When an agent chooses to rescue a CAF from a badfic, it goes to Agent Kai at the Cute Animal Friends Adoption Agency (highlight to view the text; it's there, promise). There, the CAF is given a new, non-Sueish name and re-educated to be a productive member of the multiverse. Once a CAF has been rehabilitated, it may be adopted by other PPCers.