HomeEntertainment News'Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai': Mogwai Origins Explained

‘Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai’: Mogwai Origins Explained

In 1984, one of cinema’s strangest yet most enduring films was released in Joe Dante‘s Gremlins. Written by Chris Columbus and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, who helped turn the movie from a bloody horror film on the page to something more family oriented (though not enough to stop the film from being partially responsible for the creation of the PG-13 rating), Gremlins has one of the craziest premises. In the film, a father named Rand Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) buys his son, Billy (Zach Galligan) a very odd Christmas present in Chinatown. That present is an adorable, long eared creature called a Mogwai. That Mogwai comes with rules, however. Don’t get it wet. If you do, it’ll multiply. Don’t put it in sunlight. If you do, it’ll die. And don’t ever, no matter how much it begs, feed a Mogwai after midnight. If you do, it’ll transform into a devil-like, murderous gremlin.


Gremlins is part comedy, part scary creature feature, but what it’s not is a film that explains its monsters. There are no scenes of Billy going to a local library or talking to an expert to learn more about Mogwai. They have no backstory whatsoever. Mogwai and gremlins just are, and they are written so well, and designed with such realism, that audiences simply accepted them, no questions asked. Now, in 2023, thanks to the new animated Max series, Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai, we are finally learning about the Mogwai’s background for the first time ever. Well, sort of.

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The ‘Gremlins’ Novelization Attempted to Give the Mogwai a Backstory

Gizmo smiling in Gremlins
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

In the 1980s, it was common practice for studios to commission a novelization of their more popular films. These novels were big business, as it gave fans another way to dig deeper into their favorite movies. With a novel having more time to tell a story than a movie ever could, novelizations delved into the backstory of a movie, adding more scenes and dialogue. For Gremlins, that posed a big problem. We knew absolutely nothing about the Mogwai, and though they spoke a word of English here or there, we couldn’t understand their language.

George Gipe, the writer of the Gremlins novel, was given free rein to go write whatever he could come up with. Gipe invented the most bonkers of backstories, which saw Mogwai as aliens from outer space created by another race of aliens to be beings that could be sent throughout the galaxy to spread peace. Instead, something went wrong, and many of the Mogwai turned bad. Gipe even had the Mogwai speaking to each other in their own language then translated to English.

Director Joe Dante commented on the novel in an interview with Empire last year, calling Gipe’s work a “whacked out novelization” and giving his own theory about where Mogwai come from. “George Gipe, who wrote that, never got to see the movie. He made up a whole background — a complicated one — for the creatures. In my mind, they came from China, and were the results of the mating of a dragon and a panda.” Though the idea of a dragon and panda getting it on is pretty insane, Dante’s idea wasn’t too far off from what is revealed in Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai.

In ‘Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai,’ We See How Gizmo Meets Sam Wing

Izaac Wang as Sam Wing and Gizmo in the poster for 'Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai'
Image via Max

In the first Gremlins film, the basement curio shop in Chinatown where Rand Peltzer finds Gizmo is run by an elderly man named Sam Wing. Played by Keye Luke, we don’t get to know a whole lot about Mr. Wing. He refuses to sell the Mogwai to Rand at any price, but behind his back, his young grandson sells one anyway. At the end of the film, Wing ends up at the Peltzer home, upset about what happened (the whole gremlins killing people and wrecking the town thing), before taking Gizmo back. He’s briefly seen in the sequel, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, as a very sick man in his curio shop refusing to sell to a developer. He soon after dies and when the developer begins to tear his shop down, a mourning Gizmo must make a run for it.

Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai is an origin story, not just in what a Mogwai is, but in how Gizmo first met Sam Wing. In the series, it’s 1920 in Shanghai, China, and Sam (Izaac Wang) is a curious 10-year-old boy with a mom and dad and a grandfather (James Hong) whom he’s especially close to. One day, when Sam and his grandfather go to an outdoor circus, one of the acts is referred to as a singing catdog. In actuality, it’s a kidnapped Gizmo, who is being forced to sing. He wears a silly little outfit, but when it falls off, Grandpa Wing is in shock. He knows what he’s looking at. It’s a Mogwai.

‘Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai’ Tackles the Backstory of Mogwai

Gizmo in 'Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai'
Image via Max

We’ve now witnessed the first time that Sam Wing sees Gizmo, but where did this creature come from? The first episode of Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai presents Gizmo in a little utopian community in a forest. Hidden by trees, the community shows dozens of Mogwai living in little homes. They all seem very happy. That happiness is invaded when a huge bird swoops down. Gizmo, just as in the films, is a fighter. While the other Mogwai run for their lives, he chucks rocks at the bird, trying to scare it off. Instead, he draws attention to himself, and is grabbed by the bird who flies away with Gizmo. He is fortunate to get away from the bird, but then a worse fate comes for him: humans. A traveling circus finds Gizmo and traps him.

When Grandpa Wing sees Gizmo at the circus, he is afraid. He says that Shanghai is doomed if they don’t capture the creature. Grandpa Wing explains that the creature in the circus is called a Mogwai and is a mythical creature that hasn’t been seen by humans in hundreds of years. The last time a human did have one though, cities burned. Without him explaining further, we know why.

It’s up to Grandpa and Sam to save Gizmo and return him to his home which is said to be located in the Valley of Jade. Of course, even though Grandpa and Sam are successful in saving Gizmo, it can’t be that easy, as Gizmo gets wet and multiplies, with four new Mogwai popping out of his back. And as we know will happen, the new mischievous Mogwai escape and are quick to eat after midnight, hatching the next day as gremlins.

The gremlins aren’t treated as the villains in Gremlins: The Secrets of the Mogwai, at least not yet. That distinction goes to a character named Riley Greene (Matthew Rhys). He is the leader of a gang who wants the Mogwai. Riley is even able to use magic as a weapon, as he traps Grandpa Wing into a ball-like contraption then swallows it. It’s revealed that the Valley of Jade contains a treasure that Riley desperately wants.

As the episodes continue, more about the Mogwai is sure to be revealed, but after two episodes, we have already learned a lot. This isn’t some pulpy sci-fi story like the Gremlins novelization was. Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai is way more fantasy based, with the Mogwai being peaceful mystical creatures who are happy on their own, but due to human intrusion, their worlds collide into something horrific. So far, no pandas or dragons have been seen anywhere.

The first two episodes of Gremlins: The Secrets of the Mogwai are now available to stream on Max.



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