Nearly every child grows up face front of the television screen watching America’s favorite animated shows. But, throughout the span of popular cartoons – there have been some shocking moments, characters, and messages that appear in some episodes somewhere down the line. Here are the top ten cartoons not suited for children.
SpongeBob SquarePants, coming in 10th place due to suggestive punch-lines (or some may recognize the humor as “dirty jokes”) and censored cursing in an episode titled “Sailor Mouth”. In the very beginning of the episode, SpongeBob is told to take out the garbage by Mr. Krabs. He comes across some writings on the garbage can and begins to read them out loud stating “Mr. Krabs is a ___”. Nickelodeon censored the word with Dolphin sound effects; implying there had been obscene language in the place of it. A man appears next to SpongeBob and asks him, “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” grabs some trash bags and furiously walks away from the garbage disposal.
There is a scene in this episode of SpongeBob where he walks into work and greets everyone along with his best pal, Patrick Star by first saying the words “Hello, customers! Nice ___ day were having, huh?” later followed by the chocking of food and gasps by customers. C’mon SpongeBob, what’s up with the language?
As for dirty jokes, we are all aware there’s a lot of them. I mean, judging by forum talk and angry parents who wish the show was off the air. Unfortunately parents, I doubt this will happen in the near future. You’ll have to settle for your kids watching an old, mermaid-man in a woman’s bra. A phrase is said in an episode called “Gary Takes a Bath”, where SpongeBob hands Gary two soap bars simultaneously saying the famous line, “Don’t drop the soap”. This was a line that is linked to prisoners’ fear of actually dropping the soap in the shared showers of a jail.
Rightfully hailed as one of the best cartoons of all time, Samurai Jack first aired on Cartoon Network. The show started off with a time-displaced samurai facing off against the comically evil demon Aku and partnering with talking, British dogs. Though that set up makes it sound like an exciting kids show, the cartoon slowly revealed itself to be more methodical than the average serial. Its humor was witty, its writing was sharp, and its animation was never anything less than stellar.
The show’s specialty was its long fight scenes with almost zero dialogue, which were almost always done to show off both Jack’s impeccable skills and the quick, gorgeous animation. While it’s clear children could watch and enjoy the show, it was clearly meant for a more adult audience. Why else would it be placed on Adult Swim for its long-awaited season five return?
Though considered to be fairly tame by today’s standards, there was a time when The Simpsons was the funniest, most graphic, most adult cartoon on television, so much so that it caused legitimate political strife and then helped to alleviate the tension by handling it in a mature, adult fashion. Though never explicitly obscene, it always tried to push the envelope when it came to satire and commentary.
Today, the show is seen as very much a family show, with certain episodes being specifically for kids. However, the tone and style of the show hasn’t actually changed all that much from its first few wildly successful seasons. It’s the world and sensibilities surrounding the show that have caused its primary demographic to change, not the show’s quality or direction
Obliquely, Adventure Time is for kids. Adults can certainly enjoy its zany imagery, off-kilter comedy, and awkward dialogue, but its lack of character progression and nonsensical irrelevance makes it pretty clear that, with the exception of a choice few episodes that deal with loss, Alzheimer’s, and trauma, it isn’t supposed to be taken all that seriously.
However, the adult themes take place in the backdrop of the show where, as shown in flashbacks, the magical and insane world of the show is actually a post-apocalyptic landscape reformed and mutated by what can be assumed to be nuclear war. With that context, suddenly every joke and wacky antic the show perpetuates becomes a very desperate cover up of unimaginable tragedy. Though it isn’t brought up much in the show, once you know the truth it becomes hard to forget.
THE LION KING
It’s an animated movie. It counts as a cartoon. With that out of the way, The Lion King, the pinnacle of Disney’s ’90s renaissance, is perhaps the most adult story ever told watered down and animated, so kids could enjoy it. At this point, it’s no secret that the movie is loosely based on Hamlet, often considered legendary playwright William Shakespeare’s greatest work.
The parallels of a prince dealing with the loss of his father and being instructed by a supernatural force to take vengeance on his usurper uncle run deep through both. But only one features Matthew Broderick as a talking lion. Obviously, Disney wasn’t going to recreate Hamlet and pray that kids would understand it, many adults have trouble following it after all, so they made the most accurate reproduction they could while being as kid-friendly as possible.
THE REGULAR SHOW
The best way to describe Cartoon Network’s The Regular Show is that it’s a more child-friendly version of a sitcom. Instead of dealing with working class living however, Regular Show just follows the casual, nine-to-five lives of two best friends, a bird named Mordecai and a raccoon named Rigby, and their continual search for love, entertainment, and an escape from boredom. Though this often leads them into typical kids show hijinks, the core of the show is just the two of them and their circle of friends dealing with being themselves.
AVATAR: THE LEGEND OF KORRA
The original Avatar: The Last Airbender was a spectacular kids show with quality writing, crisp animation, and important values which imparted the basics of Asian philosophy, culture, and martial arts to a young audience in a very consumable format for that demographic. Its subsequent spin-off Avatar: The Legend of Korra was much of the same, except it was meant to subtly teach kids the essentials of prominent political movements instead.
However, the show had a more grown-up feel than its predecessor, a result of having an aged-up protagonist, and dealt with much more adult themes such as relationships, trauma, and self-examination. Almost inadvertently, the show turned from a kids show that adults could watch to an adult show that kids could watch. Unfortunately, this also distanced the show from its intended audience and it had to wrap its final season online.
THE REN & STIMPY SHOW
A show about a dumb cat and an insane dog living together probably sounds like it should be very kid-friendly. And while it certainly aimed at such a demographic, The Ren & Stimpy Show was anything but. It’s humor ranged from overly-violent physical comedy to barely-veiled innuendo with little room in between for anything that could safely be consumed by a younger audience.
The frantic animation and absurdist writing received critical praise, but often put the show runners at odds with the Nickelodeon censorship board, forcing them to fight for subtle jokes like Ren forcing Stimpy to beg for him to finish sawing a log across his back in a suggestive manner. That particular joke ends with Ren rushing off when Stimpy asks if he wants to cuddle afterwards. Because subtlety, you see.
This might seem like a random entry in this list as Bob’s Burgers, a character-driven show about a wacky family led by the titular chef patriarch, is a fairly simple show hidden in Fox’s Animation Domination between the Simpsons and Family Guy juggernauts. The characters are all suitably zany, the animation is par for the course, and the tone comes off as fairly generic, almost like an animated Modern Family.
But the crux of the show is that, despite their many passions, nobody in the family is particularly talented and their dreams of a better, more successful life are probably not going to come true. That doesn’t matter to them though because they still have each other and are capable of being happy despite not achieving their goals. If that’s not an important lesson for the adults today and tomorrow, then what is?
Steven Spielberg’s The Animaniacs is pretty much the reason this list exists. Apart from featuring some shockingly adult humor, including the legendary ‘fingerprints’ joke, the show featured scathing political and social commentary that was virtually non-existent in cartoons at the time. Hilariously mocking everything from the political theater to celebrity idolatry to gender norms to the very concept of art and structure, it’s astounding what the show managed to slip past censors. The show became so notoriously adult that it ended up make jokes about how incompetent its own censors were!
There was not a single sketch, bit, or character that wasn’t there for adults to bust a gut over while their kids enjoyed the moving colors. What more can be said? They’re the Animaniacs, they’re zany to the max, they have pay-or-play contracts, there’s baloney in their slacks, you’ll laugh till you collapse, and those are the facts.
We ought to be careful on the kind of cartoons we let our kids watch or view. Some may not actually rub off the right lessons and values on them. Supervision is key for proper upbringing. Thank you for reading!