The whole problem with censorship is that it's so arbitrary. For instance, you could make a strong argument in favor of a cartoon getting censored, like when it involves replacing smoking references in The Flintstones and Tom & Jerry, or getting rid of over-the-top racist stereotypes, or not getting blown up -- all of which was deemed appropriate for broadcast at one point or another. But then the stuff that does get censored makes no goddamned sense.
Sure, cultural differences get in the way sometimes (see: Thailand, which blurs one-piece swimsuits in imported anime), but other times the desire to protect children's sensitive brains turns into bizarre self-parody. For example ...
#5. The '90s Spider-Man Cartoon Was Forbidden from Showing Punches
Hey, children of the '90s, remember Spider-Man: The Animated Series? Can you name a single instance of Spider-Man punching someone in that show? Or anyone punching anyone? Surely there's at least one example -- how about that fight with Venom where Iron Man crashed the show for some reason?
"Take thish, Hulk! *hic*"
"Dude, I can feel your breath through the mask. You need help."
Nope: They just roll around in a way that we find strangely arousing. OK, then, what about the super-violent confrontation between Blade and Morbius? Nope again: They throw shit at each other but never actually fight.
"My secret weakness! Bricks!"
The closest we come to a punch in this series is an episode featuring the villain Spot where Spider-Man is forced to propel his fist through a portal to hit him, as the writers must have suddenly realized that grappling and dodging make less sense if done interdimensionally.
Although technically that's what they call a donkey punch.
Well, this was all quite deliberate: The producers had a set of rules stating that Spider-Man "couldn't throw punches, toss anyone through glass, put children in jeopardy, have anyone threatened by fire," or even say the word "kill" (so instead of getting murdered, Uncle Ben moves to Canada). That's also the reason why the grunge-era cops inexplicably carried around futuristic non-lethal blasters.
If you're gonna try and tase Electro, you're gonna need some better hardware, boys.
The most noticeable rule was probably the anti-punching one -- every fight scene turned into a predictable formula of Spider-Man dodging things thrown at him and then wrestling his opponents into submission before shooting his milky web goo and incapacitating them. Head writer/producer John Semper explained that the writers were told to always be careful that "when Spider-Man lands on the roof, he doesn't harm any pigeons." Either the censors didn't understand how animation works or the scripts were peppered with random acts of bird murder that we never got to see.
In contrast, please enjoy this compilation of Spider-Man punching people, getting shot with guns, and getting punched with guns in the 1960s cartoon:
#4. Donald Duck Builds an Atom Bomb, Gets Censored for Selling Hair Tonic
Occasionally, Disney looks at an old comic it made, says "Holy shit, did we really publish that?!" and censors it in all future reprints. Such is the case with "Donald Duck's Atom Bomb," a comic first given away in cereal boxes in 1947. Can you guess why they did it?
No, that says "jigger."
In the comic, Donald Duck, already a prolific inventor, takes a page out of the official terrorist training manual and tries his wing at making an atom bomb. However, encouraging kids to mix chemicals and blow up their school wasn't why the comic was censored -- remember, this was 1947, a time when showing thigh was verboten and making atomic weapons was a wholesome and patriotic activity.
In the comic, while Donald and Fowl-Qaida are thankfully unable to create a working atom bomb, he does manage to produce a quasi-dirty bomb that subsequently detonates in the city's river, releasing waves of radiation. The radiation causes the town's residents to lose all their hair, making the citizens of Duckburg look like the male cast of Breaking Bad.
Thanks, Donald, for showing us the lighter side of severe radiation poisoning.
That's still not why the comic was censored, though. After that little snafu, Donald realizes that he failed to build a working bomb and gives up. However, he decides he still wants to make some money off it, so he goes back to his capitalism lab and invents an atomic hair growth elixir ...
"Buy it or spend your last weeks on Earth as a sexless abomination!"
... and that's why the censors flipped out. The Disney executives felt that Donald was too "mean spirited" in this ending and banned the comic in its original form. Trying to build a WMD? Fine. Dooming a city to a slow death of radiation sickness? Sounds good. Selling a hair-growth tonic? DONALD, YOU MONSTER. From then on, every time the comic was reprinted, it showed a new ending with Donald and his nephews looking super stoked about giving the tonic away for free.
They were promptly disowned by Uncle Scrooge.
As a result, the original uncensored giveaway comic now goes for over 900 bucks. So maybe Donald's plan did work in the end.
#3. In England, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Couldn't Be Ninjas
In the '80s, the U.K. went batshit for ninjas. The idea that everyone was about to put on black pajamas and overthrow the monarchy terrified the authorities ... and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ended up paying the price. Since ninjas weren't allowed to appear in cartoons and the British censors weren't so cruel as to deprive their children of Turtlemania, they reached a compromise: The word "ninja" was edited out of the theme song and the show was retitled Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.
Something similar happened to that Chris Farley movie that flopped in the U.K., Beverly Hills Fat Person.
That wasn't the only change: Check out the British intro and compare it to the original one. It's almost like it's a different show, one with far less nunchakus -- a bizarre, improbable alternate reality where Michelangelo was allowed to remain on the team not because he was useful in a fight, but because the others actually liked his jokes.
Well, there's a reason for that. Apparently envisioning a post-apocalyptic society where children fought to the death with hero weapons, pretty much any scene involving weapons was toned down or cut entirely -- with a special focus on Michelangelo's nunchakus. Because to the minds of people who've chosen to censor cartoons for a living, two sticks tied together with a string is much deadlier than a razor-sharp samurai sword.
Yet they never edited out any of the bits where the Turtles dress like sex offenders.
At first Michelangelo's nunchaku usage was simply reduced, but at some point the mere existence of his signature weapon was deemed so dangerous to society that they actually went ahead and replaced it with a grappling hook called the turtle line, which is somehow worse than having no weapon at all.
If Shredder's next plan involves spelunking, he is fucked.
Having been almost completely de-awesome-ized, Michelangelo remained the only mutant mountain climber in the New York sewer system until the show was canceled. Since then, the more recent versions of the Ninja Turtles in the U.K. have reverted back to the original name and weapons, which probably accounts for the 2011 England riots.