6 Bizarre Cameos by Infamous Killers (in Kids' Shows)
As a rule, you probably assume that most family-friendly properties are going to be free of difficult things to explain to your kids, like adult innuendo, advanced mathematics, and notorious murderers. You would assume wrong, at least on the last one ...
(Speaking of infamous killers, did you know Hitler liked to prance around in short shorts? Read our De-Textbook for the details.)
Nazi and the Chocolate Factory
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was full of scenes of questionable content, as any of us who still cry during the ferry tunnel scene can attest. But the most bizarrely dark scene is one you probably never even noticed. It's the part where Charlie, heartbroken, watches a news report about the final Golden Ticket being found in South America. The newscaster holds up a photo of the lucky winner ...
TV was low-tech. Private inventors were working on improvements.
And he hadn't taken a new photo since leaving Germany.
What the what? These days, when this kind of thing happens, it can usually be chalked up to a set designer's intern who played it loose with a Google image search, but this was 1971. They had to walk all the way to the ... photo library, we guess? It's safe to assume they knew exactly what they were doing.
According to the film's director, Mel Stuart, the photo was a joke that fell flat, presumably because they (slightly) overestimated the number of children in the audience who possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure World War II villains.
And an encyclopedic knowledge of dick slang ... but that's a whole other story.
Bormann was killed by the Red Army as he tried to flee Berlin, but there was a rumor that he actually escaped and fled to Paraguay, hence the reference about him winning the ticket in South America. Stuart went on to elaborate on the failure of such an obvious knee-slapper: "25 years after World War II, very few people knew or cared who Martin Bormann was, so the scene was never as successful as I had hoped."
Come to think of it, there is something kind of funny about Willy Wonka almost donating his chocolate factory to an aging war criminal.
Animaniacs Once Opened a Show by Killing Saddam Hussein
To say that Animaniacs pushed the envelope for kids' comedy would be an understatement. They were sneaking some seriously adult humor over the heads of their target audience long before DreamWorks hid all those penises in every one of their movies. But the episode "Hot, Bothered, and Bedeviled" took things to a new level. The story details the zany shenanigans that ensue as the Warners terrorize the devil in hell -- which is a bit dark for after school color fodder. But you already know it's going to be a rough ride by the 15-second mark:
It opens with a caricature who is very clearly Saddam Hussein stepping out of a palace to address the people of Iraq. Instantly, a trap door opens under him and he is thrown screaming to his death into a lake of fire surrounded by demons:
"Regretting installing that trap door in retrospeeeeeeeeeeect!"
Bear in mind that this was produced while Hussein was still alive and the head of a sovereign country. We're not saying they were risking an international incident or anything, but aside from the time Bugs Bunny butchered Ho Chi Minh with a meat saw, we can't think of the last time a children's cartoon straight assassinated a world leader for a giggle.
Stalin's Chilling Musical Number in Histeria!
Histeria! was another show from the folks behind Animaniacs that used music and comedy to educate kids about history. Because history is basically a quilt of assholes, it was unavoidable that the show would have to cover some dark content. Of course, there are "unavoidable touchy subjects," and then there's "let's steer right toward that touchy subject at full speed and see how hard we can ram the bastard." They titled a whole episode "Megalomaniacs" and dedicated it to history's greatest scumbags. Most notable is the song and dance number by Josef Stalin, in which he sings gleefully about government purges, state-sponsored murder, and the building of the Berlin Wall:
Stalin begins by admitting that running the Soviet Union can be a lonely job, but when he's feeling down, he sits back and thinks of all the things that make him happy. Things like running a cult, murdering Trotsky, and purging revolutionaries.
The victims grin throughout, so you know it's not too serious.
In the bridge, he details how much it made him smile when the Germans marched on Moscow and he watched them all freeze to death. Hey, you know the kids love hypothermia!
Even the guns are freezing to death.
In the end, Stalin is left standing alone in Red Square crooning about how he's killed everyone and now there's nobody left but him. It was nothing if not catchy -- your kids would be humming about genocide all day after watching it.
To be clear, we're not saying it's offensive that a kid's show did this -- they sure didn't give Stalinism a happy spin, and perhaps it is better not to pull any punches when teaching children about the terrors of war. It's just that maybe jaunty jingles aren't the absolute best medium for explaining the downsides of oppressive communism to 10-year-olds.
Che Guevara and Fidel Castro Had Their Own NES Game
The NES game Guerrilla War was released in 1987, and while the U.S. version of the game left its premise ambiguous -- two unnamed rebels fight their way through a generic island country to defeat an evil king using only the power of their hearts and also their guns -- the Japanese version specified that the country is actually Cuba, and furthermore, that players 1 and 2 are Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, respectively. Yes, that Fidel Castro.
No, not the mouse with a heart full of yearning that came to the New World. That's Fievel.
No, not the one with the silver head. That's Destro.
We're talking about this guy:
No, not antipasto! It's ... yeah, you get the point.
Yep. That's your hero, Player 2. For once, getting the broken controller looks like the least of your worries. It should be reiterated that the game came out in 1987, which was long after he stopped being known as "revolutionary hero Fidel Castro" and started being known as "repressive dictator Fidel Castro." Yet with a little rebranding, the game still carried the Nintendo Seal of Quality right here in America.
In Japan, Che got the cover and the whole game named after him.
There's a playthrough on YouTube if you want to watch perhaps the least accurate depiction of Castro's rise to power this side of Castro's autobiography. Go ahead, fire up some "Eye of the Tiger" and enjoy this video knowing that you're totally rooting for Che Guevara and Fidel Castro to devastate their enemies in the glorious name of communism.
Rocky and Bullwinkle's Nemesis Was a Nazi SS Commander
The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show was a '60s cartoon about a squirrel and his dim-witted moose pal who are inexplicably targeted for assassination by an international Soviet spy syndicate. Look, everybody was really, really high for pretty much the whole decade. We're sure it seemed like a killer metaphor for the Cold War at the time.
The communists symbolized communism.
Kids watching the show probably just figured the Fearless Leader (the dude on the right) was wearing a ubiquitous "evil guy" uniform, but if you take a closer look at the style and insignias, he was a very specific variant of Evil Guy: a holdover from the Third Reich.
We're not sure why communist spies were taking orders from a Nazi, but really, there's a talking moose, and he's not just trying to stomp everybody to death all the time -- we're giving realism a bit of a pass here already. Still, isn't it a bit odd that Fearless Leader, who spoke with a German accent, was unmistakably wearing the uniform of the SS, down to the skull-and-crossbones hat?
You don't need encyclopedic World War II knowledge to recognize this.
And in the 2000 live-action movie, they straight up pin the Iron Cross to his lapel. They really, really want to make it clear that this guy is a ranking member of the Nazi Party, stopping just short of having Rocky hold him down while Bullwinkle carves a swastika into his forehead.
For you non-movie buffs, that's a Sound of Music reference.
It's not just that Fearless Leader is a stock Nazi character -- he may even be a specific Nazi. The scar on the left side of his face was the trademark of Otto Skorzeny, one of the chiefs of the SS during World War II.
Although if "evil scarred Nazi" didn't exist, we'd have to invent him.
And yes, Skorzeny survived the war and was still alive -- just hangin' around, doin' murderer stuff -- while Rocky & Bullwinkle was on the air. It's not unlikely that he watched the show. It is very unlikely that he rooted for Moose and Squirrel.
Hey, speaking of randomly inserting notorious war criminals into your children's cartoons ...
Hitler. Hitler Everywhere.
There's an episode of Hey Arnold! in which Arnold's grandpa tells him the story of the time he met Hitler on the battlefield and gave him a wedgie:
But that's not Hitler's only animated cameo: In an episode of Justice League titled "The Savage Time," the DC heroes are fighting a villain named Vandal Savage and there's a scene in which Martian Manhunter stumbles across an unnamed, familiarly mustachioed man frozen in a cryogenic chamber.
Good thing other scientists already stole and transplanted his brain.
In Dragon Ball Z: Fusion Reborn, the Earth comes under siege by a German-accented villain known as "The Dictator." While they took some flamboyant liberties with his outfit, it's not hard to guess who the short, effeminate purple guy was supposed to be.
Hint: It ain't Prince.
But he does know what it sounds like when doves cry.
It's probably just a huge coincidence, but it is of interest to note that "The Dictator" does not appear in German, Hebrew, or French versions of the film. We wonder why that could be.
But the crown jewel of kid-friendly cartoon Hitlers has to be the Captain Planet episode "A Good Bomb Is Hard to Find," in which the villain Dr. Blight travels into the past to sell a nuclear bomb to ... well ...
The ultimate ecovillain: someone with a nuke during World War II.
The episode makes no attempt to hide who this character, referred to as "The Fuhrer," is supposed to be, but they do try to skirt some controversy by upgrading his mustache to a badass Hulk Hogan number. It makes us wonder: What if Hitler had gone full handlebar? Would we still have won the war? Would burly ass bikers be rocking the toothbrush now? Such questions we must leave to the dust of history.
If you think these cameos were crazy, just wait until you see who shows up in Jacopo's debut novel, THE GREAT ABRAHAM LINCOLN POCKET WATCH CONSPIRACY.
Related Reading: Speaking of insane cameos, here's Tom Wolfe meeting the Hulk and Doc Strange. If you prefer your cameos with a side of "downright awful", here's Sam from Cheers in Saving Private Ryan. Not satisfied? Let's Up the ante with some cameos in Japanese ads.