5 Weirdly Dark Episodes Of Lighthearted Cartoons
Can you remember the exact moment you lost your innocence? Maybe it was when you found out Santa wasn't real, or when your first crush rejected you. Maybe you walked into your parents' room without knocking one fateful night. Or perhaps it was when you watched a "kid" show with a scene so adult that it'd put hair on the chest of a fetus.
Star Vs. The Forces Of Evil Sneaks In Signs Of Domestic Abuse
Star vs. The Forces Of Evil is a show about a teenage girl named Star who's a magical princess and goes on interdimensional adventures. In the vein of Adventure Time and Steven Universe, the show tries its best to combine magical whimsy with serious themes, like fantastical racism and civil rights for scary monsters. But there are adult themes, and there are adult themes. Take, for example, domestic abuse.
Star's biggest antagonist, Ludo, is a bird monster prince who wants to steal her magic wand and rule the universe. Unfortunately, he's not very good at the whole villain thing, being generally too cowardly, dumb, and weak to pull off any of his schemes. But throughout the series, we slowly find out that Ludo might be the way he is because he's a victim of his own father.
The first signs of Ludo having an abusive relationship with his father is when the princeling kidnaps Star's mentor. At first he wants to learn the man's secrets, but he quickly becomes so enamored by the presence of a decent father figure that he winds up just asking him to read bedtime stories and tell Ludo he's proud of him.
Then, in Season 3 we meet Ludo's parents when Star's mother confronts them. Having been kicked out of their castle by their son, the lord and lady are now living in a broken-down home like fantasy trailer trash. Lord Brudo opens the door all grouchy, lounging around in a messy bathrobe, and then we meet his wife ...
Throughout the scene, Lady Avarius displays that tragic combination of peacemaker, servant, and punching bag that most grown-ups will recognize as telltale signs of domestic violence. Brudo also proudly admits that he never liked Ludo, and that they were "extra hard on him to toughen him up." You can look at the way his remaining child cringes every time dad raises his hand and guess what kind of discipline this son of a bird prefers.
Captain Planet Featured A Child OD'ing On The Floor
Captain Planet And The Planeteers was the quintessential cheesy '90s kid show: wacky, badly drawn, and with every episode featuring a painfully obvious moral. Every week, Captain America's hippie cousin and his teenage sidekicks tried to save the environment by fighting "eco-villains." But occasionally the Planeteers tackled other societal issues, like drugs. But unlike climate change, it doesn't take a few hundred years for drugs to kill a kid.
In the episode "Mind Pollution," villainous mainstay Verminous Skumm (yeah) has decided to switch from trying to take over the world to dealing drugs. And surprise! He finds it's much easier to corrupt a bunch of bored teenage superheroes with molly ("bliss" in this children's cartoon) than with promises of a future dystopia. Come to think of it, Skumm's drug is even better than ecstasy, as it not only gets you super high, but also makes you immune to pain both mental and physical. Who are we supposed to be rooting for again?
Of course, the real downside of bliss is that it's super addictive, and the kids are willing to do anything to get one more hit. That includes fearlessly jumping through double glazing, which is exactly what Planeteer Linka's cousin Boris does, cutting himself so badly that the animators had no choice but to actually color the blood red -- nearly unthinkable in those days.
After attacking his friends and family, Boris betrays the Planeteers for a bottle of pills, and promises to murder one of them to please Skumm. Instead he immediately swallows half of the bottle and dies onscreen of a violent overdose. Remind us again which Saturday morning slot this cartoon aired during?
As if Boris hasn't already suffered enough indignity, the Planeteers then summon Captain Planet to defeat the villain, smiling and cheering him on mere inches away from the boy's still-warm corpse:
So what's Skumm's punishment for contributing to the death of a minor? After some delightful banter and drug-based puns, Captain Planet throws him in a river, and he gently washes ashore a few miles downstream. But he does hate clean water, so that'll show him!
Spider-Man: The Animated Series Slips In A Dead Kid
Spiderman: The Animated Series was so kid-friendly that they weren't even allowed to show Spidey punching bad guys. Strangely, while the show did mind adults getting knocked out onscreen, it didn't have the same qualms for letting children die offscreen.
In the episodes "Make A Wish" and "Attack Of The Octobot" (spoiler alert), Spider-Man gets a letter asking him to come visit eight-year-old Maria Taina, who says she's his #1 fan. In order to impress Taina, he takes her to an undisclosed rooftop to show off his skills (and presumably then winds up on every law enforcement watchlist in the world). But the duo is ambushed by Doctor Octopus, who wipes Spidey's brain and tricks him into becoming his crime buddy. Luckily, Taina rekindles Spider-Man's memories, and together they defeat Doc Ock. He gets arrested, and Spider-Man makes a full recovery and takes little Taina back to her room. Roll the credits, and you have a nice little happy ending.
Except that Taina dies.
It's only visible for a moment, but the episode ends with a shot of the plaque outside of Taina's room, showing she's living at the "Wish Come True Foundation For Terminally Ill Children," which apparently has onsite room and board for all the dying kids -- probably so John Cena doesn't have to make 20 different stops. Of course, Taina's fate is never explicitly shown or stated, but given that this story is based on a similar comic book plot, the implication is that we never see her again because of the Big C. And we're not talking about Carnage.
Rocko's Modern Life Brought In A Sexual Predator
Rocko's Modern Life was a surreal cartoon about anthropomorphic animals living in the big city and getting up to nonsensical hijinks. And if you're wondering how adult a Nickelodeon show about a talking wallaby was allowed to be, the answer is super adulty! Sorry, we spelled that wrong, we meant "super adultery!"
In the episode "Leap Frogs," Rocko's neighbor, Beverly Bighead, is trapped in a failing marriage. She is also a frog. Her husband, Mr. Bighead, is no longer interested in her sexually, so Beverly does what every lonely housewife does and decides to seduce her handyman, who happens to be Rocko.
Beverly hires Rocko to do some random house chores for her, but it quickly becomes obvious that she wants him to use his rough hands for something other than changing light bulbs. First she tells him to watch a documentary with her. It's about the mating habits of cane toads, and considering Mrs. Bighead's species, that makes it pretty much frog porn. When that doesn't work, Beverly steps up the creepy routine by spiking Rocko's drink with Spanish fly, which is what cartoons call roofies.
Then she lures him into the bedroom, asking him to zip up her dress, which leads to a very non-PG wardrobe malfunction:
Mrs. Bighead asks Rocko for a foot massage, but the smell of her webbed feet is so strong that it propels Rocko into a spinning fan, ripping out his fur. To this, Beverly has perhaps the least kid-friendly response we've ever heard in a cartoon: "You shaved. For me?"
The episode was so controversial that Nickelodeon refused to air it until 2002, which definitely makes it one of the weirder changes we've faced in the post-9/11 world.
The Powerpuff Girls Episode About Eugenics And Deformity
The Powerpuff Girls were made by Professor Utonium out of sugar, spice, everything nice, and the highly unstable Chemical X. But in the episode "Knock If Off," fake scientist (and Utonium's old roommate) Dick Hardly learns about the Powerpuffs' secret recipe and decides to make his own army of fingerless mini-psychopaths for profit. When the girls figure this out, they track Hardly to the abandoned warehouse where he performs his experiments, only to find themselves surrounded by the Cronenbergian equivalent of a fun house mirror maze.
At first Hardly's hastily made knockoffs are decent, but then he starts half-assing production, creating dozens of deformed monstrosities. When he's cornered by the three Powerpuffs with the right amount of chromosomes, Hardly turns himself into a monster, killing the girls in the process. But don't worry, they're brought back to life by Professor Utonium. Hardly himself gets killed by his own creations, as revenge for never loving them. Lesson learned: If you're not going to love your kids, make sure you can beat them in a fight.
Abraham is your friendly Mexico-based writer. He is also very humble, and got named top writer of 2018 on Quora. You can follow him there here, say hi to him on Twitter here, or check his terrible drawings here.
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