Five Episodes of Kids’ Cartoons That Really Stirred Things Up
Most of the time, children’s cartoons are a pleasant enough way for a kid to pass a bit of time and allow their parents to get some stuff done. There’s an enormous spectrum of them out there — shittily-made, production-line shows that offer nothing of any value at one end, and beautifully produced, emotionally rich shows at the other. Sometimes, though, whatever the quality and intent of the show being made, something ends up not quite working, and not quite working in a way which upsets, horrifies or endangers people. Like…
When Peppa Pig Told Australians to Befriend Spiders
British cartoon Peppa Pig is a global phenomenon, to the extent that American parents of Peppa-obsessed kids occasionally find their offspring speaking in British accents. One 2004 episode, “Mr. Skinnylegs,” sees Peppa horrified by a spider that her younger brother George has befriended. Over the course of the episode, she learns not to be afraid of spiders, and gives her new arachnid friend a name.
In a lot of places, not being afraid of spiders is a great, positive lesson to learn. But in Australia, being wary of spiders is pretty sensible — the Sydney funnel-web and the redback are two of the most deadly spiders on Earth, so teaching kids that they’re silly and friendly is, well, not what you want to do. A parent-led campaign caused the episode, and its follow-up “Spider Web,” to be pulled from future broadcast Down Under.
When Pokémon Gave Hundreds of Kids Seizures
In 1997, an episode of Pokémon aired in Japan and resulted in a large number of children having to go to the emergency room. The episode, “Dennō Senshi Porigon” (translated variously as “Electric Soldier Porygon,” or “Cyber Soldier Porygon”), sees Ash, Pikachu and their friends travel into cyberspace to find Porygon, a digital Pokémon that’s been kidnapped by Team Rocket. A midair collision between Pikachu and a missile leads to a flashing red and blue strobe-like sequence that immediately sent around 700 Japanese kids to the hospital with photosensitive seizures.
Later that evening, news programs showed the sequence again when reporting the story, and even more people had seizures. However, it didn’t cause any of them to hate the show. “I felt a little dizzy toward the end of the program but I’d be sad if I could not watch the program anymore,” one girl told the New York Times.
The episode was edited for future broadcasts, regulations were tightened around strobe effects and Pokémon went on to become world-conqueringly enormous.
When ‘Tiny Toon Adventures’ Made Drunk-Driving Seem Hilarious
Tiny Toon Adventures was a conscious effort at reimagining the classic Looney Tunes characters for a new generation. Executive producer Steven Spielberg and animation mastermind Tom Ruegger successfully created a whole knowing, metatextual cartoon universe (Tiny Toons led to Animaniacs, Taz-Mania, Freakazoid, Pinky and the Brain and more) full of characters that knew they were animated and willingly subverted all the conventions associated with that.
One episode, “One Beer,” served as a spoof of animated public service announcements, and saw the main cast of Plucky Duck, Hampton J. Pig and Buster Bunny get wasted on a single drink and turn into leering, slurring scumbags with five-o-clock shadows. Their bender ends with them driving a stolen police car off a mountain, before panning out and revealing that they are actually fine but warning everyone watching about the dangers of alcohol. The network decided the joke would be lost on a lot of the show’s prepubescent audience and shelved the segment.
When ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ Went Surprisingly Foul-Mouthed
Dexter’s Laboratory was a key part of Cartoon Network’s late-1990s reinvention into a home of cutting-edge animation that could be enjoyed by adults as well as kids. Creator Genndy Tartakovsky is rightly hailed as one of the most unique and creative voices to ever work in kids’ animation, and influenced a whole subsequent generation of animators.
One 1997 episode of Dexter’s Laboratory, however, was never broadcast on its original run. “Dexter’s Rude Removal” saw the titular pint-sized scientist creating a machine to remove all the rudeness from his big sister Dee Dee. What transpired was two versions of both characters — polite ones, and ones consisting solely of rudeness. Tartakovsky and his team had a lot of fun making the characters swear excessively and then bleeping it out, but seven minutes of mooning, flipping the bird and saying things like “I’m fucking starving” (bleeped, but still) proved too much for the network’s Standards & Practices Department.
When ‘TaleSpin’ Went Racist
TaleSpin was, in many ways, an incredibly strange concept for a show. Baloo, the beloved bear from The Jungle Book, was transplanted into a show about an all-animal world filled with air-pirates that owed as much to Casablanca as to Cheers. Somehow it got away with this super-weird conceit by being a lot of fun and being careful about exactly how war-like the unspecified conflict going on around the wisecracking central characters was.
However, one 1990 episode, “Last Horizons,” wasn’t quite careful enough. In it, Baloo finds a mystical pagoda-filled place called Panda-La, a thinly-veiled mashed-together China-Japan hybrid populated by pandas. When he returns to Cape Suzette, the pandas of Panda-La follow him and invade. It’s all a bit… Pearl Harbor-y? Either way, it seems like something that could have been done with a bit more thought, some consideration as to whether the world needed a furry riff on a war crime and perhaps someone pointing out that China isn’t Japan.