5 'Fun' Cartoons With Surprisingly Dark Universes
I'ts easy to have nostalgia for Nickelodeon's nightmare-inducing game shows when you view them through orange-tinted glasses. But those shows aren't the only things to become warped by the vicious claws of time. It turns out that when you think too hard about them, all of our favorite after-school buddies lived in insane, inescapable hellscapes. I'm not just talking about the "scary" toons either. Ren And Stimpy and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters don't count here. These are the ones your parents let you watch.
Hey Arnold -- Arnold's Town Is Incredibly Haunted
Hey Arnold was a Nickelodeon staple notable for its catchy theme song and surprisingly nontraditional cast of characters. Arnold lived with his grandparents in a boarding house in the middle of Hillwood City (basically Seattle with fewer Birkenstocks). And most of the show revolved around him gazing in disbelief at all of the antics his wacko friends and neighbors got into. You try living near the Pigeon Man, and see how far YOU get before your life devolves into one open-mouthed stare after another.
Among Hey Arnold's more common plot devices were the town's urban legends. The formula usually worked like this: A character would mention how they heard about a rat trainer living in an abandoned warehouse who commands rats the size of Godzilla, then Grandpa or Arnold's best friend Gerald would gather everyone together for a monologue about how Rat Dude and his Trashpanions once abducted a kid from the bus stop and ate him. By the end of the episode, Arnold and his crew would uncover the truth of the story, usually involving a prank or a misunderstood homeless guy. However, sometimes -- and if we're being honest, too many times -- the episode would end with a tag proving the ghost story was indeed true.
In " Four-Eyed Jack," Grandpa tells the kids the story of a previous boarding house resident who used to do experiments in the basement until he died in an explosion. Now he supposedly haaaaaunts the boarding house until he finds his missing glaaaaasses. Arnold investigates the basement, only to find that Grandpa told them that story so he could take dank craps in private (that's reasonable). Later, we see the ghost of Four-Eyed Jack take his glasses back from a sleeping Arnold and try to tuck Gerald in, only for him to wake up screaming. Then it ends. That's it. Thanks for watching, children. Now stay tuned for The Angry Beavers!
This happens constantly. An episode will end in a Scooby-Doo reversal, only to re-reverse back to the supernatural being real. In another episode, Grandpa tells the kids a story about a haunted train. The legend is debunked, but afterwards, a real ghost train is seen flying off the tracks by one of the characters.
In another, Sid is made fun of for looking like a vampire at school, and in the end, he looks at the camera and grows fangs. Everything from a headless cabbie to a prohibition gangster to a ghost bride who ax-murdered her unfaithful fiance all turn out to be real.
It's even implied that one of the characters is mistakenly left to die at the hand of a ghost, because fourth-graders are cruel and unfeeling and won't give you a slice of their pizza no matter how often you tell them that you write for Cracked.com. By the next episode, no one ever mentions any of this crap. Arnold's city is full of undead murderers and monsters. And yet the most unbelievable aspect of the show is that Helga's dad makes a living selling beepers.
SpongeBob SquarePants -- The Krusty Krab Is Basically A Drug Den
It's been a running joke that no one in the SpongeBob universe knows the true recipe of the Krabby Patty. For the show's entire run of Holy Jeebus over 20 straight years so far, the formula has been kept by Mr. Krabs as a closely guarded secret. The creator of the show once suggested that it's vegetarian, probably to save children the horror of realizing that all of their favorite oceanic characters are cannibals.
The fact that no one in the show even cares what's in the famous seaburger is strange, given its ... side effects. Remember, it's canon that the Krabby Patty contains some kind of addictive ingredient. In the episode " Pat No Pay," Patrick enters the Krusty Krab suffering from what SpongeBob calls "Krabby Patty Withdrawal." Mr. Krabs happily exploits this for profit, because he's a greedy ass. SpongeBob recognizes the condition instantly, suggesting that he's seen this many times before. The encounter goes like this:
Mr. Krabs: "Yeesh, we need some customers in here. What's gotten into you?"
Patrick: "I don't know. What's happening to me?"
SpongeBob: "I think I can explain. Yes, I've seen this one before. It's a common symptom. Patrick is suffering from Krabby Patty Withdrawal. He needs one, or he'll keep mumbling about it for the next 3 1/2 minutes."
Children of America: "I wonder what heroin is like."
In " Just One Bite," Squidward tries a Krabby Patty for the first time, and though he pretends otherwise, he is immediately addicted. He breaks into the patty vault like a junkie in the middle of the night and eats so many that he explodes. Here's his reaction the first time he has one:
Squidward: "Come on! Come on! Come on! Ah ... still alive! Oh, soooo delicious! Oh! All the wasted years ... I gotta have more. I gotta have more! I gotta sneak one. Just one, then ... I'm off the stuff for good!"
Wow, that sounds like a drug addiction. If there's one Nickelodeon character who deserves their own depressing Netflix documentary, it's Squidward.
The patties are so addictive that even when Mr. Krabs experiments with different ideas, like a synthetic patty made of garbage, people still can't help themselves.
Oh, and in case you're wondering why the Bikini Bottom Health Dept. doesn't shut his operation down, it's probably because Krabs once tried to murder a health inspector! WHO LIVES IN A PINEAPPLE UNDER THE SEA? SPONGE-SHAPED DRUG MULE.
Fairly OddParents -- The World Is In A Perpetual Groundhog Day
Fairly Oddparents is about Timmy Turner and his lovable goofball fairy godparents, Cosmo and Wanda. Unlike genies, Godparents grant unlimited wishes, and this makes Timmy's ten-year-old life pretty much perfect. And since this is a cartoon, Timmy's wishes go way beyond what I would've wished for at ten (a pool full of SpaghettiOs and six Super Nintendos that attached to each other like Voltron to create a MEGA Super Nintendo). Still, Timmy can't wish for just anything. There are Fairy Rules, and if you break them, you go to fairy court, which is about as corrupt as it sounds.
A handful of times, we get a glimpse into the utterly fraudulent world of fairy justice. In the TV movie " Timmy's Secret Wish," Timmy gets accused of making a secret wish (obviously), which is totes illegal, putting Timmy on fairy trial as the Worst Godchild Ever. Wanda attempts in vain to show the fairy council all the good Timmy has done, but then evidence is uncovered showing that Timmy did actually make a secret wish. This sort of behavior is forbidden for good reason: If a wish isn't recorded, Timmy could accidentally alter spacetime! But for some reason, wishing torture upon his babysitter is A-OK. It's hard to nail down any kind of justice when the god of your universe is a sociopathic kid with little to no parental supervision.
After a grill-down by Jorgen Von Strangle, Timmy admits the shocking truth: He wished that he would be ten years old forever, and then wished that Cosmo would forget about granting it (though knowing Cosmo, he may have just forgotten it anyway). When the council asks when he made it, Timmy guesses over 50 years ago.
That means every episode of this show has just been Timmy's selfish attempt to live forever, sticking all his friends and family in a perpetual Groundhog Day hell. This was in Season 8, so it's possible that every previous season took place over years and years, unbeknownst to any of the characters. This makes the supernatural "truther" Mr. Crocker's plight even sadder than it seems. He's been trying to convince the world that fairies exist for five freakin' decades straight, with no end in sight. He'll be a laughingstock among mankind for potentially forever.
The council undoes the wish as punishment, suddenly throwing the world 50 years in the future. Timmy saves the day after a series of misadventures and begs the council to reconsider their punishment, even if he never gets to make another wish. The council stands their ground because it would be crazy to suddenly throw the world decades back and forth through time like that and- haha, nope. The council sides with the insane fourth-grader and sends the Universe back to the "present," presumably allowing Timmy to live his terrible Matrix-like fantasy for hundreds of years to come. Wait a minute. Are we all living in Timmy's play land? What year is it actually? Oh no. This makes way too much sense.
Jimmy Neutron -- The Military Lets Children Solve Catastrophic Alien Problems
The plot of your average Jimmy Neutron episode can be summed up thusly: Jimmy Neutron tries to solve a simple grade-school problem by inventing a device which almost kills his friends, and thaaaaat's it. Jimmy's universe takes place in a '50s-style retro future, and space travel is so pedestrian that Jimmy regularly takes his robot dog for a walk on the moon. Likewise, hostile alien encounters are about as commonplace in Jimmy's world as a voice crack in puberty, and for some reason, the U.S. military doesn't give the slightest of craps.
The first time we see the military's response to any extraterrestrial activity is in the original movie, when the Air Force mistakes Jimmy for an alien threat. Honestly, I don't blame them. The kid is supernaturally enthusiastic about everything and has a head shaped like a blender. Amazingly, they don't seem to be bothered by the rest of the plot, in which the egg-shaped Yolkians abduct every adult in Jimmy's town for a sacrificial ritual which involves feeding them to a giant chicken. Even after Jimmy saves the world and rescues all the parents, the president doesn't even call him. You'd think he'd get a letter from the mayor, at least. "Hello, Freakish Intelligence Boy. Thank you for not letting us be devoured. Sincerely, Stay Away From My Kids."
In another episode, Jimmy and his friends are abducted by aliens (this is a recurring theme, folks) and forced to participate in an intergalactic game show wherein the losers' home planet would be destroyed by Tim Allen. Jimmy saves the day once again by ending it for good, but not before the host implies that he's been blowing planets up for millennia. Gee, it seems like NASA would be interested in those, or any of the dozens of other aliens who appear on the show.
This is especially strange given that there is an Area-51-like secret military base right in Jimmy's town. The one time the military is even called on, it's to defeat Jimmy and his friends when they accidentally turn into mutants ala the X-Men. C'mon, at least try to weaponize them.
The Flintstones -- The Entire Economy Is Built On Rampant Animal Cruelty
Since The Flintstones is basically The Honeymooners set in prehistoric times, they had to come up with a way to keep the show grounded so that Middle America could understand what the hell is going on. It was a running gag that many of the family's household appliances were non-mechanical animal versions of modern conveniences. And by "gag," I mean horror show, because these living creatures are treated about as well as you treat your microwave. None of these animals enjoy this at all.
Other than the pig who gets to be a garbage disposal, the rest of the animal tools in the show are slaves with broken spirits. They have no real reason to exist other than to do one miserable thing. Look at the woolly mammoths who bear responsibility for watering gardens and vacuuming floors. This is whatever the opposite of elated is:
I'm no prehistoric biologist, but inhaling all that dust cannot be great for mammoth respiratory systems. In other scenes, we see Wilma use a fish as a knife, and Fred employing a clinically depressed bird as a record player.
Crabs are lawnmowers, octopi are dishwashers ... Barney even creates musical instruments out of turtles and stegosauruses. Let's not mince words here: All of these creatures have PTSD and live in fear. Making things worse is the fact that the humans are aware of the concept of pets -- Dino is basically a regular dog with a bigger appetite. But somehow, he is safe from the torment of being a dehumidifier or whatever. Everyone else, though? Trapped in prehistoric domestic servitude. It's like owning a rabbit that you solely use as a broom, and then just putting it away in the closet until next week. That's every Bedrock animal's life.
It's not like the show tries to hide this, either. The first scene of the intro shows Fred yanking a Brachiosaur's neck against its will. This is presented to you before you even find out what a Flintstone is, so you know where their priorities lie.
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This Spongebob Squarepants costume can help you forget the confusing secret nightmares of your childhood. Just in time for Halloween--or any time you want! It's your life!
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