Cartoon animators love a good joke at the expense of their young viewers. It must be hard to contain the itch of letting slip a joke or reference that is bound to fly over the naive audience. And so there have been numerous listed instances where these mischievous animators have been caught.
Most of the time they have gotten away with it due to its lack of impact or tendency for controversy. However, even if a certain gag is meant to be adult-oriented humor, the joke might still be too dark for children to be exposed to. In some cases, the issue gets out of hand and an uproar ensues which hastens the studios to rectify the situation by presenting an explanation or editing out the offensive material.
On occasion there’s no room for amusement or excuses as subliminal messages appear in such a way that conspiracy theorists end up having a field day over the material. In these times, even the studios remain quiet about the issue. We endure years on end without any conclusive resolution as to why or how the material survived the cutting room floor and was open for viewing all around the world.
With that in mind, one must remember the importance of shock value, and these developers are probably hoping to capture a bit of that before aiming for the shock to stem down in the coming days. There’s no doubt they want to bury the buzz eventually, but we’re here to point these indiscretions out and exhume their wrongdoings.
25 Rocko Works At A Very Questionable Call Center
This isn’t even speculation, it’s a well-accepted fact. Rocko’s Modern Life was a very adult-oriented show. You can find many messages fitting midlife crisis to depression in its episodes while one features the protagonist Rocko landing a new job at as phone operator. That all seems fine until you see the post its on his cubicle which urges call operators to be hot and naughty. If that’s not enough to raise concerns, the dialogue that ensues stamps it in further.
What’s more is that at the end of the call is Rocko’s neighbor, Mrs. Bighead, and the two characters share a highly awkward pause before Rocko slams the phone shut; his only correspondence beforehand being the words Oh Baby being amorously repeated.
24 Time For Dessert
Harley Quinn is a head turner, no doubt about it. The character has been such a popular feature that she has found herself inserted into the comic universe after debuting on TV. Part of her appeal is that she’s a highly attractive crazy girl, perfect for someone like the Joker.
The two share a deeply unsettling relationship that combines toxicity with intimacy. Harley has an infinite amount of loyalty for pudding and seeks to display it regularly. We get a flash of this in an episode of The New Batman Adventures when Quinn lathers herself in pudding for the Joker and even asks if he wants to try her pie.
23 Did I Just See That?
This sparked a huge amount of controversy back when the subliminal message was first caught. Even for those who have never noticed it must have wondered why a cloud of smoke–that swirled in the air when Simba plopped on the edge of a cliff in exasperation–was lingered upon.
It took a few careful eyes to discern the words hidden in the shape of the dust cloud but once you see it there’s no going back. The gust of sand clearly spells out three letters. While Disney claims the words are meant to be SFX as a nod to the sound department, people saw something else. This excuse doesn’t do much to quell their notoriety in the eyes of the public.
22 Baby Got Back
Lilo & Stitch is all about family. The message behind the franchise is very sweet. Lilo’s older sister Nani is fiercely protective of her due to having been thrust into a guardian role at a very young age. Naturally, the two sisters are very close. However, during a moment of bonding between the siblings, the wall behind them is littered with multiple pictures, no doubt meant to convey the memories they share. Yet what is very noticeable is that most of them seem to consist of pictures of various peoples’ rear ends. So are we to believe one of these two is supposed to be some kind of voyeur?
21 Et Cetera Et Cetera
It’s a widespread fact that cartoons sway the thought process of little children and this can be used to convey behavioral tendencies in these young cartoon watchers.
During the closing moments of an episode of The Flintstones the two couples, Fred and Wilma, along with Barney and Betty, attend Judo lessons where the instructor seems to be intent on bagging a fair amount of cash from his customers. Bemused by this, Fred and Barney poke fun at the Japanese instructor’s manner of speaking as well as his facial expressions. While it might be a little harmless for adult viewers, children would have surely caught on this and even imitated among themselves. It’s not an outright display of racism, but it could have brought along a few bullying situations for kids.
20 Flash Them Lights
There’s absolutely no way you could catch on this as a kid, but there’s also no way you could ignore it as an adult. Pixar is also a frequent target of subliminal message accusations, and for good reason too. On of the instances was present in the film Cars where protagonist Lightning McQueen is serenaded by two overtly jolly fans during a press session.
Now, being in a world of sentient cars, you can’t expect anyone to be clothed, but the second the two bimbo cars go Kachow, you know something adult is afoot as they are escorted away by security. It’s obvious the flash of lights from the two female cars was meant to be a Cars version of flashing someone with their tops off.
19 Bad Grandpa
Now that’s one weird grandpa. In this case you just know the animators were looking to get a big laugh out of any one old enough to understand this joke. Meanwhile, younger viewers would have the exact same expression that the Rugrats babies had in this scene; a look of innocent confusion.
Tommy’s grandfather is there to look after the babies and brings with him a video that he claims would be a good watch, although he quickly adds in that it would be open for viewing only after bedtime. The title of said video? Lonely space vixens. The snicker that grandpa has in that moment make clear his intentions.
18 Where Did It Go?
Rugrats strike again. And this time it’s a little more glaring than before, but not outright understandable for younger viewers either. In The Rugrats Movie, a scene shows several babies who have just been given birth to.
A musical number follows called This World is Something New To Me, which consists of the babies singing their views of this newfound life. One child remarks in horror its umbilical cord having been cut off, but is met with a much more brazen response from another baby who checks inside his diapers and informs the first baby he got off lucky. At the time you wouldn’t have gotten this joke, although the exchange would have been very confusing.
17 Did I Hear That Right?
For a show that is as ridiculous as you would expect a children’s show to be, SpongeBob SquarePants sure does have its fair share of subliminal messages.
It’s the emphasis of a particular word that makes it clear what the reference is supposed to mean. In an episode of the show, SpongeBob remarks at his best friend Patrick’s genius mind. In surprising haste, the starfish quickly attempts to conceal his lower area all the filled with embarrassment. Even for older people this may have been a shock to see, but the reference is obviously meant to be toward a part of the male anatomy that has a close likeness to the word genius. No wonder Patrick was embarrassed!
16 Let's Go For A Ride
Batman Beyond usually dared to traverse trajectories its sister shows didn’t. As the series was meant to portray a much darker and edgier future of the DC Animated Universe, you can’t expect the citizens of Gotham City not to incorporate some level of brazenness in them.
This was in full flow in the episode ‘Golem’ where the brash and arrogant character of Nash offers his girlfriend Bobbi a ride. As Nash is known to be obnoxious, Bobbi fairly assumes he’s boasting about his sweet car. However, Nash very quickly quips he was never talking about riding a car. It was meant to be a funny adult reference, yet it was too noticeable to ignore and after some backlash from infuriated parents, some future airings of the scene have been edited out.
15 Here's Some Propaganda For You
This one is present in a scene where the guilty party does nothing other than sit around watching TV. The matriarch of the Dalmatian clan has some odd spots on her body during this instance, as they form together to make a symbol.
It’s not known who was so watchful enough to capture this but there’s no denying the spots form a symbol. As most adults would know, this symbol was used in propaganda and is a highly sensitive matter, so it’s a marvel as to what it was doing in an American cartoon meant for kids. Over the years there have been many rumors as to how it was inserted into the film, ranging from claims that one of the animators was secretly a Nazi, to others refuting the existence of the symbol at all.
14 We're Not Splitting Up For Sure
Fred and Daphne were a match before anyone even thought about officially pairing them together. It doesn’t take an Einstein to catch how each and every time the gang splits up the duo are always grouped together.
In a gag episode of Johnny Bravo, the gang happens to come across the lovable goof and soon become embroiled in another mystery. Their personalities are much hammy than usual, given this episode exists in the Johnny Bravo universe. To this end, when the gang is set to be split up, Daphne initially plans to separate from Fred, but after a knowing glare in his eyes and pointed raising of his eyebrows, Daphne soon switches back to pairing with Fred. Any suggestions on what the two were planning on doing?
13 The Taller It Is, The Better
Shrek balances childish gags mixed with adult humor. With every fart joke, you can be certain a subliminal message can accompany it, one of these being the entire song of Hallelujah, but let’s not get into that here.
However, another instance of an adult joke is when Shrek and Donkey arrive at Lord Farquaad’s castle, which is quite striking in appearance owing to its tall structure. Shrek is instantly unimpressed and makes his views vocal by nudging to Donkey that Lord Farquaad might be compensating for something. You didn’t get the joke when you were a kid, but it's an eye-opening reference to an adult who wouldn’t have expected such a message to be said out loud in a fairy tale-based cartoon.
12 Earth Shattering Humor
Aladdin was popular enough to warrant a huge amount of franchise media ranging from sequels to its own TV series. This all came to a conclusion with the final film in the series Aladdin and the King of Thieves.
With the series set to end, perhaps the developers felt they could add in one last subliminal reference by having Robin Williams quip a hilarious wedding night joke. As Aladdin and Jasmine are finally close to tying the knot after a seemingly endless engagement, a commotion breaks out that confuses everyone present. Genie exclaims with surprise that the Earth wasn’t supposed to move until the honeymoon.
11 Triton, You Crazy Man
While not directly included in the The Little Mermaid movie itself, this subliminal messaging is hidden inside the poster for the film. Disney cartoon posters generally have everything meshed in together. This includes the protagonists in the forefront, the antagonists and supporting characters looming behind while one of the locales prominently featured in the film can be viewed in the back.
The Little Mermaid’s poster adheres to all these tropes, but Triton’s castle has a disturbing glow about it. The castle, which in any case is rather oddly shaped, has one of its towers’ shapes in the form of a particular part. Once you spot this, you won’t ever see the image the same way again.
10 Oh Father, Where Art Thou?
Going as far back as 1932, this is a rather disturbing joke inserted for the watchful eye. While it is amusing for older viewers, even they would be left wondering why this was worth animating into The Three Little Pigs cartoon.
During a moment in the episode, the three pigs enjoy playing the piano when a portrait that hangs behind on the wall can be seen with the word "father" on it. You don’t have to be a whiz to know that it is in fact a line of sausage. But what’s more disturbing is that the portrait seems to be a glass encasing, so that might not even be a sketch at all but the real remains of their father. Who thought that would be funny? Perhaps the intent was to subliminally remind children where pork comes from in the real world.
9 New World Order
Although there have been many accusations toward mainstream media for including references to the Illuminati, a seemingly authoritarian force which is said to be on the verge of establishing a New World Order in due course, this one leaves no room for doubt.
In an episode of the much loved show Ducktales, Uncle Scrooge is on a visit to the doctor, on whose back wall rests a sight chart. So far pretty normal, right? But when you look closely you’ll see a sight chart that clearly spells out Ask About Illuminati. There’s no question about this being a coincidence, as there can’t be one so glaringly obvious. The question remains: who was this message intended for?
8 Too Fast For Pleasure
Justice League was a show that was the crowning jewel of the DC Animated Universe, and for good reason too. The characters were very fleshed out, with The Flash and Hawkgirl being established as having a sibling-like relationship. During one of their exchanges, the brash Flash boasts about how he is the fastest man alive. Hawkgirl counters that it is precisely the reason why Flash hasn’t managed to get a girlfriend.
Younger viewers would have interpreted it in many ways. Older fans would realize it was a dig at The Flash’s prowess in intimate matters that Hawkgirl was referring to. Either way, the developers wouldn't want the true meaning to get out to children.
7 Prison Manners
This time it’s SpongeBob himself who is the guilty party. This subliminal message is much darker than it might appear. SpongeBob packs a couple of soap bars for his pet Gary. He winks at his pet in a suggestive manner, instructing him not to drop them.
It’s quick, and to a degree, a subtle reference to prison legends. This joke has been widespread for a long time, but you don’t spot them in a Nickelodeon show and expect it to be passed over without doing a double turn. How exactly does SpongeBob even know of these prison customs all the way under the sea? Needless to say, it's pretty inappropriate.
6 Be A Little More Flexible
The Incredibles maintained Pixar Studios’ themes of incorporating messages aimed at grownups in children films. The movie is meant to convey the challenges of midlife crisis and people reminiscing over their former days of glory.
What should hammer in Mr. and Mrs. Incredible's once glorious lists of escapades is their meeting at the rooftop in the beginning of the movie. As the characters are still quite young at this point of time, their enthusiasm for one another is obvious. In a moment of double entendre, Elastigirl claims Mr. Incredible should a bit more flexible like her. The look that Mr. Incredible carries as he stares in her wake is pretty revealing as to what Elastigirl was trying to infer there.
5 Say What, Al?
This is a smartly hidden message, one that is still not outright proven. Aladdin is quite a child-friendly movie filled with spectacular visuals and memorable songs. Its dialogue doesn’t lag much behind either, so you’re sure to be holding on to every word. In this scene, even keen listeners might have some difficulty discerning Aladdin’s odd manner of dismissing Jasmine’s pet tiger.
Aladdin utters his lines which sound creepily like he's asking people to unclothe. It’s shocking, to say the least. Disney has denied this by claiming Aladdin in fact says "Good kitty, take off and go." And yet, the sinister manner the lines were delivered along with the convenient camera cut pushes this into doubt.
4 A Head Of Everyone
Barney and Fred are real close friends. And close friends have a habit of cracking very crude jokes among themselves. But this is The Flintstones we’re talking about here, so what crude joke was there? Well, if you were a child when you watched this episode, the reference held no meaning.
During an exchange, Fred quips that Barney might need another head if he wants to look taller. Barney, undeterred in response, hits back by inquiring why he would need three heads. He and Fred snicker in amusement. Now we’re all adults here, so you don’t have to search your brain too far to get it.
3 Displaying One's Enthusiasm
This also sparked a huge deal of controversy, more so than the one spread by The Lion King cloud dust. This was one which was quite ostensibly in clear view of all adults and children. This is in a scene where Prince Eric is supposed to wed the wicked Ursula, who is masquerading as Vanessa. The man meant to officiate the wedding is seemingly the happiest of the lot, in a version of the film.
Without doubt, the animators were hoping they could get away with it. After continued protests over its inclusion, Disney relented and future versions of The Little Mermaid have the priest's business removed. Their excuse was that the priest had knobbly knees, which owed to the confusion.
2 It Was An Accident
Although it definitely is a subliminal message, it’s one that is hidden in plain sight. This particular joke is no more than a reference purely for adult viewers. In the episode, the Powerpuff Girls befriend a new girl in town and soon spend all their time with her. When she finally meets their father, Professor Utonium, the girls reveal he created them by accident. Their friend, not even slightly perturbed, consoles the professor by sharing with him that she was an accident too. The moment the professor’s eyes widen in horror! You just know the developers laughed their lungs out after getting away with that message.
1 A Tragedy In The Making
Is it subliminal or downright eerie? Johnny Bravo is a cartoon that has never taken itself seriously; that’s not what the point of the show is. And during the episode ‘Chain Gang Johnny’, usual shenanigans were in place when something very distinctive caught viewers’ eyes.
Hold on, though. Said episode aired on April 27, 2001. Why is that date so detrimental to the point? Because of a scene where Johnny and Carl are busy arguing. A poster is visible behind them. There’s no denying the haunting familiarity it has to a tragedy that followed mere months later on September 11, 2001. It even has the words ‘Coming Soon’ displayed on the poster, and 9/11 was only a little while away.