It's no secret that kids and adults alike love animated movies. From obsessing over the classics of the Disney Renaissance, to an entire genre's creation from the wildfire success of Adult Swim, the appeal of cartoons is wide-reaching and culturally prominent.
The success of animation with a broader appeal has even inspired a new type of cartoons that are meant to be enjoyed by audiences of all ages. Some of these animated series, such as Regular Show and Adventure Time, have a massive adult following due to the show's strong writing and interesting characters.
Despite the fact that animation is becoming more and more open to all ages, there are still some "grow-up" moments that manage to slip their way into cartoons and movies that are primarily meant for children. Some of these are throwaway references to adult situations, such as double entendres that are meant to fly over the heads of children in the audience. Sometimes, the passage of time makes certain situations, characters, or references in children's shows and films become downright shocking and offensive.
This list covers the best of the worst of things that you might have missed in animated series and films when you were a child. Here are thirty hysterical and jaw-dropping secret moments that could have slipped under your radar.
30 Lightning McQueen Gets "Flashed"
Pixar's wildly successful Cars franchise has spanned over three feature-length films, broken box office records, and spawned a veritable empire of toys and merchandise. The films are mostly harmless, and feature the adventures of anthropomorphic cars, but there's one scandalous little moment you might have missed in these films.
In the original Cars movie, there's a scene where Lightning McQueen, the red rookie racer, is celebrating his newfound success and victory. Two female cars, who identify themselves as Mia and Tia, excitedly race up to Lightning and flash their headlights at him. This is slightly antiquated, but "flashing your headlights" is a slang term that means someone quickly exposing themsevles, usually by surprise. In other words, Lightning got the full Mardi Gras experience without having to throw any beads.
29 Spongebob References Prison Attacks
Spongebob Squarepants is a series that has faced some controversy in the past over implications that certain characters are involved in gay relationships. While most of these allegations come from nut job busybodies or pundits who want to boost their ratings, there was a very clear and direct reference made in one episode of the series that might make you start to wonder about what Spongebob gets up to in that big yellow pineapple house.
In the episode "Gary Takes A Bath," Spongebob tries to lure Gary into the bathtub by creating a pirate scene. He refers to two bars of soap as doubloons and cautions Gary not to "drop them." The phrase, "Don't drop the soap" commonly refers to assault that happens in prison facilities. Considering that prison assault is a serious problem in penitentiaries, this joke is not quite appropriate for a kid's show.
28 Barney Rubble's Second Head
A classic animated series like The Flintstones might seem like the last place you'd think to look for controversial content, but you might be surprised to learn that this series was originally not meant exclusively as a program for children. The Flintstones was the very first series to depict a man in bed with his wife, and was famously sponsored by Winston Cigarettes, who even included product placement in episodes of the series.
One of the raunchier moments from The Flintstones comes from the episode "The Masquerade Party," where Barney and Fred have to work together to find costumes for a social event at their jobs. After Fred makes a remark that Barney needs another head, he replies that he already has two. A clear and direct "D" joke comes way out of left field for people who associate this series with sherbet push pops and a Rosie O'Donnell movie.
27 Buzz Lightyear's Erect Wings
As another Pixar behemoth, the Toy Story franchise has spanned decades and has produced three box office hits. The series follows the secret inner lives of a selection of toys as their owner Andy grows up. However, in one scene from this series, Andy isn't the only thing that appears to be growing.
In Toy Story 2, there's a scene after Jesse is introduced to the other toys with a very adult implication. After Jesse performs a series of tricks and stunts to free Andy's dog from his room, Buzz shows that he's very impressed with the Cowgirl's abilities by unconsciously popping out his wings. I guess that's one way to get a Woody.
26 Rocko Is A "Night" Worker
As a Nickelodeon series that was originally written for adults, Rocko's Modern Life was a cartoon that followed the adventures of an Australian Wallaby in O-Town, an intentionally vague suburban area near the Great Lakes. Rocko's Modern Life was so controversial that several episodes have been restricted from airing entirely. The series is immensely popular among self-proclaimed "90s Kids" for its raunchy humor and edgy content.
In the episode "Canned," Rocko is forced to get a new job after his boss, Mr. Dupette, fires him from his comic book store position. Rocko goes through several positions in his employment search, he takes a job as a "Specialty Phone Operator," which from the context is very clearly an "adult" hotline. Rocko quits in embarrassment after one of his "phone johns" turns out to be his neighbor's wife, Mrs. Bighead.
25 Lord Farquaad Has "Private Time" In Shrek
Shrek is a movie that has surpassed its original purpose and has become immortalized through memes, music, and super weird art. If you look past the adulteration of the film by the Internet, at its heart, Shrek has a somewhat decent story with somewhat interesting characters. This film has a handful of references that might have flown over your head when you were a kid, but there's one particularly nasty moment that you need to revisit.
After Lord Farquaad sets his heart on marrying Princess Fiona, he settles down into bed with his gross, hairy shoulders on full display, and forces the Magic Mirror to loop the footage of his potential bride-to-be, with the implication being that he's about to "enjoy" the video footage it. Thankfully, the scene cuts away before we get a glimpse at whatever Farquaad is compensating for.
24 Dexter Hires A "Dancer"
Dexter's Laboratory was another classic series Cartoon Cartoon series that aired on Cartoon Network in the mid to late 1990s. The show followed the adventures of Dexter, an eight-year-old child genius who has managed to hide a massive scientific laboratory inside the walls of his parent's suburban house. Dexter's main antagonist was his older sister DeeDee, a pea-brained ballerina who destroys most of Dexter's work. Dexter's Laboratory was sometimes so controversial that entire episodes were banned from airing, but there were smaller moments in other episodes that did make it to air that might surprise you.
In the episode "DeeDee And The Man," Dexter learns that he needs his sister's interruptions as a part of his creative process. When DeeDee goes on strike, Dexter is desperate to find a replacement, and is forced to hire a woman, who tells Dexter that dancing is "fifty bucks extra."
23 Finn Goes To The Next Level With Flame Princess
As a series that is wildly popular with both children and adults, Adventure Time has been airing on Cartoon Network for close to a decade. The series follows the life and adventures of Finn, the last human on Earth, and his magical dog Jake. The series has ran for close to ten years, so it's possible that someone who watched this show as a child now children of their own.
Despite Adventure Time's mostly squeaky-clean content, some episodes do feature adult themes and implications. In the episode "Burning Low," Jake tries to talk to Finn about the ways that relationships progress over time. After describing several different "tiers" in a relationship, Jake strictly and vehemently prohibits Finn from engaging in "Tier 15" with Flame Princess. The implication is very clearly "not-so-pg," but specifics are left up to your imagination.
22 Disney's Racist Depiction Of Asians
Another classic Disney film that doesn't stand the test of time is The Aristocats. This 1970 animated movie takes place in Paris in 1910, and centers around the life of Duchess, a white house cat, and her three kittens. After a butler attempts to poison and abandon Duchess and her kittens, the four posh and pampered kitties have to make their way home through the French countryside.
You might be wondering what could possibly be wrong with a seemingly harmless children's movie about three little kittens trying to find their way home. One of the cats that the Parisian kittens meet on their journey is Shun Gon, a Siamese cat who is a breathtakingly offensive Asian stereotype. Shun Gon has big buck teeth, speaks in broken English, and plays the piano with actual chopsticks.
21 Extreme Activities In Johnny Bravo
It's no secret that Johnny Bravo was a notoriously lusty ladies man. The series follows the romantic pursuits of its titular character, Johnny, as he unsuccessfully tries to woo women in Aron City. As another Cartoon Cartoon, this show was immensely popular and has a genuine legacy to this very day.
While it might seem like a series featuring a boorish pig would be rife with debauchery, the series itself was mostly tame. However, there were a few key moments that just barely passed under the noses of the censors. In the episode "Johnny Meets Farrah Fawcett," where Johnny actually does, in fact, meet the real Farrah Fawcett, there's a clear and direct reference to an adult community at a children's birthday party, Farrah longingly remembers being blindfolded previously.
20 Inside Out References A Gay Subculture
Inside Out has been lauded for its depiction of human emotions in a way that is easy for children to digest. It's widely known that the producers and writers of the film consulted with child psychologists to properly depict the processes of the brain and our emotional structures in a scientifically accurate way.
Such a wholesome and critically acclaimed film can't have any inappropriate references, can it? Well, it turns out that yes, it can. In a scene after Riley's family has moved to San Francisco, Disgust makes a comment about there being "no bears in San Francisco," to which Anger responds that he's seen plenty of hairy men. This is a direct reference to the Bear Subculture in the gay community, which coincidentally does have a significant representation in San Francisco.
19 There's A Hook Lady In Toy Story
Toy Story appears again on our list, but this time, we're focusing on the first film from the series. To give you some greater context, Toy Story's plot centers around Woody, a cowboy doll, who becomes angered after he feels he's been replaced by Buzz Lightyear, a flashy spaceman toy. Woody pushes Buzz out of a window, and then has to go on an adventure to rescue him from being lost or destroyed.
The controversial moment from Toy Story comes from when Woody and Buzz are trapped in the home of Sid, a sadistic neighbor boy who has his fun by blowing up and dismembering his toys. There's a hidden joke behind one of Sid's Frankensteined toys. This toy appears to be a set of Barbie legs with a long metal hook for a body. The implication here is that she is really good at "hooking" things. HUM.
18 A Dark Disney Death
As one of the later Disney Renaissance films, Tarzan is sometimes looked over in favor of earlier movies, such as Aladdin or The Little Mermaid. This film is an adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs story "Tarzan Of The Apes," and famously features music by Phil Collins. In Tarzan, an English explorer named Jane tries to rehabilitate a baby that has been raised by gorillas.
Considering that this story is based on a work of classic literature, it's not exactly scandalous or sexy. However, there's one especially dark moment that you might have missed when you were younger. Clayton's dramatic death scene is made just a little more eerie when you look at it carefully. After Clayton becomes tangled in vines and falls, his neck snaps. If you watch the ending carefully, you can hear his neck snap and see his hanging body in a flash of lightning.
17 Grandpa Phil Partied Hard In The 60s
Hey, Arnold! was a series that aired on Nickelodeon in the mid-1990s. The series follows the life of Arnold, an orphan who lives in his grandparent's inner-city boarding house. In most episodes, Arnold had to function as the moral compass for the sometimes too-real problems his friends and family faced in their daily lives.
The series occasionally touched on some deeper images, such as the displacement of refugees during the Vietnam War, but only occasionally was there an adult reference written into the show. One of these not-safe-for-kids moments was in the episode "Back to School," where Arnold tries to talk his grandfather into finishing up his education. Grandpa Phil rejects this notion, stating that he lost too many brain cells after attending Woodstock, which is clearly meant to be a reference to the prominent drug and alcohol use of the 1960s.
16 An Anatomical Misnomer In Monster House
As a slightly lesser known animated movie, Monster House has probably flown under your radar. This 2006 CGI animated children's movie follows several young children as they sneak inside a haunted house. Despite the fact that this film has been forgotten, it was actually nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (but it ended up losing to Happy Feet).
This film might have been given a PG rating by the MPAA, but it's definitely got one R-rated reference. In a scene where the characters DJ, Zee, and Chowder are exploring the inside of the house, they discover that the foyer is equivalent to the house's mouth. Zee remarks that the chandelier is the house's uvula, which Chowder confuses with "vulva" and states that it, therefore, must be a "girl house."
15 Disney's Racist Depiction Of Indigenous People
Walt Disney wasn't famously known for being a champion of Civil Rights, and some more audacious biographers even peg him as being a Nazi Sympathizer. While it's difficult to truly prove most of these allegations, one thing we can look to is Disney's work. While it's clear that Walt Disney was a pioneer who revolutionized the animation industry and built an empire, his depictions of people of color weren't always flattering.
This is the case in 1953's Peter Pan, a film about a magical flying boy who takes several children on an adventure to the magical world of Neverland. This film has been highly criticized in modern times due to its unflattering depictions of Indigenous People, who appear as exaggerated caricatures in the film's song "What Makes The Red Man Red?"
14 An "Accident" On The Powerpuff Girls
The Powerpuff Girls was a series was so popular that it recently got a moderately successful reboot. It focuses in on the lives of three chemically-enhanced crime-fighting little girls, Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup, who use their powers to rid the town of Townsville from a whole host of evil baddies. This show has been praised for its positive messages for young female viewers of the series, and for its unique and interesting premise, but there's one adult moment that definitely flew over your head in the original series.
In the episode "SuperFriends," the three girls make a new friend after a little girl named Robin moves in next door. Robin quickly makes her way into the Powerpuff's lives, and eventually, meets Professor Utonium. After learning that the Powerpuffs were born in a chemical accident, Robin makes an offhand comment that she "was an accident, too."
13 Grandpa Lou Rents A "Grown-Up" Movie
Rugrats was another 90s Nickelodeon series that reached high levels of acclaim and remains as one of the most popular series ever aired on the channel. This animated series follows the life of Tommy, a baby, and his baby and toddler friends, as they explore and learn about their world.
Rugrats was a series that was rife with adult jokes, such as DeeDee's reliance on the advice of Dr. Lipschitz, and a few "D" jokes, but there's one particular moment that needs to be called to attention. In the episode "Grandpa's Date," Tommy's Grandpa Lou is trying to find a way to combat his loneliness. One of his strategies is renting the VHS tape "Lonely Space Vixens," which is heavily implied to be a space-themed "other industry" video.
12 Cars Are Crushed Alive In The Brave Little Toaster
There are some dark children's movies out there, but most of them don't hold a candle to The Brave Little Toaster. For those who are unfamiliar with this particular film, The Brave Little Toaster is about a group of appliances who are accidentally thrown away. The titular Toaster, along with a Lamp, a Blanket, a Radio, and a Vaccuum, have to make their way across town to get back to their owner.
This film is loaded with creepy and unsettling moments, but the worst of the worst definitely has to be the sequence during the song "Worthless." In this section of the film, the Toaster and his friends witness as several still-sentient cars are crushed to death by a trash compactor.
11 Disney's Racist Depiction of African-Americans
We've already mentioned Disney's seedy past when it comes to their depictions of people from different backgrounds, but one of the worst and most notorious moments comes in the film Dumbo. This 1941 animated film follows the life of a baby elephant whose large ears give him the ability to fly. This film famously has some darker moments, such as when Dumbo's mother is presumably killed for being deemed a "mad elephant," but there's a racially charged moment that will absolutely shock you.
One particular set of characters in Dumbo that have raised countless eyebrows are the Crows, and especially Jim Crow, who is literally named after legislature used to restrict the voting rights of African-Americans. The behaviors of the Crows and their large-mouthed designs are largely based on negative stereotypes that were prominent at the time of the film's release.
10 Disney's Racist Depiction of Asians (Again)
It seems like Asians can't get a break in the Disney universe. Twenty-five years before the release of The Aristocats, there was yet another Disney film that used Siamese cats to create a highly racist depiction of Asian people. This film was 1955's Lady And The Tramp, a seemingly innocent movie about Lady, a lost Cocker Spaniel, who befriends a street mutt, Tramp, on her journey to return to her owners.
In the film's most offensive scene, the two cats sing "We Are Siamese," a ballad full of gong sound effects, and lyrics about plans to commit scheming trickery. Just like Shun Gon in The Aristocats, this film's Siamese Cats speak in broken English, have prominent teeth, and slanted eyes.
9 Eddy's Girly Magazines
One little-known fact about Ed, Edd, and Eddy was that its creator, Danny Antonnucci, made this series on a dare. Antonnucci was a prominent cartoonist responsible for the super weird (and super not-for-kids) adult animated series The Brothers Grunt. This might be why there are numerous adult references throughout the series.
One of the most prominent and recurring adult elements to Ed, Edd, and Eddy would have to be Eddy's Girly Magazines. In the episode "The Luck Of The Ed," we learn that these magazines were originally a gift from Eddy's cool older brother who has recently left for college. We see the Girly Magazines reappear at the end of "The Day The Ed Stood Still," where we see titles like "Chix" and "Jiggy Jiggy" next to balled up used tissues. Gross.
8 A Cartoon Network Show That Is NOT For Kids
Regular Show actually has a history that might surprise dedicated fans of the series. The show was originally pitched to be showcased on Adult Swim, Cartoon Network's late-night adult animation programming block, but there wasn't enough room in the schedule. In this show's original pilot, titled "2 In The AM PM," Mordecai and Benson are seen doing drugs at their convenience store job.
There are other adult moments and references that have made their way into the actual content of Regular Show in its kid-friendly conception. Almost every time you see a clock in the series, it reads as 4:20, an infamous reference to smokers everywhere. Soda is a clear stand-in for beer, as characters who binge on the sugary drink often lose control and forget parts of their evenings. There's also tons of innuendo, especially if you count Muscleman's constant "your mom" jokes.
7 Buried Alive On Thomas The Tank Engine
Thomas The Tank Engine might seem like an unlikely entry on this list, but this is genuinely a show with a lot of deep-rooted problems. In the absolute worst episode of this series, "The Sad Story Of Henry," one train gets a full-blown Cask of Amontillado treatment when he is walled in alive for refusing to obey the orders of the ominous dictator of Sodor, Sir Toppem Hat (known somewhat gracelessly in the United Kingdom as The Fat Controller.)
Get this: Henry has a panic attack in a tunnel because he's afraid of going out in the rain. Herr Hat decides to make an example of Henry to frighten the other trains back into submission. The looming voice of Ringo Star insists that he "thinks [Henry] deserves his punishment, don't you?" to which most normal people who aren't frightening train barons will respond, "absolutely not!"
6 Heffer Gets "Milked"
Rocko's Modern Life makes its second appearance on our list for an even more outrageous scene. We've already talked about how the series was highly controversial, and featured numerous adult references that just barely made it past the censors, but this particular moment is difficult to be believed.
In the episode, "The Good, The Bad, And The Wallaby," Rocko goes to visit his Uncle Gib's ranch, and takes Heffer along with him for company. Heffer makes his way into Gib's barn, and finds himself accidentally hooked up to a milking machine, where suffice it to say, he thoroughly enjoys himself. Despite this being a gag in a kid's show, similar devices have since been constructed for similar purposes, so I guess the moral here is: if you build it, they will come.
5 Blackface In The Little Mermaid
This next entry comes from the film The Little Mermaid, a story based on the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale regarding a young mermaid's desire to join the human world. There have been a few urban legends surrounding this movie, such as the rumor that the Priest in the wedding scene is hiding SOMETHING, and that there are hidden body parts on the original cover of the movie, but this particular controversial content is smack dab in the middle of the movie, clear as day.
In the film's musical number, "Under The Sea," Sebastian the Crab tries to convince Ariel that going up to the human world is boring in comparison to life on the ocean floor. Sebastian lists off a colorful cast of ocean characters, including a Black Fish, who is very clearly meant to be a depiction of Black Face or Minstrel Makeup.
4 The Animaniacs (Almost) Get To Second Base With Prince
The Animaniacs was a much-beloved series that appealed to children and adults alike. Strictly speaking, it's difficult to classify this series as a children's cartoon, as the amount of references to current political affairs and pop culture were staggering. However, it's reasonable to say that the series was primarily meant to at least be appropriate for children to watch, as long as you're not counting the most notorious double entendre in the history of the series.
In the episode, "Hercule Yakko," the three Animaniacs are investigating a crime when Yakko orders Dot to dust for fingerprints. Dot returns with (the artist formerly known as) Prince, and Yakko tells her that he means fingerprints, which Dot takes as an instruction to digitally "enjoy" the prolific funk artist responsible for such hits as Purple Rain. Despite Prince's eager expression, Dot passes on the offer.
3 A Secret In The Road To El Dorado
The Road To El Dorado is considered by many to be one of the last great 2D animated films released before 3D animation became the norm. In this film, two con artists, Tulio and Miguel, use a map they win in a card game to find the location of the mythical gold-filled city of El Dorado in present-day Mexico. On reaching the city, it's inhabitants treat Tulio and Miguel as gods, and reward them with whatever they want.
One of Tulio's "rewards" comes directly from Chel, an inhabitant of the city. Watch very closely in the scene where Chel and Tulio are enjoying some private time together. After a few seconds of bizarre sounds, Chel's head pops up and she's absolutely nowhere near Tulio's face. It's up to you to put two and two together for this one.
2 Gumball Is Blackmailed A "Job"
The Amazing World of Gumball is a series that's known for its clever writing and broad range of appeal, but there are a few moments in this show that might raise a few eyebrows. In the episode "The Storm," Gumball is tasked with repairing the relationship of his friends Alan, a balloon, and Carmen, a cactus, after accidentally splitting them up.
In order to bolster Alan's confidence, Gumball has to literally re-inflate him in the bathroom stall at his school. The implication here is that Alan is emotionally blackmailing Gumball into "inflating" him in the bathroom to boost his confidence. The look on Gumball's face as he exits the bathroom really says everything you need to know about this scene.
1 Tasty WHAT!? On Cow And Chicken
Cow and Chicken was another one of Cartoon Network's successful Cartoon Cartoons. The show followed the lives of two interspecies siblings and their bottom-half only parents. The series had a ton of funny and controversial things going on, such as the bare-bottomed devil who served as Cow and Chicken's primary antagonist, but only one episode was ever formally banned from airing.
This episode was "Buffalo Gals," in which a biker gang of butch women show up at Cow's house and begin furiously munching the carpet. Cow goes off to join the Buffalo Gals. When Chicken attempts to rescue her, the Gals state that they "hate chicken," but after playing a game of softball, Cow decides she's not tough enough to roll with the Gals and goes home. Much like everything else on this list, the Devil aptly states that there's "a moral to this story, but it's a secret."