Cartoons, the age-appropriate binge-worthy dramas of our childhood. Constantly overlooked by grown-ups with 'mature' shows to watch like Keeping Up With The Kardashians and dramas with deep characters and terrific writing that don't waste the audiences' times like The Walking Dead, cartoons have been fighting an uphill battle for years to be seen as serious art, even as shows like The Simpsons have endured for decades and helped define the American sense of humour or Rick & Morty which is such an effective analysis of toxic masculinity that toxic men don't even get that it's making fun of them.
A lot of the shows we grew up with spent a lot of time sneaking in much heavier subjects than the parents and networks thought were being communicated to their viewers. While some are obvious, like Batman The Animated Series, some are so buried in the lore of the show that only the real fans are aware of what's underneath the bright colors and wacky sound effects. Many of these are fan theories that have bubbled out of Reddit and been acknowledged, or at least not actively discouraged, by the creators of the shows themselves, but a lot are real facts that have emerged in the decades since some of these shows are created. This is just a brief overview of some of the theories. In a lot of cases, like Adventure Time, they lead into a pretty deep Wikipedia rabbit hole, so be prepared before you open up the pandora's box I've got for you.
25 The Toy Story Life Sentence
In the Toy Story universe Andy's toys, your Woody's and your Buzz Lightyear's, consider their toybox to be their home. At night, they sleep in this big comfy pile and during the day when he's not around, they enact adorable power fantasies for the benefit of Woody's ego. We clearly see that they are awake and aware when Andy isn't around and that they don't really age or have a sense of time. In Toy Story 2, Woody is revealed to be over fifty years old and doesn't even realize it. The life of a toy in Toy Story is slavery: grinning, high-energy, play-based slavery. When Andy puts those toys in a box in the attic, they stay there, awake and aware, forever in the dark.
24 Just As Complex As Game Of Thrones
This will be obvious to fans of the show but I imagine there are a lot of people out there who have seen only a little of AT and don't realize there is a lot more going on beyond just meme-worthy characters and jokes for millennial parents.
The most colorful apocalypse.
Reddit user redlionking333 has been maintaining this exhaustive timeline which will be completed when the show does, later this year. Basically, the story of Adventure Time is the story of a land learning to rebuild after a devastating apocalypse, full of flawed heroes, terrifying villains, and mad gods. Toss in some cyberpunk, some Lovecraft, and some genetic engineering, and you have, shockingly, one of the best developed science-fantasy worlds since Star Wars.
23 The Care Bears Are Big Brother
This one is hard for me, folks, because I unabashedly loved The Care Bears when I was a kid. Looking back, I can't figure out exactly why I loved The Care Bears but I don't think it has something to do with their awesome rescue mission in the first episode.
Seal Team Care.
No matter where you are, no matter who you are, the Care Bears can see your thoughts and, if they're not "happy,' they will do everything in their power to change that. They will mobilize their entire civilization, easily sorted into identifiable moods, to make you into a functioning child, and if you refuse to change, or worse, exhibit behaviour they find unacceptable, they will blast you with their tummy beams. I'm not saying No Heart is the better alternative, but some middle ground is probably healthy.
22 The Powerpuff Girls As Good Fairies
Here's a cool piece of trivia from our sister site, Screen Rant, though this one falls into the 'never confirmed but never denied' category of cool cartoon tidbits: Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup, the superpowered adorable young ladies of The Powerpuff Girls, are based on the three good fairies from Disney's classic Sleeping Beauty.
There's a cut scene from Sleeping Beauty where Merryweather punches a dragon through a wall.
Their colours line up, red, green, and blue, which maybe is just a coincidence but their personalities do too: the red fairy, Merryweather, is the leader and generally the coolest under pressure, while the blue and green fairies have similar traits to Bubbles and Buttercup, though reversed: the blue fairy is fiery and the green fairy is kind and sweet.
21 The Ninja Turtles Were Wise-Cracking Elimination Machines
While these days everyone loves to complain about there being too many films and tv shows based on existing properties like comic books, this is not at all a new idea for Hollywood, there are plenty of classic cartoons based on unlikely sources. (Did you know Men In Black was originally a comic book satire of government overreach?)
Does anyone else miss the lead actor rapping over the credits?
Another cultural juggernaut of the nineties with a surprising origin is the iconic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which, like Men In Black, is a hyper-violent black and white comic for grown-ups from the eighties, which is when comic books "grew up." The original turtles, while still named for Renaissance artists, are much less radical and much more rad at eliminating ninjas by the hundreds. They weren't colour-coded either, they all wore red in the original comic.
20 Sinister Smurfette
So let's call out the trend of this article, since you may have guessed it by now: cartoons that you have a fond memory of have surprisingly mature backstories. Case in point, the cutest of all the classic cartoons: The Smurfs.
Get ready for a biological analysis of The Smurfs: So the Smurfs are all male and do not reproduce naturally. New smurfs are delivered to the village by a stork and no one knows where they come from. We do know where the only female Smurf comes from though: the evil Sorcerer Gargamel, more on him later, who created Smurfette to.. Corrupt and deceive the Smurfs so he could more easily abduct them? Yikes, looks like Smurfs creator "Peyo" needs some diversity training.
19 Everyone On SpongeBob Is A Mutant
SpongeBob SquarePants is definitely the most successful of the 'mania era' of Nickelodeon cartoons, having lasted longer than a decade of unhinged, high-energy comedy that is, especially in the early seasons, a surprisingly brilliant example of comedy writing and performance. While a show about a talking Sponge and his Starfish friend who lives in a Pineapple might not have anything related to reality on the surface, there is a semi-plausible explanation for the wackiness of the show.
But not for why they drive boats on roads underwater.
The clue is in the name of SpongeBob's town, Bikini Bottom. In the real world, Bikini Atoll was the testing site for all of America's nuclear bombs leading up to the end of World War 2. If nuclear radiation can create something as devastating as Godzilla, it can definitely make a sponge into a short-order burger cook.
18 The Flintstones Aren't In The Past
This is my favourite entry on this list: there is a long-stranding theory, supported by multiple crossover episodes, that suggest the Flintstones and the Jetsons exist not only in the same universe, but at the same time.
Since both shows are Hanna-Barbera cartoons from the same decade, they share a visual design that might be more than just a stylistic choice. While it makes sense that we never see much above ground on the Flintstones, it's a little weird that we never see below the all-encompassing cloud cover of the Jetsons. The theory goes that the Jetsons live above a post-nuclear wasteland that has been reduced to the same stone age as the Flintstones. It makes sense if you think about one major gag in the Flintstones: all their technology looks and acts like the appliances and cars of the 1950s, just made out of rocks, wood, and dinosaur slaves.
17 Why Are There So Many Abandoned Buildings in Scooby-Doo?
No, I'm not going to try and link sixties Scooby-Doo with the greater Flintstones/Jetsons apocalypse theory, but there is a cool theory behind the desolation of Scooby-Doo.
No, I don't mean the horrors of recreational substance use.
Why does the Gang keep coming across these boarded up mansions and amusement parks? And why are so many of them being terrorised by the former owners, now aged and desperate? To add to that: where is everyone? Scooby-Doo is set during the height of a major economic collapse, rendering most of the countryside uninhabited and reducing the owners of these mansions to desperate measures. Taking this theory one step further: maybe the people hiring the gang to solve the mysteries of these abandoned properties is some kind of real estate magante trying to get these properties at a discount.
16 It's Not Just Eeyore Who's Messed Up
While it's obvious that Eeyore is depressed, which is pretty on-the-nose for a beloved, century-old children's book that spawned a major tentpole for Disney, according to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal titled "Pathology in the Hundred Acre Wood," all the characters of AA Milne's classic story have some kind of mental illness.
What is a Heffalump?
In a nutshell, Pooh suffers from ADHD and impulsivity, Piglet has General Anxiety Disorder, Owl is dyslexic, little baby Roo is a single-parent child whose closest friend, Tigger, is a poor role model due to his pattern of risky behaviour. Rabbit is self-important with delusions of grandeur and megalomania while, most tragically, Christopher Robin's vast imagination has been warped into schizophrenia: he truly believes all these animals are real.
15 The Ninja Turtles Are Ripoffs Of Daredevil
Welcome back to another installment of 'things you didn't know about the original Ninja Turtles!' We already covered how, despite being in black and white, the original comics covers clearly identified the turtles as having red bandanas: the only way to tell them apart was with their weapons, which were always the classic quartet of bo and dual nunchaku, sai, and katana.
While the use of toxic waste as a origin story is common to the point of cliche now, this particular toxic waste canister isn't just similar to how a young Matt Murdock lost his sight and gained super sense: it's literally the exact same toxic waste canister. The Turtles were created as a parody of many Marvel properties but share the same origin story as Daredevil: after the toxic canister beans Murdock directly in the eyes, it bounces into the sewer where it also mutates the Turtles and a certain wise old rat.
14 Arnold Isn't The Hero Of His Own Show
Hey, Arnold, the delightful slice-of-life cartoon about life in middle school, seems to have an obvious main character: Arnold is in the title, the storylines all revolve around him, and we spend the most time with him.
Move it Football Head!
Speaking at a panel at the 2017 New York Comic Con, creator Craig Bartlett confirmed what Redditors have been saying for years, that Helga is the real hero of the show. Helga is the only character who monologues for the audience and it makes sense that every episode would revolve around Arnold, considering Helga's infatuation with him. Even the title, "Hey, Arnold!" could be read as Helga constantly trying to get Arnold to notice her, even though she uses her antagonism as a mask for her crush.
13 Pinky Isn't The Crazy One
As cartoon theme songs go, Pinky and The Brain does a pretty decent job of setting up its scenario: "they're laboratory mice, their genes have been spliced," etc. Cunningly, one line has been taken for granted by kids for decades, namely, "one is a genius, the other's insane." We've always assumed that Brian is the genius because he constantly tells us he is, while Pinky is the one who is insane. I've learned that the more someone brags about their intelligence, the less seriously you should take them.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
How many episodes of Pinky and The Brain are there? Before then, how many segments did the duo appear on in Animaniacs? There's like almost a hundred schemes and none of them work. Some of them work for a little while but they all collapse under Brain's hubris.
12 Aladdin Doesn't Happen
Think about the beginning of Aladdin. Arabian Nights? Close. Light-hearted, parkour-based larceny? Almost. A weird old man in the desert trying to sell you a 'magic' lamp? Bingo! The viewer, wandering through the desert, encounters a merchant who tries to sell them a variety of useless items. He creates a fantasy for you, helping you into the shoes of a young man down on his luck who got everything because of this lamp right here.
Only 10 monthly payments of one gold daric.
Not convinced? Try this: Robin Williams did the voices for both characters and they look very similar: blue clothes, fun beard, red belt. The director even recently confirmed the peddler and genie are the same character but the reveal was cut in editing.
11 Fairly Odd-Antidepressants
Winnie the Pooh isn't the only popular cartoon to use imaginary friends as a metaphor for mental illness, though the Nickelodeon show Fairly Odd Parents has a bit more modern spin on the old trope. This is a popular fan theory that got started on Reddit and is too smart to ignore.
Cosmo is Zoloft, Wanda is Prozac.
Throughout the show we learn Timmy's fairy godparents appear only when he needs them, will be with him into his twenties, and their magic will help make life easier. There are also severe consequences to abusing their magic, just like abusing prescription pills. They also make mistakes, although they mean well, which could be a reference to side effects. We will never look at this light-hearted comedy the same way again.
10 The Pixar Theory
Pixar movies take a long time to make, from conception through to release, and the studio is famous for overlapping development one multiple titles. There is always a reference to the next Pixar movie in the current one, like Doug from Up chasing Remy in Ratatouille, but there's more to it than that.
Disney recently released a video highlighting the little nods in each movie, effectively making The Pixar Theory canon. While some of the logic is a stretch, like the wisps in Brave making toys come to life and creating the superheroes of The Incredibles, other things that started as efficiencies like reusing models and assets (Riley from Inside/Out is in the background of Finding Nemo) has turned into a full-blown universe.
9 Helga's Mother Is Having A Rough Time
Get ready for another depressing fact about Hey, Arnold! We acknowledged that Helga is definitely probably the real main character of the show, what with her monologues and obsession with Arnold. It's possible that Helga's fixation on Arnold is to escape her oppressive home life. Her mother, Miriam, is almost certainly a manic-depressive who medicates with drinking.
I mean, I get it.
The Hey, Arnold! Wiki is pretty explicit about the connection, showing Miriam constantly passed out on the couch, confused and sluggish when she wakes, and when we do see her awake, she's making 'smoothies' in her blender. Tragically, she also seems to genuinely care about Helga, checking in on her even though she forgets the little things like packing Helga's lunch.
8 Sorry But Snow White Is About Obsession Too...
This one is kind of obvious once you think about it, as long as you don't think about it too much: The seven dwarves represent the stages of substance withdrawal, and snow white is a well-known euphemism for a special white powder. While Snopes says it's all false due to there being no defined 'stages' of "white powder withdrawal" like there are 'stages of grief' and because the white powder wasn't really in the public consciousness in the 30s when Snow White was made, it's still fun to think about.
According to bored college students and internet comedy writers everywhere, the dwarves represent lack of sleep, changes in mood and personality, and...allergies? I guess they had to justify Sneezy somehow.
7 Disney Isn't As Clean As You Think
Here's something that is 100% not a theory but is definitely true and you can find evidence of it online and no I will not link you to it, you can google it like a big boy. See, Disney has been around for a long time and, like any cultural institution, their content has changed with the times. What I'm tip toeing around saying, basically, is that there is a ton of racist garbage in old Disney cartoons and they've done a lot of work to try and bury it.
But it's not just the classics…
Yeah, it's not only stuff from really old movies that can get away with being "of the times." The movies we grew up with have some terrible themes and messages: Ariel has to give up what makes her special and change everything about her to get a man, just to name one. Check this list if you really want to get into it.
6 The Famous Censored Looney Tunes
Disney isn't the only famous animation company with skeletons in their closet. The creators of Looney Tunes, Warner Bros Animation, have a series of films called the "censored eleven" that have been banned from being shown due to their content. When United Artists bought all the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons from the 20s, 30s, and 40s in 1968, they took a long, hard look at what was considered appropriate and made some changes.
Changes like burying them forever.
This IndieWire article goes into greater detail but, and this is maybe no surprise, a lot of the cartoons deal with some really horrible racial stereotypes. Surprisingly, in the interest of preserving history, the Censored 11 has been remastered and is being re released… but not for free. Yikes.
5 There's A Completley Not For Kids Tiny Toons Episode
Speaking of the skeleton's in WB's closet, there is a banned episode of cutesy spin-off Tiny Toon Adventures that has never been aired on TV. While originally conceived as an episode warning kids about the dangers of drinking, particularly drinking and driving as the gang is ultimately eliminated by driving their stolen police car off a cliff, the writers got out of hand, probably out of the sheer joy of being able to write grown-up jokes for a change.
This attempt to educate kids about grown-up issues while protecting themselves from overreaching censors and angry parents is something that children's programming writers have struggled with for years. While this DUI-themed episode of Tiny Toons may not have hit the mark, exactly, I wonder if there is such a danger in making a fun, funny episode about a horrible thing.
4 The Flintstones Were Bad For Your Health
This isn't a theory based on empirical but maybe unintentional evidence but rather an absolute fact with hard proof: The Flintstones used to advertise for Winston Cigarettes in the sixties.
Yes, this beloved children's cartoon was not immune to the hilariously poor public health standards of the past, which we now look upon with delighted nostalgia but propagated some toxic cultural trends that we're just now shaking off. While using cartoons to sell garbage to kids is certainly not one of them, we have, luckily, almost entirely moved away from selling cigarettes to people at all, encouraging people to switch to the much healthier, safer, and not-at-all under researched replacement of vaping. Note: The Gamer does not condone vaping in any capacity and nobody thinks your tricks are cool, Doug.
3 Ren And Stimpy Come Out
The journey of Ren and Stimpy is a strange one, going from whacked-out Nickelodeon cartoon to full-on "[Grown-Up] Party" for Spike TV in the aughts. This journey allowed the creator of the pair, John Kricfalusi, to finally embrace something that had been his intention all along, before Nickelodeon made him change it to meet its standards: Ren and Stimpy are in love, and are a couple.
Maybe not a happy, healthy couple, though.
While the presentation of the two, with Ren being an overbearing jerk to his supposed lover, Stimpy, is not the most flattering presentation of a gay love on screen, it's a depressing fact of entertainment that this was one of the only acknowledged gay couples on television at the time.
2 Animation Isn't A Party
Time for a reality check: for all the cute little fan theories that were proven by the cartoons' creators, all the neat details hidden away in the background of your favourite shows, all those things are a smokescreen for a depressing fact about animation: most of your favourite shows were made under terrible working conditions.
While there are many studios in the US and Europe who have beautiful offices and unionised workers, most of the most popular cartoons are made overseas where working standards are much less beneficial to the animators. Recently, even the US-based animators of Sausage Party blew the whistle on poor working conditions like not being listed in the credits and threats of retaliation if they quit work on the film, like being blacklisted in the industry.
1 Bob's Burgers Is Not Doing Well
While there are a few articles about the lessons small business owners can learn from Bob's Burgers, the reality might be pretty harsh. A writer for Ranker used all the evidence available to them in the show's first season, like how the complete menu is displayed and the most expensive item is only $5.95, to how the place is almost always completely empty and could only seat a dozen people at once even if it was packed.
Worse, while the stores nearby, like Jimmy Pesto's Pizza, seem to do okay, the place right next door is different every single episode and there are constant rat infestations being dealt with in the opening credits. The picture that's painted is pretty bleak, suggesting Bob's dream isn't working out for him or the Belchers.