Cartoonists love to push the envelope. Cartoons aimed at children sneak in innuendoes for adult viewers, while adult-oriented cartoons take advantage of the stylization of animation to get away with content you couldn’t in a more realistic live-action show. But sometimes cartoonists end up pushing things a little too far, beyond the limits of what television will allow. That’s when the TV networks’ standards and practices boards catch on and put a stop to particularly risqué, violent, controversial, offensive, or, in one particularly notorious case, health-endangering content from hitting the airwaves.
Sometimes the censors let the episodes air once, but receive complaints and make the decision to never rerun them again. Other times the cartoons in question are banned from TV but allowed a release on DVD, which are less beholden to advertiser concerns and presumably being purchased more by adult collectors than impressionable kids. In some cases no official releases of any kind exist for the banned cartoons, though all of the 15 entries on this list are viewable for those who know what they’re looking for. The temptation of forbidden fruit is strong, and many are curious to find out just what sort of content these banned episodes contain.
15. BOSTON (AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE)
On January 31st, 2007, the city of Boston shut down due to people mistaking Aqua Teen Hunger Force advertisements for bombs. The situation was absurd, and it seemed like the exact sort of thing Aqua Teen could have a great time mocking. For Turner Broadcasting, who’d just lost over a million dollars in a settlement with the city, the situation wasn’t so funny.
The episode “Boston,” in which Meatwad gets mistaken for a bomb and the Mooninites become terrorists, was produced in 2007 as part of the show’s fifth season, but wasn’t allowed to air. For the longest time, nobody outside of Turner had ever seen the episode. There’s never been an official release in any capacity. There almost was in 2015, but a week before the episode was set to release, hackers deleted it from the official server and leaked it themselves. Adult Swim indefinitely canceled the official release.
14. SUPER BEST FRIENDS/200/201 (SOUTH PARK)
We turn from an episode of Aqua Teen that got pulled due to false accusations of terrorism to a trio of South Park episodes pulled due to real threats of terrorism. When “Super Best Friends” aired in 2001, it was just another irreverent South Park episode mocking all religions. In 2010, however, the political climate had changed, and depictions of the prophet Muhammad now set off death threats.
For the show’s 200th and 201st episodes, South Park attempted to address head-on the double standards regarding mocking Muhammad versus other religious and cultural figures. When they aired, the episodes got heavily censored, but still provoked death threats. A car bomb attempted in NYC shortly after the episodes aired was suspected to be done in response, though no direct evidence pointed towards that connection. Both episodes of the two-parter along with “Super Best Friends” were pulled from the South Park website.
13. THE MASK OF MATCHES MALONE! (BATMAN: BRAVE AND THE BOLD)
The “Birds of Prey” song in the Brave and the Bold episode “The Mask of Matches Malone!” is one of the highlights of the Silver Age-inspired animated series. It’s also one long string of sexual innuendoes, detailing how Flash is “too fast,” Green Arrow has trouble “shooting straight,” and Aquaman’s “little fish” is unimpressive. While most Cartoon Network shows get away with quite a bit in terms of innuendo, so many sex jokes in one scene was too much for the network censors.
The episode aired in other countries (in reruns, the animation of the “little fish” bit was changed to be less directly suggestive), but never in the United States. It wasn’t even included on the Season 2 DVD! WB eventually relented and released the episode legally in America as a special feature on the Season 3 DVD.
12. BATTLE PROTOCOL (TRANSFORMERS: ROBOTS IN DISGUISE)
The English dub of “Battle Protocol,” the first episode of the anime Transformers: Robots in Disguise, aired on FOX Kids on September 8th, 2001. It features Megatron destroying a skyscraper. Considering what happened just three days later, you can understand why this episode would never air again in the United States.
The whole series was filled with destruction of the sort now rendered tasteless, and FOX Kids had to re-edit many episodes. Since the show was already scheduled to air six episodes a week, however, the edits ended up being rushed and haphazard. Three additional episodes (“Attack from Outer Space,” “Landfill,” and “Sky-Byte Saves the Day”) were unsalvageable and replaced with clip shows. Due to Disney’s disinterest after buying the Saban library, the show has never been released on DVD in America.
11. THE CITY OF NEW YORK VS. HOMER SIMPSON (THE SIMPSONS)
Here’s another episode pulled in response to 9/11. In this case, the sensitive material wasn’t violence but the significance of the World Trade Center towers. The Simpsons going on a New York vacation to retrieve an abandoned car parked between the towers made for hilarious television in 1997, and today the episode’s high points (the Betty Ford Clinic musical, for instance) can be enjoyed even if an element of sadness hangs over it. In 2001, that sadness was too much.
For five years, “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” was pulled entirely from syndication. By 2006, certain markets began airing it again, but with many edits. Notably, an argument between businessmen ending with the line “They stick all the jerks in Tower One,” was cut. The unedited version of the episode can be seen on DVD and in FXX’s “Every Simpsons Ever” marathons.
10. WHEN YOU WISH UPON A WEINSTEIN (FAMILY GUY)
It’s hard to imagine now, when FOX will order a season of anything Seth McFarlane sneezes on, but once upon a time Family Guy was not doing well. “When You Wish Upon A Weinstein” was supposed to be the series finale back in 2002, but FOX refused to air it. While it was written by a Jewish writer, Ricky Blitt, and two rabbinical advisors approved of the episode due to Peter learning his lesson in the end, FOX was worried it could be interpreted as anti-Semitic.
When Adult Swim started airing Family Guy reruns in 2003, they aired the banned episode. It didn’t receive receive many complaints, no more than your average Family Guy episode anyway. When FOX went ahead and aired it in 2004, Lisa Keys of the Jewish magazine Forward argued the only thing truly offensive about it was that, “It’s too vapid to be funny.”
9. ONE BEER (TINY TOON ADVENTURES)
Tiny Toon Adventures came about at a time of mounting pressure for children’s television to have educational value. While the follow-up series Animaniacs expertly melded educational bits with wacky entertainment, the “Elephant Issues” episode of Tiny Toons was a more awkward fusion. The stories in the episode were morally preachy, and the one joke was that they were so over the top it was clear nobody involved actually wanted to be doing these preachy stories.
The “One Beer” segment maybe went TOO over the top. In it, Buster, Plucky, and Hampton drink a sip of beer, get drunk, and kill themselves driving off a cliff intoxicated. FOX, The WB, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon all refused to rerun this unusually dark segment. The Hub finally reran it in 2013, 22 years after it first aired.
8. DEADLY FORCE (GARGOYLES)
Where “One Beer” is considered one of the worst Tiny Toons episodes, “Deadly Force” is one of the better regarded episodes of Gargoyles. The reasons both episodes got banned, however, are similar: they both attempted to teach kids a significant lesson, but went a bit too far in delivering said moral for the taste of the network censors. “Deadly Force” was about responsible gun usage and the dangers of using firearms without proper training.
After watching a Western, Broadway grabs Elisa’s gun to play around, but he accidentally shoots Elisa. Learning that guns are not toys and that violence has more consequences they don’t show in movies is an important lesson for kids to learn, but it’s an awfully dark one for a Disney cartoon. The episode was temporarily banned from reruns. Eventually it would run again, but with the blood gushing from Elise’s body edited out.
7. SEE ME, FEEL ME, GNOMEY (THE POWERPUFF GIRLS)
“See Me, Feel Me, Gnomey,” a musical episode parodying Tommy by The Who, was the last episode produced of the original Powerpuff Girls series, but it never aired in the United States. For years, people wondered why. Were the flashing lights a seizure risk? Were the themes about cults and allusions to Communism too dark? Did Cartoon Network just not want to air it for no reason?
In 2016, after the episode was made available on DVD, show creator Craig McCracken revealed the actual reason for the ban on his tumblr: the censors “claimed that the metal beams in the destroyed buildings looked too much like crosses and one of the hippies looked like Jesus.” This was not the writers’ or animators’ intention at all, and makes for perhaps the most bizarre reason for banning an episode on this list.
6. THE HUNGER STRIKE/THE UNCLE RUCKUS REALITY SHOW (THE BOONDOCKS)
Anyone who watched The Boondocks knows creator Aaron McGruder does not think too highly of BET. Two episodes produced for the second season, “The Hunger Strike” and “The Uncle Ruckus Reality Show,” focused around his hatred of the network. “The Hunger Strike” had Huey and Rollo Goodlove boycotting BET. “The Uncle Ruckus Reality Show” is self-explanatory, with the world’s most self-hating black man given a BET show.
Neither episode aired on TV, though they were available on the season 2 DVD. Cartoon Network claims BET didn’t threaten litigation, but airing the episodes was still deemed risky. In addition, the episodes “The Story of Jimmy Rebel” and “Pause” only aired once, the former due to the extreme hateful language presented, the latter due to pressure Turner received from Tyler Perry, who was angry about how it skewered him.
5. BARBEQUOR/RUDE REMOVAL (DEXTER’S LABORATORY)
While Dexter’s Laboratory featured many Marvel parodies, the segment “Barbequor” in particular received legal threats from Marvel. The source of their objection was a parody of the Silver Surfer called “the Silver Spooner” portrayed as a swishy Judy Garland-obsessed gay stereotype. The design was closer to the original than the show’s other superhero spoofs. The combination of offensive content and potential copyright infringement led Cartoon Network to ban the segment after one airing.
“Rude Removal” never aired at all, but gained notoriety from animation festival screenings. The concept? Dexter accidentally creates rude cursing clones of himself and Dee Dee. The words are bleeped, so it’s understandable why Genndy Tartakovsky thought he could get away with it (Spongebob did something similar a few years later with “Sailor Mouth”), but Cartoon Network rejected it. Adult Swim finally released it online in 2013.
4. BUFFALO GALS (COW AND CHICKEN)
What was with ’90s Cartoon Network shows and episodes featuring gay stereotypes that aired once and then never again? “Barbequor,” while over the top with its stereotyping, at least doesn’t play as actively malicious. “Buffalo Gals” from Cow and Chicken, on the other hand, is deeply unpleasant to watch today. Then again, Cow and Chicken was always fairly unpleasant.
So, the plot of the episode is that a motorcycle riding, softball playing gang of angry butch women called the “Buffalo Gals” invade Cow and Chicken’s house to eat their carpets. Cow joins up with them but Chicken tries to “rescue” her. Cow leaves the gang when she learns that they hate roosters (take a second on that one). As far as lesbian representation in cartoons goes, Steven Universe this ain’t.
3. MAN’S BEST FRIEND (REN AND STIMPY)
It’s no secret that Ren and Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi has daddy issues. For decades, he’s tried to make his “George Liquor” character, a caricature of his ultra-conservative father, a thing. He’s done comics, Flash cartoons, a botched Kickstarter, but George Liquor hasn’t really taken off. His biggest attempt to make audiences drink up Liquor was in the Ren and Stimpy episode “Man’s Best Friend.” And boy, did the Nickelodeon executives HATE it!
Nick had already expressed distaste for the George Liquor character, but beyond that, “Man’s Best Friend” was depraved even by the usual Ren and Stimpy standards. A scene where Ren beats George with an oar was deemed too violent for Nickelodeon. Combined with his inability to make deadlines, this was why John K. got fired from his own show. It later aired on Spike TV and is available on DVD.
2. ELECTRIC SOLDIER PORYGON (POKEMON)
Before Pokemon became the biggest thing ever upon its American localization, people outside of Japan knew of Pokemon primarily as “that Japanese seizure cartoon.” The fast flashing images in one battle scene in “Electric Soldier Porygon” led to the hospitalization of 685 young viewers, many of whom weren’t epileptic but still somehow had seizures from watching it.
Even though the seizure-inducing scene could easily have just been cut, the whole episode was banned internationally. It inspired Japanese TV stations to create new regulations regarding flashing images in anime. Porygon never appeared in the anime TV show again, which is kind of unfair when you consider that it was actually that yellow bastard Pikachu who did the seizure-inducing attack and he hasn’t been banned from the anime. Poor Porygon.
1. THE CENSORED ELEVEN (LOONEY TUNES)
Yeah, just that image alone should tell you everything you need to know about why these cartoons are censored. While a lot of the old Looney Tunes shorts contain dated racial stereotypes, usually edited from TV broadcast, WB decided that eleven of the shorts were just too overwhelmingly offensive to ever air on TV or to give an official video release.
The “Censored Eleven” are “Hittin’ the Trail to Hallelujah Land,” “Sunday Go to Meetin’ Time,” “Clean Pastures,” “Uncle Tom’s Bungalow,” “Jungle Jitters,” “The Isle of Bingo Bongo,” “All This and Rabbit Stew,” “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs,” “Tin Pan Alley Cats,” “Angel Puss,” and “Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears.” “Coal Black” and “Alley Cats” actually have defenders among animation historians. While they contain ugly stereotypes, director Bob Clampett did have genuine affection for African-American jazz culture. The rest are basically unwatchable today, only interesting as historical curiosities, if that.
Do you know of any other banned cartoons? Let us know in the comments!
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