If you grew up watching cartoons in the '90s, you probably have very fond, but also very traumatizing memories of them. Sure, Disney pumped out some of its most heartwarming classics during the decade and it was a golden era for superhero shows. But, a lot of Saturday morning animated fare was just really... weird. Heck, some of it was downright (and delightfully) horrifying. Take The Ren and Stimpy Show, for instance, which, in a 1992 review, The New York Times hailed as "the most original thing to happen to children's television since Pee-Wee's Playhouse," while also describing John Kricfalusi's future cult classic as "ugly," "twisted" and full of "rampant bad taste."
A similar streak of anarchic fun ran through shows like Courage the Cowardly Dog, The Angry Beavers, Cow and Chicken, Rocko's Modern Life and, to a lesser extent, SpongeBob SquarePants -- one of the final hits to come out of the period, as well one of its longest running. The '90s also gave rise to an explosion of teen and adult-orientated animated shows, like MTV's Beavis and Butt-Head and its spin-off Daria, Fox's King of the Hill and Family Guy. If you think all of the drama and shenanigans were just reserved for the screen, though, think again. From heavy censorship, episode bans, accusations of moral corruption and clashes between studio and creator, there was a lot going on behind the animated scenes before and after these cartoon classics first hit the airwaves.
15 NICKELODEON ANIMATORS "LOVED" ONE RUGRATS CHARACTER
Look, we've all been attracted to a cartoon character at one point in our lives, right? From Disney's Aladdin to Who Framed Roger Rabbit's Jessica Rabbit, some characters are just drawn to, well, make us feel drawn to them. But, some crushes are more on the "niche" side. In Matthew Klickstein's book, Slimed! An Oral History Of Nickelodeon's Golden Age, Melanie Chartoff -- the voice actor for The Rugrats' Didi Pickles recalls an interesting discovery.
"I was invited into the men's rooms [at Nickelodeon's animation studio] to see the [inappropriate] drawings of Didi inside all the stalls. They had her decked out in leather." Although Didi is an unconventional choice, we're not here to judge the creators over at Nick.
14 SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS' GREAT CONSPIRACY
Ever since the irrepressibly upbeat Sponge first hit our TV screens in 1999, there have been questions about his sexuality -- or, if he even has one. Some hold the cheerful fry cook up as a closeted, camp icon, while others claim that he imparts a sinister "agenda" into the minds of children. After the show finally came to Ukraine in 2012, the latter argument seemed to migrate to the country, too.
The Ukrainian National Expert Commission for Protecting Public Morality (someone from S.H.I.E.L.D's marketing department could give them a suggestion or two...) declared that the kids cartoon about a humanoid sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea was part of a "large scale experiment" to turn Ukrainian youths into something they didn't want them to be. The Commission also labelled The Simpsons, Pokemon and The Teletubbies as similarly "amoral."
13 REN AND STIMPY VS. PARENTS
Re-watching The Ren and Stimpy Show, it's pretty staggering how much of its nightmare fuel content actually made it past the censors. How about when Ren plucked the stringy nerve-endings from his bloody gums? Or when he smashed himself in the head with a hammer while inanely grinning? Or when he climbed a tower using Stimpy's nose hair? Or when he and Stimpy took a bath with a naked man and woman?
Knowing what slipped through makes it even more surprisingly to learn what was eventually taken out. Things that had to be removed include: Powered Toast Man burning the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, a decapitated head, a scene where Ren gets punched in the gut by a baby and a cross on the Pope's hat. Most of these were done after the network received written complaints from outraged parents.
12 ROCKO'S MODERN LIFE VS. TASTE
Rocko's Modern Life was infamous in the '90s for its envelope pushing, and it had a particular fondness for alluding to gay culture and taboo subject matter. The episode, "I Have No Son" repeats dialog from a scene in The Rocky Horror Picture Show verbatim. In "Commuted Sentence," HIV seems to be spelled out by some fallen poles after Rocko's formerly incarcerated car dies. The show did get caught sometimes.
In "Road Rashed," Rocko and Heffer stay in the 'No Tell Motel' during a road trip. In the night, a shot outside their room is accompanied by the sound of bed springs squeaking and Rocko calling out Heffer's name in annoyance. In the morning, the hotel receptionist cheekily says they had a "premature departure." (Do we need to explain that one?) The scene initially made it to air but was censored from reruns.
11 THE ANGRY BEAVERS' REAL FINALE NEVER AIRED
Debuting in 1997, The Angry Beavers ended after four seasons in 2001, with its last episode being "A Tail Of Two Rangers." However, this wasn't the way the staff wanted the beaver brothers to go out. The real finale, "Bye Bye Beavers!" was pulled by the network for allegedly breaking its rules about the show becoming self-aware. In the episode, Dag and Norb get a letter saying that they're "over."
Norb then shockingly explains to Dag that he knows they've been in a cartoon the whole time and skewers Nickelodeon for preferring to play endless reruns over making new content. "Even though we're vanishing, we'll be back over and over again at virtually no cost to the network!" Dag's voice actor also claims the episode was written to deliberately antagonize Nick into cancelling the show because the animators were so "burnt out."
10 THE FAIRLY ODDPARENTS VS. SPONGEBOB
With shows like Danny Phantom and The Fairly OddParents under his belt, Butch Hartman is something of an animation legend. He's also been very open about his experiences in the industry via his popular YouTube channel in recent years, and it was through the platform that he revealed that a certain sponge-themed Nickelodeon favorite was partly to blame for The Fairly OddParents' five cancellation counts.
"So the show's cancelled, and I'm thinking, 'Well, that's really too bad. Why?' And they say, 'Well, we're cancelling your show because there's no sponge in it.' I said, 'I could put a sponge in it, but there's already a show with a sponge and a starfish. I can make my show about a sponge and a catfish,' and they're like, 'No, that's dumb.'" Hartman also announced via YouTube in February 2018 that he's left Nickelodeon, sick of not having enough ownership over his work.
9 DARIA IS NOW RUNNING TV
Okay, not the actual Daria, obviously (though that idea would be amazing...). No, we mean Daria's voice actor, Tracy Grandstaff. Back in the '90s, Daria gave a monotone voice to all the eye-rolling, grunge teen girls of the decade. But, despite telling her class on graduation day that "high school sucks," it seems that the woman who gave life to Daria Morgendorffer's cool indifference is actually a high achiever.
She came to MTV as a writer -- one of the only female ones -- and confessed that the network's shoestring budget was what really led to her being put in the recording booth. Grandstaff eventually wound up becoming a vice president at Comedy Central and is currently a senior vice president for original programming at NBC; going from being over everything to on top of everything. If she were real, we're sure Daria would enjoy the irony.
8 POKEMON WAS ONLY MEANT TO LAST 18 MONTHS
Much of the Pokemon franchise's huge success and continued appeal has been bolstered by the tie-in anime series that has been ongoing since 1997, but this was actually never the plan for the show's original team. Rather than become the never-ending cash cow that it is today, writer Takeshi Shudo initially planned the series to conclude after the Kanto arc; appeal to adults as well as kids and avoid a "monster of the week" formula.
Presumably, it would have ended with Ash defeating his longtime rival Gary Oak (proud owner of a plot hole-inducing ten Gym badges) and beating the League, something he's frustratingly never achieved to date. The anime's Japanese staff also hate American licensing company 4Kids' meddling in the dubbed version, which censored Japanese cultural elements and -- through banning certain episodes -- created big inconsistencies in the story.
7 THE ANIMANIACS LOOKED TOTALLY DIFFERENT
There are a lot of interesting facts that even hardcore Animaniacs fans probably don't know about the Warner siblings. For instance, the original plan for their design was actually far less... original. All-star producer Steven Spielberg envisioned the trio as ducks called Yakky, Smakky and Wakky, but changed this when he remembered how weirdly overcrowded animation is by the animal.
Yakko, Wakko and Dot are instead creatures officially called "Cartoonus Characterus." Dot's full name, incidentally, is a real mouthful: "Princess Angelina Contessa Louisa Francesca Banana Fanna Bo Besca the Third." DC's Animaniacs #33 also revealed that there's a secret third brother called Sakko, modelled after the larger-than-life actor Rip Taylor. The show may also be filled with cartoon wackiness but it was apparently one of the most faithful replicas of the real Warner Bros. lot on TV.
6 SPONGEBOB ALMOST USED ACTUAL MARINE LIFE
The scientific accuracy of SpongeBob SquarePants has been a talking point for a while. After all, how can things like birds and fire -- that pop up in episodes -- exist underwater? That last head-scratcher has actually been openly called out in the show by Patrick in the episode, "Life of Crime" when he and his BFF are sitting around an impossible campfire. Creator Stephen Hillenburg is actually a former marine biologist, so these "mistakes" are deliberate.
Hillenburg got the idea for the show from a comic book he created in college. When pitching it to Nickelodeon, he decided to do some show and tell, bringing in a fish tank to the meeting and introducing the panel to each "character" inside the tank to peak their interest. Clearly, his out-of-the-box thinking worked, and SpongeBob has stayed on the air since 1999.
5 BUFFCOAT AND BEAVER
Filled with dangerous pranks, gross-out humor, a blind devotion to Metallica and mantras like, "Work sucks, let's go break something," it would have been remiss if Beavis and Butt-Head hadn't attracted critics in high places. A year after the MTV cult classic started airing in 1993, South Carolina senator Ernest Hollings protested the graphic use of violence in "Buffcoat and Beaver."
While "Buffcoat and Beaver" (sadly) doesn't exist, the writers of Beavis and Butt-Head enjoyed the gaff so much that they started an ongoing gag in the show where adults get the titular duo's names wrong. A lottery winner in California also put some of his winnings towards a campaign to get the show banned. Creator Mike Judge was probably flattered by all the attention, and, given that he went onto to create King of the Hill and Silicon Valley, it hasn't hurt his career.
4 ROCKO'S MODERN LIFE AND THE SLY REFERENCE
Adding to the show's (presumably) proud record of slipping as many adult-orientated references past Nickelodeon's Broadcasting and Standards Practices' department as it could, Rocko's Modern Life got away with a pretty creative one for the best part of nearly four seasons -- mainly because no kid watching would have clocked it. The "Chewy Chicken" restaurant was Rocko, Heffer and Filburt's regular eating spot.
It was an obvious parody of global fast food chains like McDonalds and Burger King, though the focus on poultry over burgers alluded specifically to KFC. However, it didn't always go by the "Chewy" title. Before the fourth season, the restaurant was named the "Chokey Chicken," but was changed due to it sounding too much like slang for "self love." Earlier episodes featuring the name remain unchanged.
3 THE X-MEN CARTOON ALMOST WASN'T
Considering the X-Men franchise is now a billion-dollar one, it's hard to look back and imagine a time when Marvel's band of mutant heroes and villains were ever considered a gamble to adapt for TV. But, in 1989 a failed pilot for Pryde of the X-Men left Fox doubtful that there was any future for the property, animated or otherwise. One TV executive -- and X-Men devotee -- Margaret Loesch thought differently, though.
Even after the failure of the Pryde project, she didn't lose faith, staking her career on getting another animated adaptation made. That adaptation was X-Men: The Animated Series, which went on to run for five critically and commercially successful seasons. She was also the one to bring Haim Saban to Fox, giving him an opening to successfully pitch another risky idea to the network: Power Rangers.
2 JEAN GREY AND PROFESSOR X HAD A BABY
In the comics, Jean Grey and Charles Xavier had a complicated relationship, to say the least. Despite the teenage Jean being well behind the X-Men mentor in age, earlier stories openly showed Prof. X grappling with a sexual attraction to her -- even confessing his feelings to a shocked Scott Summers. In that context, it's a little weird to know that their X-Men: TAS voice actors actually found love together.
They even had a son together while the show was on air, who the staff nicknamed "Baby X." They weren't the only case of life imitating art, either. "I absolutely clicked with Cal [Dodd, Wolverine] when we got to work together," Alison Court (Jubilee) reminisced to The Hollywood Reporter. "It was very much a Wolverine and Jubilee relationship [...] Cal was caring with me and would keep the set light with jokes in a way that was very true to our characters."
1 REN AND STIMPY'S CREATOR WAS FIRED
Unsurprisingly, the show that infamously pushed the boundaries of acceptability in children's programming to breaking point did feel the sting of the network's wrath eventually. After a Ren and Stimpy episode featuring the Pope attracted the ire of religious groups, creator John Kricfalusi and his "Spumco" team didn't stop causing controversy. Unfortunately, Nickelodeon didn't see the funny side of Ren nearly beating the life out of a man in the episode, "Man's Best Friend."
The network banned the episode and fired Kricfalusi and the whole Spumco team. It went unaired for over a decade, though Kricfalusi kept bootleg copies to screen for whoever wanted to watch it. Another episode, "Onward and Upward" that featured Ren and Stimpy graphically simulating being intimate together was also banned, later becoming the season premiere of Ren and Stimpy: Adult Party Cartoon in 2003.