If you’re reading this from the United States of America, be thankful that, whatever other problems you might be having, at least the government can’t censor your cartoons, thanks to the First Amendment. Sure, studios and networks do their own self-censorship, which can be extremely frustrating and has been written about frequently on CBR, but that’s not even in the same ball park as government censorship. In countries outside of the USA, however, Freedom of Speech isn’t as strictly guaranteed, and governments worldwide can and do censor and even ban works of media including cartoons.
This list covers 15 examples of cartoons, a mix of movies, series and individual episodes, that have been banned in different parts of the world and why. The reasons for these bans vary wildly. While some of these cartoons have more of what’s traditionally viewed as “inappropriate content,” in many cases the perceived inappropriateness is surprising from an outsider’s perspective. These highlight major cultural divides. What might be seen as completely innocuous in a cartoon’s country of origin may take on a completely different and more sensitive meaning in another country. These bans aren’t necessarily permanent; as laws change, many of them have already been overturned.
15. SHANGHAIED/GARY TAKES A BATH (SPONGEBOB)
The “Shanghaied/Gary Takes a Bath” episode of Spongebob Squarepants was banned for years in both the United Kingdom and Australia. Interestingly, both segments of the episode were deemed inappropriate for children’s TV. The issue with “Shanghaied” was that it was too scary. Squidward falls through “The Fly of Despair” into a surreal nightmare dimension and Spongebob and Patrick are tormented as they run through “The Perfume Department.”
The “subliminal message” image of a cross-eyed girl in “Gary Takes a Bath” was also deemed disturbing by the censors, but the bigger issue with that episode was a “don’t drop the soap” gag. Spongebob does a lot of subtle jokes for older audiences, but that was easily the most shocking the show’s done. Eventually the ban on the episode was repealed in September 2008.
14. LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBART (THE SIMPSONS)
On September 3, 2016, Russian YoutTuber Ruslan Sokolovsky was arrested under the charges of “public actions expressing clear disrespect to society with the aim to insult religious feelings of believers committed in places for religious worship” for posting a video of him playing Pokemon Go in church. Under the nation’s blasphemy laws, he was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.
In response to this trial, the Russian cable station 3×3 refused to air the new Simpsons episode “Looking for Mr. Goodbart.” In the episode, Homer becomes addicted to “Peekimon Get” and plays the game in church. Given current events, it was highly probable that the network would get in legal trouble if it went ahead and broadcast it. Amnesty International condemned this self-censorship.
13. THE SIMPSONS MOVIE
Take a guess as to why The Simpsons Movie was banned in Burma. Was it something to do with the split-second shot of Bart’s, um, “doodle”? How about rude behavior and irreverent humor? Was it some sort of religiously motivated censorship? All good guesses, but all completely wrong. The actual reasoning for The Simpsons Movie‘s ban in Burma is a whole lot more ridiculous than anything you could have imagined.
The reason The Simpsons Movie was banned there? Because of the juxtaposition of the colors red and yellow. This isn’t a joke. The movie’s color scheme is the actual reason it’s banned. Why would red and yellow be so upsetting to the Burmese censors? Those colors are associated with rebellion, and in the years before the 2011 political reforms, the notoriously oppressive government could get downright ridiculous with its rulings.
12. BEWITCHED BUNNY (LOONEY TUNES)
Was Bugs Bunny a misogynist? Well, as a 1940s character he certainly wasn’t super-progressive, but was he sexist enough to get a cartoon banned from Canadian TV? In 1998, a woman’s complaints about the 1954 Chuck Jones short “Bewitched Bunny” led to a formal investigation by the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council. The objection was to the short’s punchline, where, after Witch Hazel is accidentally transformed into an attractive female bunny, Bugs falls for her and drops the line “Ah sure, I know. But aren’t they all witches inside?”
During the investigation, the unedited short was temporarily banned and an edited version was prepared. Eventually the Council ruled the cartoon was too innocuous to stay banned. The kicker is the complainant might have been offended by something else entirely: her name was Edith Hansel, and “Bewitched Bunny,” a Hansel and Gretel parody, makes repeated jokes about “Hansel” being a stupid name.
11. THE MAD DOCTOR (MICKEY MOUSE)
In the 1930s, horror movies were extremely controversial. The violence in Frankenstein, though not graphic by today’s standards, was disturbing enough to get the film censored in multiple American cities in the days before the Supreme Court officially declared movies had First Amendment protections. The United Kingdom went so far as to ban any depictions of “the living undead” following furor over Dracula and Frankenstein.
The moving skeletons in the Mickey Mouse cartoon “The Mad Doctor” counted as “living undead” and thus got banned in England. The cartoon’s atmosphere is impressively creepy, not what you might expect from Mickey today. It was also deemed too scary for release in Nazi Germany, which also banned the classic silent German Expressionist horror films of the 1920s as “degenerate art.”
10. MR SKINNY LEGS (PEPPA PIG)
Yes, a normal episode of Peppa Pig got banned in Australia. This was not one of those horrifying automated YouTube videos where Peppa’s teeth get pulled out or whatever nightmarish animations those robots cook up to rot children’s minds (those videos probably should be banned for flagrant copyright violation), but an official licensed episode of the preschool show was banned. What could possibly be objectionable there?
A lot, actually, when considering cultural differences. The episode “Spider’s Web” is all about Peppa learning not to be afraid of spiders. This is a perfectly reasonable message in most of the world, where the majority of spiders are harmless to humans (and pigs?). Australia, however, has an unusually high number of actually poisonous spider species, so this message was not a good one for Australian kids.
9. STEVEN UNIVERSE
Hollywood’s big excuse for avoiding LGBT representation these days is that they’re trying to sell to countries where such representation is illegal. That excuse hasn’t stopped Steven Universe, but when the highly inclusive cartoon airs in other countries, censorship’s inevitable. The Russian dub turns Ruby, a lesbian, into a man. Even with this change, the Ruby/Sapphire relationship-focused episodes “The Answer” and “Hit The Diamond” were banned, as were “Mr. Greg” and “Last One Out of Beach City” for exploring Pearl’s sexuality.
In Kenya, the whole series is banned. In June 2017, Kenya’s censorship board went on a cartoon censorship spree, banning not just Steven Universe but also Gravity Falls, Star Vs. The Forces of Evil, Clarence, The Loud House, The Legend of Korra, and Adventure Time for “homosexual themes,” though the “themes” in those other cartoons are briefer or more subtle than Steven‘s.
8. HEY ARNOLD
When Kenya went on a cartoon banning spree in June 2017, only one cartoon was banned for a reason other than “homosexual themes.” While Hey Arnold did subtly hint that the teacher Mr. Simmons was gay, the reasoning given for the Nicktoon’s ban in Kenya was a bit more… unique, let’s put it that way. The reasoning is illustrated in the above picture of Arnold’s grandpa.
What does his head look like? According to the Kenyan censors, “Arnold’s grandpa had a d*ck for a head – head is in the shape of a penis.” What penises the censors have been looking at, who knows. Also, they state that in the show “Arnold is taught the wonders of sexual stamina and given stories about sex.” Whatever alternate universe version of Hey Arnold they’ve been watching, it’s certainly NOT what aired in the United States.
7. COW AND CHICKEN
Cow and Chicken‘s crude humor was controversial enough for American kids’ TV, enough so that two episodes were pulled from reruns on Cartoon Network. Even so, that’s nothing compared to how offensive the show was to the censors in India. The objections had nothing to do with gross-out jokes or sexual innuendoes (though in all likelihood those didn’t help its case), but the concept of the show itself.
The character of Cow in the cartoon is frequently on the receiving end of slapstick violence. Cows are sacred in Hinduism. Cow and Chicken was seen as a mockery of a sacred animal, and thus it was banned in India. The Nickelodeon cartoon Back to the Barnyard, based on the movie Barnyard, was also banned for irreverent treatment of bovine characters.
6. FAMILY GUY
With its edgy sense of humor and willingness to offend practically everyone, it makes sense that Family Guy wouldn’t fare so well in countries without robust free speech protections. It’s been banned in Indonesia, Iran, Vietnam, Egypt, South Africa, Russia, Taiwan, India, the Philippines and Venezuela among other countries. It’s even been banned in South Korea, where the show is animated!
There are certainly those who would want to see the show banned in the United States, at least from FCC-regulated broadcast television. The censorship advocacy group Parents Television Council has repeatedly expressed a desire for the show to be pulled from FOX and has filed multiple indecency complaints about various episodes to the FCC. Their efforts have ultimately been futile, as Family Guy is still going strong in its 16th season.
5. SHREK 2
Is Israeli Eurovision contestant David Daor a eunuch? No… but someBODY once told us… and that somebody was in the Hebrew dub of Shrek 2. Given the Shrek movies’ heavy reliance on pop culture jokes and innuendoes, dubbing teams in different countries had to adjust those references to be relevant to their own cultures. In the case of Shrek 2‘s Hebrew dub, this included a line where Shrek and Donkey consider whether to “pull a David Daor” on Puss in Boots.
The implication of the joke: Daor’s high falsetto means he must be a eunuch, and they’re joking about neutering Puss. Daor took this as defamation, and the Tel Aviv District Court ruled in his favor. The film was eventually released with the offending line removed. This particular case is a chilling reminder to heed true to that famous maxim of “Check yourself before you Shrek yourself.”
The comic memoir Persepolis is one of the most frequently banned and challenged books of the 21st century, so it makes sense the movie adaptation would stir up some controversy too. Given the fact that the movie frankly and critically addresses the turmoils of the Iranian Revolution, it’s honestly surprising the movie isn’t banned in Iran. It almost was, as the Iranian government protested the film’s screening at Cannes, but they relented and allowed limited screenings in Tehran with scenes of sexual content edited out.
Lebanon banned the film from release in March 2008, claiming it was “offensive to Iran and Islam.” Considering even Iran had started screening the film that past February, Lebanese artists and intellectuals found this act of censorship utterly ridiculous and made their outrage known. The government relented and undid the ban, allowing for the film’s release that May.
3. DEATH NOTE
The Chinese government is notoriously picky about which films and TV from other countries they’ll allow into China. Quotas on internationally produced material are strict, as are content restrictions. The Chinese Ministry of Culture has cracked down on a lot of violent anime and manga, banning series including Attack on Titan, Afro Samurai, and Black Butler. The ban on Death Note has received extra attention.
Death Note got singled out as a particular “bad influence” on the children due to a series of incidents where teenagers in Chinese schools were found writing their own “Death Note” lists of people they wanted dead. After a report on the prevalence of “Death Notes” in 2007, government officials confiscated over 187 “Death Notes” from toy and school supply stores in Shenzhen.
Did you know that Pokemon are Jewish? Maybe you knew that the Legendaries in Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire were based off creatures from Jewish mythology, or that the Pokemon Kadabra and Probopass were modeled after real-life Jews (Uri Geller and Groucho Marx, respectively). But you wouldn’t have known that ALL Pokemon were Jewish if you didn’t listen to the Saudi government, which has banned the Pokemon games, cards and anime claiming they’re a “Zionist plot!”
Some rumor got started that Pokemon translates to “I’m a Jew” in Japanese. It doesn’t, it’s just an abbreviation for “Pocket Monster,” but why let the facts get in the way of an excuse to cause an unfounded anti-Semitic panic? But, if Pikachu is actually a Pika-Jew, the world must know: did he electrocute the mohel at his bris?
1. WINNIE THE POOH
If this isn’t the strangest reason ever given for banning a cartoon, it’s certainly up there. In July of 2017, the Chinese government banned Winnie the Pooh because of popular internet memes comparing the appearance of Chinese President Xi Jinping with that of Pooh. The government’s strict opposition to any form of mockery has led them to blocking any Pooh images on the internet.
The irony is that being compared to Pooh is maybe the mildest form of joking any politician could receive. Yeah, it might not be the most flattering comparison in terms of appearance or intelligence, but the thing is, people like Pooh. When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tried to arrest someone for comparing him to Smeagol, at least you can understand why his feels might be hurt by that. But who gets so furious about being compared to a willy nilly silly old bear?
Do you know any other cartoons that got banned internationally? Help us complete our list in the comments!
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