While some of us were raised on wholesome Saturday morning cartoons like The Magic School Bus and Hey Arnold!, times are very different now. In a world where you can’t look at someone without being accused of harassment, kids shows tread a fine line between informing and offending. Even the likes of Sesame Street can’t escape scrutiny for Katy Perry flaunting her chest in front of susceptible kids. However, there are even darker corners of the cartoon universe which aren’t all sunshine and smiles. We may be used to Scrooge McDuck being a little grouchy as being the most offensive thing in a cartoon, but out there somewhere are whole segments of racism, drugs and alcohol hiding in seemingly innocent cartoons.
Some of these are simple mistakes, others are planted there on purpose, and a few are just harking back to an era where things were very, very, different. These days cartoons like Family Guy, Rick and Morty, and Big Mouth pride themselves on being as offensive as possible, but you would never let your kids watch them, would you? So, among minstrel crows, red-skinned Indians, and the graphic mutilation of innocent woodland critters, here are 15 Cartoons That Would Be Too Offensive Today.
15. SPEEDY GONZALES
Heading back to the 1950s, the idea of a cute Mexican mouse sporting a sombrero and saving the day was a novel idea. However, jump to the Trump-Mexico standoff of 2017, and Speedy Gonzales is more than a little outdated. Sure, Speedy is a hero at heart, but with his exaggerated accent, a penchant for overeating and boozehound friends, what’s the lesson here? Let’s not forget that “el gringo pussygato” Sylvester was trying to keep “immigrant” mice out nearly 70 years ago.
All siestas and shootouts, the tiny tequila-swilling rodent doesn’t exactly put a positive spin on Mexico or its citizens as we know it. Also, bear in mind that modern society is trying to erase negative stereotypes of any culture, Speedy isn’t doing Hispanic relations any favors. Gonzales cartoons were even pulled from Cartoon Network in 1999 for causing possible offense to younger viewers. Since then, there have been several campaigns to bring Speedy back to our screens – even a possible movie – with many seeing him as a cultural icon. While Speedy may be part of history now, it is highly unlikely that the cartoon would make it past the planning stages these days.
14. DONALD DUCK (DER FUEHRER’S FACE)
Apart from possible nudity from not wearing any pants, grumpy ol’ Donald Duck and his cartoons were causing offense in a completely different way. Instead of his usual routine of being Mickey’s best bud, 1943’s “Der Fuehrer’s Face” took Donald in a controversial new direction. The downtrodden duck featured in the anti-Nazi propaganda cartoon, but it is impossible to see something like this being made today. Trapped in a nightmarish world, Donald was forced to work in a Nazi weapons factory. Elsewhere, depictions of Emperor Hirohito with buck teeth and other Chinese stereotypes were a little close to the bone.
Even though Donald is depicted as a reluctant Nazi, the inclusion of this plot left “Der Fuehrer’s Face” out of main Disney circulation for many years. In fact, the short only made it to home release as late as 2004. Shows like South Park may be able to poke fun at Korea, Bin Laden or Saddam, but you’ll never see a modern Mickey Mouse nightmare where he is forced to join ISIS. However, winning Donald Duck his first Oscar, it was a brave move by the House of Mouse.
13. TOM AND JERRY
Tom and Jerry: beloved presents from a bygone era or bloodthirsty brutes built on racist motives? The cartoon cat and mouse have already come under heavy censorship, leading many to question where has everyone’s sense of humor gone. Modern versions of Tom and Jerry have focussed a lot less on their smoking, violence and drinking, but is that really the way it should be? Admittedly, there are parts that haven’t aged particularly well.
In 2013, two episodes of Tom and Jerry were axed from Warner Brothers’ Golden Collection because they featured the cat and mouse “blacking up.” There are also the racial stereotypes surrounding the infamous Mammy Two Shoes. Two Shoes only had her face featured in one episode, while the rest featured the black maid of the household shuffling around in her stockings and shouting “Thomas.” It was part of the charm of the show at the time, but something that you wouldn’t see in a 2017 reimagining of the dueling duo. Often seen as just a relic of a less aware time, let’s also remember that without Tom and Jerry, there would be no Itchy and Scratchy!
12. THE REN & STIMPY SHOW
Some sort of cat and the world’s most messed up chihuahua, it is hard to imagine how on earth The Ren & Stimpy Show made it into kids programming. Cartoons aimed subtly at adults are nothing new, but Ren & Stimpy was a strange hybrid that didn’t quite seem to know what it was. Effectively one giant acid trip, the controversial cartoon was originally conceived as just another educational show for Nickelodeon. Creator John Kricfalusi had always hated this idea, which often left him butting heads with the network. Although still pretty dark, many adult references were removed before air, and the episode “Man’s Best Friend” was banned altogether.
Featuring a character named George Liquor, full of tobacco references, and one scene where someone is beaten with an oar, Nick deemed the episode too adult to fit with its wholesome image. However, spin-off show Ren & Stimpy: Adult Party Cartoon actually premiered with the banned episode as a middle finger to censors. For a cartoon that was obsessed with bodily fluids and sexual innuendos, it would be a sweeping statement to class The Ren & Stimpy Show as even remotely educational.
11. BETTY BOOP (MINNIE THE MOOCHER)
The legendary “Minnie the Moocher” is a controversial short starring Betty Boop from 1932. Literally sending the cartoon cabaret singer into a drug-fuelled hell, it may be a step too far by modern standards. “Minnie the Moocher” featured jazz singer Cab Calloway turned into the cartoon ghost of a wayward walrus. What came next was a nightmarish trip into the psyche of Boop’s creator Max Fleischer.
Although we never see Betty and her puppy pal Bimbo hitting the pipe, there are some very strong drug themes running alongside the toe-tapping jazz. Elsewhere, there were electric chair ghosts in a chain gang, an eyeless cat feeding her eyeless kittens, and the moral reminder of “don’t be cokey.” With other lines referencing opium — “kick the gong around” — “Minnie the Moocher” doesn’t play down what it is about. It may be one of those rare cases where a controversial cartoon wouldn’t find itself in trouble for being racist, but you still don’t see many modern shorts that make references to shooting up meth in a cave with a walrus.
10. EDUCATION FOR DEATH
Similar to Donald’s run with the Third Reich, Disney’s convoluted relationship with Nazis continued in an adaptation of Gregor Ziemer’s book Education for Death. Around 500 of Disney’s 550 staff were working on war films at the time, but Education for Death is easily the most memorable. Following wholesome little Hans as the perfect Nazi protégé, the cartoon followed him into adulthood and as a soldier fighting on the side of Hitler. The final shot sees Hans marching off to war with his Nazi comrades, fading into row upon row of identical graves marked with just a helmet and a swastika. On a par for brutality with Bambi’s mom taking a bullet to the gut, the end of Education for Death will leave you unsettled for a long time after.
Although Walt’s wartime efforts helped bring in a revenue and save Disney from bankruptcy, Education for Death is rarely shown or spoken about these days. Perhaps it is because equally concerning, the cartoon dehumanizes Germans to look like it is all their destinies to become Nazi soldiers. While clearly not every German agreed with Hitler’s views, Education for Death does a pretty good job of forgetting this.
Even a beloved classic like Fantasia can find itself coming under the scrutiny of the 21st Century, but how could the magical musical medley possibly cause offense? Is it those creepy brooms, Mickey’s use of sorcery, or body shaming hippos for being slightly on the chunky side? Fantasia‘s 1940 release actually included a black centaur by the name of Sunflower.
The smiling youngster looks particularly cute, well, until you realize that Sunflower’s entire purpose was to braid the hair and shine the hooves of the Aryan centaur with flowing blonde hair. It was bad enough that the centaurs were matched off in color specific pairs, but Sunflower was clearly alluded to be a slave girl. It could’ve been an unknown mistake, but someone clearly saw the problem. When Fantasia was re-released in 1960, there was no sign of poor little Sunflower. Disney’s moral of the story here — if you get called out on racism, just deny that it ever happened.
8. TALESPIN (FLYING DUPES)
Who wouldn’t want to see the lovable Baloo from The Jungle Book in his own cartoon spin-off? Soaring to ‘90s nostalgia, Saturday morning TV contained Disney favorite TailSpin. An unusual premise took Baloo from the dense jungle and sent him flying as the pilot of a cargo company. It was all perfectly innocent — and even saw a reformed Shere Khan as Baloo’s boss — but one episode has aged particularly badly. Meant to be the 65th (and final) episode of the flying escapade, “Flying Dupes” had Baloo try and deliver a bomb to a foreign diplomat, unaware it was an assassination attempt.
Transporting bombs on planes, planning on starting an arms race, and featuring general themes of terrorism, it is unsurprising that “Flying Dupes” was only aired once before it was permanently pulled. While Bill Murray likely won’t be featuring in his own TaleSpin movie after Jon Favreau’s take on The Jungle Book, can you just imagine him taking to the skies for a live-action version? Maybe leave the terrorists out of this one, though.
7. SONG OF THE SOUTH
Causing a Zip-A-Dee-Hoo-Ha, 1946’s Song of the South has become more and more controversial as the years have gone by. Collecting the stories of Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus, the movie follows a young boy from Atlanta who moves to his grandmother’s plantation. Putting a creepily “positive” spin on slavery, Johnny meets the cheerful Uncle Remus, who waxes lyrical about the good old days of being subservient. Just to show how off the mark Song of the South was, Uncle Remus actor James Baskett couldn’t even attend the premiere because Atlanta was still segregated by race at the time.
After a release for the film’s 40th anniversary in 1986, Song of the South was locked away in a vault. Asked if the movie would ever get a DVD release, Disney CEO Bob Iger called it “antiquated” and “fairly offensive.” Although Disneyland’s Splash Mountain is entirely dedicated to the forgotten feature, Song of the South is rarely spoken about in any other context than it being a racist misstep for the studio. It may have won an Oscar for best original song, but that hasn’t stopped it being a blot on Disney’s history.
6. PETER PAN
Someone sneaking into your kid’s bedroom at night is enough to warrant some serious rethinking, but Peter Pan opened up a whole different can of worms when it headed off to the magical world of Neverland. Author J.M. Barrie may have introduced the Indians as a “Piccaninny tribe,” but Disney went and slapped its own racist subset on Tiger Lily and her comrades. Most notably, the whole song “What Makes the Red Man Red?” raised a massive “red” flag. Accused of doubling-down on racism, the song is ironically the only time in the movie that the “Injuns” don’t speak in broken English.
Interestingly, 1991’s Hook and 2002’s Return to Never Land left the tribe out altogether, while 2015’s panned Pan started its own whitewashing controversy by casting Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily. Since the Disney version, various directors have been careful to distance themselves from the over-hyped stereotypes of the Indians. Given the reception to the 1953 song, you can’t really blame them for that.
5. GARGOYLES (DEADLY FORCE)
Cartoons are always expected to either entertain or educate, whereas the brooding tale of Gargoyles seems to just be there to frighten the hell out of us. Featuring a modern take on New York City, the cartoon followed a clan of Gargoyles who had been stuck as stone statues since the year 994. Continuing long beyond its 78-episode run, Gargoyles has become a nostalgic favorite with various comic books and merchandise deals. However, the show’s eighth episode is remembered for its controversial stance on gun crime and temporary banning.
“Deadly Force” had led to Detective Elisa Maza being accidentally shot by Broadway the gargoyle. The episode then carried on with Elisa in critical condition and Broadway trying to cover his crimes. Already violent enough, the scene was lambasted for showing Elisa lying in a pool of her own blood. The episode was later digitally altered to remove the blood, then further to just a close-up of her face, but it is still deemed a violent addition to cartoon history.
4. HAPPY TREE FRIENDS
Sure, it may be aimed at adults, but there is no denying that Happy Tree Friends would struggle to find a place on our screens these days. Effectively Saw for animals, each animated short had a loveable cast of critters being sliced and diced in the most horrific of ways. Everyone has heard about the YouTube controversy of kids being able to watch R-rated Peppa Pig parodies, so it isn’t too hard to imagine some tikes tuning in for an episode of Happy Tree Friends. While not easily accessible to kids, you can just hear the parental outrage if anyone found their little ones watching the cartoon carnage.
Despite clearly being a joke, the site did once have to feature the warning “Cartoon Violence: Not recommended for small children or big babies.” However, this hasn’t stopped certain viewers calling out the bloodbath as unnecessarily violent. That being said, with a cult following and rumors of a feature film idea, Happy Tree Friends is unlike most of the rest of this list and is happy to accept itself for what it is.
Returning to the magical world of Disney, the cartoon Aladdin may be loved for the likes of Robin Williams’ Genie, but have we all forgotten the racist undertones? The women were reduced to nothing more than harem girls, Jasmin was overly sexualized, and Disney was too afraid to actually state that Agrabah is supposed to be Baghdad due to US/Iraq relations. Add to this that the Arabs are depicted as having oversized features, like ears and noses, and you have an Arabian night(mare) on your hands.
In fact, Aladdin even censored itself thanks to the market trader — also voiced by Williams. The first verse of “Arabian Nights” originally featured the words:
“Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face. It’s barbaric, but hey it’s home.”
While the line about cutting your ear off was eventually changed, some are still vexed about references to Arabic culture being barbaric. Hopefully, the live-action remake can avoid the racism and whitewashing controversy as much as possible with its diverse cast of actors.
2. SCRUB ME MAMA WITH A BOOGIE BEAT
Made by Woody Woodpecker’s Walter Lantz in 1941, is “Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat” the most racist cartoon ever? Adapting Don Raye’s popular song, “Scrub Me” is wrong on so many levels. Following a light-skinned woman who arrives on a steamboat (bearing a likeness to jazz singer Lena Horne), she teaches the inhabitants of the foreign land how to do their jobs properly — mainly how to wash clothes. Apart from the lead and a white dog, the characters are depicted as black-faced, lazy, cotton pickers with excessively large lips.
Lantz was so offended that anyone thought his cartoon was racist, he made a conscious effort to avoid stereotypes in the rest of his animated features, and also refused to let “Scrub Me” be shown again. While it is out there in the public domain, “Scrub Me” was largely pulled from general circulation. However, it is so well-known and politically charged, the animated video for Jay-Z’s “The Story of OJ” even made reference to the short earlier this year.
Possibly the most notorious case of inadvertent offense in a cartoon ever, it’s those jive-talking crows from 1941’s Dumbo. It was bad enough that all the men seen putting up the circus in the pours of rain are little more than black slaves, but the gang of crows is a whole different story. A group of white men doing impressions of black men and speaking in broken English? Let’s just say modern audiences would be quick to get that this isn’t quite right. To make matters worse, the cigar-smoking leader was actually named Jim Crow — a not so subtle reference to the racial segregation laws.
It is effectively one big minstrel show, that has somehow slipped into an important bit of history. Alongside golliwogs and various blackface interpretations, the crows are an echo of a long-gone era. However, it just wouldn’t be Dumbo without “When I See an Elephant Fly,” so expect some culturally updated versions of the crows to appear in Disney’s proposed live-action version in 2019.
Which cartoon do you think is too offensive for the 21st Century? Sound off in the comments below.
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