It makes sense that a network airing children’s television would want to facilitate a safe environment for its young viewers, not only to shield them from inappropriate content, but to protect their reputation -- and perhaps most importantly, avoid the wrath of angry parents. Although it might be true that kid’s TV today is often overly sterilized, it’s still important to ensure that nothing truly harmful can make it onto the screens of children worldwide. Strong violence, gore, overt innuendoes, disturbing imagery and foul language are all things you’d probably want to strip out of a kid’s show, but in the process of rooting out these things, the censors sometimes just go too far.
In an increasingly litigious age where kids have access to so many screens on a near-constant basis, it’s hard to blame censors for being too cautious, but the concept of excessive censorship in children’s television is hardly anything new. In an effort to get ahead of any potential outrage, networks will often cut or outright ban anything that could be considered remotely controversial, often resulting in trivial cuts that leave viewers scratching their heads. Here are 15 of the most ridiculous reasons for censorship we could find in cartoons.
15 PUNCHING WATERMELONS – STEVEN UNIVERSE
Following the adventures of the titular Steven Universe as he defends the world alongside the heroic Crystal Gems, this Emmy-winning series is popular with kids and adults alike for its wholesome themes, enjoyable action and gorgeous animation. While the show’s most infamous case of censorship revolves around its LGBTQ subject matter, there are plenty of other cases of the show being censored -- sometimes for the most obscure reasons.
Take the episode “Watermelon Steven” for instance, which had to be edited in Latin America, Australia and New Zealand for its inclusion of violence against fruit. Shots of Garnet punching and kicking watermelon creatures had to be cut from the final show as it was deemed too graphic. The cuts likely had something to do with the fact that the watermelons were smashed to pieces, potentially upsetting children, but it’s hard to imagine that being the case.
14 "NINJA" DEEMED TOO VIOLENT – TMNT
It’s rare that a show’s title is considered controversial enough to warrant censorship all by itself -- and that goes doubly for a show aimed at kids -- but that was certainly the case with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Several territories including the United Kingdom, Ireland and several other European countries deemed the word “ninja” to be too violent for children’s programming, renaming the show “Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles” instead, with the theme’s lyrics being reworked to reflect this change.
In addition to this, the show itself was heavily cut to remove Michelangelo’s nunchucks, and the general presence of weapons was reduced significantly, effectively defeating the entire purpose of the show. Despite all of this, the 1990 live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie strangely enough kept both its title and weaponry intact, making the cartoon’s excessive censorship somewhat pointless in the first place.
13 USING THE WORD “KILL” – X-MEN: THE ANIMATED SERIES
One of the most popular children’s cartoons from the '90s, X-Men: The Animated Series has remained iconic over the years for its fun portrayal of Marvel’s colorful team of mutants, as well as its effective adaptation of several of the comic book’s most memorable storylines. Despite its popularity though, the show was heavily meddled with by Broadcast Standards & Practices, ensuring that the series couldn’t quite live up to its full potential.
The series’ scripts were intrusively micromanaged by BS&P, who would send back pages of notes per episode to remove any semblance of violence or mature themes. Perhaps the most infamous of these restrictions was the show’s inability to use the word “kill”, which was too extreme for BS&P -- although they were fine with using the phrase “take their lives” or “destroy” instead, which is odd.
12 BEAUTY AND THE BEACH - POKEMON
While Pokémon is no stranger to controversy, one of its strangest episodes caused quite a stir following its depiction of a man with a large set of fake breasts. In the episode, titled “Beauty and the Beach”, Team Rocket’s James decides to enter a swimsuit competition with the hopes of winning the grand prize. Donning a pair of inflatable breasts, James taunts Misty by showing off his assets and stating that “maybe when you’re older, you’ll have a chest like this!”
Of course it’s not uncommon for sexualized content to be removed from a kid’s show, but the censors’ problem seemed to be with James in particular. Only his scenes were shaved down despite the rest of the episode’s questionable content, however the episode was eventually pulled in its entirety with the release of the English-language version.
11 REFERENCING LANCE ARMSTRONG - ARTHUR
One of the most beloved children’s shows of the 1990s, Arthur centres on a town of anthropomorphic animals as they navigate life in Elwood City. Praised for its educational content and wholesome messages, Arthur would often reference the real world to help illustrate its points, which is exactly what they did with Lance Armstrong.
Showing up in the episode “The Great MacGrady”, Armstrong arrives to help the kids of Lakewood Elementary deal with the beloved Mrs. MacGrady’s recent cancer diagnosis, talking about his own battle with the disease to comfort the children. The episode was sadly pulled after Armstrong’s real life doping scandal. Sure, there were other, more cycling-centric episodes featuring Armstrong, but it’s sad that an episode with such an important and positive message would be pulled in response to an event that most kids probably wouldn’t have known about anyway.
10 NO PUNCHING ALLOWED – SPIDER-MAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES
This entry is unique to this list in that the show was censored before it even began production. Immediately upon the project’s announcement, the creators of Spider-Man: The Animated Series were given a list of things they weren’t allowed to include in the show with perhaps the most ridiculous example being the use of punching.
Rather than using clever cuts, hit flashes and other editing techniques to mask strong blows, it was decided that punching would be completely outlawed. Instead, Spidey would wrestle around with his foes, before using his webbing to subdue them, which was exactly as awkward-looking as it sounds. It’s amazing that the show even got off the ground to begin with considering its overbearing restrictions, but the end result was a Spider-Man series that felt toothless, boring, and frankly pointless.
9 COMMUNISM & CHRISTIANITY – THE POWERPUFF GIRLS
“See Me, Feel Me, Gnomey” was the 12th episode of The Powerpuff Girls’ fifth season, and followed the three girls after they’re tricked into giving up their powers by an evil gnome. Created as a rock opera of sorts, the episode remains one of the series’ most memorable, even in spite of its subsequent removal from TV.
Many claimed that the inclusion of strobe effects was to blame for its removal, with the network fearing that the episode would cause nationwide seizures. The show’s creator Craig McCracken would later go on record stating that the real reason for the episode’s removal was the network’s worry that “the metal beams in the destroyed buildings looked too much like crosses and one of the hippies looked like Jesus”, which is frankly an even flimsier excuse than the previous ones.
8 NEPTUNE AND URANUS – SAILOR MOON
In the original Japanese version of the well-known '90s anime Sailor Moon, two of the show’s characters -- Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus -- were very obviously in a lesbian relationship. Often sharing tender moments, longing glances and physical affection, several countries worldwide tried (and failed) to mask the couple’s romance in several ridiculous ways.
First of all, several European countries including France, Poland and Italy portrayed the characters as nothing more than close friends, before the US decided to make things creepy by claiming that the pair were merely cousins with a close bond. Not content with either of these explanations, Russia took things a step further by outright claiming that Uranus was a man, even going so far as to hire a male voice actor for the role.
7 TEACHING CHILDREN NOT TO SMOKE – COW & CHICKEN
While older children’s cartoons such as The Flintstones are considered infamous for their inclusion and endorsement of smoking, even the imagery of cigarettes or lighters is forbidden in children’s programming nowadays and perhaps that’s for the best. Back in the '90s however, things were slightly more relaxed, and while the endorsement of cigarettes wasn’t acceptable, their general presence wasn’t as hotly contested.
In Cow & Chicken’s pilot episode -- which aired as a short in the What a Cartoon! Show -- Chicken is dragged to Hell by the Red Guy after getting caught smoking. Forced to smoke a giant cigarette in one quick sitting, Chicken is left exhausted, covered in ash, and disgusted by the habit. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the episode was pulled from syndication for featuring cigarettes so prominently, but it’s strange that the episode was banned considering its very clear anti-smoking stance.
6 SNIFFING A FLOWER – MIGHTY MOUSE: THE NEW ADVENTURES
When Ralph Bakshi -- the animator behind the controversial cartoon Fritz the Cat -- decided to head up the revival of the popular children’s character Mighty Mouse, there was a certain degree of suspicion levelled against Bakshi by the censors. Combing through Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures for any sign of adult content or references, it was inevitable that a scene would eventually be misinterpreted and that scene revolved around Mighty Mouse sniffing a flower.
Sniffing the crushed flower deep into his nasal cavity, Mighty Mouse was accused by Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association of promoting cocaine use, smearing Bakshi as a “pornographer” in the process. Naturally, this infuriated Bakshi, who insisted that the scene was taken entirely out of context, although he ultimately allowed the scene to be cut worrying that children aware of Wildmon’s comments would now associate the scene with drug use.
5 NOT BEING GOOD ENOUGH – THE FAIRLY ODDPARENTS
Although The Fairly Oddparents remains a show relatively free of controversy, there are a couple of episodes that drew the ire of sensitive viewers over the course of its run. “It’s a Wishful Life” for instance, received complaints after its protagonist Timmy Turner discovered that his hometown of Dimmsdale would be better off if he was never born, causing the episode to be removed from re-runs.
The show’s most controversial episode however is “Twistory”, which depicts a world where the British won the Revolutionary War. The episode was considered offensive for implying that the entire world would be stuck in the 18th century following a British victory and was banned as a result. It was later revealed by the show’s creators however, that the cancellation of the two episodes was more to do with their low quality than anything else, meaning they were effectively censoring themselves.
4 PROMOTING INTERSPECIES FRIENDSHIP – PEPPA PIG
When discussing censored episodes of cartoons and controversial children’s shows, Peppa Pig might be the last thing that comes to mind. The show did land itself in hot water with the episode titled “Mister Skinnylegs”, though. Focusing on Peppa and George after they find a spider, the episode upends the common idea that spiders are terrifying creatures, with Peppa realising just how friendly and harmless her newfound friend is.
A nice sentiment, right? In the UK, perhaps. Australian parents didn’t quite feel the same way, fearing that the episode would encourage their kids to play with spiders, which actually are incredibly dangerous down under. “Mister Skinnylegs” was banned following the controversy, which honestly seems fair in this case, but the episode unfortunately aired on Nick Jr. before it was cancelled, meaning a large number of kids had already seen it.
3 USING THE PHRASE “SHUT UP” – THE ANGRY BEAVERS
“Alley Oop” -- a second season episode of Nickelodeon’s The Angry Beavers -- serves as a perfect example of how excessive censoring can often make things infinitely worse than they would have been otherwise. During the episode, Norbert tells his friend Daggett to shut up, which was considered by Herb Scannell, the overbearing president of Nickelodeon at the time, to be far too aggressive for a kid’s show.
Known for enforcing his ideals into Nickelodeon’s shows (he allegedly even forbade the beavers from wearing women’s clothing), Scannell demanded that the word “shut” be censored, which of course made the line sound much, much dirtier. With viewer speculation surrounding what Norbert actually said running wild, the network were forced to once again change the line, dubbing over the phrase “hush up” instead.
2 USING THE HEIMLICH MANEUVER – STEVEN UNIVERSE
Perhaps it’s Steven Universe’s appeal to adults as well as children that resulted in its frequent, often heavy censorship. The logic behind softening powerful blows during intense action scenes at least makes sense, even if you disagree with it, but there are some moments trimmed from the show that are just too overprotective.
The European version of “Joking Victim” for example, cut a scene in which Steven performs the Heimlich Maneuver on a choking man, who’d just ingested a flaming donut. Because this maneuver isn’t always an effective method of assisting choking victims, the scene was ultimately snipped to remove the shot. Censors apparently didn’t want to teach children to perform the procedure erroneously, which is a weird worry to have, but the cut was undeniably ridiculous either way -- especially considering most people don’t accurately learn their medical procedures from the cartoons they watch.
1 PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING – ADVENTURE TIME
Given its bright, beautiful imagery, kid-friendly stories and incredibly imaginative world, you might be shocked to learn that Adventure Time is one of the most censored kids cartoons around. While the show remains intact in the US, it suffers from heavy cuts in pretty much the rest of the world.
Any reference to not only sexuality but romance in general is often completely cut, including many mentions of dating, kissing or attraction. Language is also policed quite harshly in the show, with any use of the word “sucks” generally getting the axe, as well as words like “butt”, “idiot” and even more innocent phrases like “son of a toot”, “shucks” and “patoot”. Episodes including the Halloween episode are often banned in their entirety, due to allegedly inappropriate content. In short, it seems Adventure Time can’t do anything right with the censors.