Just because you’ve grown up doesn’t mean you have to stop watching cartoons. Maybe you have kids now, and want to spend time with them around the TV. Maybe its the only viewing the whole family can agree on during the holidays. Maybe you’re approaching 30, your girlfriend just left you, you’re questioning your life choices and wondering what cereal will go best in a bowl of vodka instead of milk. The point is, it’s Frankenberry.
Wait, never mind. Forget that. The point actually is that sometimes you may find yourself watching a classic cartoon of your youth only to feel something is amiss. Wasn’t there an extra scene before? Didn’t that line sound different? Sure, we all know about cartoons which have been “banned,” but plenty of cartoons, due to changing times, offensive material, or overzealous censors, have found themselves secretly trimmed and recirculated like nothing happened. Fair warning: as this article will discuss material deemed too objectionable to re-air, some readers might be similarly offended. Especially that Looney Toons one. Yeesh.
15. MINSTRELS IN “FRESH HARE”
Warner Bros. has an infamous list of films dubbed the “Censored Eleven,” a collection of cartoons so rife with racial stereotypes that they’ve been disowned by their parent company, never formally released and have slipped into the public domain. And while the insidious racism in works like “Jungle Jitters” and “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs” is too crucial to the plot to extricate, other works have been “scrubbed” of their more vile elements.
In “Fresh Hare”, Bugs Bunny is set upon by Elmer Fudd in the role of a mountie. Ultimately, Bugs surrenders to Fudd and stands before a firing squad, and what follows is not just offensive but downright inexplicable. Fudd offers Bugs a “last wish”, at which point Bugs begins to sing “I wish I was in the land of cotton…”. Then Bugs, Fudd and the firing squad all turn into a minstrel show, complete with blackface, performing “Camptown Races”. Subsequent showings have either blurred out the faces or simply presented a black screen over the song.
14. TEAM ROCKET’S ROCKETS
When networks discovered it was cheaper to fill their Saturday mornings with dubbed anime rather than creating their own content (R.I.P. Kids WB), they had to wrestle with some… cultural difference between Japan and the US. Sexuality made for fine fodder in the Land of the Rising Sun, but not so much in the Land of Selective Morality.
This is rarely more obvious (Master Roshi aside) than James, a sexually ambiguous antagonist aligned with the villainous Team Rocket on Pokemon. Much humor even in the US has been made from James’ sexual and gender fluidity, both in the cartoon and when translated to the stage by none other than Andrew Rannells, who delivered every line with flair and innuendo. But in spite of all of that, the portion of “Beauty and the Beach” where James dons fake inflatable breasts and taunts Misty for her comparatively small bust size proved a bridge too far for 4Kids Entertainment, who deleted any footage of James from the US version of the episode.
13. THE VOYEUR RESCUERS
Though not as popular today, the lesser-known Rescuers were a huge hit in their day. Its original 1977 release was a box-office smash, becoming the highest grossing Disney film to that point. It was popular enough to merit two further theatrical runs in 1983 and 1989, each a box-office success, and even made Disney break its “no sequels” rule for the very first time with The Rescuers Down Under.
Yet, for all its popularity, you’d have a hard time tracking down the version of The Rescuers that played on theatre screens for all those years. Why? Because that beloved family friendly film about the exploits of adventurous mice also features a microsecond long peep show. Though invisible to the eye at 24 frames per second, the advent of home video allowed viewers to notice that two frames of a scene featured a topless woman standing in a window. Disney promptly recalled all of its videos and removed the controversial frames.
12. BART’S “RABIES”
Long before South Park and Rick & Morty, The Simpsons were the original “edgy” cartoon comedy. Though decidedly tame by today’s standards, in its day, the show proved so controversial and offensive that then-President George H.W. Bush spoke out against it, only to be portrayed on it as an insufferable neighbor to the titular family. The Simpsons was all about slaughtering sacred cows, from new media to Catholicism, yet one minor joke apparently crossed the line.
In “Marge Gets A Job”, Edna Krabappel explains that Bart has made up several medical excuses to get out of tests, including “Tourette’s syndrome”, at which point Bart begins to demonstrate ”symptoms”. Innocuous as this may seem today, with Tourette’s Syndrome having been used for humor in everything from South Park to the Palme D’Or winning The Square, at the time it was found to be so objectionable that the producers not only removed the scene from future broadcasts, but reedited it for DVD to instead be about “rabies”.
11. NOTHING GAY IN THE UK
Look, we have our hang-ups over here in the US, so far be it from us to judge other countries, but the choices the folks across the pond make in the name of “protecting our children” can occasionally be a bit confusing for us back here in the states. Here in the US, kids television has been getting more progressive, particularly with the queer-friendly Steven Universe, a show you’ve likely heard greatly advocated as “Not just for kids, but also totally well-adjusted adults” from people who don’t always make the best case for the latter themselves.
But while here, we’ll let the Sapphic undertones fly, as Cartoon Network UK decided to trim out a brief scene of implied lesbian attraction between two characters from the episode “We Need To Talk”. Hey, Britain, you guys gave awards to The History Boys and a knighthood to Jimmy Saville, but our cartoons are dangerous? To quote the episode you edited, we need to talk.
10. WRITTEN IN THE STARS
Animation is a long, arduous and thankless job. Countless hours go into every line, every movement, every frame. You immerse yourself in these single images more than any viewer ever will in their lifetime. You know all their details, you keep all their secrets. And sometimes, you want to make some secrets of your own, little personal touches for you and your friends to smile at amongst the oblivious masses.
What harm is there in, say, paying tribute to the special effects team involved in The Lion King than sneaking a little wink in the sky? Surely, nothing could go wrong with spelling out “SFX” in the sky with clouds of dust during one scene, right? What’s that? Why, what do you mean “SFX” looks like a word inappropriate for a children’s film? Replace the “F” with an “E”? Oh…Oh no…
9. THE STONE AGE WAS A DRAG
Sure, ads today may sometimes feature your favorite stars and characters shilling for a particular brand, but back in the olden days of TV, there was no “after these messages, we’ll be right back”. Instead, especially in the case of variety or talk shows, the performers themselves would sometimes take a moment to interrupt the show and directly promote the products of their sponsors.
Fred and Barney also got into the spokesman game when the first season of The Flintstones was sponsored by Winston’s Cigarettes. Not only would the show integrate scenes of Fred and Barney kicking back while extolling the virtue of their Winton’s smokes, but Fred would even end episodes lighting a cigarette for his wife Wilma, accompanied by the brand’s jingle. Re-airings and home video releases have all but entirely excised any references to smoking.
8. FAMILY GUY OFFENDS TOO EARLY
From a slew of terrorism jokes to having Stewie and Brian time travel to prevent and then re-cause the attack on the World Trade Center, it seems like Family Guy has always been making crude references to 9/11. In fact, they did it even before it happened.
Now, this isn’t going to be one of those “Oh, this cartoon predicted…” things. Just the story of a joke that wound up being far more in poor taste than anyone could have expected. The scene in question, originally airing in May of 2000, featured Stewie attempting to smuggle weapons through airport security, distracting the TSA by singing a song. He then says “I hope Osama Bin Laden doesn’t know showtunes”, cutting to the infamous terrorist performing a song from A Chorus Line. No one could have known how uncomfortably prescient the scene would feel just a year later, and it was removed from re-airings.
7. CALLING A FOUL ON FANTASIA
Just three short years after releasing the first-ever feature length cel-animated film with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney released one of the most artistically ambitious films ever undertaken and produced with his masterpiece, Fantasia. The film is a work of pure beauty, poise and sophistication, at least in its current, edited form.
However, older viewers may remember the otherwise profound film weighed down by the grotesquely racist and wholly unnecessary “Sunflower” centaur. In the “Pastoral Symphony” sequence, we see centaurs and other mythical creatures wander the woods and pursue mates. The “centaurettes”, in the original version, are all being tended to by “Sunflower”, depicted as the offensive “darky” stereotype. It’s an ugly moment in an otherwise beautiful film, rightfully removed from all future releases.
6. THAT SOUTH PARK CONTROVERSY
South Park has always gone after things considered untouchable, including Evangelical Christianity and Scientology, both of which led to a significant backlash. But nothing could have prepared them for their 200th episode, where they decided to tackle the highly contentious topic of visual depictions of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.
While the Koran never explicitly forbids it, and what supplemental material does discuss it simply forbids Muslims from creating visual depictions of people, the depiction of the Prophet has led to offense and retribution in some parts of the world. Similar threats were leveled against South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone when they attempted to skewer the issue in the 200th episode. As such, not only did Comedy Central censor out all images or mentions of the religious figure, but retroactively censored his appearance in a past episode “Super Best Friends”.
5. PECOS BILL GOES COLD TURKEY
Though not one of the “classic” Disney films, Melody Time is one of the “package” films released in the immediate post-war era, when a financially-struggling Disney assembled shorts into a feature length film. One of the shorts in Melody Time was the tale of Pecos Bill. Set to a song by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers, the film featured Pecos Bill up to many wild adventures, always shooting his guns and smoking his cigarettes.
Well, looking back, Disney determined that there was something within its animated tale of the gun-toting cowpoke that it couldn’t expose children to. Disney went back and digitally removed every image of the offensive object that might inspire kids to cause harm to themselves or others, no matter how awkward it made the images on screen subsequently look. Oh, we’re talking about his cigarette, obviously. Not the guns, they kept those in. Not like gun violence is an issue in America, right?
4. CUTTING A CLASSIC
Sure, a lot of TV shows were set in, and visited, New York City in the ’90s. Seinfeld, Friends, Caroline in the City (sure, nobody else remembers it, but we do), but when The Simpsons visited New York, it was something special. The Season 9 premiere, “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” featured the Simpson clan visiting the Big Apple after their car turns up in the World Trade Center plaza. The whole episode is a classic, but the highlight is when Homer discovers the two worst parts of life in the big city: parking tickets, and finding a place to pee.
After the 9/11 attacks, the episode was removed from reruns. When it finally returned, elements would routinely be edited out, including Homer running between the two towers to find an open bathroom, and an at-the-time funny line of two tower dwellers arguing, and one saying “They stick all the jerks in Tower One”.
3. CUT OUT YOUR LINE IF THEY DON’T LIKE YOUR SONG
Aladdin is a stone-cold classic from the second Disney Renaissance. From its exciting action, exotic setting, and the inimitable Robin Williams, it’s hard to imagine a time when Aladdin wasn’t universally beloved. But oh boy, was there. From pre-production all the way through to its release, Aladdin was deemed highly controversial due to its depiction of people of Arab descent, from casting to color choice and even song content.
The opening number “Arabian Nights” was written by the late Howard Ashman and featured the lyric “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face”. After the American release, the line was deemed offensive and replaced with “Where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense”, written by future Lion King lyricist Tim Rice.
2. A “FAN” EDIT RUINS EVERYTHING
Family Guy has never shirked away from pushing the envelope, but a re-edited clip made the show seem more heartless than it actually was, bringing an undeserved storm of controversy to Seth MacFarlane and co. In the episode “Turban Cowboy”, whose main plot involves Peter accidentally becoming a terrorist, we’re presented with a cutaway gag of Peter “winning” the Boston Marathon by driving his car and killing the runners.
A tasteless joke, surely, but made prior to the horrendous attack on the marathon. Left alone, the episode likely would have been quietly pulled from circulation. However, some internet dweller thought it would be “funny” to reedit the scene so that it appears Peter causes a bomb to go off at the aforementioned marathon. Unaware the clip was edited, there was massive uproar from many, and MacFarlane apologized, clarified, and removed the offensive scene from subsequent airing.
1. ZIP-A-DEE-DOO WHAT?
You know “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”. We all do, it’s a classic — a happy song ingrained in Disney’s iconography as deeply as Mickey Mouse. You’ve likely even seen snippets of Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox on the myriad Disney compilation videos released over the years, or seen the stories depicted on Splash Mountain. But you’ve probably never seen the film they come from.
That’s because, unlike most cartoons on this list that try and pretend a few scenes never happened, Disney has chosen to rescue a few stray scenes from Song of the South and pretend the whole film never happened. Viewed as offensively racist even in its day, this atrociously whitewashed rendition of the Reconstruction era is a live-action/animated hybrid; imagine a Who Framed Roger Rabbit if it was written by that angry alt-right kid you knew in high school. Arguably the most racist film produced by Disney since Mickey Mouse did blackface (yep, the happened), Song of the South has never been released on home video in the US.
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