A fan-made Power Rangers video produced by Adi Shankar was recently uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo and showed a darker side to the otherwise child-friendly franchise. The trailer portrayed blood and guns as well as violence and drugs, giving a dark and gritty edge to the beloved brand. After a lot of controversy around the video, YouTube and Vimeo decided to take it off their sites to prevent any legal action being taken against them. This incident begs the question: what are we missing in everyday cartoons shown on child-friendly channels like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon?
In an episode of the 90s cartoon Rocko’s Modern Life, main character Rocko takes up numerous jobs after being fired from the comic book store. He applies to work at a “one-on-one hotline”, where employees are encouraged to “be hot, be naughty, [and] be courteous”.
Episodes of the cartoon Hey Arnold! have also taken a dark turn after making reference to a Vietnam War refugee in search of his daughter. The show also depicts Helga, one of the show’s main characters, as coming from a home where she is verbally and psychologically abused, and they imply that she is an unwanted child with an alcoholic mother who takes constant “naps” and makes “smoothies” for herself.
In an episode of the popular cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants entitled “Are you happy now?” main character Squidward contemplates suicide as he cannot think of a single happy memory to cheer him up. The episode actually features the character readying a rope and implying that he is about to attempt suicide. However, it is quickly revealed that he is only hanging a bird cage to cheer himself up.
The contemporary cartoon Adventure Time is known for its controversial nature, however the episode “I remember you” took an even darker turn when it was implied that the show’s main protagonist, the Ice King, suffers from memory loss which is induced by his trademark crown. He is shown singing the Cheers theme song to another character, a young Marceline, after he has taken her under his wing in a world that is clearly in the throes of a violent apocalypse. This tear-inducing episode is a favourite among fans and critics alike.
Next time you find yourself watching your favourite cartoon, try looking a little deeper. You may end up realising that some episodes, despite their good intentions, really aren’t meant for children.
Illustration: Jaco Stroebel