Kids Seemingly Innocent Cartoons That Send Bad Messages

Some shows marketed towards kids are a little darker than they first appear. While many adults will recall these shows as innocent, looking back casts them in a different light.

Kids Soak it Up Like a Sponge

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Children’s cartoons are often filled with morals and lessons. Sesame Street engaged children in learning with segments like the Word of the Day. Dora the Explorer introduced kids to Spanish words and culture. The success of children’s shows is often in the blend of humor, entertainment, and learning.

Let’s take a look at some of the seemingly innocent cartoons that kids consume on a daily basis and the deeper messages they may be spreading.

1. The Powerpuff Girls

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Mohan 0842 // Shutterstock

The Powerpuff Girls was a show all about girl power. Created by a freak accident in a laboratory, three sisters—Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup—fight crime using their superpowers.

However, sometimes, this adorable trio takes their civic duty a little too far. The show includes graphic depictions of violence, police brutality, and poor anger management.

1. The Powerpuff Girls

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Beatriz Novaes // Shutterstock

Looking back, it’s easy to feel sorry for some of the villains who get completely beat to a pulp. One recurring character that is regularly brutalized, Mojo Jojo, is the abandoned first “child” of the professor who created the girls!

2. Adventure Time

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Adventure Time follows the adventures of Finn the Human and his best friend (and brother) Jake the Dog. Finn and Jake live in the wacky Land of Ooo, where they make friends and rescue princesses.

The show has sparked controversy due to its heavy themes. The main antagonist, the Ice King, has a tragic backstory and suffers from a series of mental health issues.

2. Adventure Time

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Muhammad Ishaq 1 // Shutterstock

Sexual themes and innuendo are littered throughout the plot. Oh, and did we mention the show takes place in a post-apocalyptic earth? Finn’s title is literal—he is the ONLY human left on the planet!

3. Regular Show

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Regular Show follows a blue jay named Mordecai and his raccoon friend Rigby. The pair work in a park and spend their days trying to skirt their responsibilities.

While the show is fairly lighthearted, it has been called out for frequently hiding adult themes like death and sex within kid-friendly humor.

4. Hey Arnold

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Perhaps one of the most popular cartoons of the 90s, Hey Arnold follows the titular character and his life in the inner city. The show boasts a diverse cast and explores important topics of identity and adolescence.

4. Hey Arnold

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However, some elements may be too heavy for children. One recurring character, Helga, is obsessed with Arnold to the point of building a literal shrine of him in her closet! A shrine she has made out with in various episodes. Oh, and since the real Arnold isn’t interested in her, Helga copes by severely bullying him.

There are also some adult jokes woven into the story, which are sure to appeal to any older audience watching, as well as much darker themes such as bullying, neglect and abuse.

5. Gravity Falls

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Dasha Rudnitskaya // Shutterstock

Twins Dipper and Mabel Pines travel to Gravity Falls, Oregon, in this well-loved cartoon series. While staying with their great uncle or “Grunkle” the twins discover family secrets and a town full of dark mysteries.

The show includes demonic rituals, cult mind control, and a healthy dose of gore. The main adult figure in the show, Grunkle Stan, is also an international fugitive living using his missing brother’s identity. Talk about questionable!

6. Courage the Cowardly Dog

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Courage the Cowardly Dog stars a timid dog ironically named Courage. He lives “in the middle of nowhere” with an elderly couple and battles against supernatural horrors to protect them.

Courage is often abused by the man of the house, Eustace, and suffers from extreme anxiety and PTSD. The show isn’t shy about pushing the scare factor, with some episodes so frightening even adults turn away.

7. The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy

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NishanDesigns // Shutterstock

A blend of horror and comedy, the Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy follows the titular characters after they befriend the Grim Reaper.

As if that premise alone wasn’t creepy enough, the trio often dealt with things absurd and terrifying—from demonic clowns to giant monsters. The show’s dark humor made it questionable for young audiences.

Death, violence, and the afterlife served as themes for the show’s most common jokes.

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This article was produced and syndicated by TPR Teaching.

I'm an Irish tutor and founder of TPR Teaching. I started teaching in 2016 and have since taught in the UK, Spain, and online.

I love learning new things about the English language and how to teach it better. I'm always trying to improve my knowledge, so I can better meet the needs of others!

I enjoy traveling, nature walks, and soaking up a new culture. Please share the posts if you find them helpful!

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