A surprising amount of kids’ film and TV isn’t really for kids. The adult creators have fun with their projects, and are well aware that adults will watch the shows too, whether it’s because they’re parents watching with some TV-hogging child or because they’re just people who still like kids TV. So some more adult-friendly jokes and references are to be expected, but that doesn’t mean that they still don’t have the power to shock. Sexual and drug references crop up regularly (and subtly) in kids films and TV, and even if you’re not particularly against it, on many occasions you’re still left baffled as to how they managed to get some things past the censors, like when...
\#1 – A computer has an orgasm (The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue)
In a seemingly innocent, straight-to-video sequel to a film about talking household appliances, there is a pretty undeniable orgasm reference. A computer comments on how his memory banks are being stroked, which would have been only slightly odd if it wasn’t for the noises he makes throughout, adding “I feel something happening inside of me” to push it one step further away from innocence. At the climax moment, where the computer says he can’t keep it to himself anymore, streams of white paper spew out of a printer.
\#2 – Spongebob’s nose becomes an erect penis (Spongebob Squarepants)
When you have a big-nosed character that decides to wear some pants on his head, the censors should maybe pay some attention to that scene. But the people who looked over Spongebob Squarepants when he puts himself in this exact position, with his nose protruding from underneath the Y-fronts in a suggestive manner obviously didn’t see any problem with the quite blatant penis joke.
\#3 – Is your kid masturbating? (Fairly Odd Parents)
The average kid with fairy god parents, Timmy Turner, has a wide range of generally kid-friendly adventures. In one scene, though, Timmy’s parents are watching a Dr. Phil parody called Dr. Bill, who is asking the question “Does your child say ‘I’m busy’ a lot?” This is immediately repeated by Timmy, who runs off-screen as Dr. Bill continues “Do they use a lot of paper towels, spend too much time in their room and say ‘don’t bother me?’” Timmy runs through the room with paper towels in hand and tells them not to bother him.
\#4 – Tier 15 (Adventure Time)
Adventure Time is riddled with adult jokes, but the most obvious one comes when Jake is explaining some things about dating to Finn, turning his arm into a mock-staircase and separating activities into “tiers.” Tier one is hugging, two is “smooching,” and tier eight is where you “touch her horn for the very first time” (a reference to Jake’s multicoloured unicorn-ish girlfriend Lady Rainicorn). Finn asks about the top tier, tier 15, to which Jake replies by yelling “You stay away from that! Do not do tier 15!”
\#5 – Shaggy subtly confirms his stoner status (Scooby-Doo)
Shaggy’s use of drugs is pretty obvious throughout the Scooby Doo series, although never explicitly referenced (other than the fact that’s he’s a giant hippie who talks to his dog, lazes around and is constantly hungry) and not originally intended, it’s basically impossible to avoid drawing the conclusion. In the 2002 live-action film, Shaggy meets a girl who also loves Scooby Snacks, and upon learning her name is “Mary Jane,” responds “like, that is my favourite name.” It’s generally considered a cheeky reference to the assumptions made by fans about the character (that they still maintain wasn’t originally intended), but it is more obviously a subtle admission that, yes, Shaggy is quite clearly a stoner. There’s a reason nobody accuses Freddy of getting high, but you can’t watch a single episode without thinking it about Shaggy.
\#6 – Stimpy’s sword swallowing (Ren and Stimpy)
Ren and Stimpy was more horrifyingly disturbing than inappropriate (unless you count the poorly-executed “adult” version of the show) – like when a psychotic, rubble-nipple covered Mr. Horse insinuates that he’s going to kill Ren and Stimpy, before grabbing a walrus from inside his house which looks to the pair in fear before softly whispering “call the police...” They did venture into more risqué territory too, though, like when Ren’s cousin Sven comes to visit and he and Stimpy (who get along very well) end up in the closet. Closing the door and saying to the camera that what they’re doing is private, they “play circus,” involving being a juggler, a bearded lady and a “sword swallower.” The last one said with careful inflection and followed with a mysterious gulping sound and Stimpy saying “oops.”
\#7 – Cow and Chicken meet the carpet munchers (Cow and Chicken)
The main characters in Cow and Chicken are siblings, literally a cow and chicken born to human parents, and the cartoon is filled with surreal humour and some outright rude jokes. In one episode, completely unexpectedly, a female biker gang break into their house and immediately begin chewing the carpet. They’re literal “carpet munchers,” in a pretty blatant reference to oral sex, implying that the bikers are lesbians. These characters are the focus of the whole episode, so this is hardly a passing reference – there are these types of jokes (albeit not quite as explicit) throughout the episode.
\#8 – The Animaniacs consider violating Prince (Animaniacs)
Despite being known for Marx-brothers-esque humour and even educational sections, there is plenty of adult humour in the Animaniacs too. One of the most notable examples comes when the three Warner siblings are doing some detective work, with Yakko telling Dot to “dust for prints,” but her returning with the musician Prince. When Yakko clarifies that he meant “finger prints,” she looks at him – clearly assuming he’s still referring to Prince – weighs up the option and responds “I don’t think so.”
\#9 – There’s a shop called “Felch Donuts” (Rocko’s Modern Life)
Rocko’s Modern Life is about an Australian immigrant wallaby living in America, and contains more than its fair share of adult jokes and references. Most are masturbation jokes, with “Chokey Chicken” being a regularly featured restaurant and one of Rocko’s core hobbies being “jacking” (which means the use of a jackhammer, obviously, so you can attend a “big jack-a-thon” without anybody getting the wrong idea). One of the worst references comes in the form of a shop in the background called “Felch Donuts,” which is so rude that you’ll have to look it up for yourself if you don’t know what it means.
\#10 – Adventure Time references drug-fuelled novel (Adventure Time)
In the episode Guardians of Sunshine, Finn and Jake want to be transported into a computer game they’re playing, but BMO refuses to do it for them because going inside the game is too dangerous. They decide to do it anyway, tricking BMO into pressing the button by tickling it with a colourful feather Jake pulls out of his mouth. It works (obviously), and the “Main-Brain-Game-Frame” is activated, sending them into the virtual world. Why a feather? Well, the writers of Adventure Time saw fit to reference Vurt by Jeff Noon, a Philip K. Dick-esque novel were the protagonists take drugs by tickling the backs of their throat with multi-coloured feathers, sending them into a virtual world that’s like a computer game-turned-interactive TV programme. The parallels are pretty strong, but the reference stands out as a particularly adult one, given that much of the novel is composed of borderline pornographic descriptions of drug-feathers being forced down people’s throats.
\#11 – Spongebob gets caught watching porn (Spongebob Squarepants)
Spongebob Squarepants is widely-known to be riddled with these sorts of jokes, but among the most adult moments comes when Spongebob is watching an innocent-looking sea-life documentary. Gary – his cat-like pet snail – comes into the room to see him wide-eyed and leant forwards on his chair. Spongebob is startled, quickly switching over to the sports channel and pretending that he was watching it all along. Yes, Spongebob watches ocean porn. Of course, when you have a kids cartoon with references to “dropping the soap,” and even a possible cheeky, subtle use of the c-word (Spongebob telling Miss Puff “see you next Tuesday”), porn references aren’t so surprising.
\#12 – Rocko gets a job as a phone sex operator (Rocko’s Modern Life)
While the felching reference could have been missed, in an episode where Rocko loses his job, he starts working as a phone sex operator. This is pretty impossible to miss, with the only saving grace being that it would just simply be lost on kids. Beside his desk is a sign reading, “Remember: be hot, be naughty, be courteous,” and he is featured repeatedly saying “oh baby” down the phone to a customer. It’s not particularly rude in terms of what’s shown, but the implied level of sheer sleaze is pretty significant.
\#13 – Helga writes Arnold a poem (Hey Arnold!)
Hey Arnold! is a cartoon about a boy with a weird-shaped head navigating the various trials and tribulations of growing up. It frequently features a bully named Helga, who torments Arnold as a way to hide her intense love for him. At one point, she pens a secret poem for Arnold, and in amidst the Shakespearean style and comparatively only slightly unsettling lines like “Arnold my love, my sultry preteen,” it features the line “Arnold you make my girlhood tremble.” Different episodes also include a porn reference and a few phallic jokes, but the eerily descriptive and explicit nature of Helga’s line makes it stand out as particularly inappropriate.
Although the show featured people who’d go on to work on things like the Simpsons, Animaniacs and Futurama, the controversy surrounding this one particular joke was enough to get Mighty Mouse: the New Adventures cancelled. In the episode, Mighty had crushed a flower into a pink powder, and a little later he proceeds to snort it. The entire thing only lasts a couple of seconds, but first it got John Kricfalusi fired (who went on to create Ren and Stimpy), and the complaint lodged by a high profile minister who campaigned against “immoral” TV programmes led to the entire show being took off the air. It doesn’t deserve to be cancelled, but for once the crazy campaigner sort of has a point – if you’re denying the cocaine reference, should you really be grinding up and snorting strange multicoloured plants in the first place? Probably not, especially if you’re on Saturday morning TV.