Millennials have been called the nostalgic generation. While nostalgia implies safety, the inappropriate kid shows that Generation Y grew up with in the 1990s were far from censored. If there had to be a mouthpiece for this era of animation, it would be John Kricfalusi, creator of the infamous Ren & Stimpy.
The animator had this to say when speaking with The Huffington Post: “I’m on the kids’ side [...] you have to go to church on Sunday, you have to listen to your parents give you rules after school, you have to do your homework ... You don’t want to get morals in your television shows, movies and cartoons.”
Kricfalusi, and animators like him, believed that cartoons were meant to provide respite from - not reinforcement of - authority. This explains the absurdist tone of shows like Ren and Stimpy, Rocko’s Modern Life, Cow and Chicken, and Ed, Edd n Eddy. The characters in these shows weren’t paragons of anything; they were flawed individuals navigating unpredictable, and often violent worlds. Similar to the works of Roald Dahl, parents and figures of authority were often less responsible than those they looked after. While '90s kids may have picked up a dirty joke or two from the television, their Saturday mornings never felt like Sunday school.
Here are the 15 Most Inappropriate '90s Cartoon Characters.
15 Grandpa Phil from Hey Arnold!
Grandpa Phil - or Steely Phil as he was known in his younger days - is Arnold’s grandfather and the landlord of the Sunset Arms boarding house.
While Grandpa Phil is an unconditionally affectionate caregiver, he often puts his foot in his mouth; the character’s blunders include defecating in a sink, nearly failing 6th grade (in his late 70s), and lying about beating up Hitler in WWII.
However, Phil’s least age-appropriate scene occurs in the episode “Back to School”, when Arnold reassures his grandfather that he still “has plenty of brain-cells.” Grandpa Phil’s response - “not since Woodstock” - is a veiled reference to the hippie crowd’s penchant for drug use. The joke hopefully went over most younger viewers’ heads.
14 Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants
Having first aired in 1999, SpongeBob SquarePants just manages to qualify as a '90s cartoon. The children’s show is notorious for its inappropriate gags, which more often than not involve the dopey starfish Patrick Star.
Patrick appears to have the dirtiest mind of his friends. A few examples of his raunchier escapades include: an ill-fated panty raid of Betsy Krabs’s room, some rather phallic sand art, and him stripping down to reveal a disturbingly rendered pink bottom.
The character works as a punchline for dirty jokes since he’s so dimwitted that it can be assumed he doesn’t know what he’s doing, saying, or even hearing. The fact that Patrick never has malicious intentions helps his case, but it doesn't provide an excuse for his inappropriate behavior.
13 Heffer Wolfe from Rocko's Modern Life
Heffer Wolfe is a 21-year-old, adopted cow - excuse us, steer - who features prominently on Rocko’s Modern Life as Rocko’s best friend. Heffer’s erratic behavior is perhaps excused by the fact that he was literally raised by wolves, hence his last name.
While Heffer believed the wild animals took him in out of pity, it is later revealed that they planned to fatten him up and eat him. There are plenty examples to choose from, but Heffer’s most inappropriate moment has to be when he and Rocko shared a room at the aptly named “No Tell Motel.”
The viewers later hear the sound of a bed creaking and Heffer call out “Sheila” in the middle of the night, implying he has mistaken Rocko for the alluring fox he has a crush on.
12 Cow from Cow and Chicken
Even at a glance, there is something obscene about Cow’s exposed udders. In this case, appearances are not deceiving. The titular character is behind a number of the show’s most inappropriate jokes - most revolving around Cow rubbing, milking, or even asking people to count her udders. Although the scenes are vaguely sexual, they’re more visually off-putting than anything else.
In keeping with the show’s general themes, cow also exposes her rear, once even having it stamped with a price tag. It's not clear why the writers fixated upon "rear exposure" as a visual theme.
However, when looking back, barely an episode passed without Baboon, The Red Guy, or Cow showing off their behind. That's without even addressing the titular characters' favorite dish of “pork butts and taters.”
11 Eddy from Ed, Edd n Eddy
Eddy was that dirty-minded kid we all knew in middle-school: the first one to know about a filthy video, or to smuggle illicit materials into school. While Cartoon Network was admirably true to life depicting Eddy’s character, their creation did leave Ed, Edd n Eddy with some unsavory scenes.
In one episode, we clearly see Edd with a bunch of "jiggle" magazines and balled up tissues under his bed. As if this wasn’t bad enough, his parents even found it necessary to post a sign that says “Don’t Touch Yourself” in the bathroom.
These are far from the only references to Eddy’s enduring passion for dirty magazines; when Edd throws Eddy’s magazines into the sewer, potentially ruining them, Eddy makes it clear he’s “only worried about the pictures.” A separate episode sees Ed hiding his friend’s collection of dirty material, implying that everybody knows he has a problem.
10 Beverly Bighead from Rocko's Modern Life
Beverly Bighead is Rocko’s erratic neighbor, wife to the uxorious Edward Bighead, and mother to Ralph Bighead. Although Beverly presents an aggressive front, she has a soft spot for Rocko and tries to seduce him on multiple occasions.
Beverly is also a secret party animal, with a wild streak that's a mile long. During Rocko’s infamous call center scene, it is revealed that one of his clients is none other than Mrs. Bighead, who hangs up once discovered.
The show’s creator, Joe Murray, has revealed that the Bighead family was based on his actual neighbors. This leads us to wonder how much of Beverly's antics were exaggerated and which events really happened. Regardless, Beverly's behavior is inappropriate for a young audience.
9 Apu from The Simpsons
While most children who grew up watching The Simpsons will remember Apu for no more than a couple of amusing catchphrases, the character has come under considerable scrutiny in recent years.
Acclaimed stand-up comedian Hari Kondabolu has even released a documentary titled The Problem with Apu, which explores the damaging legacy the Kwik-E Mart’s proprietor left for up-and-coming Indian comedians.
The biggest criticism levied against Apu is that he’s voiced by white actor Hank Azaria, drawing unpleasant parallels to brownface performances of the past. Azaria has since admitted that the role is problematic and promised to reconsider his participation. Whether or not the backlash is justified, it’s undeniable that the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon panders to basic ethnic stereotypes for his comedic appeal.
8 Johnny Bravo
Self-proclaimed ladies man Johnny Bravo embodied the chauvinistic behavior that’s been called out in countless articles and open letters in 2017. The character’s entire schtick was pursuing women who wanted nothing to do with him, hitting them with constant catcalls and awful pick-up lines.
Bravo’s seedier moments include telling a little girl to call him when she’s legal, asking a teenage girl what she’s wearing on a hotline for troubled youths, perusing skin mags, and asking a stranger if she wants to smell him.
While some of the character’s antics may have been amusing at times, the show leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and was certainly a poor influence on young men growing up in the '90s.
7 George Liquor from Ren & Stimpy
If you’re thinking that George Liquor sounds like an inappropriate character for a children’s show, you’re right. Apart from being borderline abusive to Ren, George Liquor is also a far-right extremist.
George considers Republicans to be communist and introduces himself as “George Liquor, American.” He also hates animals and constantly refers to them as "lower lifeforms." When combining this with George's celebration of successful individuals he considers “true champions,” the character is given a slightly Randian air.
While the political jokes were a bit more apropos in the 1990s, recent flares in the American far-right leave them off-color today, and it’s no wonder Nickelodeon eventually put the kibosh on George's role.
6 Yakko, Wakko, and Dot from The Animaniacs
Yakko, Wakko, and Dot Warner can be considered as one entry, seeing as they’re rarely seen apart and rely heavily on back-and-forth quips for almost all of their gags.
From the outset, Animaniacs became infamous for its combination of slapstick violence, pop culture references, and dirty jokes. The show has too many beyond-the-pail jokes to list, but highlights include Yakko mistaking the word "conjugation" for "copulation", ham-fisted pianist puns, and an innuendo involving Prince that’s too dirty to repeat.
Perhaps Warner Bros. should have kept the siblings locked in that water tower for good. Hulu just recently announced that they are working an an Animaniacs revival series. It will be interesting to see if the show remains as edgy as it once was.
Many '90s kids will remember Freakazoid! by sight, if not by name. The blue-skinned superhero took zaniness to a new level, merging the manic energy of The Tasmanian Devil with the comedic sensibilities of the Animaniacs.
The show’s dirtier jokes include references to loving meat, squeezing someone’s man juice, the repeated catchphrase "nut bunnies", and a by-the-books Uranus pun.
Unsurprisingly, the show struggled to keep its target demographic of young children, and WB canceled the show after two seasons due to low ratings. This was after bouncing the show around between early morning and late afternoon time slots. However since its cancellation, the show has found a home with older audiences and has risen to cult status.
4 The Red Guy from Cow and Chicken
The Red Guy from Cow and Chicken - remembered by most as the Red Devil - somehow managed to position himself with an exposed rear in every scene, especially in front of the titular characters.
Red Guy makes it clear that his exposure is a lifestyle choice, not an accident. Many of his fake names highlight the penchant, including Dr. Laxslax, Officer Pantsoffski, and Mrs. Barederrière - and he’s even shown walking around on his buttocks in lieu of feet.
Apart from his basic exhibitionism, Red Guy is also a severely disturbed character. His sole purpose in life is to capture, torture, and trick unwitting victims - especially children. It's safe to assume that parents wouldn't want to see this Devil anywhere near their kids, even if it's just through a screen.
3 Sedusa from The Powerpuff Girls
Sedusa is one of The Powerpuff Girls’ more memorable villains: a whip-haired succubus who relies on good looks and feminine wiles to ensnare men.
This even includes Professor Utonium in the episode “Mommy Fearest”. Sedusa first appeared under the pseudonym Ima Goodlady, and would later disguise herself as Ms. Bellum to lure the girls into a trap. While Sedusa doesn’t traffic in many dirty innuendos, her character concept and buxom depiction is a little risque for the show’s target audience.
There is also her modus operandi of convincing men to do her bidding through physical allure and deception - even using makeup as her primary weapon- which could be considered sexist. She is basically a cross between Medusa and Poison Ivy.
2 Rolf from Ed, Edd n Eddy
If Apu’s character from The Simpsons is xenophobic, Rolf is ten times worst. Denied an exact nationality, Rolf simply hails from a foreign land known as “the old country.”
Rolf speaks in a generically foreign accent, frequently speaks in third person, is described as prematurely hairy, and proudly refers to himself as “the son of a shepherd.” To clarify, he means this literally and not as a religious moniker.
Combining a variety of stereotypes, Rolf manages to be racist to all foreigners and no one in particular at the same time. The show’s creator, Danny Antonucci, claims he based the character on his own Italian-American family. If that’s true, the show would have been better served making Rolf Italian, and only offending one group.
1 Ren from Ren & Stimpy
Ren is the eponymous character of children’s television most notorious show of all time: a ratty “asthma hound”, described by critics as “dyspeptic” and “violently psychotic.” The misanthropic chihuahua spends most of his time pursuing selfish ends, avoiding the wrath of George Liquor, or abusing his idiotic best friend Stimpy.
Apart from its stable of deranged characters, the show was infamous for a gory animation style, which spared the audience no details. A horrifying scene depicts Ren picking nerve endings out of his toothless mouth, while another shows him beat his own brains out with a claw-hammer.
How exactly Ren & Stimpy made it past the censors, even in the 1990s, is one of family programming’s greatest mysteries - and it’s unlikely we’ll ever see something similar ever again.
Did we miss any inappropriate characters from '90s cartoons?