There’s a very fine line between cartoons that are being risqué and cartoons that are being plain inappropriate. The wording of a particular joke, the framing of a particularly suggestive image, heck, even the timing of these elements can factor into keeping certain episodes from ever seeing the light of day. This is just as true for cult hits like Cow and Chicken or Ren and Stimpy as it is ratings juggernauts like The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Justice League.
Some of the episodes on this list were aired once, but due to parental complaints, were subsequently never shown again or, in some instances, never released on DVD. Others, undoubtedly the more fortunate of the bunch, were able to hide their crass jokes so that the ratings board were none the wiser and enjoyed countless reruns on network television. In all cases, however, the risqué material is readily apparent and all we can do is marvel at how writers and cartoonists ever thought to do some of it in the first place.
Here are 10 Kids Cartoons Snuck By The Censors (And 10 Times They Got Caught).
20 Snuck By: “Canned” - Rocko’s Modern Life
We could, realistically, comprise this entire list of Rocko’s Modern Life innuendos. The beloved cult series is known for its tricky filtering of adult humor, which is often conveyed through clever visual aids and subtle verbal references. That's the brilliance of the show-- Rocko could visit a brothel in an episode like “Road Rash”, but to kids, it just another hotel. Perhaps the most famous example of this, however, was in the season 1 episode “Canned,” where Rocko gets fired from his job at the comic book store.
In order to make ends meet, Rocko takes up an assortment of jobs, including being a phone operator for an interesting clientele. To younger viewers, he’s just saying funny things into the phone. To an adult, all the cues are there, including the sign in the background that reads “Be hot, be naughty, be courteous” and what Rocko is saying to the client on the phone (who turns out to be Mr. Bighead). Well played, writers, well played.
19 Got Caught: “Boston” - Aqua Teen Hunger Force
This is a case of promotional advertising gone very, very wrong. In January 2007, it was reported that various LED displays resembling characters of Aqua Teen Hunger Force were placed throughout Boston, Massachusetts and mistaken for bombs. The fallout from the stunt was swift and severe. The entire city was shut down for security purposes, Cartoon Network manager Jim Samples was forced to resign, and the station’s parent company, Turner Broadcasting, paid over $2 million in damages. The episode that was to poke fun at the incident, “Boston” was subsequently pulled from being the season five premiere.
The “Boston” episode has continued to run into trouble over the past decade. Fan petitions to get it released were ignored in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Hunger Force actors Dana Snyder (Mister Shake) and Carey Means (Frylock) later revealed that Cartoon Network did reconsider airing the episode in 2015, and was a week away from an official release when it was wiped from the production server and leaked online. The official release was subsequently cancelled as a result. The episode can still be found on YouTube.
18 Snuck By: “The Storm” - The Amazing World of Gumball
The Amazing World of Gumball is a strange, surreal show, one that doesn’t have reservations about slipping innuendos and incomprehensibly adult humor into its stories. The most notable example of this has been in the episode “The Storm,” where Gumball finds Alan crying in their middle school’s bathroom stall. You see, Alan is a balloon and he sits in misery in the stall, saying he just doesn’t “have the strength to inflate.” The very next shot is of an inflated, and noticeably happier, Alan exiting the bathroom.
Gumball, also seen exiting, has a much more traumatized look on his face and it's likely the same look you’ll have on your face when you realize the entire scene is a blatant joke about oral satisfaction between middle schoolers. There’s no two ways about it. It's a credit to the writers and producers of Gumball that they managed to slip this blatant a joke by the censors, but it's also shocking in a way. In most cases, this sort of thing wouldn’t make it past the writing stage.
17 Got Caught: “Super Best Friends” - South Park
South Park is no stranger to controversy. There’s actually an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to the groups they’ve offended over the years. That said, the one that takes the controversy cake has to be the show’s 2001 episode “Super Best Friends.” Series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker broke down the perceived double standards towards parodying Muhammad versus other religious figures like Jesus, Buddha, or Moses.
Their depiction of Muhammad-- a figure who Islamics feel should never been seen-- as a bumbling fool in a bear suit led to backlash from the Islamic community, as well as numerous death threats towards Stone and Parker. “Super Best Friends” was heavily censored in an attempt to tone down the controversy, which Stone and Parker addressed in an official statement: “In the 14 years we’ve been doing ‘South Park’ we have never done a show that we couldn’t stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode.”
Despite the censoring, the network eventually pulled “Super Best Friends” from the South Park website.
16 Snuck By: “The Gamesmaster” - G.I. Joe
G.I. Joe has plenty of questionable moments throughout its storied history, so much so that CBR has an entire list dedicated to them, but the one we chose to focus on here comes from the episode “The Gamesmaster.” In it, Flint, Baroness, and Cobra Commander are kidnapped and taken to an island owned by an eccentric billionaire. They are then forced to compete with one another for survival, which is fine and dandy, until Flint tackles (and lays on top of) Baroness, who is wearing only a skimpy bikini.
We would be inclined to let this highly suggestive image slide if not for the onslaught of equally suggestive dialogue that appears throughout the episode. When Flint tries to convince Baroness to work with him a second time, she tells him: “You’ll get Lady Jaye out first, you might double team me. If I get the commander out first, we will definitely jump you.” Yikes. To call their scenes in “The Gamesmaster” erotically-charged would be to call Cobra Commander's voice grating-- obvious.
15 Got Caught: “The Mask of Matches Malone” - Batman: Brave And The Bold
Batman has never been one to shy away from adult themes in film and television, but “The Mask of Matches Malone,” an episode from the Brave and the Bold series, seems as though it took things a bit too far for viewers. The 2010 episode saw the trio of Black Canary, Huntress, and Catwoman take the stage to perform the seductive torch song “Birds of Prey.” A song that, despite its placement in a kids cartoon, comes filled to the brim with sexual innuendos and not-so-hidden meanings.
The trio detail how The Flash is “too fast,” how Aquaman has “a little fish,” and how Green Arrow has trouble “shooting straight,” making for a scene that only grows more surprising-- and unmistakably clear-- with age. While there weren’t any decency rules that were broken, the sheer number of innuendos in such a short span led Cartoon Network to ban the episode in the United States. “The Mask of Matches Malone” aired elsewhere in the world, but it wasn’t until the third season of Brave and Bold was released on DVD in 2012 that it saw a proper stateside acknowledgement.
14 Snuck By: “Billy and Mandy vs. The Martians” - The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy
The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy were never above using gross out humor, but they were never quite as gross as in the season 5 episode “Billy and Mandy vs. The Martians.” Here, Irwin, the kid who always tries to get in on the activities of the titular duo, attempts to save Mandy from falling from a platform. Irwin pleads with her to grab his hand, but she responds by saying: "Ew, no way. I know where that hand has been!" Given that Irwin has a long standing crush on Mandy, there’s plenty to support the idea that this is a pretty blatant reference to what he does in his alone time.
Billy and Mandy have been coy about censorship, even going as far as to incorporate it into the narrative structure of the episode “Here Thar Be Dwarves,” but there isn’t much nuance to this one. The writers just went for it and due to the lack of outcry from the censorship boards, we all now know where Irwin’s hand has been.
13 Got Caught: “Battle Protocol” - Transformers: Robots in Disguise
Before it became known as the abominable Michael Bay franchise, Transformers was still a beloved cartoon series with a lineage that dated back to the 1980s. The Robots in Disguise series ran in the early 2000s in Japan, before being dubbed in English and release stateside. Unfortunately, the timing of “Battle Protocol,” the first episode to air on FOX Kids, couldn’t have been worse. It aired on September 8th, 2001, just three days before the attack on the World Trade Center, and featured Megatron laying waste to a skyscraper full of innocent people.
The accidental parallel proved so troublesome that the episode was never aired again. To make matters worse, the rest of Robots in Disguise contained similar destruction, and FOX Kids was forced to re-edit the episodes in such a short timespan that three of them (“Attack from Outer Space”, “Landfill”, and “Sky-Byte Saves the Day”) were ultimately deemed lost causes and replaced with clip shows. To this day, Robots in Disguise has never been released on home video or DVD.
12 Snuck By: “Switched” - Teen Titans
In the Teen Titans episode “Switched.” the titular gang gets a box of toys modeled after themselves. Most of them are thrilled to have their own actions figures, like Robin, who says “They got all the details just right!” Not everyone is as pleased, however. Beast Boy carefully examines the crotch area of his figure and, with an utterly dejected look on his face, says “Speak for yourself.” It's obvious the Teen Titan isn’t pleased with what he sees and it's even more obvious which part of the anatomy he is referring to.
Teen Titans is wholesome for the most part, but bits of humor like the one above occasionally pop up throughout the DC animated universe. In an episode of Young Justice, Kid Flash, who has lost his memory, is thrilled by the changing color of his suit. He repeatedly taps his chest to change colors, before Artemis steps in with a resounding “Quite touching yourself!” We do have to give it to DC for jokes that are both risqué and subtle enough to slip past younger viewers.
11 Got Caught: “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein” - Family Guy
It's ironic, given Seth MacFarlane's propensity for insulting everyone and everything, that he approached the episode “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein” with care. It was written by a Jewish writer, Ricky Blitt, and two rabbinical advisors approved of the Family Guy episode due to the fact that the characters learn their lesson in the end. Still, FOX was worried that it would be perceived as anti-Semitic by the masses and refused to air it as the season two finale.
It was eventually picked up by Adult Swim in 2003 and premiered to virtually none of the backlash or claims of anti-Semitism that FOX was so apprehensive about. The network even aired it themselves the following year. As it turns out, the biggest controversy MacFarlane faced over the episode was a lawsuit regarding a parody of the song “When You Wish Upon a Star.” The comedian won out, though, as the judge ruled that song and MacFarlane’s “I Need a Jew” to be “strikingly different” in tone.
10 Snuck By: “When The Wedding Bells Thaw” - Adventure Time
A smaller burst of adult humor than some of the other entries here, this Adventure Time gag is still clear about what’s being said. In the season 1 episode “When The Wedding Bells Thaw,” Finn and the Ice King have a conversation where the latter reveals that he “just finished tying up his wife.” Taken aback by the admission, Finn logically asks “Your wife is into that?” Brief, but one that surprises nonetheless due to its frank treatment of this kind of adult situation.
Adventure Time is no stranger to censorship, having had nearly all their episodes re-edited and deemed too risqué by the network. Which makes it all the more surprising that jokes about tying up spouses, forcing others to act out adult fantasies (“Mad Men”) or the Ice King making a princess out of body parts of other princesses (“The Duke”), somehow got a thumbs up.
9 Got Caught: “One Beer” - Tiny Toon Adventures
Of all the insane activities you would expect Buster, Plucky, and Hampton to engage in, drinking beer and stealing a cop car is (hopefully) not one of them. And yet, we have the Tiny Toons Adventure dubiously known as “One Beer.” In it, the beloved trio of characters fall under the influence and proceed to make a series of terrible decisions, culminating in them driving off a cliff and dying. We’re not kidding-- the last shot sees them flying up to heaven with angel wings.
While it's apparent that “One Beer” was supposed to teach kids about the dangers of drinking and driving-- Bugs says as much during the intro-- the episode is so grim and disconcerting that Warner Brothers pulled the plug on it after just one airing. FOX, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon turned down subsequent offers to re-run the episode. For those of you with a morbid curiosity, however, “One Beer” is currently available on YouTube and DVD as part of Tiny Toon Adventures: Vol. 3 - Crazy Crew Rescues!
8 Snuck By: “Hercule Yakko” - The Animaniacs
This is a filthy Animaniacs joke that works by virtue of how blatantly it's delivered. Clad in a detective costume, Yakko tells Dot to “dust for prints.” Misunderstanding the request, Dot reappears carrying the late pop icon Prince, saying “I found Prince!” Yakko replies: “No, no, no fingerprints.” Prince gets a devious smile on his face and Dot looks back at him in discomfort, saying “I don’t think so” before throwing him out the window.
Animaniacs was always brilliant when it came to wordplay, but exploring the double-meanings of the words “finger” and “prints/Prince” stands as one their most inspired and utterly naughty jokes. It's also one that’s flooded the internet in recent years, serving as the perfect storm of pop cultural iconography (Prince), nostalgia (Animaniacs), and lewd content (the entire thing) to captivate millennial audiences.
When asked if the censors simply missed the joke, series creator Tom Ruegger said: “Yes...it looked innocent on paper. It was funny in the board so we let it go to animation, then when it came back, the footage made us laugh so hard that we kept it in and then when no one objected, it went on the air. Yikes!”
7 Got Caught: “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” - The Simpsons
One of the least offensive entries in terms of content, “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” has more to do with the social context. The 1997 episode sees the titular family travel to New York to retrieve an abandoned car parked between the Twin Towers. Not much was made of its location, but after the events September 11th, 2001, the notion of the towers as a comedic backdrop become too much for some to bear.
The episode was pulled from syndication immediately and withheld until 2006, when networks began to air an edited version. Among the biggest exclusions was a scene where two men are arguing between Tower 1 and Tower 2, and one of them says “They stick all the jerks in Tower 1!” On the DVD box set for season 9 (which contains the original cut), executive producer Bill Oakley commented that the line was “regrettable” given what transpired in real life.
Still, “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” has amassed a strong reputation over the years, with Entertainment Weekly ranking it among their 25 Favorite Simpsons Episodes.
6 Snuck By: “Eclipsed” - Justice League
Another beloved superhero show, another blatant sexual innuendo slipped in for good measure. In the Justice League episode “Eclipsed,” The Flash boasts about being the fastest man alive, to which Hawkgirl replies “Which might explain why you can’t get a date.” Flash, likely as surprised as we are, takes a moment to piece together that Hawkgirl is talking about his stamina in activities other than running. Ouch.
How and why the censors let this slip is a complete mystery. It isn’t even like there’s an alternate meaning or kid-friendly explanation for what Hawkgirl is saying. She took a jab at The Flash’s masculinity outright, making it the second time on this list that the famed speedster has taken a verbal lashing for his innuendo-prone powers. The admitted cleverness of Hawkgirl’s line is matched only by the awkwardness that surely resulted when kids were forced to ask their parents what she meant.
5 Got Caught: “Buffalo Gals” - Cow and Chicken
How the writers of Cow and Chicken thought they would get away with this is beyond us. The episode “Buffalo Gals,” which initially aired in February 1998, was quickly banned by Cartoon Network since they implied the the Buffalo Gals, a motorcycle gang, are made up of lesbians. While the implication isn’t grounds for a ban alone, it is the handling or rather, the mishandling, of lesbian stereotypes, that made this decision a no-brainer.
Whether we’re discussing lines like "Oh! the Buffalo Gals, a motorcycle riding gang that randomly breaks into people's homes and chews on their carpets," the fact that one of the bikers is named “Munch Kelly”, or the scene of the Buffalo Gals playing softball and discussing “pitching” and “catching” which has obvious connotations, the lack of subtlety shown throughout the episode is pretty staggering. The episode has never again aired on television, though it can be found on YouTube and on the Cow and Chicken DVD box set.
4 Snuck By: “Sven Hoek” - Ren and Stimpy
This one still amazes us for how blatantly raunchy it is. It would be shocking in a show intended for adults, let alone one aimed at children. But such is the awe-inspiring insanity of Ren and Stimpy, who after getting censored on countless occasions, came through with “Sven Hoek.” Here, Stimpy and Ren’s cousin, Sven, is hanging out in a closet. As they’re about to do… something, Stimpy looks into the camera and says “Hey, this is private!” before Sven slams the door closed.
What follows is a highly, highly suggestive series of sounds and phrases as the two go about their business. At one point, Stimpy says “I’m a sword swallower,” implying that a particular action is about to occur between the two characters. It's hilarious and uncomfortable in equal measure, as we know that whatever they’re doing behind the door is something we don’t need (or want) to see. That the censors consider a beating with a boat oar (more on that later) to be worse is truly baffling.
3 Got Caught: “Stokey the Bear” - Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties
Comparatively, this banned episode isn’t nearly as controversial as some of the other entries on the list. But it was 1959 and U.S. censorship was much less accepting of things like satire or parody. Especially when it was satire pointed at them, like in the Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties episode “Stokey the Bear.” As can be inferred from the title, the episode made light of Smokey the Bear and the U.S. Forestry Service, the latter of which lodged a complaint at NBC after Smokey (or “Stokey”) gets hypnotized by Snidely Whiplash and begins starting fires instead of stopping them.
In addition to a formal complaint, the Forestry Service joined forces with the government and reportedly threatened the animators with copyright infringement, jail time, and, according to one of the Dudley Do-Right animators, confiscated the footage. The showrunners also demanded the masters be destroyed, but “Stokey the Bear” ultimately survived, and clips of the episode can still be seen during the opening montage of the syndicated Dudley Do-Right Show.
2 Snuck By: “The Day The Ed Stood Still” - Ed, Edd, n Eddy
The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy may have alluded to some private acts, but Ed, Edd, n Eddy all but said the word out loud in the episode “The Day The Ed Stood Still.” One jaw-droppingly obvious scene shows Edd and Eddy hiding underneath the latter’s bed, where it’s revealed that there are several crumpled up tissues next to a stack of dirty magazines. We see these tissues and magazines in several episodes, but this is the one that removes any chance of an alternative meaning. We know exactly what Eddy is doing with them and it's inappropriate to say the least.
These obviousness comes back around in the episode “Cleanliness is Next to Edness,” where Eddy throws Ed out of his bedroom and tapes a magazine to the window to keep him occupied. The grin on Ed’s face is enough to send shivers of concern down every parent’s spine and confusion down every child’s.
1 Got Caught: “Man’s Best Friend” - Ren and Stimpy
John Kricfalusi managed to sneak a ton of subversive humor into his initial Ren and Stimpy run, so it was only a matter of time before he pushed the envelope too far for television censors to swallow. That push came in the infamous episode “Man’s Best Friend”, where Ren injures George Liquor with a boating oar. The episode was scheduled for release on Nickelodeon in 1992, but the network refused to air it due to the violent outburst and fired Kricfalusi when he refused to edit it out.
Watching “Man’s Best Friend” today, it's pretty easy to see why Nickelodeon wasn’t pleased. The scene between Ren and Liquor is cartoon violence at its most extreme and, even by Ren and Stimpy standards, it has a depraved sensibility that goes beyond its kid demographic. Years down the line, it aired on Spike TV, and like the rest of the outcasts on this list, is currently available on YouTube and DVD as part of the box set Ren and Stimpy Show Uncut - The First and Second Seasons.
Which of these did you find most surprising? Let us know in the comments!