People say that kids grow up too soon these days. Well, for kids growing up in America during the 19’90s, this should come to no one’s surprise, as one must look no further than the cartoons that accompanied us during those glowing childhood years. Indeed, with excellent boundary pushers (and tremendously source-loyal adaptations) like X-Men and Batman: The Animated Series paving the way and pulling few punches when it came to mature content and overall grittiness, the cartoon-scape of the ’90s was no place for sissies, with eventually everyone from Disney to Nickelodeon getting in on the grown-up content action. It was almost like the cartoons were secretly testing us, as if to say “hey, if you can’t take it, just turn off the TV and go play outside with your wussy friends, wussy McWusswuss.” And of course, we didn’t go outside. We stayed loyal to our beloved programming, content to leave our childhood behind. This list is dedicated to the moments during ’90s animated children’s programming that caused us to take pause and put down our bowl of Lucky Charms in order to attempt to digest what we had just witnessed, and some of the hard lessons we learned because of them.
11) Rocko is Seduced by Mrs. Bighead in Rocko’s Modern Life
When Bev Bighead can’t get any love from her hubby Ed (“Am I not a beautiful woman, a woman with needs?”) in “Leap Frogs,” she decides to attempt to seduce Rocko by asking him to do chores for her around the house, as she needs “a little attention from a man once in a while.” The rest of the episode is filled with not-so-thinly veiled innuendo and imagery as Mrs. Bighead does her best to get said attention from Rocko, trying everything from flirtation to tricking him into seeing her naked. The seduction process is forced to conclude when Mr. Bighead walks in on what appears to be Mrs. Bighead paying Rocko for his services as her gigolo. Later in their bedroom, Mr. and Mrs. Bighead make up and decide to excitedly break plates together with their tongues, an activity that culminates in a lot of heavy breathing. “Leap Frogs” was eventually prevented from airing due to its content only to later reappear on Nicktoons TV, presumably to be used as a primer for kids who wanted to know what they could expect married life to be like.
10) Dinobot Contemplates Suicide and Essentially Commits it in Beast Wars
Dishonored and apparently gravely depressed about having let down the Maximals in an earlier conflict, Dinobot’s first appearance in the episode “Code of Hero” shows him contemplating what some might interpret to be seppuku, the ritualistic samurai suicide technique used to die an honorable death. Having successfully set the episode’s dark tone, Dinobot begins what will become his last journey, intent on righting his wrong and retrieving the Golden Disc which Megatron plans to use to alter time in order to prevent the human race from ever existing. Knowing that time is not a luxury he can afford, Dinobot tragically engages six Predacons, including Transmetal Megatron, a skirmish that ends with him successfully defending the valley but sustaining major damage. With his power reserves all but completely depleted, Dinobot manages to wrench the Disc from Megatron’s clasp and destroy it with his last ounce of strength, forcing the kids watching to experience his robo-death shortly thereafter and to get a head start on knowing what a broken heart can feel like.
9) Apocalypse Murders the X-Men in X-Men
While the two-parter “Time Fugitives” ended on an uncharacteristically positive note (with Cable saving the future from a plague by using Wolverine’s healing power to create antibodies), part one of Time Fugitives involves a giant Apocalypse literally atomizing the X-Men with a blast of his energy beam. If there’s any scene darker in Saturday morning cartoon history than this display of an unstoppable, enormous force of evil unabashedly murdering the cast of heroes with ease, I haven’t seen it. Sure, those events took place as part of a tangent timeline that fell into oblivion once Cable saved the day, but that doesn’t make the imagery of Cyclops, Gambit, Wolverine, Storm, Beast, Bishop and Rogue (No! Not Rogue!) any less of a ‘nam-esque flashback that a kid might have while trying to keep his cool during an intense Super Soaker duel later that sunny Saturday afternoon. Lesson learned? Don’t mess with time travel or it’ll mess with you right back. R.I.P alternate timeline X-Men.
8) DarkWing Duck Becomes a Brutal Totalitarian Vigilante in Darkwing Duck
With roots in The Dark Knight Returns, this episode of former Disney mainstay Darkwing Duck was clearly designed to teach kids what can happen when an authoritative arm of power goes unchecked for too long. After losing Gosling in a time travel accident and simultaneously losing sight of what’s important in his life, Darkwing becomes Dark Warrior Duck in “Time and Punishment,” a cruel enforcer who drapes St. Canard under a cloak of fear, punishing any crime, no matter how small (such as jaywalking) with “death” or “the chair,” essentially illustrating and teaching kids at home why having more than one branch of government can be a good thing.