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15 Kids Shows That Get Darker the More You Think About Them

Some of the best TV around can be shows made specifically with kids in mind. This is because, with an intent on both education and fun, there is an awful lot of work put in and sometimes the humor can be far more complex than you first thought, often for the benefit of the parents who have to watch along also.

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However, the themes in some of these shows can become a little dark, especially if you start to put thought into them and here we look at some of these and ask why they were so dark?


15. The Wild Thornberrys

This was an absolutely 'smashing' show and featured a family who traveled the world in a camper van as the father was a wildlife show presenter and his wife the camera operator. One of their children was then bestowed with the ability to talk to and understand animals on the proviso she never tells anyone or she will lose it.

It was a quality bit of programming that raised issues over environmentalism and preservation, but one thing it didn't touch on was humanity's treatment of animals. The show presented each talking animal we met as intelligent sentient beings, with hopes and aspirations, etc. etc. which is horrifying if you think about how humans treat animals in farming and for food. It never touches on whether the family are vegetarian or not but you have to assume the character with this ability would be.


14. Avatar: The Last Airbender

A world-building phenomenon that spawned an awful live action film and an even worse video game, Avatar follows the story of a nomad who has the ability to manipulate (or “bend”) the four elements of nature: air, water, fire, and earth. However, before the events of the series began, he froze himself in the sea for 100 years after his people were attacked, and wiped out, by the fire nation.

 

Given that the premise of this film revolves around a young boy of 12 who is the last surviving person of his culture due to genocide, you have to wonder how this show became so popular. The Avatar is still battling with the people who wiped out everyone he ever knew, so that adds some weight to it but it's a heavy subject matter.


13. Thomas and Friends

A mostly harmless TV show about happy trains on a small island all working together but put some greater thought into it and these trains are actually the helpless lackeys of Sir Topham Hatt (The Fat Controller in the UK because Brits are brutal!) and they have this unquestioning hatred of the diesel engines.

 

Worse than that, failed machines are sent to the Smelter’s Yard which is terrifying considering they're supposed to be sentient.


12. Courage The Cowardly Dog

With his parents were forcibly shot into space by a crazed vet, Courage lives with his owner's Eustace and Muriel but Eustace hates him and often physically and mentally tortures him whilst Muriel is mostly oblivious to what he is trying to tell her as he regularly thwarts threats and attempts on their lives all to no reward.

 

Forever living in fear and underappreciated for his heroics, poor old Courage never had a great time of it.


11. Voltron: Legendary Defender

A giant robot who is the defender of the universe, Voltron was built by an alien race that is almost completely wiped out, and so now Voltron lacks much of a purpose and all due to genocide. So yeah, it is a colorful and wacky kids show but with a dark origin story attached to it from the outset.

Voltron goes about trying to defeat the evil Galra Empire who killed off his creators but the psychological baggage of that is pretty hard going.


10. Pinky and The Brain

Two lab mice have become super intelligent, one more so than the other, after years of being subjected to testing and every night they try to take over the world. Although the charm of their failed attempts to conquer Earth is the hilarity around their naivety and eventual ending of their plots the fact that they only go out at night is evident. Because they are being tested on during the day

Animal testing is a controversial subject at best but when they are sentient beings with the ability to take over the world, born out of their hatred of humanity, that is some hard reality to swallow. 


9. Spongebob Squarepants

Spongebob lives in a place called Bikini Bottom, which looks very much like Bikini Atoll, the place where the French tested out their nuclear weapons. The idea behind all the weird and wonderful characters of Spongebob? They are mutations from the resultant fallout of the French nuclear tests. Put that into play and suddenly the whole thing is a little scarier.

 

Given the fact that Spongebob is always upbeat and seemingly unaware of others being irked by him as well, it suggests that he isn't quite understanding of his situation either.


8. AAAHH!!! Real Monsters

A TV show based on the existence of monsters, these creatures were born with the purpose to induce terror in humans and can do so by interacting with them in various different ways. They are created from a sort of pool of fear which feeds their essence and their economy revolves around human toenails.

 

It may seem a puerile concept but dig a little deeper and suddenly it becomes a little traumatizing.


7. Hey Arnold!

On the surface, a show about a kid and his school friends but look a little closer and it has complex themes that include children living in poverty and being held back in school, abandonment from parents, bullying and a girl who clearly has obsessive issues and not enough attention from her wealthy yet absent parents.

It was actually a very progressive program about the problems with poor, inner city areas but few remember it for that.


6. Adventure Time

A 12-year-old boy and a magical, shapeshifting dog live on their own together in a fantasy world full of mythical dangers and warring kingdoms. As the show progresses it becomes evident that this was actually the real world torn apart by nuclear war and dark magical forces and this lays down a sinister foundation for the rise of evil vampires.

 

The protagonist himself was abandoned by his father, his rival is a man who tried to save the world and lost his only love in the process and forgot about the girl he was protecting in the process. Immortal creatures have seen their friends grow old and wither away in front of them. Underneath its surface as a colorful and quirky universe, things are really messed up!


5. The Ren & Stimpy

A cartoon that opened the door for more adult animation on television, Ren & Stimpy are a chihuahua and a cat who are the protagonists in a show defined by its sexual innuendo, absurdist humor and heavy doses of slapstick. The characters have violent tendencies, are often homeless and are mentally unstable.

Never treated well, they subject each other to constant abuse and it is seemingly all they know.


4. Rocket Power

A bunch of kids living out the dream of skateboarding through sunny California, competing in extreme sports competitions and meeting professionals. Nothing dark about that except for the complete lack of parental supervision which sees them able to just skate all day and when we do see a parent it is one who has suffered a breakdown after the death of a partner.

 

Raymond “Raymundo” Rocket spends all his time trying to rejuvenate his ailing restaurant business rather than spending time with his children.


3. invader Zim

Aliens are amongst us and are trying to conquer the world and enslave us all. One of the most obviously dark shows on this list with its scarily pitched visuals and constant themes of destruction, the invader, Zim (hence the show's title) then befriends a conspiracy theorist who believes in aliens and government cover-ups.

 

Now, imagine everything you've ever feared to be confirmed true by someone you thought was a friend but really just wants to destroy your whole planet. Grim.


2. Rocko's Modern Life

Anthropomorphic animals reel through sexual innuendo, satirical commentary on the nature of society, and double entendre as an Australian immigrant lives in a representation of modern America dominated by corporations and forcing the poor into working as sex line phone operators. The obvious references may have gone over your head as a child but watch again and you'll notice they are there.

 

Basically, about the evils of capitalism, the show had Rocko crushed underfoot by the overbearing Conglom-O Corporation week in, week out.


1. The Care Bears

Created solely to sell merchandise and greeting cards (seriously), the care bears were a bunch of cute, cuddly bears who would find children being undisciplined, or rude, or just plain sad and then influence them with their own views on happiness and love, etc. etc.

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Sounds harmless but the fact that these bears had children under constant supervision and would then inflict them with a constant barrage of their own personal ideology amounts to little more than brainwashing.

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