You may think your favorite cartoons are all fun and games, but many of them have dark and downright twisted origins. Some of the original stories involve rape, murder, mutant killing machines, oh, and the murder of innocent fox puppies. After hearing this list of the Messed Up Cartoon Character Origins, you may never see your childhood heroes the same way again!
10. Casper the Friendly Ghost
This lovable ghost who just wants to make friends has a tragic history. During the ’70s, Harvey Comics, the creator of Casper, was adamant that Casper was just a type of supernatural creature.
Which when you think about it, would be fine, but the problem is, this origin story has a darker truth. It’s more likely he’s just a lonely resurrected kid, forever haunting the earth, unable to rest, with constant suicidal thoughts. Don’t believe me? Well, There’s Good Boos Tonight, a short film made in 1948, showed Casper living beside a gravestone, and when his fox friend died, he too came back as a ghost.
The 40’s animations also showed Casper becoming weary with scaring people. He tries to make friends, who are nevertheless scared and reject him. Poor Casper then tries to kill himself by lying on the railroad tracks, only to discover he can’t even do that because, well, he’s already dead.
Casper had parents in later versions. Perhaps, this concept concerned the adults too. Then in the 1995 feature film Casper, his origin story really came to light, with him being the ghost of a little boy who died of pneumonia.
I don’t know about you, but the idea of a lonely, clinically depressed apparition who immediately tries to commit suicide after his failed attempts at making friends doesn’t seem to be promoting ideas we’d want children exposed to.
9. Peter Pan
The character Peter Pan makes reference to Pan, the Greek God of sexual deviance, rape and torture, but that’s only the beginning of the creepy things about this children’s tale. In some versions, Peter Pan is depicted as having horns like a devil, and author J. M. Barrie once complained that a statue of the character “failed to show the devil in him.”
Peter also encourages children to join him in Neverland by telling them they can do whatever they want. What’s the catch? All they have to do is leave their loved ones behind forever. So yea, not the best moral we should be teaching kids. But it gets a lot more twisted…
The character was based on Barrie’s older brother, who tragically died in an ice-skating accident at the age of thirteen, thus never growing up. As an adult, Barrie married actress Mary Ansell, but the couple never had children, and reportedly never consummated the marriage.
He eventually sort-of adopted three children in a weird and creepy way, which might give you mixed feelings about the whole story. Barrie met the Llewelyn Davies family in a park and became acquainted with their three sons, George, Michael, and baby Peter.
He became a frequent visitor at their home, even more so after father Llewelyn died, and made up the first Peter Pan stories to entertain the children. A few years later, the boys’ mother also died, and in her will she asked for her sister Jenny and the boy’s nanny Mary to care for the boys. When he conveniently transcribed the will for her, Barrie changed “Jenny” to “Jimmy,” his own first name. Not surprisingly, that led to claims that he was a pedophile. Although the youngest Llewelyn brother, Nico, denied Barrie was ever inappropriate with kids. He suggested Barrie was actually asexual.
The tragedy, however, continued and became darker in the real world. The two older boys died in their twenties, one from drowning and one during World War I.
Younger brother Peter, namesake for the Pan character, was putting together a family scrapbook when, midway through, he stopped and then threw himself in front of a train. So yea, its back-story is nothing short of disturbing.
Hercules is known for his great strength and is usually shown as a hero, as in the 1997 animated film. However, these stories are rooted in a string of dark and messed up origins.
According to Greek mythology, baby Hercules was conceived when his mother was visited by the god Zeus, who was disguised as her husband. She then slept with him, thinking she was with her husband but instead, Zeus fathered the child.
And while he may seem innocent in the cartoons, in mythology, “Little” Hercules was a bit of a brat, killing his music teacher with a lyre after the teacher tried to discipline him with corporal punishment. Then as an adult, he married his first wife Megara and had three sons, whom he later killed while suffering some sort of hallucination in which he believed they were his enemies.
All in all, it seems the cartoon hero both suffered and inflicted tragedies of herculean proportions.
7. Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is considered one of the darker Disney stories. Although Quasimodo does save Esmeralda from being burned at the stake, he later gets his guardian Frollo killed when they both accidentally fall from the cathedral’s balcony. Eventually, he returns to the town where everyone finally accepts him.
In Victor Hugo’s original novel, however, Esmeralda was betrayed by Frollo and sentenced to death. At that point, Quasimodo shoved Frollo off the balcony on purpose. Then he went to Esmeralda’s grave, refusing to leave until he eventually starved to death.
To be fair, I can see why Disney didn’t go with that one—it’s kind of hard to have cute animals singing and dancing about murder and starvation.
6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
There are several different origin stories for the Teenage Mutant Turtles, and the tale evolves a little with each TV series. It all kicks off when four turtles get exposed to radioactive ooze and get trained as ninjas by their adoptive father Splinter, who’s basically the rat equivalent of Yoda ridden with parasites.
Anyway, the original story produced by Mirage comics in 1984 lays out enough back-story to make you question the whole cartoon. Basically, Splinter trained them to become killing machines for his own personal revenge against his mortal enemy, Shredder.
It does not seem that he wanted justice… he just wanted to kill a personal rival. And his turtle apprentices did just that, even though they were total strangers at this point.
In fact, when they first encounter Shredder, Leonardo, the moral compass of the group, straight up stabs him, and then – get this – offers him two choices. Either to be killed by the violent turtle group or cut his own guts out.
So, at the start at least, they were ultra-violent killing machines, not a friendly group after justice.
5. Winnie the Pooh
You may remember the character ‘Christopher Robin’ in Winnie-the-pooh but you might not know that he was actually based on the author’s own son by the same name.
Christopher Robin owned Pooh Bear who was his treasured teddy bear that lacked IQ but made up in heart. He lived in the hundred-acre wood with his other animal friends like Piglet and Tigger. The gang went on crazy, cheerful adventures throughout the years and these episodes formed the basis of each story.
But the origins are anything but cheerful unfortunately. The real ‘Christopher Robin’ received a teddy named Edward from his father on his first birthday and only when they went to London zoo did Christopher rename the teddy to Winnie after a Canadian black bear they saw there. He got the ‘pooh’ part of the name from a swan whilst on holiday who was also named pooh. And then over time, as he got older his collection of stuffed toys grew to include all those animals famed in the stories.
A lot of the stories were inspired by Christoper’s father watching him play with his toys in the woods where they had a holiday home. As the first story was published, it became a huge success, however, it wasn’t so great for Christopher since he was often bullied in school because of his connection to the teddy bear.
He also had a very low self-esteem and as the bullying and teasing got worse, the problems started mounting up for Christopher. It’s not difficult to understand why since in 1931 he was named one of the most famous children in the world alongside the children of royalty.
But as Christopher got older, he started to resent his father for what he had done and even hated Winnie-the-pooh itself. He even went on to marry his first cousin, to the disappointment of Christopher’s mother. But the sad thing is that he never actually went on to have a good relationship with his father as he felt exploited by him. His mother also left him and on her death bed she refused to see him.
So the story we all thought was about happiness and loving in a way caused a family to break up.
4. Donnie – Wild Thornberrys
In The Wild Thornberrys, Donnie is a little boy adopted by Nigel and Marianne Thornberry. They discover Donnie living with a family of orangutans while doing a TV show about the primates. Nigel and Marianne adopt Donnie, and he’s sometimes left in the care of his older sister, Debbie.
However, the tragedy of Donnie’s story is that his biological parents were naturalists who were killed by poachers, leaving him to be raised by the orangutans until the Thornberrys came along.
Because of this, Donnie has a slow development. He doesn’t have the language or social skills of other kids his age.
I’ve always thought the tragedy of Pinocchio is that the nose-growing-when-lying tech has never been adapted to work on politicians. But it turns out the original story, which appeared in a newspaper in the 1880’s, is pretty tragic all by itself.
In the original story, Pinocchio doesn’t like Jiminy Cricket’s advice, so he throws a hammer at him and kills him.
Worse, he doesn’t even feel bad about it. Instead, Pinocchio acts like the guy in some story you read about the problems of privilege, saying the cricket’s death was, “his own fault, for I didn’t want to kill him.” Never mind that the cricket didn’t put a gun to Pinocchio’s head and force him to throw his hammer or anything.
Later, Pinocchio gets into more trouble. In a state of exhaustion, he falls asleep with his wooden feet on a stove, where they burn off. No worries, Gepetto sweeps in and makes new feet for him. Pinocchio eventually gets hanged from a tree after failing to take ghost-Jiminy Cricket’s advice AGAIN.
The author meant for this to be the end of the cautionary tale of Pinocchio. But the newspaper told him to keep writing, probably because they wanted a more Disney-ish ending. Instead, the tale concluded with Pinocchio promising he had, in fact, finally learned his lesson from the zombie version of Jiminy Cricket.
2. Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty is the story we all know about a princess who pricks her finger, falls asleep, and can only be awakened by a kiss from her prince.
In the original story however, Sleeping Beauty is actually found by a king who, when he can’t wake her, decides to just go ahead and have sex with her. That’s right, the original story is about rape.
After that happens, the king goes right back to his wife and never gives it a second thought. Sleeping Beauty becomes pregnant with twins and even gives birth while still unconscious. A couple of fairies show up and try to help the babies breastfeed. They accidentally get the babies suckle the princess’ fingers because apparently boobs and fingers look exactly alike. At any rate, this wakes Sleeping Beauty and she goes about nursing and raising her children without a second thought.
Then the king reappears and declares his love for Sleeping Beauty. His angry wife enters the story and tries to make him eat his own children. Although the kind-hearted cook outsmarted her by refusing to prepare a dish of babies. Eventually, the wife tries to throw Sleeping Beauty into a fire but does not succeed. Sleeping Beauty screams, and the king saves her by throwing his wife into the fire himself.
Then they live happily ever after, despite everything that’s completely wrong and disturbing about that story.
1. The Little Mermaid
The original Little Mermaid story isn’t as happy a tale as the Disney version, either. The Disney movie is all about a mermaid princess named Ariel who is bored with life underwater in her father’s kingdom and is interested in the human world.
She saves and falls in love with a prince and to get some legs she makes a deal with a sea witch named Ursula who takes away her voice and gives her a few days to receive the kiss of true love from the prince. Just as Ariel is about to succeed, Ursula cheats her way into seducing the prince by turning into a human herself, but eventually, Ariel wins the prince back over and they live happily ever after.
In Hans Christian Anderson’s original story however, the mermaid was jealous not only of humans walking on land, but also their eternal souls. In the original story, her grandma told her that she could get an eternal soul by getting a human to love her, so that was her main motivation to become a human.
She traded her voice for legs. As part of the deal, she had to get the prince to kiss her or she’d die. So she danced for him on her new legs, which caused her intense pain. Why? because in the original deal the poison she drank to give her legs stipulated it would feel like a sword splitting her down the middle. Also, every step she took would make it feel like she walks on knives. And if anyone else married the prince, she would die.
What’s particularly strange in the novel is that as a way to reveal to the prince who she is, she was given the option to murder him to reveal herself as a mermaid again. However, she refused, and in doing so she turned into air, as a sort of angel. In sparing the prince, she earned an actual shot at gaining an eternal soul. There is a little caveat there, though. She had to do good deeds for at least 300 years to get a shot at heaven!
Well, I’m glad Disney didn’t go with that version. I can just see all the little kids in the theater crying inconsolably into their popcorn boxes.
Which of these cartoon character origins did you think was the most messed up? Or, can you think of another movie or TV show that’s based on a much more tragic earlier story? Let me know in the comment section down below!