Total Nerd

14 Childhood Favorite Cartoon Characters With Tragic Origin Stories  

Jonathan H. Kantor
2.9k votes 569 voters 14.7k views 14 items

List Rules Vote up the darkest origins for seemingly squeaky-clean animated characters.

Typically, cartoon characters are cute and cuddly, but every once in a while, an animator will introduce a character whose backstory is so tragic that you can't help but feel bad for them. In those rare cases, the character's origin story is usually forgotten. How many people can recall exactly how Smurfette joined the Smurfs or how Huey, Dewey, and Louie came to live with their Uncle Donald?

We forget these stories specifically because they remind us that the world is a dark, dangerous place, which isn't generally why people watch cartoons. Both kids and adults tune in to watch animated series for their colorful imagery, captivating stories, and relatable characters, not for harrowing tales of survival and hardship. Despite that fact, examples of the latter do exist, and these are the darkest of the bunch.

Casper the Friendly Ghost is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 14 Childhood Favorite Cartoon Characters With Tragic Origin Stories
Photo: Casper the Friendly Ghost/Paramount Pictures

The creator of Casper the Friendly Ghost, Harvey Comics, claims that the ghost boy came from ghost parents. Unfortunately, that explanation doesn't gel with some of the character's later appearances. In his 1995 live-action movie, Casper is the spiritual remnant of Casper McFadden, a young boy who passed from pneumonia. 

His mother perished in childbirth, and he became ill after begging his father to let him go sledding. His father reluctantly agreed, resulting in the boy contracting the illness that ended him.

Is this tragic?
see more on Casper the Friendly Ghost
Magneto is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 14 Childhood Favorite Cartoon Characters With Tragic Origin Stories
Photo: X-Men: The Animated Series/Saban Entertainment

When WWII came to Europe, Max Eisenhardt and his family fled to Poland to avoid Germany's persecution of the Jews following the passage of the Nurenberg Laws. When German forces stormed Poland, Max and his family were sent to the Warsaw Ghetto, though they managed to escape. Unfortunately, they were betrayed and captured.

Tragically, his mother, sister, and father were all ended by the Germans. Max managed to survive, only to be captured once more. He was then sent to Auschwitz where he met Magda, a young Romani girl. The two escaped the camp during the revolt of October 7, 1944. 

Max later changed his name to Erik Lehnsherr in order to hide his identity. He also embraced his mutant powers and became a supervillain, though given his origins, this transformation is less diabolical than it is heartbreaking.

Is this tragic?
see more on Magneto
Huey, Dewey and Louie is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 14 Childhood Favorite Cartoon Characters With Tragic Origin Stories
Photo: DuckTales/Buena Vista Television

Huey, Dewey, and Louie are the adorable nephews of Donald Duck, but their parents are nowhere to be seen. They're absent in the original DuckTales and all other cartoons featuring the rascally trio, leading many to wonder what happened to them.

According to the comics, the triplets are the sons of Donald's twin sister, Dumbella Duck. Though their father's identity remains a mystery, his ultimate fate may not. After a practical joke involving firecrackers, the boys' father was admitted to the hospital and tragically never returned.

The boys' mother never forgave her children for their actions, which may have been why she sent them to live with her brother.

Is this tragic?
see more on Huey, Dewey and Louie
Babar the Elephant is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 14 Childhood Favorite Cartoon Characters With Tragic Origin Stories
Photo: Babar/HBO

When Babar, King of the Elephants, was a child, his mother was taken out by a hunter, prompting Babar to flee into the jungle. Eventually, he made his way into a city and met the Old Lady, a nice woman who outfitted him in human clothing and hired a tutor to teach him the ways of "civilized life." 

Some time later, his cousins Celeste and Arthur located him and helped return him to the elephant realm, which had recently suffered the loss of its king after he ate a toxic mushroom. When Babar returned, the Council of Elephants approached him about taking the job.

He was chosen because he had "lived among men" and learned the ways of the world, which they believed made him an ideal candidate. From that point forward, Babar was king.

Is this tragic?
see more on Babar the Elephant