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13 Childhood Favorite Cartoon Characters With Tragic Origin Stories

Updated June 23, 2020 62.3k votes 12.5k voters 1.2m views13 items

List RulesVote 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz is the primary antagonist of Phineas and Ferb, but his origin story helps explain his nasty attitude. His parents kept him from doing anything enjoyable, and as a result, he was tormented both at home and at school.

    His parents eventually disowned him, and he was forced to live with a pack of ocelots. He later joined a circus, but he was used as the "ball" in a dunk tank, meaning he was repeatedly hurled at a target by carnival attendees.

    After finally returning home, he was made to dress and act as a garden gnome after his father's actual gnome was repossessed. This long line of torments eventually led him to his mad scientist vocation.

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  • 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.

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