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The Existentially Bleak Observations About 14 Classic Cartoons

List RulesVote up the bleakest realities in these classic cartoons.

In search of some childhood-crushing reality? Here you'll have the chance to learn the horrible, disheartening truths and fan theories about some of your favorite classic cartoons. Some of these realities are pretty far-fetched, while others present an alarming amount of evidence to back up their claims. Many of them may not be for the faint of heart and should certainly not be passed along to anyone still in the throes of childhood wonder. 

If you're still bold enough to continue, prepare for a perspective on your favorite childhood cartoons that you may never be able to unsee. Which ones are so outlandish that they might actually hold water? Vote up the dark cartoon realities that are the most unnerving and grim.

  • Some Hey Arnold! fans argue that Helga, the loveless and unibrowed girl who calls Arnold's name throughout the opening credits, was the show's true lead all along. These theorists point out that Helga is the only character who receives her own monologue in each episode, and everything the audience sees may be presented from her point of view. 

    Helga's life is anything but easy. She's secretly in love with Arnold but comes from a dysfunctional home in which her father simply refers to her as "the girl," her mother appears to suffer from alcohol dependency, and Helga can never seem to escape her sister's shadow. Hey Arnold! may actually be the tale of a neglected young girl who hides behind her aggressive, unfriendly ways because she doesn't know how to ask for love.

    Is this bleak?
  • Charlie Brown, the lead character of Charles Schultz's famous Peanuts comic strip, is frequently downtrodden and miserable. He was even highlighted in Psychology Today for being "a model neurotic." Charlie seems to suffer from frequent bad luck, as well as many depressive episodes. He mostly spends his childhood overanalyzing the joy out of his own life.  

    When he needs help, he turns to Lucy, arguably the most manipulative girl in town who can't even be trusted to hold a football in place, let alone tackle the obstacles of mental health. Despite the occasional joy Charlie manages to squeeze out of conversations with his dog Snoopy, his life seems destined to continue on a downward spiral.

    Is this bleak?
  • Photo: user uploaded image

    Some fans of Disney's 1953 film, Peter Pan, suggest its titular character's motives for whisking children off to Neverland are surprisingly dismal. In theory, children who travel to Neverland neither leave nor grow up, a condition which the original book suggested Peter takes very seriously. The book reveals that if members of the Lost Boys do grow up, Peter routinely "thins them out." What exactly this entails is left to the reader's own imagination. 

    An alternate but equally disheartening theory claims that Peter is actually the Grim Reaper, and that the children in the story have already perished when he visits their home. He arrives to transport them to a magical land where they will never grow old but will never be able to return to their former lives.

    Is this bleak?
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    Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer's Bullies Only Embrace Him Because His Physical Deformity Is Useful

    Despite being beloved for generations, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer contains some pretty horrible lessons for children. The titular reindeer happens to have an incredibly luminescent nose, a physical quirk which none of the other reindeer respect. Rather than treating him as their equal, they mock poor Rudolph relentlessly.

    Rather than standing up for himself or becoming an otherwise useful member of society, Rudolph simply leaves town. Only later, when his deformity is recognized as a strength that the other reindeer can utilize, is Rudolph embraced by his society. The other reindeer never apologize for their behavior, nor do they attempt to befriend Rudolph in any meaningful way. The lesson appears to be "oppress those who are different, unless their differences prove profitable."

    Is this bleak?