You can trace the history of modern animation back to the 1830s and the phenakistoscope, which created the illusion of movement with images on a spinning cardboard disk. In the present, there aren’t even statistics about how many animated cartoons have been created because it’s an all-but-impossible task to figure out.
Everyone from major studios like Walt Disney and Warner Bros makes them, but people at home on their computers can produce them as well. They’re everywhere, and no matter how popular some of them are, there are still some remarkable behind the scenes things you can learn that even get more controversial the deeper you dig.
10. Popeye Muttered Because He was Animated Prior to Being Voiced
Watch some old Popeye cartoons from the ’30s and you’ll notice a curious thing. The dialogue often seems to not be part of the show; the characters’ mouths aren’t moving and the words are just mumbled. This was no accident; rather, it was a way to compensate for how the show was animated.
Popeye was drawn and animated before it was sent to have voices recorded. That meant voice actors had to fit dialogue into what they were given, whether it worked or not. So Popeye and Bluto end up muttering under their breath all the time simply because the cartoon was never animated with the intention of them speaking at all in those moments. Voice actor Jack Mercer just ad-libbed the close-lipped mutterings for fun.
9. Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Wore Collars to Make Them Easier to Animate
Animation is not an easy thing to do and in the past, it was much harder. A hand drawn cartoon had to be assembled from literally thousands and thousands of images, each one just slightly different from the one before it in sequence. Imagine drawing Mickey Mouse walking up a flight of stairs 1000 times in a row, with his legs moving just a bit higher in each image.
To save time and effort, animators learned to cut corners. One of these was very clear in early Hanna-Barbera cartoons, in which it seemed every single character had a collar and necktie on. When Yogi Bear wore a tie, it meant his body could remain static and only his head needed to be animated. This was a product of the reduced budgets cartoon makers had to deal with when working on television. A cartoon could be made using as little as 2,000 drawings instead of the usual 14,000 as a result.
8. Four-Fingered Cartoons Saved Millions of Dollars
Every so often on The Simpsons, a character talks to God and you may have noticed that God has five fingers while everyone else in the universe has four. And you may have also noticed that, for years, most cartoon characters had four fingers instead of five.
Though it’s not an issue today thanks to computers, in the days of hand drawn animation, making a fifth finger was hard work. It also threw off the geometry of figures that were basically based on a series of circles. Extra fingers made a character like Mickey Mouse look weird and made him harder to draw. Plus, since many of the early characters were not actually human, they didn’t really need to have five fingers. And animating a fifth finger actually costs more money because they need to spend more time and effort making it move. Walt Disney was said to have pegged the savings of using four fingers in the millions of dollars range.
7. ThunderCats Hired a Psychologist to Review Every Script
If you’ve ever thought that 80s cartoons were just mindless entertainment or excuses to sell action figures, think again! If nothing else, the ThunderCats were there to teach kids morality, and they even had a psychologist on board to ensure it happened.
Dr. Robert Kuisis was hired to review all scripts and offer feedback based on areas related to violence and morality.This was done in 1985, a time when violence and overt marketing to children in cartoons was a major concern in the media. Cartoons were frequently being placed under the microscope as being too violent or devoid of any value for the children who watched them, so cartoon producers tried to set themselves up as being of value before a critical backlash could arise.
6. Pepe Le Pew Was Italian in France
In 2021, Pepe Le Pew was scrubbed from the Looney Tunes roster after nearly 70 years. Turns out a cartoon whose sole gimmick is relentlessly pursuing a female who desperately doesn’t want to be near him and then forcing himself on her when he catches her is not really appropriate. But even before that, some people did wonder how a cartoon that seems to mercilessly mock the French lasted for so long. What did the French even think?
Turns out few French people weren’t aware there was an issue. In France, Pepe Le Pew wasn’t French at all, he was Italian. Actor Francois Tavares did the French dub of Pepe le Putois, which means polecat, for French audiences with a thick, exaggerated Italian accent, thus allowing everyone to laugh at stereotypes of a different culture and language.
This wasn’t to prevent offending the French, mind you. How could it be? If they heard a character with a French accent, it wouldn’t be offensive at all, it’d be normal and the joke would be ruined. So Pepe needed a new accent in France or the entire joke was lost. So, because he was a seducer, they chose Italian, which also carries that sexy stereotype.
5. Casey Kasem Quit Scooby Doo in Protest Over a Burger King Commercial
The original voice of America’s Top 40, Casey Kasem was also the original voice of Scooby Doo’s Shaggy. He started playing Shaggy in the 1960s and was even doing voices into the 2010s just before his death. But there was a period of time in which Kasem actually quit the show in protest.
Between 1995 and 2002, Kasem refused to do Shaggy’s voice after the characters were set to be used in a commercial for Burger King. Kasem, a vegan and staunch proponent of that lifestyle, was reportedly upset that Hanna-Barbera, the studio behind the cartoon, wasn’t willing to make Shaggy a vegan as well. In fairness, one of Shaggy’s gimmicks for years had been that he had a voracious appetite and would eat almost anything.
Kasem not only refused the commercial, he quit the show entirely for 7 years. It was only when producers relented and agreed to make Shaggy a vegetarian that he returned.
4. Cartoons like GI Joe Added PSAs to Appease Critics and Appear Educational
If you were a child of the 1980s, then you are likely well aware of the phrase “knowing is half the battle.” Made famous by GI Joe, this was how every 30-second PSA that was tacked onto an episode ended.
Why waste 30 seconds of precious cartoon airtime on a PSA? Strategy. GI Joe, like Transformers and He-Man, was essentially a 30-minute action figure commercial. It was designed to sell toys, and it used the thrill of blowing your enemies to smithereens to do so. The makers of the show knew that could be an issue in ways we addressed with the ThunderCats, so to cut critics off at the pass, they made it “educational.” A little PSA tacked on to give the show value. This was taking things a step further than just having a doctor on staff. Now the value of the show was explicit.
The PSAs were overseen by a doctor from Harvard’s School of Education and Human Development and were vetted by the National Child Safety Council. You could make a good case that this was in relation to the general tenor of TV critics of the time, the same culture that led to 1990s Children’s Television Act which required TV stations to ensure a percentage of children’s programming was, in fact, educational. This very law was arguably exploited shortly thereafter when channels applying for broadcast license renewals listed GI Joe as educational programming.
3. Costco and Disney’s Ratatouille Wine Broke Advertising Rules
Cross promoting movies is nothing new – every big summer release is pretty much guaranteed to have a fast food tie-in at some restaurant chain. They even sold bagged salad branded with Star Wars characters for the final three parts of the film series. So when Disney was looking to promote the movie Ratatouille back in 2007, it wasn’t outlandish of them to try to team up with Costco.
The problem with the partnership in this case was what the two companies decided to do. They produced Ratatouille-branded wine. The movie was about a rat chef, so it wasn’t crazy. But it was in violation of Wine Institute advertising standards that had existed since 1949.
Despite having 500 cases of chardonnay on hand to be sold as cartoon rat wine, the whole scheme was a violation of wine advertising rules. Their code bans any advertising that might be construed as appealing to children and it’s hard to get more appealing to children than by slapping a cartoon rat from a box office smash animated movie on a label. The plan had to be scrapped, despite the fact the winery was French and not beholden to those particular rules which only apply in California.
2. Clone High Was Canceled Because of Protests in India
In the early 2000s, Clone High debuted first in Canada and then later on MTV. The adult cartoon depicted a highschool in which the students are all clones of major historical figures. So far, so normal. However, it was canceled not long after massive and very serious protests were mounted in India that saw 100 people, including members of the Indian government, go on hunger strikes.
MTV apologized immediately and told the show’s creator that it was done. They even scrubbed all mention of the show from their website, just to be safe. But what could cause such an uproar over a cartoon? Especially in a country where the show didn’t even air? Gandhi.
Gandhi was a character on the show and instead of being representative of the man he was in real life, the creators opted to make him a party animal obsessed with getting drunk and having sex. This did not go over well in the place where he’s revered as a national hero, as you can imagine.
1. Betty Boop’s Look and Sound was Stolen From One Singer Who Stole it From Another
If you know anything about classic cartoons, then you’re definitely familiar with the character of Betty Boop. Created in the 1930s, she was designed to look like a flapper and spoke with a distinctive, high-pitched voice. The character is generally regarded as one of the earliest animated sex symbols and endures to this day, nearly a century later. What many people don’t know, however, is that the producers behind Boop were sued by actress Helen Kane for stealing her sound and look.
Kane famously sang a song called I Wanna Be Loved by You in 1928, later made much more famous by Betty Boop. Boop’s creator, Max Fleischer, even admitted to modeling the character in part on Kane. Kane had adopted that unique vocal style, almost a sort of baby-talk approach, that was still suggestive at the same time.
In 1932, Kane sued the studio for stealing her look and sound and, thus far, the case seems nearly open and shut. But you haven’t heard of Baby Esther yet.
Esther Jones was a singer before Helen Kane, who went by the stage name Baby Esther. There’s evidence that Kane had seen Jones perform in the late 1920s, before her own rise to fame. She sang at the Cotton Club in Harlem and had managed to create a persona that mixed those childish “boop” and “doop” sounds into a seductive musical performance. Video footage of old Baby Esther acts was used to prove Kane was not the originator as she had claimed and was essentially suing over an act she herself had stolen. Kane lost her lawsuit. Sadly, Baby Esther had vanished by that time and was presumed dead, so she never got to become the “real” face of Betty Boop.