Top 10 Animated Television Cartoon Tearjerkers

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Good television is good television. The medium is not important. There are moments that choke you up just thinking about them and animation is not an exception to this. As you may come to realize, televised animation may well be the rule. Read and enjoy the top 10 tearjerkers in televised animation. Just have a box of Kleenex handy….

10. The Little Mermaid: Metal Fish 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dG4TbhMSLI

In season two of The Little Mermaid animated series, episode 22 ‘Metal Fish,’ showed everyone how The Little Mermaid story really began. The ‘Metal Fish’ was a primitive submarine that got caught at the bottom of the ocean. Ariel and friends work feverishly to help the human in the submarine get back to the surface. When the submarine spirals towards the surface, Ariel says ‘Goodbye Metal Fish…’ Once on the surface, the human tells his pet cat ‘I guess we’ll live to tell the tale.’ The human is Hans Christian Andersen. The final scene shows Ariel striking the pose of The Little Mermaid statue made by Edvard Eriksen as Andersen writes on the surface. It is one of the most poignant, touching, and surprisingly mature cartoons that the Toon Disney brand has ever put out.

More info: About the Little Mermaid statue, Review of  Metal Fish, Ariel Posing Like Statue.

9. Futurama: Luck of the Fryrish

The 36th episode of the original run of Futurama is called “Luck of the Fryrish.” The main character in Futurama Philip J. Fry was in suspended animation from the eve of the year 2000 until the year 3000. This episode flashes back to his youth, as well as Fry’s seven-leaf clover. The lucky clover was a bone of contention between Fry and his brother Yancy. Fry eventually hid the clover in a record soundtrack of The Breakfast Club. In the future, Fry watches a historical video about a Philip J. Fry who was a rock star as well as the first man on Mars. He sees the clover and assumes that Yancy has stolen his identity. Fry then vows to go to the grave of  the fake ‘Phillip J. Fry” and take back his seven leaf clover.

At the grave, Fry reads the inscription “Here Lies Philip J. Fry Named For His Uncle To Carry On His Spirit.” A flashback scene then shows Yancy naming his newborn son after his brother. Writer Rob Weiner won an Annie Award for outstanding individual achievement for writing in an animation television production in 2001. It was a very fitting testament.

8. Hey Arnold!: Married 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhD5O6tsTB8

Episode 92 of the Nickelodeon series Hey Arnold! Is called ‘Married.’ One of the main plot lines of the series is the character Helga being unable to confess her crush on the main character Arnold. They have a friend Rhonda who makes an ‘Origami Marriage Predictor.’ The Marriage Predictor pairs Arnold and Helga in matrimonial bliss. That night, both Arnold and Helga dream about what it would be like to be married. The next day Rhonda announces that the Marriage Predictor was flawed and all results are ‘null and void.’ Rhonda asks another friend Phoebe if she can imagine Arnold and Helga married. Phoebe imagines her adult friends standing over a lighthouse looking into a sunset holding hands (21:45 in video).

7. Thundercats: Return to Thundera


Thundercats Return to Thundera 2 by tvcartoons2011

The 20th episode of the original run of Thundercats was entitled Return To Thundera. The episode starts with a siege on the Thundercats by a seemingly invincible War-Bot. The Thundercat Leader Lion-O is knocked through space and time back to the day that the Thundercats escaped a dying Thundera. Lion-O encounters his own father, Claudus, and saves him. Lion-O also understands why Claudus made his sacrifice. Claudus has the plans to the War-Bot, which allows Lion-O to defeat the War-Bot in his own time. A touching episode for any one who wishes desperately to see a loved one a last time.

6. Family Guy: Brian Wallows And Peter’s Swallows

The 45th episode of the original run of Family Guy is entitled Brian Wallows And Peter’s Swallows. There are actually two parallel storylines in this episode. In the first storyline, Peter decides to grow a beard after watching an episode of Grizzly Adams and a rare swallow gets in the beard and lays eggs. Peter cares for the young birds, but in the end has to let them go. The second storyline involves Brian’s dissatisfaction with his love life. The women Brian dates are not up to his standards. This depression leads to a drunk driving charge for which Brian must do community service. Brian is sentenced to help an old woman Pearl Burton (whom he initially hates.) After telling Pearl to ‘drop dead,’ Brian discovers that she was once a singer. Arriving back at Pearl’s just before she hangs herself, Brian and Pearl reconcile. They eventually fall in love. Brian convinces Pearl to go outside for the first time in decades. Pearl is immediately hit by oncoming traffic. Before Pearl dies, she tells Brian it was the best day of her life. Using virtual reality, Brian and Pearl share what a life together would have been like.

5. The Simpsons: And Maggie Makes Three

Episode 116 of The Simpsons starts off with the family looking through a picture album. The children notice there are no pictures of Maggie. Homer reminisces about a time when he quite the Nuclear Plant to work at a bowling alley. When Marge gets pregnant, Homer has to beg for his Nuclear Power Plant back to support his growing family. Mr. Burns puts up a sign in front of Homer that says “Don’t Forget, You’re Here Forever.”  When asked where the pictures of Maggie are, Homer responds they are where they are needed most. In the end, you see the pictures over the sign that now reads “Do It For Her.”

You can see a small clip here: http://www.imdb.com/video/hulu/vi3452305433/

4. G. I. Joe: There’s No Place Like Springfield Part One and Two

While with Scarlett, Shipwreck helps try to rescue a crazed elderly Professor Mulaney. Mulaney has developed a formula to turn water into lava. Shipwreck is given the formula but can only remember the formula if the code words are said. In the ensuing battle, Shipwreck appears to drown. Waking up years later in the town of Springfield, Shipwreck discovers that he has gotten married and has a child. It all starts to fall apart as Shipwreck realizes that he has not aged. COBRA plotted to make him comfortable to find the code words. Worse, everyone around Shipwreck is a synthoid (a synthetic creature.) Shipwreck defeats COBRA, but has to watch his new family dissolve…. Literally (video at 20:00).

3. Gargoyles: The Mirror

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76SM2MnZGak

Episode 18 of The Gargoyles cartoon is The Mirror. One of the ongoing stories of Disney’s Gargoyles cartoon was the romantic tension between the Gargoyle Goliath and the human police officer Elisa. In The Mirror, Elisa becomes a gargoyle and Goliath becomes human. Instinctively, Elisa saves a human Goliath while she is flying. After defeating the bad guys and returning back to ‘normal,’ Goliath returns to his stone form trying to profess his love for the human Elisa. Elisa doesn’t let him and says “I know, but that’s the way it has to be.”

2. Speed Racer: The Trick Race

Episode 50 of the original run of Speed Racer featured one of the best moments in television history (not just animation) . After defeating the bad guys, Speed Racer asks Racer X if Racer X is his brother. Racer X is Speed’s long lost brother Rex Racer. Racer X responds by punching Speed in the gut. Speed falls and Racer X throws down his mask. Racer X gives up racing. When Speed comes to, he holds Racer X’s mask and realizes that Racer X was his brother Rex Racer all along.

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas


Linus reciting the Biblical Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke may or may not be the most defining animated moment of all time. There is a certainty that the scene was no slam dunk at the time- it made network executives very nervous. They thought their phones would explode the next day. An Executive Producer said, “You can’t read the bible on television.” Schultz said in the meeting leading up to the event, “If we don’t do it, no one will”. When it first aired in 1965, nearly half of the people watching television were watching and an ad man the next day would say, “all Heaven broke loose.”

Did we miss one that makes you all misty-eyed? Is there an episode of Scooby that makes you sob uncontrollably? Let us know in the comments.

And since so many commenters mentioned it, we included the ending to Jurassic Bark episode from Futurama. Enjoy.

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42 Comments

    • YES YES YES..this is the saddest cartoon EVER, how can it not be number one, and how can it be omitted completely from this list? Even the creators admitted it was too sad so they made another episode and had the dog brought back for a happier ending..I mean c’mon

      • The trick is to watch the episode up until the montage starts. If you cut it off then you can pretend that everything turned out alright. Also in Bender’s Big Score they rewrite the dogs story so it never actually ends up happening. By the way Lacey was my dog’s name.

    • I agree, but the author thought differently and that’s okay. I did include the a clip that shows the dog, Seymour, waiting for Fry. I even got a little misty-eyed watching just that.

    • THANK YOU! How in the hell did they include a Futurama episode, and it wasn’t this one?

      I read another list that voted it the number one (of all time ever) saddest TV death.

      I cry just thinking about it.

      Really? A Charlie Brown Christmas is sadder than that? I don’t think so.

  1. Why did I watch 3 hours of the same little mermaid episode?! About an hour in I thought I had a stroke but it was just the thundercats. I feel that #10 was unjustly placed, it should have been higher, judging by the evidence.

    • For a second there I thought we’d all have to call 911 to save you. Thank goodness it was just the Thundercats & not a stroke!!

      (Note: for those of you reading the comments after TopTenz fixes the videos, they messed up originally & had the same video 9 times.)

  2. The episode of futurama where fry tries to bring back his dog is my biggest tearjerker. In the end it plays sad music and shows the dog waiting for fry every day. The ending shows and old dog, he lays down….and closes his eyes.

  3. For the record, I got a lot of comments on my own personal Facebook page about the exclusion of Jurassic Bark. My thinking on it was to put one episode from a series on the list. There were other Simpsons episodes that made me cry as well. Fryrish resonated with me more because it seemed like my brother and I always seemed to compete when I grew up. My brother’s name is Gene and I named my daughter Jean. For that, personally I gave Fryrish the edge. I love Jurassic Bark and have honestly enjoyed so many bringing up the episode as well as having so much passion in their responses.

  4. “Jurassic Bark” was going to be my #1 mention and I’m glad to see so many mention it. But I was surprised to not see Samurai Jack mentioned. Two episodes in particular brought tears to my eyes and they happened to be back-to-back from Season 2. In “Jack Remembers the Past” the hero stumbles (literally) upon the ruins of his family’s village, and in “Jack and the Monks” he offers to travel with and then protect 3 monks he comes across on the road (without any reply from them, of course). But the monks are headed up a mountain and, after encountering more and more difficult climbs and relentless beasts, Jack is about to give up when the monks appear in visions to point out the parallels of the mountain and his seemingly endless quest. He climbs the mountain and, at the top, thanks the monks (who are nowhere to be seen) and renews his vow to find a way back to the past to defeat Aku.

  5. Peter Boucher on

    Well for me is probably the most famous and greatest cartoon short ever created and the title is “What’s Opera Doc” with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd doing a 7 minutes spoof on Wagner’s Opera Cycle, “The Ring Of The Nibelung” (You know the one where Elmer is spearing into Bugs’ rabbit hole and singing “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit”). His spear and magic helmet. At the end he finally “kills” Bugs and begins to cry and whimper saying to himself, “What have I done, poor little bunny and begins to sob uncontrollably as to what he had done. But of course to give it a bittersweet ending as Elmer is carrying Bugs’ lifeless body to Valhalla, he awakens and says “Well what did you expect from an opera, a happy ending ?” and then goes back to playing dead at the very last moment. Look up that cartoon on the Wikipedia entitled “What’s Opera Doc” and you will find an incredible amount of information about it and was voted the greatest cartoon short ever made. To my knowledge, its the only pairing of Bugs and Elmer where Elmer finally gets Bugs.

  6. Wonderful list, love to see similar lists like this in the future.

    Though I would have picked “Arnold’s Christmas” over “Married” for Hey Arnold Still! a good job nonetheless.

  7. I’m surprised you used “And Maggie Makes Three” versus “Mother Simpson”. That ending usually leaves me fighting back a tear.

  8. On “Family Guy” the episode where Brian & Stewie got locked in a bank vault (actually where the safety deposit boxes were) didn’t leave me feeling teary eyed, but to me that was the most serious episode I ever saw from “Family Guy” especially when Stewie finds a gun in Brian’s safety deposit box and tells Stewie about contemplating suicide as they get drunk on a bottle of Scotch which was also in Brian’s box. The episode ends with Brian reading a Dickens novel as Stewie falls asleep and Monday comes around and the door is unlocked and they just walk out.

  9. This is a great list, and I’m not disputing it, but as long as readers want sad cartoons, the end of the Batman the animated series episode Baby Doll is very depressing.

    And pretty much any episode of Futurama where Fry does something freakishly romantic for Leila an she ignores it.

    • On the Batman animated series, I personally always get a bit choked up at the end of House and Garden. There was a lot to consider to make the list. I just love all of the passion of th responses to this list. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Another Futurama episode worth mentioning is “The Sting”, where Fry supposedly dies after being stung by a space bee, only to find out that this was just a figment of Leyla’s imagination while in a coma. The story is very touching.

  11. Can’t watch Jurassic Bark. If I see it listed, I avoid it. If I’m channel surfing and hit upon it (ANY part of it) I immediately change the channel.

    The one time I did watch it, I was literally an emotional basket case for a week or more. It SO reminded me of having to move and as a result I lost my beloved mutt Duke. He was given away to another family, and the last time I saw him was in the back window of a station wagon as it pulled away.

    He was my best friend at 9 years old, and here I am at 61 still crying over Duke.

    Yes, Jurassic Bark is #1 on my list. Saddest animation I’ve ever seen.

    • Out of all these not a single one was even a bit sad, i dont even see how one cud think of it as sad. I have seen pretty mcuh every simpsons, futurama, family guy episode and the only sad one is Jurassic Bark. It was soooooooo DEPRESSing. I cried ill admit it, the saddest thing i have ever seen never mind 9/11. i feel u seymour…

  12. Zachary Gillette on

    Jurassic Bark doesn’t effect me THAT much, but it is sad. I think Time Keeps On Slipping is much more sad on a human level, where Fry loses his chance at Leela. The Globetrotter whistle at the end is amazing.

    PS Futurama is the best show there is.

  13. This list could be all futurama
    My favorite is idle hands are devil’s
    Play things, where fry gives up his hands
    To robot devil to play great music,
    And leela can’t hear it

  14. random comrad on

    If there can be anything truly sad is what ends sad that’s my desition. And speaking of which it’s realy sad that NO ONE remebered sonic x episode 77 what worst it’s a good example of tragedy when someone dies with so much untold to beloved. However in last episode ther was some hope left but not enof to say: “she is not dead”, but the fact that no one mentioned it neither in coments neither in list is terrofing. So many people forgot the death of a TRUE HERO. But spero spiro (latin as I live I full of hope)

  15. There was a really sad episode of Smurfs where Smurfette’s pet mouse Squeaky dies and Papa Smurf explains death. Pretty sad for a kid’s show, they didn’t sugarcoat things in the 80s. Who could forget the Sesame Street from 1983 after Mr. Hooper dies and the gang has to explain to Big Bird that he isn’t coming back and life isn’t fair, it’s just the way things are.

  16. The South Park episode ‘You’re Getting Old’ where Stan turns 10 and becomes cynical and can’t enjoy anything anymore because he sees everything as literal crap. Idk that one really hit home for me. The ‘Landslide’ montage at the end gets me every time.

    Futurama is just an obvious really

    A lot of moments from The Simpsons, but the end of ‘Lisa’s Substitute’ comes to mind, where they say goodbye at the train station. The voice acting is exceptional there, it really sounds like she’s crying. It used to make me cry like a little bitch as a kid

  17. The one animated special that tears me up is the ‘Diana’s Piano’ segment of ‘Garfield’s 9 lives.’ It’s about Garfield’s 6 life and how this girl plays the piano for her kitten and grows up and her life goes on them. The child grows, dates, marries and has less and less time for her cat. It stills tears me up…

  18. Madeleine Baier on

    I bet you haven’t heard this….
    It’s an old black and white Popeye cartoon; Popeye is on the ship swabbing the deck or something like that, and here comes Olive Oyl. She is carrying a fishbowl with a single fish in it. While she’s showing off her new acquisition, the fish, seeing an opportunity for freedom from the confines of the bowl, jumps out and straight into the water. Olive freaks out and starts howling for Popeye to save the fish!
    Well, after no small amount of effort, Popeye recaptures the fish and dumps her back in the bowl.
    This has always been the part that makes me cry…….
    The fish, realizing that she’s back in the bowl, starts to cry. I’m tearing up just typing this……

  19. In the Simpson’s movie, when they live in Alaska Marge’s video message to Homer… I was crying… And to find out she taped the message over her wedding video… Damn… People always saying love doesn’t exist after celebrity couples divorce… If ever Marge and Homer really divorced, that’s the day love really will have ceased to exist for me…

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