If you have ever felt like today’s cartoons lack a little something, you’re not alone. Programming has changed a lot since millennials have come of age, but today’s weird shows are on a completely different level (think Adventure Time).
Let’s reminisce about the days when creepy, odd, and offbeat storylines were a daily afterschool occurrence. These are the shows that helped shape the sense of humor you have today. Countless jokes were shared based on these series, friendships were forged, and many homework assignments not completed (to the constant dismay of your parents). You owe it to your former self to bring these treasures back and fully appreciate the genius of the cartoonists and writers of your youth.
If there has ever been a good time to be reminded of these shows, it’s now, as a grown up. The innocent child brain you were equipped with long ago almost certainly missed jokes and overlooked innuendos. So log off social media, put your phone on silent, then find your childhood blankie which is stuffed in the back of the closet (everyone knows it’s there) and get ready to relax, unwind and countdown the top ten weirdest cartoons of the 1990s.
10 The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat
The intro alone is enough to make you shudder. From the “Hey Felix!” voice over to his evil giggle, this might be what nightmares are made of. The lead cat sits in a purse and flies through psychedelic swirls, then for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, turns 3D and flies around a balloon replica of himself. A rock ballad plays while a montage of oddities are displayed, which includes but is not limited to: a creepy frog taxi driver, a duck dressed in middle eastern fashion who states “show time!” right before breaking into an evil laugh, and a three-eyed baby in a diaper playing himself like an upright bass. All of it sort of leaves the viewer with a sense of unease while making it look like the cat in question is on an acid trip imagining it all in his feline-brain, sort of like what you think your cat might be thinking as it runs through your apartment at top speed for no good reason at two in the morning.
There is something to be said for a classic cartoon like the original feline character from 1919 being turned into something kids in the '90s liked to watch. And even though his magical bag, oddball friends, and offbeat storylines are strange, there hasn’t been anything like it since. Watching it now would probably result in picking up on some jokes you might have missed as a kid.
9 Rocko’s Modern Life
Never mind the fact that Rocko is an Australian Wallaby with a pet dog, the sheer amount of wildlife in the animated series is enough to give someone whiplash. This show was created for both kids AND adults which makes it a little off-beat. They had to have a certain balance of crass jokes and colorful imagery to appeal to everyone.
The details of the show are pretty mundane; Rocko works at a comic book store and lives alone with his dog Spunky. But the often grotesque characters, odd use of anthropomorphic features on household items, as well as the dirty jokes that are “hidden” in many episodes would likely make your parents gasp.
The intro depicts Rocko being dumped on the ground by his mother, presumably to demonstrate that he has immigrated to America from Australia. Knowledge is then shoved into his brain by a large hand which could be demonstrative of “the man” or post-secondary education. He is then thrown into the “real world” where he is forced to live next to obnoxious neighbors and work a dead-end job. Sound familiar?
Rocko is the eternal optimist, always seeing the bright side of things and seems to be the most grounded and realistic character in the show. With two oddball best friends, Heffer the suspender-wearing steer, and Filburt the nerdy and socially awkward turtle, he can overcome any obstacle that life throws at him.
8 Bump in the Night
What made Bump in the Night so weird? Well, for starters, the thought of a green monster living under the bed is terrifying to any kid. The intro to the show contains a jazzy piano tune where Mr.Bumpy as he calls himself jumps around like he has attention deficit disorder.
The show features the messiest room you have probably ever seen, as well as a closet monster that instills fear in the main characters. This is the type of show that gave kids the idea that their Barbie dolls and action figures came to life at night while they slept. Mr. Bumpy feeds on dirty socks and dust bunnies and his closest friends are Squishington, a squishy blue dude, and Miss Molly, a stitched-together doll that’s seen better days.
This program is strange, and we cannot quite put their finger on why it feels so weird. Besides the obvious toys coming to life, the show just has a certain unexplainable vibe. Mr. Bumpy has purple warts, his voice is reminiscent of a crazy jazz singer, and his eyeballs make him look more like an alien than anything else. Thanks to Bump in the Night, thousands of children went to sleep fearing their closets, never wanting to step down from the bed to go to the washroom in the middle of the night. This show is definitely to blame for bed wetting in the '90s.
7 Freaky Stories
The sentence “it happened to a friend of a friend of mine” will always have a special place in your heart if you were a fan of this one. The show is set in Ted’s diner, a 1940s style restaurant where Larry the bug, a blue cockroach, and his friend Maurice the maggot tell scary stories featuring urban legends.
The pair seems fairly harmless, yet as a child seeing a talking cockroach and slime covered maggot is enough to put you off your lunch. The weird factor comes later, when you hear the stories they recount.
One of the more disturbing episodes was the one about a girl who is home alone and gets scared because she hears noises at night. She decides not to go investigate since she feels her dog licking her hand which comforts her, only to find a note in the morning that reads ”humans can lick too”. Yikes.
Another unsettling tale is of a business man who stops at a motel for the night and has the best sleep of his life. Later, he asks the manager about how the massage feature works in the mattress, which the manager refuses to answer. He then notices a hole in the mattress and realizes it’s filled with thousands of crawly bugs. It’s enough to make your ten year old self crap his or her pants.
6 Veggie Tales
The premise of this series featuring musical produce is fairly innocent and wholesome. The characters depict Christian-themed tales to teach children moral lessons about values such as forgiveness, compassion, and second chances while using comical pop-culture references to make their point.
Weirdness rears its unpleasant head around the time kids realize that the overtly religious tone of the show might not align with their personal upbringing and beliefs. The comedy is inclusive, and diversity seems apparent, since fruits and veggies of all shapes and sizes are depicted. Somehow, growing up and looking back, it seems you can’t shake the feeling that singing along to a God-fearing harvest might make you feel weird, even if the uncomfortable feelings only show up later in life.
Audiences noticed the controversy surrounding the show when NBC began editing and removing openly religious storylines. This triggered complaints by Parents Television Council, a conservative watch group who became upset that the series was being robbed of its religious content. A spokesperson for NBC had said "Our goal is to reach as broad an audience as possible with these positive messages while being careful not to advocate any one religious point of view."
Regardless of all that drama, the show was weird in a fun-loving way. Silly songs with Larry featured tunes like “Barbara Manatee”, “I Love My Lips”, and “Song of the Cebu” which were guaranteed to crack you up.
5 Cow and Chicken
This nonconformist television program was a spinoff from the I Am Weasel show on which it initially appeared. The unrefined humor in this program is what made it so great. Children prefer gross jokes to well-thought out punchlines any day, and this show surely delivered.
Cow and Chicken are somehow portrayed as siblings who continually have to evade the Red Guy’s trickery. Cow is sensitive and thoughtful, while Chicken is crude and rude, but together they create an inseparable pair. In terms of being strange, it doesn’t get much weirder than a cow and a chicken who share human parents. There was even an episode where Cow and Chicken go to the mall with their human grandmother!
If that wasn’t enough for you, perhaps the fact that Cow has a baby-voice and protruding utters, while Chicken’s voice is similar to that of a gangster rap artist will make you question your very sanity. Viewers never actually see the parents’ faces in this series which is both funny and irritating and resonates with the Charlie Brown method of never attributing a real identity to adult characters.
Let’s face it, in a kid’s mind, children rule the world and adults are just a series of identical fixtures. So thank you Cartoon Network, we will forever be indebted to you for this magical creation.
4 Stressed Eric
Riddled with British humor which is known to be dry, this show is filled with a lackluster color palette and uncomfortable subject matter. One constant element with cartoons is the bright and colorful backdrops and characters but Stressed Eric took things in a completely different direction.
Eric Feeble’s character has two children, is divorced, and generally hates his life. Being stressed is an emotion foreign to most kids so it’s not a stretch to say that this televised program was aimed at a more mature audience, but that didn’t stop young people from watching, especially if you were one of those kids lucky enough to have a television in your bedroom (secret forbidden late-night cartoons, anyone?).
Eric is perpetually late, hates his job, his boss, and having to deal with his pompous neighbours. He employs a nanny who is constantly smoking, drinking, drunk, or hungover. She really doesn’t tend to the kids much which entirely defeats the purpose of him hiring help in the first place.
Eric seems to be seconds away from a heart-attack in almost every scene, wherein a vein on the side of his head throbs each time something negative or stressful happens. By the end of every single episode, Eric’s throbbing temple-vein reaches out and strangles him. So yes, weird doesn’t even really begin to cover it.
You may remember the original Tim Burton movie of the same name which was released in 1988 and featured Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice. This animated series was quirky and beyond weird, beginning with the intro. Music begins to play as an ominous Beetlejuice maniacally giggles. He wears pointy shoes, a striped suit, and adorns long red fingernails. He then looks at the viewer and says “It's show time!”
Are you uncomfortable yet? He is then seen embarking on a roller coaster with Lydia, the female lead, and his head is bitten off by one of the giant mouths that surround them. Monsters, ghosts, bats, practically every creepy thing you would expect to see on Halloween is typical in Beetlejuice’s world. Lydia summons him by saying his name three times and together they terrorize her parents with spells as well as hauntings.
As kids, it would make you want to prank and scare everyone you know; as a grownup, it will make you want to go back to the good old days and watch the original movie. Nothing has come along since Beetlejuice that can quite compare to it. Be prepared to laugh and feel unnerved all at the same time.
The usual nerdy-kid-turns-into-a-crusader storyline is followed on Freakazoid. Dexter is a sixteen year-old computer whiz who doesn’t have many friends and also happens to be the manic superhero Freakazoid. This cartoon rocks because for the first time, a weirdo was being celebrated as a superhero. He was unorthodox and agitated and threw off an “I’m insane” vibe.
In the first episode, Dexter doesn't want to go to a high-school dance for fear of being rejected by girls. He tells his mother he would rather stay at home because his computer is his life, to which she replies “that’s so very, very sad”. The comedy is on point throughout the series, and the weirdness sneaks into the details with his spandex-wearing, sideline comments, and blue skin.
The big take away from this weirdo is that he is a total and complete oddball but he embraces it. He is not only snarky and strange but hilarious and entertaining. There exist very few series where embracing the freak within is suggested or even encouraged, and this series put an awesome spin on the oldest story in the book: the lonely scrawny kid who lacks social skills breaks out of his shell and wins everyone over. He isn’t as handsome as Bruce Wayne and not nearly as stealthy as Clark Kent, but Dexter is the every man of superheroes, making him a huge hit with kids in the '90s.
1 The Ren & Stimpy Show
The sardonic nature of the show and offbeat humor was a favorite among its fans. Ren is a Chihuahua who's impatient, rude, and mischievous at his core, while Stimpy is a well-meaning, albeit stupid cat.
One of the most memorable cartoon jingles came in the form of “Happy Happy Joy Joy”, a song which was sure to stick in your head. This was an early '90s staple, and even though many found the content too crude for a young audience, most of us can recall tuning in at one time or another.
Because the creators’ goal was to deliver toilet humor with a side of crass language, the show was later renamed as Ren & Stimpy: Adult Party Cartoon, which enabled creators to stop censoring certain aspects of the show, including religion, politics, and alcohol.
Ren and Stimpy surely provided giggles and many WTF moments, along with sexual innuendos easily found in several episodes. The subject matter is definitely messed-up, ranging from Ren’s anger issues, to Stimpy’s lack of intuition, to the repulsive things they say and do; dysfunction is inescapable. People who enjoy satire will surely love reminiscing about this series.