5 Truly Heartbreaking Scenes Found In Lighthearted Cartoons

Whenever I’m about to see a new Disney/Pixar movie with friends and family, I like to obscure my crying by causing a commotion severe enough to get someone (anyone) to pepper-spray me in the face. That may sound extreme, but I already look like a taller version of Sam from Game Of Thrones, so not publicly crying at cartoons is literally all that I have going for me. Or rather, all that I HAD until I saw these films and shows. They look silly on the surface, but will sucker-punch you right in the tear ducts.

5

The Sword In The Stone: The Squirrel Romance

“Hey, kids! Do you like animated movies that are both entertaining AND educational? What’s that? I can suck a what?! I can stick a what WHERE?! Why you little … Just for that, you’re getting a King Arthur movie that’s just a glorified lesson in physics, math, and biology!” — Walt Disney, circa the 1960s.

So yeah, the 1963 Disney movie The Sword In The Stone is pretty much just the wizard Merlin educating a young pre-King Arthur about the natural world. Which at one point almost included a firsthand lesson about the birds and the bees — or rather “squirrels and humans in squirrel form.”

During one of their lessons, Merlin turns himself and the boy into squirrels and immediately attracts the attention of a female tree rat. The girl squirrel instantly falls in love with the animorphed Arthur, rubbing herself all over him and giving him one of the most explicit “Fuck me” eyes since the sultry duster from Beauty And The Beast. And I want you to know I had like ten solid “nut”-based jokes about this scene, but I’m keeping them to myself out of respect for what happens next.

After risking her life to save Squirrel Arthur from a wolf, the girl rodent hugs her beloved right as Merlin transforms him back to a boy. Arthur laughs the whole thing off, but the squirrel is in complete shock. She frantically looks Arthur up and down, not knowing what happened to the guy she was just with. One minute she was blissfully in love, and then out of nowhere, she’s been thrust into a world of Cronenbergian horror. From her perspective, someone she fell in love with just disappeared and was replaced by this strange gigantic alien creature, and it completely messes with her head.

Confused and scared, she runs up a tree, hides in a hole and … just starts crying and sniffling. She then glances at Arthur with a pained look in her eyes that seems to beg him to please, PLEASE give her her squirrel boy back. But of course, that never happens, and she is forced to somberly watch as Arthur and Merlin walk away from atop a dead tree, which here symbolizes all the hope the viewers no longer have for humanity. That’s the last we ever see of her. That little squirrel’s life is ruined, and so is her entire concept of reality. It’s difficult to come back from “The love of my squirrel life turned into a non-squirrel monster without warning and then abandoned me forever.”

The scene messed up so many Disney fans that an entire fandom movement grew around the idea that Merlin eventually went back and turned the squirrel into a human. Her name is now Hazel, and she gets to go on a lot of cool adventures, many (but not all) of which are surprisingly not porn.

4

Rugrats: The “Mother’s Day” Episode

Have you ever wondered how babies see the world? Well, don’t. Babies see everything in three categories: “I want to eat it,” “I want to climb it,” and “I want to touch it.” The addendum “to give Dad a heart attack” is of course implied in all cases. That’s not a lot to base an entire cartoon on, which is why Rugrats did NOT that. Although the cartoon is technically about the adventures of toddlers, it did often go beyond that premise, like when the baby-leader Tommy got kidnapped after some guys mistook him for Donald Trump’s son. That’s about as removed from everyday kid/parenting problems as being mistaken for Trump’s kin is removed from a compliment.

But then there is the Season 4 episode “Mother’s Day.” It starts off with the Rugrats trying to find presents for their moms, except for Chuckie, whose mom died from severe Offscreenitis shortly after he was born. But he doesn’t care, because his dad is sort of like his mom, so he decides to get him a Mother’s Day gift. And that’s when the show gets real.

The present Chuckie gets for his dad is a picture of his dead mom he accidentally found in the closet. The build-up to it is beautiful. The scene is silly and funny and there’s this upbeat circus-like jingle in the background that comes to a screeching stop when Chuckie’s dad sees the picture. Even with the crappy animation, you can clearly see the man’s face change from a smile to a confused frown as he barely contains his tears. Then he just looks around the room for help, but only finds his friends’ frozen faces, as they don’t know how to react to this situation, all in complete silence. And how could they know? 99 percent of the plots in Rugrats were “We lost the kids in the toy store/museum/baseball stadium/car wash/etc!” That is miles away from “Console your friend after they’re reminded, by their own child, that they lost their fucking soul mate forever.”

Later, Chuckie’s dad finds the strength to talk to him about his dead mother after being convinced that they can “miss her together.” It’s beautiful, but it’s also very depressing. There is a really fantastic scene earlier on when the other babies talk about how some of their “first” experiences came from their moms, like their first laughs or the feeling of safety in a scary, confusing world. And while the show does make it clear that a dad MAY be the source of that kind of happiness, it also shows that the loss of a parent leaves a gigantic hole in your heart. As Chuckie gets older, he’s going to feel a kind of emptiness after realizing he missed out on a lot of tender moments with his mom, all because, like his father, he now knows what he’d lost.

The real drama of this episode comes from the realization that loving someone is a gigantic gamble because sharing your heart with another person makes it twice as likely that the world will eventually break it. So thanks for that, Rugrats. You go in expecting a Reptar musical, and you leave learning the most depressing lesson that anyone can learn in their entire life.

3

A Goofy Movie: Goofy’s Father-Son Moment With Max

In the ’50s, Goofy cartoons actually used to focus more on the challenges and problems of suburban life: traffic, quitting smoking, being cuckolded by your wife, etc. But the only thing that kept the whole thing from turning into American Beauty without all the murders was the fact that Goofy was a cartoon dog whose yell sounded like a clown on bath salts having an orgasm. The TV series Goof Troop and its motion picture A Goofy Movie are pretty much a modern version of that. When you think of it that way, maybe we should’ve seen the heartwarming father-son moment from A Goofy Movie coming.

In the film, Goofy worries that his son Max might turn into a delinquent, so he takes him on a fishing trip, while Max tries to trick his dad into taking him to a concert. And you’d be totally forgiven for thinking that this was going to be an avalanche of lighthearted shenanigans from to start to finish. Once you set your characters in a possum-themed amusement park, it’s pretty hard to divert from that course.

But eventually, the two end up with their car in a river, and have the following heated exchange:

Goofy: “You even lied to me!”

Max: “I had to! You were ruining my life!”

Goofy: “I was only tryin’ to take my boy fishin’, okay?”

Max: “I’m not your little boy anymore, Dad! I’ve grown up! I’ve got my own life now!”

Goofy: “I know that! I just wanted to be part of it!

This is the moment when, like discovering the birthday clown you hired is strung out on heroin, things just stop being funny. Goofy’s silly antics and his pigheaded insistence on hanging around with his teenage kid are suddenly shown into a new light as nothing more than a father not wanting to be a stranger to his own child. It wasn’t really about him worrying that Max might become a criminal; it was about them growing apart. It gets even sadder, though.

Although Max is clearly in the wrong here, you have to remember a scene from the opening of the movie wherein he has a nightmare about turning into his dad. It’s a rite of passage to be embarrassed by your parents and not want to end up like them, which explains why Max lies. He doesn’t want to become like his father, causing him to misinterpret Goofy’s intentions. Instead of a parent wanting to bond with his kid, all he saw was an adult trying to harsh his buzz, daddy-o.

The whole scene shows how good intentions can be obscured by the roles we mentally impose on the people around us, which is a very depressing and scary thing to realize. For example, I mentally imposed the idea that the clown was just using heroin himself. In REALITY, he had brought enough for all the kids at the party to enjoy. Imagine how terrifyingly lame the birthday would’ve been if I hadn’t discovered that? Close. Call.

2

Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Dead Cat Episode

It might seem like the only way to cry over Alvin And The Chipmunks, a cartoon about high-pitched musical rodents, is by realizing that someone made millions of dollars by recording bland pop while holding down the slow-mo button. But the ’80s series is actually more hardcore than most people remember. For one, they had the furry chipmunk balls to kill off an adorable kitten.

In the episode “Cookie Chomper III,” Alvin, Simon, and Theodore adopt a stray cat and fall in love with it. Then one night, the cat climbs out of the window and gets hit by a car. In other words, this cartoon created a baby character whose only purpose was to be born alone in a cold, cruel world, then know happiness for about a day before its short life is suddenly snuffed out by an unknowable behemoth made out of metal, gas, and rubber. In conclusion, the chipmunk house is now definitely haunted by a vengeful, totally justified feline spirit. But this is not the saddest part of the episode.

Cartoons dealing with death all pretty much sing the same song: Yes, death is sad, but it’s also natural, it’s a part of life, yadda yadda. You know what Alvin And The Chipmunks says? Death doesn’t have a reason. It’s random, it can happen to us at any time, and when it does, it can and will destroy us. Theodore, the youngest chipmunk, takes the kitten’s death the hardest, refusing to believe that it died and looking for it around the neighborhood. Alvin, on the other hand, gets rid of every plant in the house because they will die one day, and after what happened to the cat, screw having to deal with death again. This is the kind of trauma that in science fiction movies results in someone swearing at God and inventing an unholy method of reanimating corpses.

One of the harshest, almost nihilistic lessons of this episode is that it’s OK for the chipmunk boys to replace the cat with a puppy. Because the cat will always live in their memory or whatever, it’s fine to … well, forget about it from time to time. It’s actually one of the only ways we have of dealing with the loss of a loved one: just not thinking about them occasionally. Younger viewers might cry at this episode because a small animal died, but adults will fucking weep at the idea of children having to learn such a harsh lesson at such a young age.

1

Hey Arnold!: Mr. Hyunh’s Past

Nickelodeon’s Hey Arnold! is a pretty normal cartoon about a normal football-headed boy getting into normal boyhood adventures like being stuck downtown in a banana costume. Typical Brooklyn stuff. But if the show’s creator had his way, it would have also featured Arnold dealing with a creepy pedophile. Hey, speaking of horrible ideas: the Vietnam War. Did you know that one of the saddest depictions of how the war fucked over regular people comes from Hey Arnold?

During the “Arnold’s Christmas” special (because of course this would take place during delightful Santa time), we find out that Mr. Hyunh, one of Arnold’s neighbors, used to live in Vietnam with his daughter. They didn’t have much, but they had each other, and that was enough. Then the war came, and Hyunh had to flee with his daughter. He tried to hitch a ride on an American helicopter, but there was no more room on it. Then, in a moment of desperation, driven by pure parental instinct, he passed his daughter Mai to the pilot so that he would take her to the U.S. That was 20 years ago, and Hyunh hasn’t seen Mai since.

The entire flashback is short, but it perfectly puts you in the frame of mind of a person who has to make one of the hardest decisions of their life right on the spot. There is this really great scene wherein Hyunh, having made up his mind to save his child, hugs the girl closely before stoically putting her life in a stranger’s hands. Then, as she flies away, he doesn’t weep and wail. He just stares blankly at her, broken inside by the knowledge that he did the right thing, for which he will never, ever forgive himself.

The two of course reunite in the end, because come on, it’s a Christmas special. But Hyunh and Mai still lost more than two decades after finding themselves in an impossible situation which, frankly, none of us would have handled any differently. It’s like … it’s sad when something tragic happens because you screwed up. But what’s even worse is when you do everything right, given the situation, and still end up in a world of depressing suck. A run-of-the-mill Christmas miracle won’t just magically fix that. Only extra-strong eggnog can.


Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at c.j.strusiewicz@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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