10 Greatest Plot Twists In Kids' Cartoons
We didn't see that coming!
Whether you're a kid sitting down to enjoy an episode of your favourite show, or an adult binging a childhood favourite for a nostalgia trip, most viewers like to think they know what to expect when sitting down to watch a cartoon. It is clear who are the good guys, and who are the bad guys. Heroes always win, villains always lose, and quirky side characters remain just that. Cartoons, particularly those aimed specifically at young audiences, have a status quo to be maintained from episode to episode.
Most people who sit down to watch a kid's animated series aren't expecting any major plot twists. However, as many cartoon creators move away from the world of 'just for kids', in favour of stories that can be enjoyed by all ages, they have become increasingly less afraid to break the status quo. Here are ten of the greatest plot twists in kids' cartoons.
10. 'Rugrats' reveals the fate of Chuckie's Mother
For the most part, cartoons made for kids tend to shy away from the subject of death. For a while, this was the case in Rugrats. While the Mother of Tommy Pickles' best friend, Chuckie Finster, was mentioned occasionally in the early episodes of the show, the character was never seen. Eventually, it was decided to simply leave Chuckie as being raised by his Single Father, Chas. While this did prompt questions as to what happened to Chuckie's Mother, Nickelodeon was unwilling to allow the show's creators to address the topic, as the two most likely scenarios, death or Divorce, were considered Taboo in children's TV at the time.
Finally, the show was given the chance to reveal the fate of Chuckie's Mother in the Rugrats 'Mother's Day' special, the second episode of season four. In bittersweet scenes, it is explained that Chuckie's Mother, Melinda, passed away from an unspecified terminal illness sometime before the series began. Rugrats lifted the taboo on death in kids cartoons, paving the way for other Nicktoons to tackle similar storylines, and set itself apart as a cartoon unafraid of changing it's status quo, regularly introducing new characters and settings throughout the series' run.
9. Trader Johann is a traitor (Dreamworks Dragons)
For most of the television series based on Dreamworks How to Train Your Dragon franchise, Trader Johann seems to be a relatively harmless recurring character. A friendly, likeable seafaring merchant, Johann shows up once or twice a season to sell his wares to the people of Berk, who eagerly await his visits. Johann sometimes brings items that cause trouble for the Dragon Riders, including the seemingly accidental poisoning of their Dragons. Johann is always apologetic regarding such incidents, and as he is believed to be a loyal friend of Berk, he is never suspected of malicious intent. Only Snotlout mistrusts him, but as Snotlout is mistrustful of anyone outside of Berk, his concerns are brushed aside.
Unfortunately, Snotlout is proven right in the final season of Dragons: Race to the Edge, when it is revealed that Johann is working with the Riders' enemies, Viggo and Krogan. For the entirety of the Dreamworks Dragons series, encompassing Riders of Berk, Defenders of Berk, and Race to The Edge, Johann has been pulling a long con on the people of Berk, gaining their trust so that he can eventually use their knowledge to locate and control the King of Dragons. It is a plot twist few saw coming.
8. Timmy's Secret Wish (Fairly OddParents)
One of the biggest established rules in the universe of The Fairly OddParents universe is that Fairy Godparents must move on when their Godchild grows up. Timmy Turner, the show's main character, regularly expresses displeasure with this rule. In the movie length episode 'Timmy's Secret Wish', it is revealed that, at some unspecified point after the beginning of the series, Timmy secretly made a wish that everyone on Earth would stop aging, so that he would never need to say goodbye to his Fairy Godparents, Cosmo and Wanda.
The wish itself is not a surprise. Most episodes of the show revolve around a wish Timmy has made. The twist comes in with the reveal that Cosmo actually granted the wish fifty years ago, leaving the people of Earth effectively frozen in time ever since. The situation is resolved by the end of the special, so doesn't have a wide reaching effect as other twists on this list, but it was definitely a surprise at the time.
7. Cassandra is the daughter of Mother Gothel (Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure)
Cassandra, the adopted daughter of Corona's Captain of the Guard, is introduced early in Rapunzel's Tangled Adventure (also known as Tangled: The Series), as Rabunzel's new handmaiden and soon to be best friend. While Rapunzel and Cassandra share an 'opposites attract' kind of friendship, their deep affection for one another is clear. Therefore, it comes as a shock when Cassandra betrays Rapunzel in the show's season two finale, stealing the powerful Moonstone that the group had been seeking all season.
This twist is expanded upon in the third and final season, with the reveal that Cassandra is the biological daughter of Mother Gothel, villain of the original Tangled film. Flashbacks reveal that Gothel abandoned Cassandra after kidnapping Rapunzel. Corrupted by the Moonstone, and with the evil Zhan Tiri whispering in her ear, Cassandra has grown resentful of Rapunzel, for being the one Gothel 'chose'. Rapunzel spends much of the rest of the series trying to convince Cass that Gothel never loved either of them, and had only ever wanted Rapunzel for her magic hair.
Aside from certain details in her character design, there was little hint at Cassandra's parentage prior to the big reveal, making this a rather epic twist by Disney TV standards.
6. Raven is destined to destroy the world (Teen Titans)
In the early episodes of the original Teen Titans animated series, Raven keeps her distance from her teammates. However, over the course of their adventures together, Raven slowly allows herself to bond with the team, coming to view Robin, Starfire, and Beastboy as a surrogate family. In their role as a surrogate family, the other Titans excitedly prepare a Party for Raven’s sixteenth birthday in the episode ‘Birthmark’, only to be left confused when a panicked Raven rejects their attempts to celebrate.
Raven, as it turns out, is the daughter of a powerful demon, Trigon, and on her sixteenth Birthday, she is destined to become a vessel through which he can reach Earth and destroy the planet. Raven's time with the Titans was her attempt at doing some good before being forced to fulfil her dark destiny. Though the prophecy of Trigon's arrival does come to pass, Raven, with the support of her teammates, is able to defeat him and save the world.
For many viewers, the Trigon story was seen as a surprisingly dark twist for a cartoon, even if everything turned out okay in the end.
5. Della Duck is alive! (Ducktales, 2017)
For almost as long as the characters have existed, Donald Duck has been the caretaker of his three mischievous nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie Duck. While their Mother, Donald's twin sister Della, was mentioned in passing in some early Duck comics, her fate was never revealed in any official sources until the 2017 Ducktales reboot. Towards the end of the reboot's first season, Scrooge revealed that Della had become lost in a cosmic storm after stealing the Spear of Selene, a rocket he had planned to give her as a gift after the triplets hatched.
In an added twist, the reboot also reveals that Della (voiced by Criminal Minds star Paget Brewster) survived the storm, spending ten years stranded on the Moon. In season two, Della manages to fix her ship, making it back to Earth to reunite with her children. She remains a major character for the rest of the show's run.
4. The Digimon Emperor thought the Digital World was a Video Game (Digimon Adventure 02)
It didn't come as a huge surprise to most Digimon fans when child prodigy Ken Ichijouji was revealed to be the evil Digimon Emperor towards the end of Digimon Adventure 02's first major story arc. In fact, the twist was quite obvious, with many picking it out in the character's first appearance. Under the influence of a Dark Spore embedded in his neck, the previously sweet Ken has been warped into the wicked Digimon Emperor, torturing and tormenting Digimon brought under his control with Dark Rings. Unbeknownst to the Digi-destined battling against him, the Spore has led Ken to believe the Digital World is a video game that he can alter to his liking.
The more shocking part of the twist comes after the Digimon Emperor's defeat at the hands of the Digidestined and their Digimon. The shock of witnessing his partner Digimon, Wormmon, sacrifice his life to protect him, frees Ken from the Spore's influence. He vows to 'reset' the game and 'win' next time. Confused by this, the Digi-Destined inform him that the Digital World is a real place, and cannot simply be reset. Ken is horrified to realise that he has been torturing living beings, as Wormmon dies in his arms.
The Digi-destined had not been battling a monster. They were facing a troubled child who believed he was playing a game. While anime, even those aimed at children, are often darker than Western Animation, this was a particularly harrowing twist. Surprisingly, the English dub does little to soften the blow.
3. Ash loses the Pokemon League (Pokemon)
In the very first season of the Pokemon anime, lead character Ash Ketchum's main aim is to earn enough Gym Badges to compete in the Pokemon League tournament. Once this goal is complete, Ash sets his sights on winning the Tournament.
While there are always obstacles along the way, most viewers expect that the main character in a children's show will eventually achieve their goals, and that in a Tournament scenario, the main character will win. Therefore, it came as a shock to many when Ash is knocked out of the Pokemon League in the Top 16, being forced to forfeit his match when Charizard falls asleep in the middle of the arena, refusing to battle Ritchie's Pikachu. The loss proves to Ash that he still has a lot to learn when it comes to Pokemon, and to this day, remains one of the series' most memorable moments.
2. Rose Quartz was actually Pink Diamond (Steven Universe)
For most of the Steven Universe series, Steven is told he is the son of Rose Quartz, member of the Crystal Gems, a group of freedom fighters leading a rebellion against the Great Diamond Authority, aiming to prevent the Diamonds' plan to sterilise planet Earth and use it as an incubator for new Gems. Rose gave up her own life to give birth to Steven. As the son of a Gem and a human male, Greg Universe, Steven was living proof that peace between the two races was possible. However, as the series goes on, Steven develops complicated feelings regarding his Mother, especially after he discovers that she 'shattered' (killed) Pink Diamond during the worst stages of the war.
However, in one of the series biggest twists, it is revealed that Rose Quartz didn't kill Pink Diamond, she was Pink Diamond. After falling in love with life on Earth, Pink created the Rose Quartz persona to protect Earth as part of the rebellion, eventually faking her own death to cover her absence when the Crystal Gems flee the Gem Homeworld. The reveal changes everything, as Yellow Diamond and Blue Diamond, two of the surviving members of the Great Diamond Authority, had only wanted to destroy Earth as revenge for Pink Diamond's murder. After learning the truth, they are torn between following the orders of their leader, White Diamond, and protecting Steven, Pink's son, from harm.
1. The truth about the Ice King (Adventure Time)
During the earliest episodes of Adventure Time, The Ice King seemed to be a typical over-the-top, Princess-obsessed villain, and in fact, was one of the worst reviewed elements of the series, seen as too stereotypical. However, this changes over the course of the series as the character's backstory is revealed.
The Ice King was once an Archaeologist, Simon Petrikov. A kind, friendly man, Simon adored his fiancee, Betty, whom he called his Princess, until Betty disappeared following Simon's use of a strange crown he'd purchased at a market, which had caused him to experience odd visions. After the Mushroom War, Simon discovers a child, Marcy (destined to become Vampire Princess Marceline), in the ruins. Realising that the crown grants him magical abilities, Simon uses it to protect himself and Marcy from the mutant creatures born as a result of the war. Unfortunately, the crown, created by a mad wizard, slowly robs Simon of his sanity. Before fully becoming the Ice King, Simon abandons Marcy, fearing that he will become a danger to her.
The Ice King's obsession with marrying a Princess is born from the last of Simon's memories of Betty. He is a lonely, troubled old man with a skewed sense of morality. This changes him from one-dimensional villain to a much more sympathetic figure.
Just because a series has been made for children doesn't mean their can't be a few surprises along the way. The shows above prove it.
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Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Expert insights and opinions
Arguments were carefully researched and presented
Love this! Very well put together and got me nostalgic :')