Who says cartoons are meant for kids? Nowadays, directors and writers often tailor movies and shows to appeal to both children and the adults who are undoubtedly watching alongside. One way directors accomplish this is by including items, dialogues and/or features that pay tribute to old school movies and shows. Whether it is something small, such as a screen shot or a memorable quote, or an entire episode dedicated to a classic, these moments sometimes go over kids' heads while the parents are smiling thinking:
These bits can be found in dozens if not hundreds of cartoons and animated movies (just watch any Disney movie). Here are some of my favorite classic references from kids' cartoons you might have missed or maybe you just forgot.
1. Hey Arnold "Pigeon Man" - Grapes of Wrath
Hey Arnold has been a fan favorite for years. This show had multiple core groupings (the boarding house tenants, the kids at PS 118, etc.), but some of the more memorable characters on the show were the strange, yet charming, local legends. Anyone who grew up watching this show is pretty familiar with Stoop Kid, who's afraid to leave his stoop and the odd vigilante protector, Monkey Man. But the one person I want to highlight is the mysterious and misunderstood Pigeon Man; a man who secluded himself after realizing he had more of a connection with pigeons than with people. After assessing the damage done to his rooftop pigeon sanctuary at the end of the episode, Pigeon Man has a passionate monologue discussing his purpose in life:
"I have a mission to help pigeons everywhere. Wherever there's a bird in need of seed, I'll be there. Wherever there's a helpless flock suffering some abuse, I'll be there. Wherever there's a pigeon with a weak wing or broken beak, I'll be there."
- Pigeon Man
Little did the kids watching know, but this speech is a spoof of a passage from the book, The Grapes of Wrath. In the film adaptation, the late great Henry Fonda portrayed the character who recited those famous words, Tom Joad (skip to 19 secs. for the quote):
2. Phineas and Ferb "Mind Share" - The Shawshank Redemption
In my opinion, Phineas and Ferb is going to be one of those timeless cartoons that will last for generations. This show really had something for everyone: playful repetitiveness for the younger kids, random long-running jokes (floating baby head?), a new song made specifically for every episode, and great movie Easter eggs both blatant and subtle. In the episode 'Mind Share,' Phineas, Ferb and friends are tricked into swapping minds with a group of aliens. They soon discover that the aliens were actually intergalactic prisoners broadcasting their ruse from their prison cell. After one of the guards confiscates the transmission device, the gang has to find the man in prison who knows how to get things. For instance...
Look familiar? Yeah, it does! This is just one of many references the episode makes to the Oscar nominated The Shawshank Redemption. Most of the scenes that take place within the space prison allude to the film, such as the prison guards calling for surprise inspections, a character named Red doing a voice-over narration, and let's not forget about this iconic moment:
3. Rugrats in Paris - The Godfather
Watching Rugrats as a child, most of us would only focus on the adventures and hi-jinx of Tommy and company. This show explored all the things that kids would be fascinated with: zoos, museums, bowling alleys -- you name it, there is probably an episode dedicated to that particular curiosity. But as adults watching the show, we notice some jokes were targeted towards the adults: dark humor, sexual suggestions, and other notions only an older crowd would understand. Case in point, the beginning of the second movie, Rugrats in Paris:
Rewatching this movie even as a teenager blew my mind when I finally realized what the directors had done: The Godfather with a Rugrats twist. Changing the name to "Bobfather," rewriting the opening dialogue to a more child friendly problem, even something as simple as having a stylized logo, are just a few things that children would ignore, but older viewers would appreciate wholeheartedly.
4. Dexter's Laboratory "Star Check Unconventional" - Star Trek
Dexter's Laboratory might be one of the first cartoons around that embraced a "geek" as its main character. Dexter's love of science, school work, superheroes and more brought things considered "nerd culture" to the main stream. Naturally, the writers paid homage to one of the biggest fandoms: Star Trek.
The entire episode was a parody of Star Trek; slightly changing names (Star Check instead of Trek, Darbie instead of Barbie, Bilithium instead of Dilithium), Dexter's mom singing a song similar to the original series theme song, Dexter's battle with the sales lady, etc. Arguably, this episode could also be considered a parody of conventions and fanatics: the boy's commitment to the characters they are cosplaying, the collector's obsession with mint condition collectibles, the specialized lingo such as "NRFB" (never removed from box).
5. Jimmy Neutron "Out, Darn Spotlight" - Star Wars, Wizard of Oz, Sudden Impact AND Shakespeare
Jimmy Neutron had more than its fair share for parody episodes and scenes. The episode 'The N Men' utilizes multiple Marvel comics (Fantastic 4, X-Men, The Hulk), "Lights! Camera! Danger!" having parodies of Lord of the Rings, Chicago, The Matrix, and Harry Potter, and 'Monster Hunt' being a tribute to Jaws. But the episode 'Out, Darn Spotlight' might have the most Easter eggs scattered throughout the episode. While performing Principal Willoughby's production of "MacBeth in Space," (a version of Shakespeare's Macbeth) we see and hear somethings that are awfully familiar:
On top of these movie references, the writers managed to include variations of well-known lines from other Shakespearean pieces:
"Macbeth! Macbeth! Where for art thou, Macbeth?" - Betty/Lady Macbeth (originally from Romeo and Juliet)
"Friends, Molvexians, countrymen, lend me to your ears! I have come to bury Macbeth, not to praise him" - Bolbi/Rangun the Space Pirate (originally from Julius Caesar)
"Now is the winter of your discontent!" Bolbi/Rangun the Space Pirate (originally from Richard III)
As an adult, I am still a huge fan of certain cartoons and animated movies, particularly the ones where you can see the creativity behind the project. Sure, a typical fart joke can still get a cheap laugh here and there, but after a while it gets played out and becomes cliche. I've noticed that oftentimes it is the little things in movies and shows -- from a character's unique mannerisms to something or someone in the background -- that can make a scene go from good to great. And when those minute details are done right, I can't help but watch them again and again to see if there is something else I missed.
References: Hey Arnold Wikia, The Grapes of Wrath IMdB, Phineas and Ferb Wikia, Shawshawnk Redemption IMdB, Rugrats in Paris Wikipedia, Dexter's Lab Wikia, Jimmy Neutron Wikipedia, Jimmy Neutron Wikia, eNotes Shakespeare Quotes