ByKristy Anderson, writer at
Kristy Anderson

Most older animation fans will agree that one of the biggest misconceptions in the entertainment industry, particularly in the Western world, is that animation is a medium intended solely for the entertainment of children. This simply isn't true. Many people still stubbornly cling to this belief, despite the success of movies like Sausage Party or animated series such as Family Guy, that are clearly not intended for young minds.

Even when a series is intended for children, series creators will often slip in a character with a backstory tragic enough that it may have you questioning whether that show really is for the younger generation. Here are some of those characters.

1. Chuckie Finster, Jr: 'Rugrats'

For Rugrats first three seasons, the whereabouts of Chuckie Finster's mother was not touched upon. She was mentioned once or twice in the early days, but never seen, with the show quickly shifting to portray Chas Finster as a single father.

Season 4's "Mother's Day" episode, the first Rugrats ep to premiere in prime time, finally revealed the truth. Chuckie's mother Melinda Finster died of a terminal illness when Chuckie was a baby. While the earlier events of the episode clearly hinted at the cause of death, the final reveal of Melinda's demise is truly heartbreaking. Few would have expected to be confronted by the topic of death while watching a cartoon about babies.

Adding to this, Chuckie's eyes fail him at a young age, leading him to see everything as some sort of monster when he is not wearing his glasses. This, along with the loss of his beloved and calming maternal influence, probably explains why he is so easily frightened throughout the series.

2. Wilt: 'Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends'

Though no one really mentions it in the early episodes of Foster's, the always polite, overly accommodating Wilt has clearly been through some tough times. Among Wilt's injuries are a damaged eye, numerous scars and, obviously, his missing arm.

Some fans theorized that Wilt may have sprung from the imagination of a disabled child, possibly an amputee which, as well as Wilt's missing arm, could have explained his unwavering politeness; particularly his need to hold the door open for everyone in the episode "Store Wars."

Sadly, the truth behind Wilt's disfigurement was much worse.

In the special episode "Good Wilt Hunting," Wilt leaves Foster's during a friend-creator reunion, hoping to reconnect with his own creator Jordan Michaels. As the other friends and their creators set out to find him, they slowly uncover Wilt's sad tale.

Jordan created Wilt to help him improve his basketball skills, as he was tired of being bullied for lacking athletic ability. In time, Jordan and Wilt became an unbeatable duo. Jordan's former bully, jealous of his newfound skill and popularity, created an imaginary friend of his own, Foul Larry, for the sole purpose of defeating Wilt.

The subsequent match is a disaster. While protecting Jordan from Foul Larry's dirty tactics, Wilt's eye is crushed, and his arm totally destroyed. Seeing his creator upset after losing the game, the injured Wilt flees, eventually finding his way to Foster's. This makes Wilt the only known friend in the series to have willingly left his creator, rather than being outgrown and given up.

3. Cyborg: 'Teen Titans'

While Cyborg's backstory is toned down somewhat in the animated series, with the darkest parts being only vaguely alluded to, it is clear to those who know that the animated Cyborg has a similar history to his comic book counterpart.

He was once known as Victor Stone, a handsome, popular, talented teenage athlete with great hopes for the future. After an accident that killed his mother and left Victor's body horribly mangled, he was fitted with cybernetic implants in hopes of saving his life. While the implants were successful, they drastically altered Victor's appearance, causing him to be shunned by those he had once considered his closest friends.

The events of his past probably explains how Cyborg so easily formed tight friendships with his fellow Titans, all of whom have suffered with not fitting in.

4. Mewtwo: 'Pokémon'

The version of Mewtwo's beginnings that most Western audiences know — seen in the English cut of Pokemon: The First Movie seems bad enough. Mewtwo is created by scientists to use as a test subject for Team Rocket's evil leader Giovanni, who seeks to use him as a weapon. Sadly, this is not the whole story.

Another early section of the film, "The Origin Of Mewtwo," which was cut from the original English release for being too dark and depressing, delves deeper into the backstory. The professor in charge of creating Mewtwo had recently lost his young daughter Amber, and attempted to create a clone of her alongside Mewtwo, as well as clones of Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle.

Soon, the clones begin to communicate telepathically, with Mewtwo and Ambertwo forming a particularly close bond. Sadly, the other clones are too weak to survive the cloning process, and soon begin to fade away. As Ambertwo fades, she reminds Mewtwo that life is wonderful.

Mewtwo's mental anguish over the loss of his friends almost overwhelms his still-fragile body, and the scientists are forced to wipe his memories of the other clones, returning him to a fully unconscious state. When the fully grown Mewtwo wakes sometime later, he vaguely remembers Ambertwo's final words:

"Life is wonderful... But why?"

5. Mr Hyunh: 'Hey Arnold!'

While Arnold and many other characters in this series have faced their fair share of tragedy, Mr. Huynh's backstory is by far the saddest. Thankfully, this one also has a happy ending.

In the special episode "Arnold's Christmas," Arnold struggles to come up with a gift for Mr. Huynh after drawing his name in the boarding house's annual Secret Santa. Spending some time with Mr. Huynh in hopes of discovering a perfect present for him, Arnold soon learns more of his housemate's sad history.

Years before the series begins, Mr. Huynh lived a contented life in a small Vietnamese village with his young daughter Mai. Sadly, his happiness couldn't last, as the Vietnam War broke out. A single helicopter came to Mr. Huynh's village with an offer of help, but they only had room for one refugee. With a heavy heart, Mr. Huynh gives up Mai, allowing her to be taken to safety in the unknown city where Hey Arnold! takes place.

After the war ended, Mr. Huynh traveled to America to search for Mai, but had thus far been unable to find her.

Thankfully, with some secret assistance from bully/secret admirer Helga, and an initially unhelpful council record keeper, Arnold manages to locate Mai and reunite her with Mr. Huynh, just in time for Christmas.

6. Beast Boy: 'Teen Titans'

Much like his future teammate and best buddy Cyborg, resident jokester Beast Boy endured his share of suffering before finding a true home among his fellow Titans.

Beast Boy, born Garfield Logan, spent much of his early life traveling from jungle to jungle with his parents, geneticists Mark and Marie, who sought to locate and study a rare green monkey. Unfortunately, soon after finding the monkeys, one of them bit young Garfield and infected him with Sakutia, a rare and likely fatal disease.

Desperate to save their son, Mark and Marie injected Garfield with a new serum they had been working on. While the serum cured his illness, it also left him mutated, turning his skin, hair and eyes green — as well as giving him the ability to transform into any animal.

Sometime later, Mark and Marie are killed in a boating accident, leaving Garfield an orphan. Wanting to do some good with his abilities, he took on the alias of Beast Boy and joined the Doom Patrol, a superhero team of which he had long been a fan. Sadly, Beast Boy soon began to suffer under the overly harsh discipline and lack of encouragement from the team's leader Mento.

Striking out on his own, Beast Boy soon found a new home and surrogate family with the Teen Titans who, while sometimes annoyed by his playful antics, always accept him as he is.

7. Ice King: 'Adventure Time'

Portrayed as a typical one-dimensional villain in the earliest episodes of Adventure Time, it is eventually revealed that the Ice King is truly a much deeper character.

The Ice King was once a human archaeologist named Simon Petrikov. Intelligent and kind-hearted, Simon doted on "his princess," fiancée Betty, and in the days of the Mushroom War, became a guardian to the vampire girl Marceline after finding her alone in some ruins.

Sadly, things went downhill for poor Simon after he came into possession of a magical crown. Upon placing the circle of jewels on his head, Simon began to suffer blackouts, strange visions and memory loss. Afraid, Betty left, and with his blackouts worsening, Simon eventually abandoned Marceline for her own safety.

The crown eventually warped Simon's body and mind, leaving him with no memory of his former self.

With the recent reveal that Adventure Time is to end in 2018, one of fandom's greatest wishes for the series is that a cure can be found for Simon.

8. Coco: 'Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends'

Much of Coco's backstory is only vaguely implied, but those implications are terrible.

In a number of Foster's children's books, it is stated that Coco was created by a little girl whose plane had crashed on a deserted Island. However, when the other friends' creators visit in "Good Wilt Hunting," no creator shows up to see Coco. Instead, she is visited by Douglas and Adam, a pair of scientists who found her wandering around on an island.

There was never any mention of a child, or anyone else with Coco when she was discovered. Though never stated outright, there is a strong possibility that Coco's creator died on the Island.

Wow. Pretty dark for a show about imaginary friends.

9. Raven: 'Teen Titans'

Of the three Titans featured on this list, Raven's story may be darkest of all, though is still toned down significantly from her comic incarnation.

Raven, the daughter of the demon Trigon and human mother Arella, was born among the peaceful monks of Azarath. One of the monks, fearing her demonic heritage and the prophecy that she could one day help her father end the world, attempted to hurl the baby Raven into limbo. The move backfired, killing the monk instead. Azar, the leader of the temple, took Raven under her wing, hoping to teach her the skills she would need to cast off Trigon's influence.

After Azar's death, whispers from the monks led Raven to fear the prophecy surrounding her. She fled to Earth, hoping to do as much good as possible before the prophecy comes to pass.

The belief that she would one day help to destroy the world deeply affected Raven in the show's early episodes. She initially tried to avoid forming any deep connections with her fellow Titans, thus limiting any pain for them if they should have to destroy her.

10. Harley Quinn: 'Batman: The Animated Series'

While the version of her backstory used for Harley Quinn's introduction in Batman: The Animated Series is not quite as dark as her later comic book and live-action incarnations, it is still tragic.

Soon after graduating from college, young Dr. Harleen Quinzel takes a job at Gotham's infamous Arkham Asylum, and quickly takes an interest in its most famous resident, the Joker. After being appointed his psychiatrist, that's when her troubles begin. Throughout their sessions together, Joker slowly manipulates Harleen, leading her to share his view that Batman is the villain of the piece. Their roles eventually reverse, with Harleen sharing her problems with Joker, who seemed all too willing to listen. Before long, she had fallen for him.

One night, seeing Batman return a battered Joker to Arkham following an escape attempt, Harleen snaps. Taking on the moniker of Harley Quinn, She dresses the part, gathers an arsenal of weapons, and breaks the Joker out of Arkham, becoming his new partner in crime.

Knowing that Harley's madness stems from the Joker's manipulation, Batman sympathizes with her in spite of her relationship with his nemesis. This is likely why, on quite a few occasions, he saves Harley from coming to any serious harm from Joker's schemes.


Did you know all of these tragic cartoon backstories?

Tell me of any other tragic cartoon backstories you know in the comments section below.


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