The 10 Saddest Cartoon Deaths

by L-Johnson

Based on the book by E.B. White, Charlotte the spider befriends Wilbur the pig and they live their lives together until Charlotte’s death.

It’s difficult to think about losing someone we care about, yet, it’s a part of life for everybody. Even cartoon characters aren’t safe from tragedy and hardship, and often this is how we learn about death for the first time as children. Most of the following are from children’s shows or films, but some are from adult cartoons, as losing a loved one doesn’t get any easier with age. Dealing with grief is a bit easier when we see characters that we connect with coping with their own loss- even if they are animated.

1. Up – Ellie

A lot of people are sharing the following comment online about this movie: “Pixar created a better love story in 8 minutes than Stephanie Meyer did in 4 books.” (Stephanie Meyer being the author of the Twilight books, popular reading material among pre-teen girls.) What this comment is referring to is a short montage early in the movie providing a backstory on the film’s elderly protagonist, Carl Fredricksen. Within a span of a few minutes, and without any dialogue, we see a young Carl befriend an energetic girl named Ellie. They grow up, get married, and buy a house which they restore together. Carl works as a balloon vendor, and Ellie, a zookeeper. After Ellie suffers a miscarriage, they decide to realize their dream of visiting Paradise Falls. They struggle for many years to save up enough money, and when Carl arranges the trip Ellie suddenly becomes ill and dies.

Up’s Director, Pete Docter, wanted the audience to take away this message after seeing the movie: “Basically, the message of the film is that the real adventure of life is the relationship we have with other people, and it’s so easy to lose sight of the things we have and the people that are around us until they are gone. More often than not, I don’t really realize how lucky I was to have known someone until they’re either moved or passed away.”

2. The Simpsons – Maude Flanders

For many people who watched The Simpsons for years throughout the 90′s, the sudden death of Maude Flanders in the Season 11 episode “Alone Again, Natura-Diddily” was shocking as we had known the characters of the Flanders family for a good part of a decade. Maude didn’t make many appearances and wasn’t a main character in the show, so the loss of the character didn’t hit as hard as the sadness for the family she left behind. Widower Ned Flanders is a bible-carrying goodie-two-shoes, always smiling and cheerily greeting Homer with a “Howdy-Doo, Neighbourino!” Ned now struggles to deal with the loss of his wife and raise his kids as a single father. Ned struggles with his faith and contemplates not going to church, which scares his two sons. Things turn around for Ned when he changes his mind and rushes to church, where a Christian rock band, fronted by singer Rachel Jordan, is performing a song about not losing faith in God.

The problem with this episode is that Ned is rushed through the mourning period with encouragement from Homer to start dating again. Ned is reluctant, which forces Homer to secretly create a videotape of Ned to show single girls and find him a date. I guess he was just trying to help in his own way, not realizing that you can’t force someone to move on with their life. This becomes a problem in a later episode when Rachel Jordan is in town and stays at Ned’s place instead of a hotel: While she is sleeping, Ned cuts her hair in the style of Maude so he can feel for a moment like his wife is with him again.

3. The Lion King – Mufasa

This is probably the first one that comes to mind for most people when thinking of a ‘sad cartoon death’. The death of Simba’s father is orchestrated by Simba’s uncle Scar so he can usurp the throne to the kingdom. Simba enters the forbidden area beyond the kingdom’s borders, when Scar orders his hyena minions to start a wildebeest stampede. Mufasa rescues young Simba from the stampede, but Scar causes Mufasa to fall into the raging stampede, killing him.

What makes the death so tragic is that Simba is led to believe that the death was his fault. This reflects real life when those in mourning can’t help but feel that the loss of someone close to them was their fault. Perhaps he/she could have prevented it. Maybe they could have done more to help the person, and they might still be alive today. However, they are not to blame for the death. The guilt the bereaved feel is a natural feeling and will get better as time passes.

4. Bobby’s World – Abe the crossing guard

Bobby’s World was a kid’s cartoon that ran from 1990-1998 on FOX Kids, created by comedian/actor/gameshow-host Howie Mandel. The episode “The Music” is without a doubt the most touching episode of the series, and exposed many young children to the concept of death for the first time. Bobby is a kid with an active imagination. When he has a test on shapes at school, he is nervous because he doesn’t know his shapes and lets his imagination run instead of completing the test. On the way to or from school every day, Bobby would see Abe, the friendly elderly crossing guard. Bobby was pretty bummed out about not completing his test but Abe helped him out in the form of a song about how shapes are everywhere. The next day on the way to school, Bobby sees that Abe isn’t there, and upon wondering where he went learns that Abe has passed away.

This episode doesn’t sugar coat it, and shows that sometimes in life good people die, there was nothing you could do to prevent it, and life can’t be happy all the time. What we can do when our friend or relative dies is realize that part of them lives on when we remember the person and what we learned from them.

5. Futurama – Seymour the dog

Unlike The Simpsons, this episode of Futurama doesn’t involve the death of a main character, or even a human character, but Fry’s dog, Seymour. Fry, who is living in the 31st century, visits a museum and finds the fossilized remains of his dog from the 20th century. The Professor examines the remains and concludes that a DNA sample can be made to produce a clone, and even recreate Seymour’s personality and memory. When the Professor starts the cloning process, the computer informs them that Seymour died at age 15, which means that Seymour lived for 12 more years after Fry was cryogenically frozen. Fry realizes that Seymour must have moved on with his life, and found a new owner. Fry cancels the cloning, stating “I had Seymour until he was three. That’s when I knew him, and that’s when I loved him. I’ll never forget him. But he forgot me a long time ago.” A flashback reveals that after Fry disappeared, Seymour faithfully waited outside the pizza place where Fry worked, waiting for his return. Seymour stayed there as years passed, grew old, and in the final scene, lies down and closes his eyes.

Not all of our losses are of the human variety, we can love a pet just as much as we can love another person, and they love us back. Real life examples of a dog waiting years for its dead master include Japan’s Hachiko, or Greyfriar’s Bobby. This episode titled Jurassic Bark was nominated for an Emmy award and according to critic Dan Iverson has “one of the saddest endings to a television program that I have ever seen.”

6. South Park – Kenny

This is definitely the most adult cartoon on the list, since South Park’s twisted sense of humour isn’t for everybody. Kenny McCormick has repeatedly died gruesomely, in hundreds of episodes. He’s been blown up, trampled to death, mauled by a bear, impaled, and even had his head bit off by Ozzy Osbourne. He always returns in the next episode, with no explanation. But in a season five episode, Kenny is diagnosed with a terminal muscular disease. His friends are shocked and saddened by the news. They keep him company in the hospital, except for Stan, who can’t bear to see Kenny die. He soon passes away (for real this time!) and Stan learns that Kenny’s last words were “Where’s Stan?” He becomes depressed and accuses himself of being Kenny’s worst friend.

When Stan is looking for answers, he asks Chef if God takes those closest to us, why does he give us anything to start with? Chef replies “Well, look at it this way: if you want to make a baby cry, first you give it a lollipop, then take it away.” The initial reaction to death is anger and frustration that those close to us are gone, but we should focus on the happiness that they were there in the first place.

7. Charlotte’s Web – Charlotte

Based on the book by E.B. White, Wilbur is a pig who is sold to a farmer named Homer Zuckerman. When Wilbur finds out that it is only a matter of time before he is turned into smoked bacon and ham. Wilbur starts crying because he doesn’t want to die, but Charlotte the spider tells him to “chin up”. Charlotte ┬ástarts writing messages about Wilbur in her webs, such as “some pig”, “terrific”, and “radiant”, which causes Wilbur to become famous thereby saving his life. Having reached the end of her lifespan, she eventually dies, leaving behind 514 spider children, three of which remain in the barn as Wilbur’s friends.

Children don’t understand the enigma of death, and people fear what they don’t understand. Death is presented in Charlotte’s Web as a natural part of the circle of life. Charlotte’s death comes at the end of her natural life cycle. She has lived a full, rich life and dies peacefully knowing that it is her time, and her children will carry on her legacy.

8. The Iron Giant – The giant

The Iron Giant is a Warner Brothers movie released in 1999. It’s been referred to as “the best family film you’ve never seen”, because it wasn’t a commercial success when it was released. Produced surprisingly enough by Pete Townshend of The Who, the film take place during the Cold War era and is about an alien robot that crashes to Earth. The gentle giant is befriended by young Hogarth Hughes, who teaches the visitor to talk, and the difference between being good and bad, telling the robot that he can be who he chooses to be. Just because he’s a giant robot from space, doesn’t mean he has to be an EVIL giant robot from space. Later in the movie, an impending missile is headed towards the town, as the people watch in panic. Looking up at the missile, the giant realizes what he has to do. He chooses to be a hero and flies into the sky to intercept the missile, blowing himself to smithereens but keeping the people below safe from harm.

The Iron Giant was based on a novel “The Iron Man” by Ted Hughes written in 1968 to comfort his young son after the death of the boy’s mother. In a scene from the film, after the robot witnesses a deer being shot by hunters, Hogarth tells the giant that death isn’t a bad thing, everyone dies, it’s part of life. “I die?” Asks the giant, to which Hogarth replies “I don’t know. You’re made of metal, but you have feelings and you think about things, which means you have a soul. And souls don’t die. Mom says a soul is something inside of all good things, and that it goes on forever and ever.” The giant lays down to look at the stars and repeats the words “Souls don’t die.”

9. Bambi – Bambi’s mother

Like The Lion King, the death of Bambi’s mother is a classic tear jerker that many remember as a heartbreaking animated death. Bambi is a young fawn that grows up very attached to his loving mother. Bambi asks his mother about the world and is cautioned about the dangers of life as a forest animal. While Bambi and his mother are out searching for food, his mother is shot and killed by a hunter, scarring childhoods for generations to come.

This scene was the first time many children witness the blatant death of an innocent character. It’s so completely unexpected, like many deaths are in real life. When Bambi is searching for his mother and can’t find her, we are watching a child not understanding what death is. He is forced to learn that she won’t be coming back. Learning about and experiencing death is something we have all been through at one point, so we sympathize/empathize with the young fawn. The scene had such an effect on people that the movie is considered to have inspired conservation awareness and environmental activism. Paul McCartney has crediting the death of Bambi’s mother for his initial interest in animal rights.

10. The Transformers: The Movie – Optimus Prime

During the battle of Autobot City, Optimus Prime singlehandedly saves the day by taking out 65 Decepticons. He then defeated Megatron, the Decepticon leader, in an epic fight. Unfortunately, Prime succumbs to his injuries in a scene that saddened a generation of children.

According to Flint Dille, who worked on Transformers: The Movie, he was “scarred and inspired” in his childhood by the scene where John Wayne dies in The Alamo. “20 years later I saw it and remembered it almost frame for frame.” Dille believes that “Every childhood should have a movie where the hero dies and we’re forever scarred by it. It certainly doesn’t kill us, but it does make us stronger.”

Read more:
Up (2009) | IMDb

The Simpsons – Alone Again, Natura-Diddily | Wikipedia

The Lion King (1994) | IMDb

Bobby’s World – The Music | IMDb

Futurama – Jurassic Bark |IMDb

South Park – IMDb

Charlotte’s Web (1973) | IMDb

The Iron Giant (1999) |IMDb

Bambi (1942) | IMDb

The Transformers: The Movie (1986) | IMDb

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