Cartoon Deaths

Why do we care about the death of our beloved cartoon characters.
June 29, 2009
Learning about your own mortality is one of the sad facts of this world. Every culture has a story that they have passed down through the ages to explain why we die. It's universally sad that we do die, but what do we gain from it? Especially in popular culture?

The Death of Superman

The Death of Superman is the most famous cartoon/comic character to die. He dies in a very nobel way protecting his city of Metropolis from destruction at Doomsday's hands. The comic turned out to be one of the industries biggest sellers and it left a mark on people who have read and enjoyed Superman since the 1930s.

A World Without A Superman

In the comic book adaption of "A World Without A Superman" Batman stated after Superman died. "Death is a part of life, some of us have seen it more than others, but all we can do is live with it and use it to make us better."

In some ways death in the cartoon world is just as emotional as it is in the real world, but in other ways its cheap. We can change their fates and bring them back from the dead.

The Return of Superman

Superman returning was indeed just as thrilling as how he died. And it also helped bring readers back to comic book industry for a time, many people were inspired by this story and I felt that this would be a good example of how becoming emotionally attached to these characters also provides a bigger financial incentive for writers and artists to create stories where our beloved favorites are challenged by death and overcome the grave sometimes figuratively or symbolically.

But in many ways I feel that cartoons dying is a lost art form, in other ways things really haven't changed all that much since the 1980s. Parents and writers for children's television are not up to telling stories where a beloved cartoon character dies and they are emotionally scared at a very young age.


The best example of having a scared childhood memory is the Death of Optimus Prime.

The only reason why Prime was killed off in the movie from what I've been told is that his toy wasn't selling. And we have to remember that cartoons at this time were basically advertisements for toy lines. Since Prime's toy wasn't really selling as many units Hasbro felt that it would be a good idea to introduce a new set of transformers in order to keep the brand fresh. So they decided to kill Prime without taking the fans into consideration.

After Prime's death, many parents and kids complained about it. The ironic thing is after Prime was killed off the tv show really started to suck, they started going into space and fighting a new set of transformers which were also introduced in the movie. It was the opposite effect of what Hasbro intended for the Transformers license, it upset the fans so much that Hasbro decided to make changes to their G.I. Movie as a result.

GI JOE: The Movie

Duke the leader of the Joes is killed after he is stabbed with a venomous snake.

He takes it to save his brother, Faulkon who turns out to be a real wuss throughout the first half of the film.

With his dying breath he tells Faulkon to get his act together and be a credit to his country, namely America.

What really ticks me off is the plot point of him dying was written out, due to the parents complaints about Optimus Prime's death. Hasbro was going to comply, yet the animation was already in the can by the time the decision was made. So they had to come up with something clever.

Instead of killing Duke, they passed it off as if he fell into a coma. But why would you fall into a coma if people had tears in their eyes?

Duke's sacrifce to me embodies values which are paid by everyday people of all walks of life. Its important that we honor those people who do put their lives on the line in place of ours.

If not Duke's Sacrifice was really in vain.


Another example is Sven from Voltron.

In the original animation entitled "GoLion" Sven is killed off early in the show by Haggar/Honerva.

This whole thing is explained away in Voltron as in Sven didn't die but is just laid up in a hospital on some planet somewhere. As an adult I find this an annoying explanation, since at the beginning of each episode Sven is featured in the introduction

Sven was really a minor character in the story, but still not to have him die seemed to diminish a key point of the series which really wasn't explained if you couldn't view the episodes in broadcast order. Today this kind of thing just wouldn't happen since we have the internet, and the fans wouldn't stand for this kind of butchery storytelling. We've grown beyond this sort of thing.


In other movies, the death of a parent is a climactic event in the story.

The three most effective ones which come to mind are Bambi's Mother, Littlefoot's Mother, and Simba's Father Mufasa.



Bambi's Mother's death is probably the most famous of death in the history of animation.

Bambi and his mother are out in the meadow eating some new spring grass.

Then Bambi's mother senses something that isn't right.

She then tells Bambi to run to the thicket and don't look back, the both run and what's ironic is that the camera never returns to see Bambi's mother being shot. But for some reason people remember "seeing" her shot when there really wasn't any animation of it being produced.

The aftermath is kind of sobering. The Great Prince comes and find's Bambi and tells him that his mother is dead.

In some ways its the end of Bambi's childhood, he can't go back to being a kid anymore and he has to grow up, just like we all do. This also sets up the story for the sequel, Bambi II. Where Bambi's mother returns to him in a dream.

Bambi's mother tells him in not so many words that death is not defeat. She lives, not in body but in spirit and that she will be with him forever and ever, through it all.

At the end of the film Bambi is taken by his father to the place where he and his mother met.

Bambi became so much stronger as a deer, because his mother died. If she hadn't, he would've never had a real relationship with his father.


The Land Before Time:

Littlefoot wanders off from the herd to chase after a frog, where he meets Cera, then they meet Sharptooth by accident.

Later on Littlefoot's mother fights to protect him and Cera from being eaten, all the while a great earth shake splits the land.

Littlefoot and his mother are separated, but he eventually finds her, fatally injured, with internal and external bleeding.

Before she dies she mutters her final words to Littlefoot, saying he must follow the bright circle and pass the mountains that burn in order to get to the Great Valley. Of course what makes this scene even more amazing is that Littlefoot himself has no concept of what death is.

He even says "Why do I have to know, your going to be with me.."

His mother replies "I'll be with you...even if you can't see me."

Littlefoot asks "What do you mean if I can't see you? I can always see you!"

His mother says "Littlefoot let your heart guide whispers so listen carefully...."

She then dies as Littlefoot cries.


For me its a powerful scene one that also is much more powerful than Bambi's mother's death. One that is more graphic and much more emotional, but what happens after Littlefoot finishes mourning is amazing.

Littlefoot then undergoes a transformation, he starts acting like a leader as he meets up with Cera, Ducky, Petrie and Spike. He has self doubt throughout the film, and but he's willing to believe in what his mother tells him. He's even willing to fight over his mother's name and memory with Cera after she insults her.

Littlefoot exhibits some raw emotion as he fights back against Cera, and he even shouts at all of the gang for going the wrong way. He was never like this when his mother was alive, but at the same time his transformation from stupid kid to a real leader is apparent.

Towards the end of the film, the gang pulls together and they triumph in the end. In many ways Littlefoot grew up through his those experiences. With that he was able to survive in the wilderness and lead his friends to safety. Those traits can't be developed without suffering through adversity as Littlefoot did.


The Lion King:

Anyone who understands mythology who has seen this masterpiece will tell you, the hero's journey is never complete without the hero going through challenges.

Simba faces the greatest challenge of his life after his father is killed after the stampede.

Later on Simba grows up and is unsure of his true destiny. It isn't until Rafiki puts Simba back on the right path and with his help, Mufasa reappears to Simba.

After Mufasa talks some sense into him, Simba becomes the character that we first saw again in the beginning of the movie. A character that was optimistic and larger than life, and it really shows in the final show down when he confronts Scar.


So in conclusion what does death in popular culture give us? In the cases of Bambi, Littlefoot and Simba they all overcame adversity and triumphed in the end. But they could only do that once they experienced the death of their parent first hand.

For them death was not defeat.

And according to Charlie Barkin of All Dogs Go To Heaven:

"Goodbyes aren't forever."

I like this movie's take on life after death. Charlie sacrifices himself so that Ann-Marie could live, and Itchy gets a home with her. Charlie instead of going to the underworld where he belongs, is granted a second chance by Annabelle and returns to heaven.

This film makes me feel sad and joyful at the same time. Charlie didn't go out of existence when his body died, his soul went on.

Popular culture has reflected that in so many different ways, throughout the years. There is hope in tragedy.

On a personal note I believe that there is a God and there is a life to welcome us when we die. And we don't need any further proof of that than what occurred on Easter Sunday all those years ago.

I hope that you found this article inspiring as I did. And that death is not defeat. Not for Bambi, Littlefoot, Simba or even Charlie. They all overcame that experience and became better individuals because of it.

So God Bless and have a great day.

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