I believe this should answer where Huey, Dewey, and Louie came from... but then, just who is their dad?
Many cartoon characters intended for children, especially "iconic" ones, always seem to be surrounded by kids when the plot calls for it. These children are never their own, however, but the offspring of a brother or sister of the main character we never get to see.
Those characters are all unmarried, and since Status Quo Is God
, they won't get
married. So therefore, since these are children's show characters, they'll never have children.
Generally, it's seen as a safe kids show option. It means they don't need to think about the character being married, or why we've not yet seen much of the kid, but uncle or aunt is close enough as a relative to be trusted with them, and close enough to know that nothing untoward is going on. This also means that when the plot calls for the main character to go off on some adventure where having a kid in tow would hinder the plot
, the kids can disappear for a while without anyone asking who's watching them
Also works as a reverse Parental Bonus
. It is still
not as if any of these characters are immune to scenes that get crap past the radar
and are clearly not literally chaste; they also can still get loads of Ship Tease
moments. Good thing the kids would be too stupid to notice those
Note that kids who are
(at least implicitly) the biological children of the main characters aren't unheard of — it's just that the circumstances of their family situation will never be addressed, never mind the fact that pantsless cartoon characters have no apparent reproductive organs
. Occasionally, characters will suddenly have children running around who... well, it's never made clear who their parents are! As a side note, many times the children depicted in such situations will be multiple births
Note: The concept of an uncle at least looking after a child is an old tradition: if a parent died, the uncle would become the foster father (and in many cases marry the mother
). For instance: The Hobbit
, Harry Potter
, Star Wars
, etc. In some cultures, (such as the ludicrously-often-used-for-examples
Trobriand Islanders), the uncle is the "standard" parent while fathers have very little to do with raising their biological children (they're busy raising their sister's children instead, obviously).
For the non-animated version, where the absence of parents is most likely part of the plot, see Nephewism
Exceptions and Variations:
- Max Goof, the son of Goofy, whose lack of a mother was actually addressed a few times. Interestingly, he seems to have been more or less accepted in the 'modern' (if not iconic) Disney canon.
- Goofy's wife (among other female... anthropomorphic dogs?) was shown and heard quite frequently in the old '50s cartoons, but as The Faceless, probably because the animators of the time couldn't bring themselves to draw a sufficiently silly looking female face to match with the male characters.
- Sylvester the Cat had a son, Sylvester Jr. Mrs. Sylvester is shown in only one 1960s cartoon, "Goldimouse and the Three Cats".
- The whole "toons having sexual relations" idea was deconstructed in the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which portrayed toon marriage as something which could take place between characters of different species. This would make the idea of sex between them squicky, if sex for them were anything like it is for humans. Considering that Roger's idea of adultery was literally a game of pattycake, this probably isn't the case. (This is a change from the book, where "pattycake" was not meant literally. On the other hand, Roger and Jessica's relationship was also nowhere near as close in the book, though they were married.)
- Cool World, which came four years after Who Framed Roger Rabbit and had a remarkably similar premise (at least insofar as the notion of toons existing in a world which humans can ostensibly reach) also explored the notion. Being much darker and more mature, they decided the answer was not to do something ridiculous for laughs, but to literally explore the idea of sex, namely between "doodles" (toons) and "noids" (humans). It's well known in Cool World (where apparently the only humans are Brad Pitt and, lately, the cartoonist who draws the Cool World comic, leaving a bit of Fridge Logic considering how widespread the knowledge is) that doodles should never bang noids, but no one is quite sure why. This turns out to be more than simple racism when it turns out is that what happens is the doodle becomes a noid, at the cost of reality starting to fall apart. After the doodle-cum-noid, flickering between human and toon, pushes Brad Pitt to his death, we get another bit of Fridge Logic to give us a happy ending: everyone (except, apparently, Brad Pitt's spider partner) knows that when a doodle bumps off a noid, they become a doodle, happy, healthy, and incidentally free for sex now that pregnancy is the only ramification of note.
- British children's comic The Beano completely avoided this in its Dennis the Menace strips (not to be confused with the American character of the same name) - Gnasher, Dennis's dog, had an actual son named Gnipper. He also had a lot of other children, but Gnipper is the only one who really features. Then there's Dennis's baby sister Bea, who arrived in the mid-90s after an entire arc of Dennis wondering why the adults were acting differently.
- The bulldog Spike from the Tom and Jerry cartoons has a pup called Tyke, who featured in an extremely short lived spin-off Spike and Tyke, his wife however was never seen nor mentioned.
- Rocko's Modern Life: Filburt (male turtle) and Dr. Hutchinson (female cat) not only get married, but have several children together, all hatched from a giant egg (one looks inexplicably disturbingly like Heffer, who, uh, kept the egg warm.)
- The Flintstones: Fred and Wilma have Pebbles and Wilma was even shown as being pregnant onscreen. Bamm-Bamm, on the other hand, was adopted.
- Swedish comic Bamse, featuring a super-strong anthropomorphic bear, not only eventually ended up getting married and having children, but so did some important supporting characters.
- And considering the educational aspirations of the comic, they took the opportunity to explain the basics on pregnancy and childbirth...
- Ben 10 started out with an unusual solution to this trope: while Ben's and Gwen's parents were mentioned occasionally, every adult to appear on the show who was related to a child was a grandparent. (Eliminating the middle man, indeed.) The first depiction of a direct parent/child relationship occurred in the third season, and the trope was abandoned entirely in the fourth season.
- While it doesn't directly involve children, one of the funniest variations on this idea appeared on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Or, rather, it's what didn't appear in the cartoon: a female ninja turtle. Why did we have to wait until the live-action series for a female ninja turtle? According to an old interview with the show's handlers, apparently the presence of a female ninja turtle would inspire children to "ask where baby turtles come from."
- There were no female turtles in the cartoon because the original creators, Eastman and Laird, absolutely hated the idea. One shot character (and brief Love Interest for Raphael) Mona Lisa was intended to be a turtle, but Eastman and Laird basically said "no way!", so she was changed into a lizard instead. When Venus de Milo was introduced in the live-action series, this was the result of Executive Meddling. When Peter Laird got sole ownership of the Turtles later on, he made sure to remove her completely from canon and reinforce the "no female turtles!" rule. (Kevin Munroe, writer/director of the 2007 movie, said that you don't even joke about Venus to Peter Laird.)
- Now that the TMNT have been sold to Nickelodeon, we'll see what happens...
- Phil Mendez's "Kissyfur" had a surprisingly well-written father-son relationship at its core. (Incidentally, the show was originally to be named "Bear Roots" and to this day nobody knows how Mendez was convinced "Kissyfur" would be a better title.)
- As I recall, the prime time special that preceded the ongoing series established that the mother died while performing in the circus the family originally belonged to. That was why the father decided escape with his son to the swamp.
- Darkwing Duck in his first episode adopted a daughter, Gosalyn. She's more than happy with the idea of crimefighting being a family business, too. Apparently Saint Canard was willing to let a single father adopt what up until (and, apparently, after) then was a very ... spirited young girl. Or they may have assumed some things about Launchpad. There's even neighbors with two kids of their own (presumably, Gosalyn may be in their care while Darkwing's flying off around the world).
- Of course there's the possibility that they just wanted to get rid of her.
- In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, Bob & Jean's adopted Cute Monster Girl daughter Molly was spontaneously generated in a lab accident. Molly now has two clone "sisters" and a robot who calls her "Mom." So Bob and Jean now have three kids and a grandchild.
- Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers: Gadget has a Disappeared Dad, Geegaw (her mother is never even mentioned), and Monty's parents Cheddarhead Charlie and Camembert Kate appear as characters in the show, Kate even in two episodes. The one-shot wonder Tammy has both a mother and a sister, too. Norton Nimnul's only known relative, on the other hand, is his nephew Normie.
- In the Scrappy Age of Animation (1980s), Plastic Man in his animated series was given a son in the second season. Unlike most of his contemporary toons, Plas actually married his long-time girlfriend and had a kid. An odd fate for Hugh Hefner's favorite superhero.
- Averted in Epic Mickey. In the 80+ years that Oswald has been in Wasteland, he and his wife/sweetheart/girlfriend Ortensia (It's never really specified) have had 420 Bunny Children. And to his chagrin, they all look up to their Uncle Mickey.
- In the first episode of The Angry Beavers, we see the main characters' pregnant mother. Not even a minute later, she goes off-screen to give birth.
- Felix the Cat is a weird example. He had three kids named Inky, Dinky and Winky, and they inexplicably got retconned into his nephews to preserve this trope.
- The first Felix the Cat Cartoon note had the character find out his girlfriend(or wife) is pregnant, which causes him to commit suicide. No, really.
- In Geronimo Stilton, Geronimo has a nephew, Benjamin, who apparently lives with him. The whereabouts of Benjamin's parents is not known - Geronimo has a sister and a cousin, but they're Benjamin's aunt and uncle as well. In fact, Geronimo himself has no acknowledged parents, either. He has a grandfather and various relatives in different parts of the world (principally Scotland and an Expy of Transylvania) but no mother and father.
- Aside from the throwaway gag mentioned above, it's averted with Mr. Krabs on Sponge Bob Square Pants, since he has a daughter, Pearl…who's a whale.