"You know, it's an interesting thing when you consider... The Earth people, who can think, are so frightened by those who cannot: the dead. Well, our ship should be regenerated; we'd better get started."
In An Aesop, the writer has a lesson to teach to the audience. In a Family-Unfriendly Aesop, the writer has a rather unconventional and possibly offensive message to give to the audience. In a Broken Aesop, the writer is aiming for an Aesop without realizing (s)he's undermined that Aesop in the course of the story. In a Clueless Aesop, the Aesop gets mishandled because the writer simply could not handle the issue properly.
In a Lost Aesop, however, it's not entirely clear whether the writer ever knew exactly what kind of Aesop they were aiming for in the first place.
This is when the audience is clearly presented with a lesson, only to have that moral contradicted, then reinstated, then forgotten about, then addressed, then ignored... you get the picture. It gets so messy that it's no longer clear exactly which Aesop has been broken and which one did the breaking. At some point, certain viewers or readers will begin to have doubts about whether the writer knew what they were doing.
The most usual form of this trope is when the audience is whacked over the head with the moral-of-the-story, only for the plot to ignore that moral and set off in pursuit of another, different one. It's as if the writer changed their minds halfway through the narrative. Note that there is no debate about this; no character will state "Hey, see that lesson we learned half an hour ago? We were wrong." Also, unlike a Broken Aesop, there is nothing subtle about this: one Aesop is explicitly explained only to be undermined equally as clearly. Eventually, the audience will be buried under a number of conflicting messages, stuck going back and forth between them and unable to tell where the writer was originally going with this.
Another common variant is where the Lost Aesop comes about as a result of a writer going deeper into a subject than they could really afford to. Their characters examine all the angles, discuss possible outcomes and argue with each other, but then the writer realizes that they themselves don't know the answer to the question being posed... or they realize that they've run out of time and have to wrap things up in a hurry... or the issue is one that's so polarizing that they can't really pick a side without getting a lot of peoplemad at them, so they pick a random Aesop and stick with it, Plot Threads be damned. The most successful resolution is usually to opt for a "middle road" between the two conflicting lessons. However, if the logic of the story has become too confused, or several Aesops are vying for the top spot, the author might simply choose the one that makes for the simplest ending. It might work, or it might come off as a half-hearted Ass Pull.
On the other hand, there is a very deliberate employment of this trope, where the writer presents a number of possible lessons or morals to be taken from the events of the story... only to conclude that since they all contradict each other, the answer is that there is no answer. This, however, will probably be spelled out for the viewer rather than quietly ignored.
To identify the Lost Aesop, ask yourself whether watching two different segments of the same show would result in getting two different messages. If you manage to find a Lost Aesop, please return it to the address listed on its collar and inform the rest of us so we can stop pondering over the glaring discrepancies that we only noticed upon turning the television off.
Some would argue that, if the above definition is to be used as a guide, then every Aesop should be a Lost Aesop if it's meant to be gracefully presented. Life is so complex that there's rarely, if ever, a single overriding lesson to learn for any scenario, despite what some people think; besides that, nobody likes a really blatant and intelligence-insulting message. Furthermore, due to the fickle nature of human reasoning, it is possible for two people to glean two equally valid — or even contradictory — lessons from the same presentation. If you tell a friend who holds very left-wing political opinions that a disgruntled person entered a building full of people and opened fire on everyone in sight, you might get the interpretation of "Guns are dangerous"; if you told the same story to an equally right-wing friend, you might then be told something like "If everyone else in that building had been carrying a gun, the shooter wouldn't have dared open fire" (i.e., guns save lives).
While it's obviously a more confused (and less subtle) cousin of the Broken Aesop, the Lost Aesop also claims kinship to the Yo Yo Plot Point, since it's the recurring nature of a relatively small "error" that sets up a whole lot of confusion. The fact that the Lost Aesop seems more likely to occur in works that are produced by a group rather than a single person might also suggest the reason for the mangled moral was that the opinions and viewpoints of the writing team varied greatly. Meanwhile, it is the polar opposite of the Captain Obvious Aesop.
Has nothing to do with the ABCLive-Action TV show LOST. (We're still trying to figure outwhat, if any, Aesops that show had.)
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
In an example of how making an issue too complex can result in confusion, the second season of Kaleido Star couldn't decide whether ruthless competition was a good or a bad thing. Sora's non-confrontational manner and own self-doubts cost her her position as Kaleido Star, as she was usurped by the ambitious May and the icy Leon. Later, she decides to compete against the two of them to prove her worth, with the help of ex-Bad Boy now The Atoner Yuri Killian. At the Circus Festival itself, however, Sora realizes that achieving her own dreams in the contest means crushing everyone else, and ends up throwing the competition away rather than winning such a polluted and underhanded event. Yet Layla berates her for her unwillingness to compete, May is genuinely hurt (to the point of tears and a borderline Heroic BSOD) when Sora openly refuses to compete with her as well, and their viewpoint is presented to the audience as correct... when just a short while ago, Sora's decision not to step on other people on her way to the top was seen as a noble sentiment. The series tapers off into the middle road of "competitiondoesencourage everyone to do their best"... but it does leaves some of the implications the show itself raised unanswered (Is it all right to trample over people who are polite and gentle? Are merciless tactics acceptable in the pursuit of stardom? Is it noble or weak to try and avoid a fight? If a rival who poses a good challenge has his/her wish rejected, is it valid for him/her to be upset or not?).
Chobits lost its Aesop as it navigated the issue of human-Persocom relationships. Hideki begins the series with the belief that Persocoms are machines, and a relationship with such an object is no substitute for human interaction. We meet Yumi, who suffers from an inferiority complex because she feels that she, as a human girl, can't compete with "perfect" persocoms, and Takako, who exemplifies Yumi's worst fears: her husband completely forgot her because he was so obsessed with their Persocom. We also meet Minoru, who has built a persocom as a replacement for his dead older sister. This is presented as understandable... but unhealthy. So far, so good, since everything lines up with the original message. As the series progresses, however, Hideki falls in love with his own Persocom, Chi, and the "robots can't replace humans" sentiment goes flying out the window. At the end of the story, all the moral and social implications of a society that finds companionship in machines rather than other people are is either abandoned or quickly swept under the carpet in favour of the message "it's okay to love an object, because the fact that you love it makes it worthy of love."
Because the Marvel Civil War crossover was written by multiple authors, most of whom didn't agree with the direction Marvel was going, the moral behind the story seems to jump from book to book. It's okay to sacrifice liberty for security, especially when dealing with superpowered individuals — except wait, no it's not. America means freedom and righteousness and all that is good — wait, it means MySpace and YouTube. Allowing the leaders to do their jobs is a perfectly legitimate course of action — wait, you'll get drafted into a superpowered army and made a slave of the state. Iron Man is cool — wait, he's a douche!
JLA: Act of God is confusing and written by only one writer. Is the moral of the story that powers leads to arrogance? You're only a real super hero if you don't have super powers? You should work inside the system? Other than "Batman is awesome," it's never really clearly told.
Wild Cards The Hard Call seems to be making a statement on acceptance, beauty, and medical experimentation but what that statement is couldn't be more opaque.
In "Countdown to Final Crisis" Trickster and Piper went on a journey that was intended to lead to Trickster overcoming his homophobia and learning a lesson, but the story developed to the point where Trickster received a bullet to the head due to an attack unrelated to the intended moral; no lesson was ever apparent from this resolution.
This could also be interpreted as a Broken Aesop. The difference being that a lost aesop leaves it unclear which aesop the writer intended, where a broken aesop is An Aesop that the rest of the story contradicts unintentionally.
A very lost aesop happened during Peter David's first run on X-Factor (when it was a government superteam). A scientist had developed a way to test fetuses for the mutant gene, in the womb... and then would offer to abort the baby if it was a mutant. The X-Factor team was, naturally, horrified by this, especially Wolfsbane, who is both mutant and Catholic. Except... due to Executive Meddling, the "abortion" option was excised, and the doctor instead was offering an in utero cure for the mutant gene. The team's reactions were not changed; they were still horrified, even Wolfsbane, who has often said she would be much happier if she hadn't been born a mutant. The aesop went from being about abortion to being a vague Fantastic Aesop about it not being okay to de-mutantify unborn babies.
Computer and Video Games
Thief. They are definitely trying to make some kind of point involving paganism, science and Christianity, but it's a bit hard to work out exactly what simply because of the way it all comes together. The most you can really pull from it is that there are no real bad guys, just a lot of people who are ruled by fanaticism. You can't really say that the message is that the Hammers (the Christian analog faction) are bad since they are technically just temperamental over-zealous good guys and help you beat the first game. You can't say the Pagans are bad, despite them being the villains of the first game, since they are shown to be sympathetic people (the massacre of Pagan women and children by Mechanists, and a certain book in a rotting house being good examples) who help you beat the second game in much the same way as the Hammers did in the first. We can't even say that the game is pro or anti science since the Mechanists are villains obsessed with technology, but the Hammers are pretty obsessed by it too. It's not even clear if the Mechanists are an analog for communist fanatics, atheist fanatics, scientific fanatics, or religious ones. So, in the end the message is probably 'beware of getting ideological about stuff'. Or something.
PETA's Darker and Edgier take on Cooking Mama comes off as an attempt to show the evils of eating meat; however, the game itself really only gives the aesop "Turkey meat comes from turkeys, And That's Terrible." The game was so hilariously bad, Nintendo had the Cooking Mama character issue a response, knowing there was no way anybody was going to take it seriously.
As suggested at the top of the page, Plan 9 from Outer Space positively revels in this to the point where, while you're sure the creator intends for you to take home some kind of message, it's impossible to work out just what that message is supposed to be. The aliens come to Earth to stop humanity from blowing up the universe, but they do this by, well, animating corpses and having them kill a few people. About the time you think old Ed Wood expects you to side with the aliens (not destroying the universe seems good), their destruction by the humans is presented as a happy ending. It doesn't help that all the characters are as incompetent as their creator. In the end, the only real moral you can take home from this film is that there are some films best watched with friends so you can laugh at them. It's a pretty good moral, but probably not what Wood intended.
Showgirls seems to be trying to prove something but neither the viewers or the movie itself seem to grasp just what that message is. At first it may seem like it's trying to say that a person should never compromise their morals, where Nomi is shown refusing to put ice cubes on her breasts to make her nipples stand up and refuses to do something that's implied to be prostitution... But this would only work if the character were a legitimate Stripper With a Heart of Gold, in that stripping was the worst thing she did. She had no problems pushing the lead dancer down the stairs to injure her, sleeping with her boss to get higher in the position to be said dancer's understudy. She seemed to be very happy with the idea of doing extremely graphic things on the stage of the old strip club. So "don't compromise your morals" can't work because the character's morals are borderline psychotic. Her interactions with other characters seem to indicate that the message is something about how Nomi really is a bad person at heart, that Cristal was right and Nomi really was a whore, who while at first denied it, began to accept it willingly or not. But then every other character in the entire movie acts as if Nomi is an absolute saint, no matter what she does. Even the girl she pushed down the stairs calls her a whore as if it were a compliment.
Camp Nowhere seems to have some kind of Aesop at the end, but good luck trying to figure out what the heck it is. It could be that kids shouldn't worry about having potential and growing up, but the film's hero stands up to his father and says that it's "okay to be stupid sometimes." It could also be about how Growing Up Sucks, but the hero does learn some responsibility during the movie and looks forward to dating his love interest when they're older. Maybe the lesson is that it's wrong to fool your parents and start a phony summer camp, but that was a borderline Fantastic Aesop even in 1994, and everyone ends up thanking the hero for the fun summer anyway, so THAT can't be it...
Lampshaded at the end of Burn After Reading where the CIA director wonders aloud what has been learned from the preceding chain of events. Being the sort of film it is, it's really anyone's guess.
Parodied in A Series of Unfortunate Events. The series starts off meandering fairly aimlessly through satires of various unfortunate literary settings, with Book the Third Lampshade Hanging its lack of a meaningful aesop, but the later books begin to diverge wildly with mixed messages about what is justifiable in conflict; Book the Tenth resolves this, then Book the Twelfth forgets it was resolved, and Book the Thirteenth (and Last) concerns the impossibility of finding answers to the big questions in life, while ignoring most of the big questions in the series.
In his book On Writing, Stephen King said one of the characters in The Stand was going to make an observation about the purpose of the events in one part of the book... only for King to realize he didn't have a convincing message handy. The character eventually ends up saying that he simply doesn't know.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, a Belated Backstory for Dumbledore reveals that he once wanted to oppress Muggles "for the greater good," which actually became the rallying cry of the previous Dark Lord. However, when Aberforth tries to argue that they shouldn't follow Dumbledore's instructions for these very reasons, Harry objects, saying that sometimes you really do have to do things for the greater good—and indeed, Harry later takes his faith so far that he lets Voldemort kill him (sort of). So... does "the greater good" make you into a Knight Templar or a brave hero? Please also note that this whole subplot is only tangentially related to finding Voldemort's Horcruxes.
It could be the difference is what's being done. Aberforth tries to dismiss everythingDumbledore told them to do based on the things he did as a young man, forgetting all he's done since and implying "for the greater good" is an argument used to justify horrible acts. Harry, however, thinks that doing something for the greater good doesn't necessarily mean what's being done is horrible, that you sometimes have to forgive what people did in the past if they show they've genuinely reformed, and that it's not a good idea to shoot the message.
Maybe the moral was that doing something for the greater good can be a good reason, but it doesn't justify your actions.
There's also the consideration of what's being done for the greater good. Sacrificing oneself is morally different from sacrificing others. (Whether or not the sacrifice is one of life or a lesser sacrifice.)
Live Action Television
Buffy the Vampire Slayer continuously flip-flops on its stance on the new way vs. the old way. On one hand, we have Buffy herself, who acts like no other Slayer before her, having family and friends. On the other hand, modern weaponry (that is, anything newer than bladed weaponry) is continously said to be useless even though it would be quite useful (shotgun blast to the head of a vampire should at least lobotomize it, if not dust it and most guns could work wonders on demons). It gets even worse after they use a Rocket Launcher to destroy a demon that was unable to be destroyed by "any weapon forged".
The first season episode "Witch" starts off seeming to be about parental pressure, presenting us with a shy, sympathetic girl who has been bullied by her mother into joining the cheerleading squad and is so desperate not to fail she has been using witchcraft to injure and disfigure the other candidates. Then, it seems that the girl is just psychotic and her mother is actually living in fear of her. Then, it turns out that the mother has actually swapped bodies with her daughter and she's the one who's been off cheerleading and disfiguring while the daughter has been left trapped in her body. Which takes the initial theme of parents reliving their teenage years vicariously through their children to extremes but completely loses the theme of teenagers going to extreme lengths to satisfy overbearing parents.
The Power Rangers Ninja Storm episode "All About Beevil" mostly acts as a warning against trusting people, seeing Dustin first lose his bike to a scammer (the guy promised to improve it, but when Dustin went to pick it up, all he found was an empty lot), then get backstabbed when he tried to help Marah through a Heel-Face Turn. But at the end as he's reeling from Marah's betrayal, the other Rangers remind him of decisions to trust that worked out, and the "scammer" returns the bike saying that the printers must have mixed up his address on his business card. Dustin sums up, "Sometimes you just gotta trust people!" Uhh...
That last was said jokingly. Also, put all together... well, one person who seemed trustworthy wasn't, and one who seemed untrustworthy was. So... don't be paranoid but do keep your wits about you. The person who repeatedly tried to blow you up probably didn't get over it in one day, but with any given human it could go either way.
At the end of "Planet of the Ood," the title species deal with the villain, Mr. Halpen, who enslaved them, by forcibly turning him into another Ood and promising he'll be cared for as one of their own. Donna doesn't quite know how to feel about this and comments that she doesn't feel she knows right from wrong anymore. The Doctor replies, "It's better that way. People who know for certain tend to be like Mr. Halpen," which sounds a lot like An Aesop — and in no way applies to the episode we just watched. Halpen was an amoral businessman who only cares about his profit, not some kind of dogmatic Knight Templar (whereas fighting against him was presented as a matter of plain right vs. wrong, and the Doctor and Donna certainly never seemed conflicted as to which side they should be on).
The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Obsession" is a monster-hunt story that revolves, for the most part, around Kirk's titular obsession with the monster. When the creature first attacked him and the ship he was serving on, 11 years earlier, he hesitated to fire at it and the creature killed half the ship's crew. In the episode itself, a young security officer on the Enterprise also hesitates when faced with the same creature, and the creature ends up killing several men. Both Kirk and the young officer blame themselves for their crewmates' deaths, and there is plenty of angst over the matter. How is this solved? Turns out that the creature is immune to phasers, and neither of the two men could've stopped it when they had the chance. The Aesop that was being set up is that "humans hesitate by nature, sometimes it can't be helped, and you can't spend your life blaming yourself for it". This is even outright explained by Spock. However it ends up being something like "failure is sometimes okay in hindsight" — which is no Aesop at all. Needless to say, once the creature is revealed to be nigh-invulnerable, the episode proceeds with the monster-hunt and never touches on any of the above in any way.
In the The West Wing, Josh meets with a gay Republican congressman who's there to convince him that the president should sign rather than veto a bill defining marriage at the federal level as being between a man and a woman. The way this is framed at first is with the congressman confirming that yes, he supports this bill, and yes, he's gay. They debate both the ideology and the politics of the situation in a series of scenes, and in the end Josh asks him how he can be a Republican. He explains that he agrees with most Republican positions and considers them to outweigh the one position he doesn't, and implies that he's hoping to change the party's attitude toward gays from the inside. This is treated as some kind of revelation for Josh... but his question and the congressman's answer don't really reflect the conflict brought up in that initial exchange, which is of a gay man supporting this particular bill. He's supposed to be a sympathetic character, but the overall impression given is that he doesn't agree with the bill at all and was just lying out of party allegiance, which is generally frowned on by this show, and letting himself be used by his fellow Republicans.
Played for laughs in The Nostalgia Critic's Christmas Special You're a Rotten Dirty Bastard, in which Santa Christ tells a story that turns out to be a bizarre parody of It's a Wonderful Life, culminating in The Nostalgia Critic being betrayed by and subsequently murdering his own Guardian Angel, then becoming even more selfish than ever. The special ends with Santa Christ staring off into space in confusion over just what the moral was.
In the actual series itself, the Critic was supposed to grow and evolve to be more understanding (more like the real Doug in other words) while in the plot hole. Ultimately, he came out even more of a Jerk Ass than when he went in. We don't see much of that evolution with the possible exception of his review of Timothy Green (which took place RIGHT after "The Review Must Go On") where he does express understanding of the hard work of the writers and actors at the end (but then again, he does the same thing in his earlier reviews like of Casper), he's actually much harsher in a lot of his reviews and more of a Jerk Ass to his friends than before.
The Simpsons episode "Blood Feud" deliberately invoked a Lost Aesop, when the family considered various morals to the story, and then realised that no, something happened that didn't fit, before eventually concluding "It was just a bunch of stuff that happened."
Another Simpsons episode with a Lost Aesop can be the 10th season episode "Lisa Gets an 'A'". Lisa is forced to stay home from school because she's sick. Forced to relax instead of working, she gets addicted to a video game and falls behind on her homework. When she returns to school just in time for the test on the material she didn't read, she panics and Bart convinces her to cheat in order to pass. Later, it turns out her high score on the test brought the entire school's GPA up to its minimum standard and the school now qualifies for a grant. Even after Lisa deliberately confesses to having cheated, Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers try to have her stay quiet long enough so the school can get the grant money, feeling it would do a lot of good for the school. In the end, they trick Lisa into thinking she confessed and was pardoned, while actually just covering the whole thing up so they can collect the money. Lisa fixes her grade in the privacy of her own home, while the school staff gets the grant money and they cash it at a liquor store. What... exactly is the message of this episode? It's okay to cheat and lie as long as it helps people? No, that's not right. Could it be "Don't worry about your grades Lisa, you're surrounded by idiots"? No, measuring intelligence on nothing but academic achievements is rather asinine. Maybe it's Do your homework and don't abuse your sick leave? Eh, too blatant. Maybe it's... you know what, forget it. I'll just say the message truly lies in the subplot with Homer and his pet lobster Pinchy: If you adopt a lobster as a pet, don't give it a hot bath for too long or you'll accidentally cook it. There, satisfied.
Yet another example in Itchy and Scratchy The Movie:
Homer: You know, when I was a boy I really wanted a catcher's mitt, but my dad wouldn't get it for me. So I held my breath until I passed out and banged my head on the coffee table. The doctor thought I might have brain damage.
Bart: Dad, what's the point of this story?
Homer: I like stories.
Another arises in "The Cartridge Family". In this episode, Marge and Homer are at odds over a gun he buys, which even leads Marge to briefly leave him. In the end, Homer finally agrees to let Marge get rid of the gun, so Marge heads to the nearest garbage bin to throw it out. However, seeing herself holding the gun from a reflection in the lid, she likes how dangerous and cool she looks so she decides to hold on to the gun, putting it in her purse. The writers said that there was no real message from the story, but if there was, it'd be that a man like Homer Simpson should not have a gun, so... mission accomplished?
An episode of The Boondocks animated series comes to mind, first presenting the Aesop of "You can't engage in racial profiling, it's just wrong in multiple senses of the word" when an innocent, intelligent, and very moral black prosecutor of all people gets arrested and psychologically coerced and tricked into confessing to the "X-Box murder" that he never committed, because he was black... only to just minutes later reveal that a bunch of random middle-eastern men who seem to be innocent store owners are actually a terrorist front... oh wait, they're not really terrorists, just stereotypical Middle Easterners packing heavy firepower for self-defense but everyone believes they're terrorists because Ed Wuncler is the son of a rich white man and therefore could never have been committing armed robbery against the store owners. We never truly find out if they're terrorists or just overly-cautious store owners and the Xbox killer is caught offscreen after he killed another victim, which makes it unclear if the message is that racial bias is right or wrong. The episode was a Lost Aesop on purpose: it was meant to be a satire of the Iraq War in which the Middle Eastern shopkeeper represented Saddam Hussein, so the idea with him was "He's a rotten person and the world's probably better without him in power, but he wasn't remotely involved in the crime we thought he was and we broke the law by going after him." Which is a valid message, but the way it was pulled off was still at odds with the other "racial profiling" plot and it was so incredibly dense that most viewers didn't get the message.
A Better World averted this in the finished product, but lost its Aesop when they were writing it. Batman and an overly enthusiastic version of Batman from a parallel world are engaged in a freedom vs. safety debate. When writing the exchange, the writers intended to have the "real" Batman win with his freedom argument; however, when they gave the "evil" Batman a line about the murder of the Wayne family the writers could not think of any retort for the "good" Batman to make. They had meant for him to win the argument, but ended up convincing themselves that the "evil" argument was the right one (At least, that it was the right argument from the Batmans' perspective). Thankfully, they developed a retort for a later scene which featured one of the downsides of the totalitarian regime, and the final episode maintained its "Safety at all costs is not worth the price" message.
According to DVD commentary, the creators eventually decided that they believed a super powered vigilante organization like the Justice League would be bad in the real world, but good to have around in a world with supervillains.
The episode really had two protagonist groups who each learned a different lesson ("Don't drag other people into your problems" for the Jedi and "Once you've been dragged into a problem, ignoring it won't make it go away" for the pacifists). It's a problem shared by most non-propaganda war stories where the good guys need to look like heroes without glorifying war: ultimately, the moral comes down to "Fighting is bad; losing is worse."
The X-Men: Evolution episode "Walk on the Wild Side" seems to start out with a "girl power" message, as the female mutants form a crime-fighting team after they get fed up of not being apreciated after Scott's Chronic Hero Syndrome causes him to act like a shining knight and unthinkingly ruins the Aesop Jean was trying to teach Amara. Towards the ending, Cyclops and Nightcrawler decide to spy on the girls as they track down and confront a gang. The girls finally call it quits when a female police officer tells them that what they're doing is wrong... But after they leave, the policewoman turns out to be Mystique in disguise.
A The Weekenders episode opens with Tish distraught that her report card has a negative comment about her being too much of a perfectionist. Later, the other guys ask her to paint a seaweed statue for an auction. She paints the statue, saying, "It's not perfect, but it's good enough..." but then she decides that a different kind of seaweed would work better for the statue, and she ends up returning the statue unpainted because she didn't have time to paint the rebuilt statue. After the auction, Tish is disappointed at her perfectionism streak screwing up the job... and then one of the teachers buys up the statue. The ep ends with her straightening up the shot before the usual "Later days!" So... is perfectionism supposed to be good or not?
It could be taken as saying not to get too hung up on being perfect, because the finished product is still good. That would be a better message to send than just "don't try too hard to be perfect", because some perfectionists try so hard because they think they'll outright fail otherwise. If Tish's statue hadn't sold, it would have confirmed that not being perfect made it a failure, but as it is, it shows that Tish still succeeded while managing to let it go.
One episode had the children stuck inside for recess because it was raining outside. Miss Finster is delighted about this, hoping that keeping the children off the playground will turn them into mindless zombies as it did with a previous class of hers. TJ eventually gives an impassioned speech about how it's just water and can't hurt them before veering off into how adults are using the rain as an excuse to tell them what to do. He and the gang go outside to play in the rain and the sun comes out. At the end of the episode they are implied to have gotten sick from playing in the rain. So was the lesson "don't be afraid of water", "don't let adults tell you what to do", "staying indoors for too long will turn you into a zombie", "playing in the rain will make the sun come out"... you'll get a headache if you try to figure it out.
The Thomas the Tank Engine special Misty Island Rescue. The film is supposedly about making good decisions... only the writers themselves can't seem to decide whether or not Thomas should make decisions and think for himself, and the other characters never seem to object to Thomas's stupid choices, making the whole thing quite vague. The nearest to an accurate evaluation is when the Locos suggest to Thomas to simply accept you'll make bad choices every once in a while (though since this was in reaction to a feat that almost got them lost in the middle of nowhere forever even that might not be the best evaluation).
Powerpuff Girls "Imaginary Fiend." The episode was about a boy who made an imaginary friend, only the imaginary friend turned out to be real. He was still imaginary, but he could move things without being seen. In the end, the Powerpuff girls invented their own imaginary friend to fight him. In the beginning, the moral appeared to be "Don't invent an imaginary friend to blame on your actions," but even Bubbles said it "Wasn't (Mike's) fault, he was evil to begin with." In the end, the message seemed to be when you can't battle an imaginary-realistic friend, invent your own. Not to mention what Buttercup says in the end:
Buttercup "But from now on, um, uh... from now on, um, uh, I can't think of anything."
In Family Guy episode "Stew-Roids", the Alpha Bitch Connie D'Amico starts dating Chris as part of a Pygmalion Plot bet, but when he treats her kindly and with respect she abandons the bet and starts dating him for real. Chris gets spillover popularity from dating Connie, which results in his becoming an asshole and breaking her heart. Rather than exploring this idea (that pretty people aren't always jerks and that popularity can go to anyone's head), the rest of the plot focuses on Connie trying to win back her popularity purely for comedic purposes.
There are way too many other episodes of Family Guy with Lost Aesops to list here.
In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, it's part of the premise that each story has an aesop stated outright at the end. The writers can usually handle this pretty well, even though the episodes can be about anything, but they can't all be gems. Sometimes, perhaps, the story would work better without the obligatory aesop, and it shows. ("Lesson Zero" even has a plot revolving around Twilight Sparkle going crazy over not having found any aesop to report to her mentor like she's supposed to.)
In "Feeling Pinkie Keen", Twilight Sparkle is repeatedly skeptical and repeatedly surprised at correlations between Pinkie Pie's physiology and imminent future events; depending on the series of nerve sensations and muscle spasms, seemingly unconnected events can be predicted. Twilight defaults to being an Agent Scully for most of the episode (although, it should be said, she does at one point try and fail to get the kind of data on the phenomenon that she could handle), until at the end she's forced to accept the phenomenon she's actually been seeing all the time with her own eyes "on faith". The point is actually stated as being that you can accept some things even if you don't understand them, but Twilight wasn't even trying to understand anything for most of the time, just to deny it. After people noted the apparent Family-Unfriendly Aesop that science can't explain everything and therefore you should believe in some paranormal things or something similar, Word of God admitted that the aesop had got lost along the way. Then again, the comment by Lauren Faust about what it was really supposed to be about still sounded like a lost aesop, not really making the matter much clearer. Perhaps more to the point was the mention that it was supposed to be a funny episode about the characters' personalities interacting.
"Over a Barrel" is about a conflict between settler ponies and Native American themed buffalo. The historical treatment of Native Americans certainly can't be discussed in it, so the conflict is one of misunderstanding and conflict of interest between equally powerful parties. But really it just seems like an excuse to put the ponies in a Wild West setting for some reason. Pinkie Pie tries to solve the situation by singing an extremely naďve song about how "You gotta share, you gotta care" that only escalates the conflict. However, the parties are actually quite willing to compromise as soon as they figure out how. The conflict is solved mainly because it wasn't that bad to begin with. The official aesop at the end, then, is pretty vacuous, and ends with "You've got to share; you've got to care." (Pinkie Pie: "Hey! That's what I said!") If that wasn't a stealth Spoof Aesop, it's kind of confusing; is it good to assume everyone can just be nice and get along, or not?
"A Friend In Deed" spends 90% of its runtime setting the morals that "you can't force someone to be your friend" and "some people just need their personal space, and that's okay", as shown by Pinkie stopping at nothing to get Cranky to be her friend and refusing to leave him alone until he does. Then in the last five minutes she succeeds in becoming his friend through sheer force of will by realizing that another character introduced only in this episode was Cranky's long lost love. It takes the previous moral and tacks a sort of "except when you do something really nice for them!" onto it, muddling the intent somewhat.
Adventure Time is full of these; intentionally, as often as not, especially one episode where Jake explicitly declares that there was a lesson to be learned and he avoided it.
The episode "My Two Favorite People" lamphsaded the hell out of this trope at the end, first by having Jake put forth the Aesop that he was wrong to be jealous of his best friend Finn establishing a platonic relationship with Lady Rainicorn, Jake's girlfriend. Jake admits he was stupid, and then...
Jake: Let's never be stupid again.
Finn: No, let's always be stupid, forever!
"Another Way" also deserves special mention for how hard it Zig Zags its Aesop. Throughout the episode, Finn is repeatedly told that "it's the only way" when confronted with an unpleasant necessity or a choice between unpleasant options. Every time, he shouts, "No! MY WAY!" and Takes a Third Option. The moral seems to be something about believing in one's own judgment or persevering in the face of discouragement or maybe rejecting false dilemmas... at least until Finn's way results in the death of an innocent bystander and he sings a sad song about how he was wrong. So the moral is about humility and avoiding rash actions that could hurt others... maybe? Nope. Finn goes on "his way" again and finds a cure-all that revives the dead bystander and everyone else who was hurt early in the episode. So we're back to the first moral, until Jake rejects Finn's miracle cure and prefers to stick to the one Finn found so objectionable at the beginning of the episode. Whew.
Wizards is often assumed to have An Aesop that technology is bad, even though the good guys have no problem using it (namely, guns). Ralph Bakshi has actually had to state that it's about propaganda.
An epsiode of the short-lived George of the Junglereboot has George contract a rash called "Itchy Swell-itis". The only cures are to down a bitter-tasting medicine or refrain from scratching it. Since George lacks the self-control to do either, his friends step in via a Cone of Shame. This causes George to think that being "supportive" means not letting someone do what they want, and flees, discovering a hidden utopia full of animals in the same boat as he, and happily spend their lives perpetually scratching themselves. Thus, George rouses them all to band together and teach their friends the error of their supportive ways. Now you're probably thinking the Aesop will be something along the lines of "sometimes it is necessary to endure unpleasant things", or "what you want and what you need are often two different things, and those who care about you have to put what's needed first". However, never once is there shown a downside to scratching at a jungle rash the rest of one's life, and George's friends pretend to be swayed by their performance, only to trick them into taking the medicine.
In the Willas Wild Life episode Feathered Friends, the penguins Inky, Blinky, and Bob invite three penguin friends over for a party at their new place, a winter wonderland they created in the attic of Willa's house. These "friends" not only treat Willa and the other animals like non-entities, they invite over a large number of penguins that Inky, Blink, and Bob don't recognize and proceed to have a large party, excluding Inky, Blink, and Bob's other animal friends. It's not clear whether this was supposed to be an Aesop about being careful that some who call you friends may just be using you. There were additional elements of the Aesop about impressing others that are more interested in what you have than who you are (a phenomenon that continues to be prevalent in many society circles, and the guest penguins did have stereotypical Hollywood New England names like Smitty, Henry, and Boomton). Curiously, enough, Smitty, Henry, and Boomton remained silent during their time onscreen as did all of the other guest penguins. Inky, at least felt that because those so called "friends" were also penguins, they'd be cool with Willa and the rest of the gang. This suggests a not often taken approach on the issue of racism, where you find out that your old group of friends may not like your other group of friends because your new group of friends includes individuals of the wrong race. However, the guest penguins behavior towards Willa and the other animals wasn't so much hostile, but just dismissive (At one point, a guest penguin after eating a fish, disposed of the fishbone by putting it into Willa's hand (without so much as a look at Willa) as though she were a servant. Inky's description of them as friends seems as an Informed Attribute. This is a case where dialogue and character background from the guest penguins would have probably cleared things up.
In the episode Invasion from Below from the Hero Factory animated specials, monsters are attacking the city after a drilling team has disturbed their nest. The Heroes are dispatched to defeat them, but Breez discovers that they only want to be left alone, and convinces her partners to put down the weapons because violence is not a solution. Sure enough, the monsters turn peaceful and return to their nest. Just then, one of the monsters accidentally steps on a gun, firing it off and making the queen beast think the Heroes have fooled them. So the Heroes beat them, the queen, the monsters, their eggs and the entire nest fall into acid, and... celebration, the end.