In one of the And Knowing Is Half the Battle segments in He-Man, He-Man and She-Ra addressed the problem of sexual abuse. After the episode ran, at least one kid was able to come forward and admit to his parents about being sexually abused.
The American Dad! episode "Surro-Gate", which is about gay people adopting. Sure, the episode isn't as sentimental as the other episodes listed here but it's nice.
It also shows that extremists on both sides can be complete hypocrites.
"American Dad After School Special" shows that eating disorders aren't just something that can happen to women and teenaged girls, as men and boys can become obsessed with their bodies to the point of becoming bulimic and/or anorexic (even though the eating disorder counselor doesn't realize this, as he still refers to Stan as a teenaged girl and thinks the fact that Stan doesn't have his period is from anorexia drying up his ovaries like tobacco in the sun).
"Daddy Queerest" shows that some homophobes can have no reason to dislike gays. Here Stan tries to convince Terry's father to accept him for who is, but he instead tells them he just doesn't like them and leaves. When Terry gets incensed at it, Greg tells him to forget it and move on.
Also, loved ones and family members who can't accept who you really are don't love you as much as you think they do.
"The Boring Identity" and "Haylias": Trying to change someone to fit your own needs is a very bad idea.
"Vision: Impossible" shows that it is better to take some risks in life than constantly worrying about whether the outcome of your actions will be good or bad in the future.
"Stan's Best Friend": Sometimes euthanasia is necessary when it comes to pets.
As controversial as "Not All Dogs Go to Heaven" was, it actually does have a few good morals (even if it comes off as mean-spirited due to Brian's sudden atheism):
Irrationality and fundamentalism in religion can be a very dangerous thing (if you want real-world proof of that, check out the Westboro Baptist Church or any Islamic fundamentalist with a death wish).
Sometimes religion doesn't have all the answers on why we're here and why life is what it is (though had the writers also added, "...but it doesn't mean you should give it up just because an atheist points out that your life sucks so much that believing in God is a waste of time," then the episode would actually be commended for its thoughts on religion and atheism, not trashed for it).
Much like the moral on "The Juice is Loose," idol worship of your favorite celebrities is not worth it, as they're human and can be whiny assholes (cf. the "Stewie spends the day with the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation after missing out on asking them questions at a sci-fi convention" plotline, plus Meg gets introduced to Christianity by Kirk Cameron, whose viewpoints have strongly divided christians and non-christians alike)
"Friends Of Peter G.": "Keep you addictions in moderation."
Peter's speech at the end of "Boys Do Cry" saying that TV viewers with children should actually be the ones who care about what their children watch and not have to rely on TV show creators to tone down the content.
There's also "Peter-assment" for challenging the Double Standard by having Peter a nervous wreck from being sexually harassed by his female boss and his family and friends not giving a crap about it, as they either believe that women can get away with sexually harassing men, or they think the notion is ridiculous. In fact, one reviewer of the episode criticized the plot, but praised it for actually showing that sexual harassment isn't always a man giving a woman unwanted attention.
Joe: Quagmire, you're talking about murdering a guy. It doesn't matter what he's done, it's still murder.
Quagmire: No, Joe! It does matter what he's done! These people won't change! Y-You think they suddenly wake up and see the error of their ways and clean up their act?! NO!! They just keep ruining other people's lives, and the world is better off without them!
"Extra-Large Medium": Not every person with special needs (i.e., the girl with Down Syndrome Chris had a crush on) is a nice person and using Disability as an Excuse for Jerkassery is not okay.
"I Am Peter, Hear Me Roar": Feminism is about what women can choose to be (even if they choose to get married and have kids) and men need to be more sensitive to women and realize they're people too.
Also, being oversensitive can be just as bad as being insensitive.
"Farmer Guy": If you have problems in your community, you don't leave town (unless it's a threat to yourself or your family). You stay and try to make things better.
The Gargoyles episode "Deadly Force" is anything but subtle about its message, but is generally considered one of the best episodes of the series for treating its subject matter with respect, and instead of using the easy Aesop, "Guns will kill you if you even so much as think about them," they opt for the more mature and reasonable, "Guns are only dangerous if you don't know how to handle them."
The Christmas Episode of Sabrina: The Animated Series did a unique spin on the typical Christmas Carol plot where a Scrooge (Alpha Bitch Gemini "Gem" Stone) is scared into being nice for the holidays. Sabrina is fed up with Gem's attitude to Christmas (which itself gets cranked up for the episode, even having Gem make people line up to hear what gift they have to buy her, based on their family income and popularity in school) and tries to cast a spell to scare her with the Christmas Carol touch. However, it doesn't work and only makes Gem love herself even more (even after being told that she will die alone and no one will visit her grave, Gem counters that she still has her popularity even in death) so Sabrina ends up giving her a gift anyway and wishing her Merry Christmas. Gem then realizes that no one else cared to be with her on Christmas and so joins Sabrina's family for dinner. So the message becomes "Don't try to change someone just because you don't like their attitude. Instead, try being nice in the hope they'll reciprocate".
If It's Doomsday, This Must Be Belfast. For all its faultsnote such as attempting to condense complex history into a version for children, complete with lots of As You Know exposition, mangled Scotirish accents and Wheeler as the embodiment of America Saves the Day, it delivers a very clear Aesop that long histories of violence and bloodshed are complex, difficult problems without clear heroes and villains or quick, easy solutions, and a secondary one that nobody wins when a nuclear war is waged.
Also, the episode that focused on a kid being infected with HIV due to a blood transfusion mishap. It wasn't even remotely subtle, but the message that people with HIV or AIDS victims don't spread the disease by just being around other people, need all the love and support they can get, and can be anyone you know and/or love is an Aesop that audiences back in the 1980s and 1990s needed to know.
The episode about animal testing. After some of the overblown Aesops delivered by the show, the subdued message of "Animal testing is sometimes necessary, but can often be minimized or avoided entirely and should never be used unnecessarily" is a breath of fresh air.
"The power is yours!" (Translation: "You have the power to change the environment for the better.")
South Park is fantastic for not only having Anvilicious episodes, but having that Anviliciousness most often being completely justified and absurdly hilarious at the same time. Sometimes they remind celebrities that their egos are outstripping their talents (if they were ever talented to start with) or that they have gone too far (Free Hat, Fat Butt and Pancake Head, The Biggest Douche in the Universe, Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset, The China Probrem, and Fishsticks), how absurd some trends are (South Park Is Gay!, Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset, Chinpokomon, and Smug Alert!), or just how crazy humanity is and has become as a whole (Freak Strike, I'm a Little Bit Country, Butt Out, Douche and Turd, Follow That Egg!, Britney's New Looknote It also carries the Aesop of "Celebrities are people too, and shouldn't be pushed around and mocked just because their lives aren't going so well.", and The Ring).
The two-parter Cartoon Wars with the message that potential terrorism is just as bad as active terrorism.
The episode "Trapped In The Closet," and the views of the destructiveness and nonsense of Scientology. They were willing to alienate a long-time cast member and fan favorite to get the message out. Although Isaac Hayes didn't want to leave the cast; he was pressured into it by Scientology and was in tears when he went to Matt and Trey to break the news. He had enough of a sense of humour to say "they've done that to every religion"; Scientology did not.
There's also the movie, where 139 F-bombs are just about enough to remind people that there are far worse things in the world than swearing - a message that ties in nicely with It Hits The Fan, which shows that some swear words become completely meaningless if you use them repeatedly and should be curbed as they aren't suitable for everyday conversation. Especially since, ironically, when the movie came out, a lot of people were complaining about it, and they acted akin to Kyle's mom (minus the whole war thing). Trey Parker and Matt Stone aren't bad at predicting the behaviour of Moral Guardians. It, amidst all the uncensored swearing, also has a few big ones: violence can be just as bad as swearing, and the "blame the media for your children's bad behavior and lobby to censor it" approach to taming unruly kids is a very bad idea.
The episode "Butterballs", illustrates that anyone (including family members, people trying to stop them, and Jesus Christ Himself) can be a bully.
Also anti-bullying messages won't stop the bullies or make them see the error of their ways.
The two-part episode "Go God Go" (the one where Ms. Garrison is forced to teach evolution in school while Cartman freezes himself so he can be around to get the Nintendo Wii) has a rather dark yet necessary moral in response to Richard Dawkins and the belief touted by some vocal gnostic atheists: removing religion will not stop conflicts or end the world's problems. And if we did get rid of religion, we would still have those problems, but use something else as an excuse to justify them. This is exemplified by "The Great Question" of the atheists, which is "what should the atheists group call itself?" Ironically, since that episode Dawkins and many other members of the "New Atheism" have become even more controversial and intolerant with their statements (such as Dawkins claiming Islam was the world's greatest force for evil and that atheists should be intolerant towards religion), to the point that a lot of atheists don't like being associated with them.
A moral that isn't given as much attention from that story but is still there is that it isn't fine being religiously intolerant even if you're not religious, as shown when some atheist Otters murder a wise old Otter just for saying that maybe religion isn't all bad.
"An Elephant Makes Love To A Pig" challenges the Double Standard by showing the others making fun of Stan for getting beat up by his sister, then showing how bad it is. Seeing that Trey Parker had that experience with his own sister, it's a very well-played (if frightening) moral.
Also, The Movie and its predecessor "Death" show that parents should spend more time with their kids and stop going on senseless attempts to sanitize the world.
Also, The Movie and a few other episodes show that there are much worse things in the world then swearing.
"Miss Teacher Bangs A Boy" shows that student-teacher relationships are not okay no matter how attractive the teacher is, or if the genders are reversed. It also shows that teachers in those kind of relationships usually aren't right in the head to begin with. The genders abuse is still very relevant today.
"My Future Self and Me": Be honest with your kids, especially when it comes to talking about the dangers of doing drugs.
"Conjoined Fetus Lady" has a rather nice anvil about how people with handicaps or physical deformities shouldn't be put on a pedestal to be worshiped, as the attention makes them more of an outcast than the actual deformity.
"All About Mormons" teaches that while religions may have some crazy beliefs that do not make sense, they still promote good values that everybody should live by such as be kind to others and help those in need.
In fact, most of the show's episodes on religion focus around a central theme: seeing the proverbial forest for the trees. Religion, at its core, is about being a good person by promoting virtues like generosity, selflessnes and altruism, and that's what you should be focusing on, rather that minute details of your religion's canon.
"Butt Out": Even noble, "good" causes can have horrible people working for them and using them for their own gain. Also, people who smoke are not inherently evil.
Also it and a few other episodes show that people should really stop blaming corporations for everything.
A more subtle one in "Raising The Bar" is that even through obesity is unhealthy and something must be done about it, it's still wrong to mock and dehumanize people suffering from it.
Butters' rant in "Cartman Sucks" to the counselors at a "Pray the gay away"-style camp about how bicurious people aren't a blight in God's eyes was one that really needed dropping.
"Cripple Fight" Big Gay Al's speech to the community about forcing people to accept homosexuality is not the right way, but educating people about it is. Freedom is a two-way street and if you're allowed to express yourself then others should be too no matter how wrong you believe they are.
Another Aesop in "Cripple Fight" that needed dropping was, "Being gay is not the same as being a pedophile, as not all homosexual men prey on little boys."
"The Death Camp of Tolerance" has Mr. Garrison's speech that being overtolerant is just as bad as being intolerant. He also mentions that some groups you tolerate can still piss you off and that people shouldn't preach about tolerance, but instead preach acceptance.
"Proper Condom Use": Children (when they're ready) need good sexual education from adults they can trust, and that sex education in schools is only a good idea if you have teachers that actually know what they're talking about, won't use scare tactics to frighten students, and isn't a depraved pervert who shouldn't be around kids in the first place.
The "Black Friday" trilogy shows us that the consumer-driven madness of Black Friday is completely senseless and stupid. This lesson hits home at the end of the third part, which cuts from animated shoppers killing each other to live-action footage from actual Black Fridays.
Another one is that the console wars are ultimately pointless and stupid.
"The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs": Sometimes an anvil is only in the imagination of the beholder.
"La Petit Tourette": Just because you can say whatever you want doesn't mean you should. The things you say publicly can come back to bite you.
In the "Imagintionland" trilogy, the terrorists managed to get into Imaginationland because we've become so paranoid over terrorist attacks, we're basically allowing them to come in and take over our imaginations. In short, don't let fear control your life.
"Freemium Isn't Free" drops the huge one about people playing free games but still paying money just to progress in those games and how people are addicted to games like this.
"Ginger Kids" shows the dangers of abusing free speech to marginalise minority groups. This is a big one considering Matt and Trey are Freedom of Speech advocates.
While tracking down Norman's nemesis via his trail of destruction in Mighty Max, they arrive at a house whose occupants were slaughtered. Norman was the only one to see the carnage and absolutely refused to allow Max to enter. Max tried to reason that he has plenty of experience with violence on television. Max tries to enter, but is blocked by Norman, who replies that he should not go in there. When Max asks why, Virgil responds simply, "Real violence has real consequences." It makes it clear that there is a difference between the violence you see on TV and the violence that happens in the real world.
Zuko: Growing up, we were taught that the Fire Nation was the greatest civilization in history and somehow, the war was our way of sharing our greatness with the rest of the world. What an amazing lie that was! The people of the world are terrified by the Fire Nation! They don’t see our greatness - they hate us! And we deserve it. We’ve created an era of fear in the world. And if we don’t want the world to destroy itself, we need to replace it with an era of peace and kindness.
The show features two notable ones which Iroh gives out: "No one can give you honour or self-worth except yourself." (Zuko) "Power and perfection are overrated." (Aang)
In the episode "The Deserter", Aang discovers a Firebending master and is eager to learn firebending. The master is reluctant because he knows Aang has not mastered water and earth (and true focus) yet. To start with baby steps, the master gives Aang a tiny leaf to burn in a very controlled fashion, though he doesn't bother to explain the lesson's purpose. But an impatient Aang yearns to show off his potential and creates giant flames that badly burn Katara, much to his horror. Distraught, Aang decides he will never firebend again and suppresses his firebending abilities (until the later 3rd season). Katara reminds Aang that he has to learn firebending someday, just not now. Even if you feel you have more potential, dangerous lessons must be learned gradually. And if you mess up real terribly, it does not mean you must abandon learning it; you will learn it someday, but not today. A later third season episodes completes the Aesop that a dangerious ability can be beautiful and vital once you understand control and its meaning. Zuko and Aang learns this when they witnessed the last two dragons on Earth fire beautiful flames around them without burning them.
"Zuko Alone" has two: Even the 'good' side in a war can be morally ambiguous, and it's unrealistic to expect long-lasting enmity to be smoothed over by a single act.
Being a good parent isn't about loving your child because they meet your expectations, it's about always loving your child even though they've lost their way. The series demonstrates this by contrasting Ozai and Iroh's relationships with Zuko, and showing that Iroh was more of a father in the three years he spent with him than Ozai was for the other thirteen. On top of that, a real parent is the one who always loves you no matter what, rather than just being related to you.
"The Painted Lady" had a point: Although all the miracles are blessings, you shouldn't just believe that circumstances will eventually improve, but act to make things better. It didn't matter if the Painted Lady was real or not — the fact that they thought that she was acting for them was enough to turn things around and get people hopeful again.
Another anvil is dropped in "The Avatar and The Firelord," by Aang (they did a lot of these in the third season). What's interesting is that it brought all the random, seemingly unconnected plots of the previous episodes, where the Gaang had been laying low in the Fire Nation and interacting with the locals in disguise, and united them under a common theme, simultaneously subverting the Bad Powers, Bad People viewpoint that had been prominent in the other two seasons:
Aang: Roku was just as much Fire Nation as Sozin was, right?? If anything, their story proves anyone's capable of great good and great evil. Everyone, even the Fire Lord and the Fire Nation, have to be treated like they're worth giving a chance.
"The Southern Raiders" takes Forgiveness, an aesop commonly found in children's shows (most of whichdon't handle it very well), and completely justifies it. Interesting in that Katara doesn't forgive the man who killed her mother, instead realizing that letting revenge (even incredibly justified revenge) dominate her life will destroy her. In the process, she does forgive Zuko for betraying the Gaang, recognizing that he's trying to atone. It was an intelligent way of handling the aesop that counts as a Reconstruction.
The theme of sticking to your ideals is especially prevalent, since his mentors (previous avatars), his friends, and pretty much everyone else in the story told him to kill Ozai, but instead he stuck with what he thought was right and it worked out for the best.
"It's okay if you've made mistakes - it's never too late to do the right thing", as shown with Zuko's Heel-Face Turn, especially after it had been subverted (he had made the wrong choice) in the season 2 finale.
The Legend of Korra also follows these up. For example, the moral that when trying to fight evil, one should be careful to not become as bad as those you fight. (For example, many people became anti-bending Equalists so they could prevent the damage that some benders do. When they themselves became dangerous terrorists, powerful benders such as Tarrlok resorted to martial law and internment of the innocent. Both these reactions were wrong).
The major theme of both series seems to be the importance of balance and harmony between different people, aspects of nature and ideals and philosophies.
Korra's book 4 episode "The Calling" reinforces this by addressing (via Toph) how the villains of the past seasons had noble intentions, yet were too imbalanced in their methods and their goals when they tried to realize those intentions.
A major message of the second season is that you have worth as an individual, no matter what else you are. Tenzin accepted that he was more than just the son of Aang and Korra realized that she has worth beyond simply being the Avatar.
The third season opener has Tenzin give a You Are Better Than You Think You Are speech loaded with anvils. For one thing, that change can be either good or bad, depending on your viewpoint, that even someone like the Avatar can't solve all the problems of a city, that even if what you're doing is ultimately to help the world as a whole there are going to be people who don't agree with your choices, and finally that true wisdom comes from accepting reality, and that once some things change, they can never go back to the way they were.
This article gives an insightful and beautiful description of how and why The Legend of Korra is one of the first cartoons to show the things most TV shows, animated or live-action, don't always do: Racial representation. Body positivity. Badass women who can still be vulnerable, aren't over-sexualized, and aren't over-exaggerated for either being too girly or too tomboyish. The complexity of politics and religion. No agenda of showing that "only girls are awesome", but both genders can be equally as awesome. And probably the most significant impact: The portrayal, if subtle one, of two women (Korra and Asami) of different races becoming an Official Couple.
Bryan Konietzko: Despite what you might have heard, bisexual people are real!
The 1939 short Peace on Earth is a Christmastime story. In it, Funny Animals discuss a not-so-funny topic; that is, how "men" went extinct due to warfare (World War II was clearly on the horizon at the time and this was before nuclear weapons were developed, mind you). We see some of the horrors of warfare depicted WWI-style. And when the men had gone, the animals afterwards read the "humans' book of rules" and express disappointment that the humans had some good rules (e.g. Thou Shalt Not Kill) but weren't able follow them.
The same goes for its 1955 remake Good Will to Men.
On the Justice League episode "Flash and Substance" — it's okay to be happy, and feel good after a job well done. You don't have to be emo, depressed, or "dark" for people to like you — and you should always be kind to those weaker than you. Maybe this isn't an aesop— but in a world of dark and depressing storylines to show how awful the world is, and how horrible the people are, it's nice to see someone out and out say that they have good days. And you don't have to beat the snot out of the bad guys. Maybe you could help them get the treatment they really need.
The contrast between Flash's style in Central City and that of the visiting Batman is wonderfully brought home when Flash quietly talks The Trickster down — said Trickster voiced by the King Of Bat-Villain's VA, Mark Hamill, speaking in something very close to his normal voice. Batman even looks envious, and shows his respect for Flash.
On a more significant note, regardless if that world's Luthor rigged the election to win which started the whole mess in the first place, the people themselves who had put him in office still shared the responsibility and ended up paying for it with their freedom. In turn, the Justice Lords reacted in a way that they saw would address what the world wanted/needed, thus resulting in said tyranny. Which hammers home another aesop; heroes are people too, and if pushed too far by the very ones they had sworn to protect, it wouldn't be that far off that they'll either turn on you, stop caring, or end up doing what the Lords did.
Phineas and Ferb: The episodes "Phineas and Ferb Get Busted" and "Phineas and Ferb's Quantum Boogaloo" dish out some Anvils about how children shouldn't have their creativity and imagination restricted, and how they should pursue what they want. While the Anvil-dropping itself isn't particularly subtle (in fact, the dropping of the Anvils incorporates some bleak themes, a lot of Tear Jerker for the characters, and even some And I Must Scream elements for a show directed to 6-11 year-olds), the Aesop is notably important (in a society where parents are keen on having their children follow in their footsteps, stifling their kids' imagination and having their true identity obliterated.)
Phineas and Ferb also gives us one of the few bearable health food aesops that have been slipped into kids shows since ever: the episode "Candace's Big Day". Dr. Doofenshmirtz hatches a plan to use his Junkfoodinator to coat all of the Tristate area's food with various hydrogenated oils and other fatty preservatives, making everyone become fat and lazy, while he hoards fruits and vegetables to keep himself healthy. But before he unleashes his scheme, he covers the healthy food with the oily mixture, tries some, and instantly becomes addicted to it. By the episode's end, he's eaten all of the fuel for the Junkfoodinator, which makes him become covered with acne, grow a bloated stomach, and completely lose all of his energy, all while he brags about how "healthy" he is. This over-the-top reaction is part of what makes the Aesop so effective, but it's also nice to see a kid's show explaining that foods aren't inherently "good" or 'bad" for you; rather, it's how they're prepared, and how much of them you eat, that determines whether or not they're healthy.
"Attack Of The 50-Foot Sister" gives the message that you shouldn't be too obsessed with your looks because there are people who can take advantage of your obsession for their own gain, like how the beauty products woman made people feel worse about themselves so that they would buy her products, and the freakshow man who made people feel better by comparison to his attractions so they would spend money on his show.
The underlying theme of all the episodes, but made most obvious in songs like "Summer Belongs to You" and "Carpe Diem" is to make the most of what you've got. You don't need to do the amazing, unbelievable things that Phineas and Ferb do to have the most exciting, fulfilling life possible.
SpongeBob SquarePants preached a lot of messages about honesty and not taking advantage of people. One of the best examples is Patty Hype, where Spongebob starts to sell Pretty Patties, a brand of brightly colored Krabby Pattie. The Pretty Patties become a runaway hit, despite Mr. Krabs and Squidward laughing in Spongebob's face. First of all, it shows you that you shouldn't give up on your dreams, even if you're laughed at because of them. And then when Mr. Krabs cheats Spongebob out of the Pretty Patty franchise, it comes back to bite him in the ass.
From the later seasons, Spongebob's Last Stand, where Spongebob opposes a highway being built through Jellyfish Fields. Only Patrick supported him, but still, he tried, and in the end, he did succeed. It was a pretty good aesop about not harming the environment and caring about wildlife.
There's also the episode Not Normal, in which Squidward convinces Spongebob that he needs to act "more normal." Spongebob watches a self-help video on the topic, and eventually transforms into a bland, mediocre office worker. But instead of this making him happier and more accepted, it leaves him bored and miserable because he's lost all of his unique talents and the things that he used to enjoy. He and Patrick end up spending the rest of the episode trying to turn Spongebob "weird" again. The message, that "normal" is incredibly overrated and the quest to fit in can destroy the best things about you, feels very clear and strong in this episode.
In its early days, SpongeBob had a talent for dropping anvils in very non-Anvilicious ways:
"Squirrel Jokes" shows that racist/sexist jokes are more hurtful than you think.
"Hooks" was a realistic look at addiction. Patrick introduces Spongebob to the hooks (fish hooks) that pull you up, from which it is great fun to float down. Spongebob tries it, seeing that Patrick's not being hurt by it, and heeds his warning "not to get too high." After Mr. Krabs gives them a Hooks Are Bad speech, Spongebob rides the hooks one more time, and gets his body hooked, which effectively means death. In a scene that wouldn't be out of place on the show Intervention, Spongebob faces his own mortality, and then humiliation. Mr. Krabs tells Spongebob he's doomed, and puts out a Help Wanted sign. SpongeBob then has to take his clothes off in front of Pearl and the other girls to free himself. It turns out Squidward was on other end of the fishing pole. We also learn that people who don't seem affected by addiction really are, as Patrick is canned as tuna fish, having apparently been captured.
Similarly, "Skill Crane" illustrates the seductive nature of gambling. Mr. Krabs installs a skill crane game at the Krusty Krab, and Squidward becomes so obsessed with winning that he spends his life savings in quarters to do so. Bonus points for framing the issue in terms of a game children are familiar with, and probably was/will be their first introduction to the concept.
"Jellyfish Hunter" has a message about animal abuse that goes on in food processing plants. When Spongebob introduces jellyfish jelly to the Krabby Patty menu to much popularity, Mr. Krabs sees this as an opportunity to expand business and gets Spongebob to hunt every jellyfish he can find. The problem arise when Spongebob thoughtlessly hunting all but one jellyfish down from their habitat to feed Mr. Krabs' need. He soon learns Mr.Krabs has made a giant assembly line that essentially drains all the jellyfish of their jellyand likely kills them. Spongebob frees all the imprisoned ones and its made quite clear that Spongebob's method of getting jellyfish jam, taking out a small amount and leaving them alive to replenish themselves so it can be done again, was the correct one and not Mr. Krabs' practice of overfishing them to death.
"Ripped Pants" shows that while some jokes can be funny, they can very easily overstay their welcome and become annoying instead. It also makes it very clear that pretending to be dying or seriously hurt for the sake of a joke is not okay.
Danny Phantom had several subtle anvil droppings. Throughout the first season, Danny was terrified about telling his parents about his secret identity, because they hunted ghosts for a living. When he finally does reveal his secret to them, they were completly accepting. It goes to show that you should trust your family with your secrets. They'll love you no matter what.
There's also one in the episode "My Brother's Keeper." Your family's there for you if you ever need them, even if it's just to talk. And even if they can be annoying sometimes that doesn't mean they don't care.
“The Ultimate Enemy” was one of the darkest episodes of the show, but it did have a very good ant-cheating message.
Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood has two episodes on voting. Daniel doesn't get his choice, but he's told to think of positve things about the alternative. It's a good lesson for everybody. Not bad for a preschool show.
One episode of The Weekenders chronicles Tino and his overwhelming fear of clowns to the point he's reverted to the fetal position when just seeing an image of one. It's all somewhat Played for Laughs, but his friends and his mom try to convince him that his fear is wrecking his life and that he should try and face it. He admits he does need help and does face his fear... at a nearby circus clown school. By the end of the episode he isn't fully cured of his phobia, but he can "live with it now", even saying that fear is okay as long as it doesn't take over your life.
An in-universe example in another episode has Tish deciding to conduct a study on human behaviour. She acts horribly to all her test subjects, eventually causing them to walk out on her. She's learned her lesson by the end of the episode and announces to her friends that - in a touch of Irony - she ended up the subject of her own study: that when you need someone to help you, they respond better to positive reinforcement. Tino then points out that it took three days for her to basically learn "you catch more flies with honey than vinegar". Still a good lesson though.
Happy Feet: The last wild places in the world are worth protecting and preserving.
"Your way of doing things is not inherently better than my way just because of tradition."
The ''Batman: The Animated Series' episode "Mean Seasons" had Villain of the Week Calendar Girl, who was once a renowned model but was fired for being unable to compete with younger models. She eventually decides to extract revenge on all the companies and networks who had fired her and ruined her career. Throughout the episode, she always wears a full-face mask since she had so much plastic surgery done before turning evil. But when the police unmask her, she begins to scream and writhe on the ground, horrified that they see her "ugly" face. She is in her late-thirties and just as attractive as the other models seen.
Batgirl: She's beautiful. Batman: She can't see that anymore. All she can see are the flaws.
This one earns bonus points because Calendar Girl was voiced by Sela Ward, who in 1995 was passed up for the role as a Bond girl because "What we really want is Sela, but Sela ten years ago", prompting her to make a documentary called "The Changing Face of Beauty", focusing on the media's obsession with youth and its effect on women.
A huge one regarding domestic abuse is dropped in "Mad Love." Not only does it portray it as a serious issue, but it also shows why victims keep going back to their abusers; the Joker convinces Harley that he still loves her and that's enough to get her back in his grip.
"Suited for Success" has a twofold moral: the first is "you shouldn't try to please everyone, because you'll often please no one", and the second is "don't look a gift horse in the mouth". "Applebuck Season" is all about how it's okay to ask your friends for help when you really need it (and also that it's ok to say no if you don't have the time/means to help everyone). And "Green Isn't Your Color" manages to do a pretty good job of explaining that some secrets are okay to keep, and some aren't.
Over a Barrel: The natives vs. settlers conflict has no clear cut good guy or bad guy. But solutions and compromises can be reached- though not always easily, but still possible.
Boast Busters: Being talented doesn't make you a bad person, but thinking that your talents make you better then everyone else does. Also, mustaches are awesome.
"A Dog and Pony Show": Just because someone is feminine, doesn't mean they're helpless.
The Best Night Ever: Reality doesn't always live up to expectations. Also, the company of good friends can make anything better.
The Return of Harmony: Friendship isn't always easy, but it's worth fighting for.
Hearth's Warming Eve: When people spend more time attacking each other than the problem, the problem does not get solved
Hearts and Hooves Day: You don't need a "Special Somepony" to be happy on the day dedicated for it.
From "Putting your hoof down", the aesop of "No means no". Given that a lot of people just assume "No, I'm not interested" to mean "Keep pressing and bugging me more - maybe I'll demonstrate interest", this is a VERY solid Aesop.
Alternatively, "There is a difference between standing up for yourself and being a bully." An aesop that can not be stressed enough for some people.
From "Baby Cakes", the aesop of "taking care of babies/children is hard, messy, and not always fun, but those who accomplish it deserve thanks" is something a lot of children should learn, to help them appreciate their parents better.
A missed but important one for Ponyville Confidential: Everypony contributed to the gossip column by buying the paper to see others humiliated. They have no one to blame but themselves for their secrets coming out because everypony wanted to see them embarrassed.
It also shows how making up lies about someone on news can be very damaging to one's reputation.
"A Canterlot Wedding" has the message that even if you're right, you should have a good deal of tact in making your point.
And on the flip end of the coin, it also gives the moral that just because a claim seems outrageous and arbitrary on the surface, it doesn't automatically mean that there isn't some level of truth behind it.
"The Crystal Empire" has the moral that sometimes, self-sacrifice is necessary for the greater good.
"One Bad Apple” has two notable points:
First off, the episode drives home the fact that if the CMC had just talked to Applejack or another adult from the get-go (like Sweetie Bellerepeatedly tried to get the others to do), the conflict could have been resolved with a minimal amount of fuss (In layman’s terms, it’s saying that getting a responsible adult is the first thing someone should do when they’re being bullied, and that doing so doesn't make you a "snitch").
Secondly, trying to get revenge on the bully (especially by public humiliation), makes you little better than the bully yourself.
“Wonderbolts Academy”: There is a difference between pushing yourself and just recklessness, and if you have to be careful that your actions don’t result in yourself or someone else being hurt especially, if you’re a leader.
“Just for Sidekicks”: You shouldn’t try to push off your responsibilities onto someone else. Also, you shouldn’t agree to do more than you are capable of handling.
“Apple Family Reunion”: It's not about the activities you do, it's about the people you do them with. It may seem like just An Aesop, but in a world where some people hardly ever see their family and loved ones, that is something to remember.
"Keep Calm and Flutter On": Whether they be a school-yard bully, a foe with a vendetta, or even the god of all chaos himself, anyone can change for the better. You just have to give them the chance.
"Magical Mystery Cure": Base Breaker status aside, the episode had a somewhat subtle anvil dropped regarding the switched Cutie Marks. You should never let Because Destiny Says So dictate what you do with your life, especially if it's something that doesn't make you happy.
"Flight to the Finish" drops a very well-needed one: Don't feel sad about what you can and can't do. Focus on what you can do, and even if there are lots of things you can't do like everyone else, you're still awesome either way.
"Rarity Takes Manehatten": While generosity is a good trait to have, you should be careful to not be overly generous, as some people may take advantage of that.
Alternatively, while there are people who will take advantage of generosity, others will be inspired by it.
"Somepony to Watch Over Me": There is such a thing as being overprotective with your younger siblings, and it could result in them being resentful that you won't give them a chance to show what they can do.
"Monster High and Kind Campaign: The Shockumentary." Anyone-on-anyone hostility, especially bullying, is NEVER hot or right and we should never think it can be either one no matter what. Just as bullying can be our problem, so too the solution can come from us as well. We must always try to "find kind"—the kindness within everyone.
"Fright On!" has a surprising one: It's good to be in touch with your culture/heritage, but you shouldn't let it take over your identity and prevent you from accepting others.
Disney's Education for Death, as a Wartime Cartoon, seems like it'd be an unlikely candidate for this. However, it hammers in the point that Those Wacky Nazis are people just like you, and most of the soldiers are victims of propaganda and a cult of personality around the REAL monsters, like Hitler, Goebbels and Goering, and they're just as afraid of Hitler as you are.
On a similar note, the short "Reason and Emotion" tells how overly emotional responses to fear and anxiety leads people to believe terrible people who sow hatred by appealing to your hatred and bigotry (granted the short has mild sexism, its holds up very well nowadays).
Then there is original Chicken Little short, which shows how people can be taken advantage of, if they'll not think for themselves, but unquestionably belive everything they're told..
King of the Hill episode "Petriot Act" can be "Don't let blind patriotism rule your decisions. If you wanted to do something big like care for a soldier's pet, do it after you have your huge vacation that your family has been dreaming of for awhile." Hank learned that the hard way.
"Husky Bobby": Not everyone appreciates fat people, kids can be cruel, and parents really do know what's best for their kids, even if what they do feels unfair or "not right." (In fact, the other two Aesops can apply to a lot of episodes where Bobby does something that embarrasses Hank and Hank has to bail him out)
The episode about carbon offsets drops the anvil that fad environmentalism should not discredit the fact that many earth-friendly measures are down-to-earth, practical wisdom that are still valid.
"Bart Gets An F" shows off a rarely shown side of school in media: even if you study your hardest and try your best, you can still fail.
"Itchy, Scratchy, & Marge" shows us exactly what happens to a show if it deviates from itself in order to please the Moral Guardians.
Marge also learns that censorship always breeds hypocrites, TV shows (or any form of media) shouldn't be censored just because someone doesn't like it, standing up for what you believe in sometimes isn't worth the trouble (especially if it destroys the livelihood of everyone else around you), and no matter what choices you make, there's always going to be consequences.
"Lard Of The Dance": Don't rush to grow up. Enjoy your childhood while you still have it.
"Sleeping with the Enemy": Eating disorders and insecurities about your looks aren't compressed vices. They don't go away in 20 minutes and sometimes will stay with you for life.
"Lisa the Vegetarian": You shouldn't try for force your beliefs on those who choose not to follow your lifestyle. Even Paul McCartney and Apu said so.
"Homer's Phobia": Parents should be more tolerant of their children's sexual preferences (so long as it's not something abhorrent or illegal).
"The Squirt and the Whale": A true animal activist respects the natural order of all animals and their instincts and and it's wrong to protect one animal if it means killing another.
The 1938 Frank Tashlin directed Porky Pig cartoon Wholly Smoke is an interesting example of this. Had the cartoon been made today, it would seem anvilicious beyond belief. However, in the late-1930's (when most people had little to no awareness of how bad smoking was for them), a cartoon with a direct anti-smoking message was practically unheard of. So, given its context, this short certainly qualifies. (That is, if it was made for health reasons. Plenty of people opposed smoking in the '30s, but for moral/religious reasons rather than medical ones.)
Fillmore! has a surprising view on the modern school systems for a Disney cartoon. In "Test of the Tested", the show has Ingrid, the smartest student in the school, fill out the Satty-9 test effortlessly and soon feels guilt for those who struggled through it. She points out that kids have much more intelligence than what they can show on standardized tests (Seth, suspect of the week makes cartoons and invented a wallet that makes candy bars not melt in your pocket) and says it’s a terrible system to put in place. Considering that this was made during the Bush administration and this subject hasn't gone away, it’s pretty refreshing.
Masterstroke of Malevolence drops one for artists, saying that any work can mean something to it's audience and that meaning is important, even if it’s not the one the creator intended.
In the original Ben 10 series, Ben almost invariably tried for one of the physically strong characters in the watch-at first. The Omnitrix would often shift him to a form that could actually handle the crisis better, or just required him to think to see how it could be useful. Sometimes the anvil was dropped (much) harder then others on the lessons: 1) muscle isn't everything; 2) if you're not handed what you wanted, work with what you have. "Don't be a selfish hothead" also had the anvil dropped a few times.
The famous episode "Pinky and the Brain...and Larry" is a Take That at Executive Meddling adding another character to a show. It shows that basically, Pinky and the Brain are meant to be a comedy duo whose opposite personalities even out the comedy and that another character will throw everything off balance.
Futurama: "The Cyber House Rules": Your real friends are the ones who care about you no matter what you look like. Fitting in for shallow reasons is overrated.
"The Why of Fry": You're more important than you think you are. In fact, you could be the most important person to someone else.
"The Luck of the Fryish" and "Cold Warriors": Your family does love you at the end of the day, even if it looks like they don't show it.
As anyone who works with children of any age can tell you, "Arthur's Big Hit" is kind of this towards Disproportionate Retribution. Yeah, what D.W. did was wrongnote And she did herself no favors by pulling a Never My Fault rather than actually apologizing, but what Arthur did was also wrong. He didn't understand why it was wrong. However, to some, the episode is just handled too Anviliciously to really get through and may come off as Narmy to people who work with children or anyone with an annoying sibling or suffering from Parental Favoritism.
ThunderCats (2011) sometimes has individual aesops for an episode, but overall the series stresses kindness and mercy towards all, and that self-absorbed pride can have dire consequences. The series starts out with Thundera being destroyed by the lizards once they get a hold of lost technology, because the cats were so racist and oppressive of the other races due to arrogance. The rest of the series has Lion-O, the new king, repeatedly defy the ways of his people and tries to aid everyone regardless of race or faction. This includes letting lizard soldiers go and giving them the choice to desert the army and go back home, then freeing them when they were going to be executed. Even before that, lizard prisoners he freed in Thundera freed him when Thundera fell. Lion-O's actions frequently pay off for him in the end, when someone he helped in the past comes to aid him in a time of need. This is in contrast to Mumm-Ra, who uses the lizards' hatred of the cats to recruit them, and then recruits generals who are just psychotic Blood Knights to scare the rest of the troops into fighting on. The anvil being dropped is be good to others, and they'll be good to you.
Fairly Oddparents "It's a Wishful Life" "Do nice things to be nice, not to be rewarded." Granted, it could've come across better in the episode, but it's still an important moral nonetheless.
The first episode with Chip Skylark shows that celebrities are real people just like you or me, and some of them might not even like being famous.
The Powerpuff Girls episode "Equal Fights" introduced Femme Fatale, a Straw Feminist villain who convinces the girls that they should let her go, as both crimefighting and crime itself are male-dominated fields. The girls are so taken with Femme Fatale's teachings that they start acting completely nasty to all of the men in Townsville—including the Mayor and Professor—whenever they're asked to do something. Eventually, Ms. Bellum and Ms. Keane, the girl's kindergarten teacher, help bring the girls back to their senses by pointing out that they weren't being mistreated by the Mayor and the Professor—the men were legitimately asking for their help after doing a fair share of the work. The point is further hammered home by three women entering and explaining that Femme Fatale has hurt them during her crime wave. Finally, the girls themselves deliver a speech to Femme Fatale about Susan B. Anthony, who Fatale claims is her hero. Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup explain that, after Anthony was arrested for voting in the nineteenth century, the judge considered simply letting her off because she was a woman and, according to both him and popular thought at the time, not capable of handling the pressures of a prison sentence; Anthony instead demanded that she be put in jail, as she had broken a law. The whole point was clear: being a feminist doesn't mean attacking men or saying that women deserve special treatment; it means being given the same opportunities and choices as men, and being full citizens with the same rights. It's a refreshing Deconstruction of the You Go Girl trope.
The classic Looney Tunes short "Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century" features Duck Dodgers in an Escalating War over Planet X with Marvin the Martian, to the point where they both use their "Secret Weapons". Dodgers succeeds in claiming Planet X, by which time it's roughly the size of an end table. A parable of the futility of nuclear war? Maybe. Jones probably didn't intend it to be so and he didn't actively set out to teach viewers this, but, if you know anything about the Cold War and the fears people had about nuclear war, it's hard not to see this.
"The Ducktators" shows that sometimes, peace talks won't change the policies of evil dictators and that war is the only solution
The Hangman tells the story of a moral coward who watches as everyone in his town is hung one by one. First a foreigner, then a man who protested the first hanging, then a jew, then a black, and so on. Eventually the cowardly narrator gets his turn on the gallows tree for the crime of being too cowardly to stand up for the previous victims. The message is very obvious (You have a moral duty to stand up to injustice, or you'll be a victim of it), but it's horribly effective in its beautifully macabre style.
Similarly, "The Backwater Gospel" drops a couple of anvils. It's wrong to persecute/scapegoat those that are different, and paranoia can absolutely destroy a society.
Drawn Together is not a show that usually applies this trope, but "Clum Babies" tells us that The Bible is just a collection of stories to build one's morality and should not be taken literally like many extremists do.
Gravity Falls presents a sad, but true, one with "Summerween": at some point, the world is going to tell you that you're too old for things like Halloween and trick-or-treating, so it's better to enjoy it while you can than spend time worrying about what older kids think of it.
"Boss Mabel" shows that while there's nothing wrong with treating your employees with more respect, don't be too nice or else your employees will walk all over you.
"Sock Opera": you should be willing to make sacrifices for the ones you love, and if someone has aided you at detriment to their own goals, you should help them in return.
"Society of the Blind Eye" gives the message that while everyone has things they'd rather forget, extreme denial isn't healthy. Instead you should learn from the experiences.
"Blendin's Game": The people worth your time are the ones that care about you and are willing to go the extra mile to make you happy. If a relative abandons you, they are not worth your time and attention.
The series Bravestarr features an episode, "The Price", on drugs. While most shows tend to do the "Drugs aren't cool" presentation and show the users simply being worse at school or sports, this episode drops all subtlety and shows just how far drug abuse can get, as one teen ended up paying the ultimate price. On the flip side, kids who see others doing drugs need to inform their parents or other responsible adults before the worse can happen.
The horror-comedy series Courage the Cowardly Dog ended with an episode entitled "Perfect." In the episode, Courage was depressed that he always seemed to mess up things, and that he was imperfect. Therefore, he conjures up a teacher that only he could see so that she could teach him how to be perfect. Courage undergoes many challenges, and nightmares (like the infamous CGI-fetus/trumpet creature), so that he could be perfect. It's when he's alone in the bathroom, a fish appears to him in the bathtub. The fish tells him that there's no such thing as perfect and that he was beautiful as the way he is, and he reminds him that with all his imperfections, he could do anything he set his mind on. The teacher then tells Courage to make a perfect number six, which he does, in his own way. The teacher then melts and the episode ends on a high note. The message is essentially: be yourself, and don't take what anyone else tells you with face value. You're beautiful just the way you are.
"The Rules" dropped a surprisingly thoughtful message about blindly following laws and revering past generations. When King Bob recovers an old playground rulebook written by a past King of the Playground, he immediately starts enforcing the old King's rules on how to properly play games at recess, employing a private force of "fun police" to punish any kids who break the rules. He's so set on following the old rules that he never considers that some of the more baffling ones (requiring the kids to play four-square with an old stump, for example) are completely irrelevant to their lives, and that a previous generation's king might not have had all the answers.
The message of "The Rules" grows another layer when it turns out that King Mort, the author of the rulebook, devised his special set of rules because he went to Third Street Elementary during the Great Depression, when the school was too poor to afford proper playground equipment; with limited resources, Mort had to teach his friends to entertain themselves with what little they had. With that in mind, the children realize that they've spent so much time squabbling over how to "properly" have fun that they've forgotten to appreciate how fortunate they are.
The show as a whole repeatedly dropped the same anvil: Children need time to have fun, play together, build friendships, and in general just be kids. This is most clearly stated in "Recess Is Canceled." In the episode, Third Street School cancels recess in an attempt to improve the kids' test scores. As the weeks go by, all of the children gradually become soulless, emotionless shells of their former selves who can't recognize each other or even formulate thoughts. It's only after their test scores drop dramatically that recess is reinstated, and the kids are immediately brought back to their original, joyful selves.
Animaniacs had a very family unfriendly, but realistic aesop in the episode "Bully for Skippy," which tells us that sometimes if you are faced with a bully who physically harms you, some authority figures may not listen/be able to help you, and you may just have to resort to fighting back in order to protect your well being.
In The Smurfs episode "Gargamel the Generous," we get the moral that just because someone who has repeatedly tried to hurt you before says they've changed, they're probably lying and you should not give your trust to them.
Garfield and Friends has one in "Binky Gets Canceled...Again!" As the title implies, Binky's popular kids' show is canceled after parents complain that the program isn't educational. Binky points out that he does something different: "I make children laugh! I entertain!" The station manager then declares that entertaining simply isn't enough for children's shows anymore — they need to have "social content" to get airtime. This seems to be a reaction against Anvilicious programs that treat kids like idiots while hammering home countless Aesops. It's not subtle, but it does make the legitimate claim that it's OK for children to simply have fun and enjoy themselves while watching television, rather than constantly having to learn something from it.
"The Good Deed" shows that you should be careful when you try to do a good deed, or you can make things worse.
The Hey Arnold! episodes "Helga and the Nanny" and "Helga on the Couch" say that while Jerkass Woobies like Helga need all the love and help they can get, they have to drop their hostilities and accept that help for it to do any good.
While one might be inclined to think that the morals of sharing, compromise, and getting along belong solely in little kids' shows, The Sym-Bionic Titan episode "Elephant Logic" challenges that line of thinking. Throughout the episode, the neighborhood kids are able to solve their problems efficiently thanks to the lessons from their Animal Buddies show, while Lance and Ilana are stuck squabbling. After checking out what Animal Buddies has to say, Octus hilariously drops the anvil that one shouldn't write off these morals for little kids, as there are many grown-ups who could stand to learn them.
The Samurai Jack episode "Jack and the Creature" drops an anvil on a rarely touched upon aspect of pet ownership. In the episode, the eponymous Creature bonds with Jack, who, after failing to convince it to return to the wild, trains it to assist him in his quest. Unfortunately, just when the two find a way to return Jack to his time, the Creature eats it. Jack's anger is very understandable, but the Creature is just too simple-minded to understand and be held accountable for what he did, and why his best friend suddenly wants nothing to do with him. In the end, the Creature saves Jack from a gang of bounty hunters, teaching the moral that while it can be hard to be patient with a pet's mental incapabilities, their Loyal Animal Companionship is worth putting up with it in the long run.
In Rick and Morty, the episode "Rixty Minutes" has a valuable aesop in not wallowing in What Could Have Been in your own past so much that it derails your own life in the present. Especially when it causes once buried grudges and cause much pain.
In the episode "Something Ricked this way comes" has a message of "Scientists are far more knowledgeable about science and environmental issues than any politician can" especially in light of science-denying, climate change-denying politicians that wallow in short term greed and ignorance.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 had it's fourth season with Leonardo becoming more brooding and prone to anger due to the near death battle with the Utrom Shredder in the season 3 finale. For those episodes, he was prone to treating his brothers stricter and would scold them for clowning around or not taking their fights seriously. In the episode "The Ancient One" during a training match, his growing anger at not getting better caused him to hurt Splinter, finally breaking him out of this. This was the first aesop, deal with your problems instead of ignoring help, which he did when Usagi tried to talk to him the previous episode, or else your anger will cause you to hurt people you care about. Being sent to the Ancient One during a very Empire Strikes Back like adventure with the Ancient One as Yoda, Leo also learned that failure isn't always a bad thing as once can learn from it and grow stronger. Being obsessed with perfection and avoiding failure can make you your own worst enemy.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) has a minor theme about not allowing friendships to be ruined. Splinter and Shredder were once the best of friends until they competed for Tang Shen's affections. Saki went as far as to provoke Splinter, and instead of trying to mend their friendship, the two allowed their rivalry to become hatred, resulting in Splinter losing everything he loved. Then there's the incident with April turning her back on the turtles after they accidentally mutate her father into a giant bat. Casey tells her about how he unintentionally allowed his best friend Nick to hate him after accidentally hurting him, which convinces her not to allow an accident to turn her back on her friends. Had Splinter and Shredder did what April had done and try remain friends after everything, Splinter could have lived a happier life while Shredder could have moved on.
The Transformers In one episode "Webworld" it actually have two messages, they were 1) Institutionalised medical care can't cure mental illnesses and could actually make the patient worse and 2) Forcing someone to have therapy, despite how good their intentions are, won't work.
How to Train Your Dragon 2: Wise, compassionate rule in which authority derives from earned loyalty is stronger than forceful, abusive domination.