Follow TV Tropes


For Want Of A Nail / Western Animation

Go To

  • In the fifth season premiere of Adventure Time, Finn wishes that the Lich never existed, creating an Alternate Timeline where the Lich never came to be. Things go downhill from there very rapidly. And to top it off, the Lich is born anyway, although several years later than he would have been and in a radically different form.
  • In Alvin and the Chipmunks, Alvin wins a sweepstakes where he's offered one of two prizes: $500 or a mystery prize that could range anywhere from a free lunch to millions of dollars. He's shown two alternate futures. In the first one where he takes the $500, he ended up investing it and continuing his singing career, and as a result, he and Brittany are filthy rich, Simon and Jeanette are successful scientists and Theodore and Eleanore run a booming restaurant business. In the future where he takes the mystery prize, he just gets a free lunch which gives him food poisoning, weakening his vocal cords and forcing him to give up singing, which causes him and everyone else to be poor. Ultimately, it was subverted, because when Alvin calls to claim the $500, they realize he's only a kid and explain to him that he had to be at least 18 to enter the sweepstakes.
  • Advertisement:
  • Done in a Christmas episode of American Dad! titled The Best Christmas Story Never. Stan was sent back to 1970 to renew his Christmas spirit, and uses the opportunity to kill Jane Fonda, whom he blames for modern day liberalism. Though instead of killing her or Donald Sutherland (who convinced Foster to go into politics), Stan somehow convinces Martin Scorsese to quit drugs and thus Taxi Driver was never made; as a result, John Hinkley, Jr. never got obsessed with Jodie Foster, and never tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan to impress her. Reagan loses the election to Mondale, who immediately handed America over to the Soviets. The timeline is fixed by the end of the episode (Stan shoots President Reagan), except for Roger who became the inventor of disco, because he found a Best of Disco cassette that Stan accidentally dropped in 1970. Also guns are easy to get because Stan neglected to shoot Brady, thus no Brady Bill.
  • Advertisement:
  • Parodied in one of the Cold Opens of Arthur. The Brain builds a time machine at school so that the gang can explore the time of the dinosaurs, and warns his friends to stay within marked boundaries in order to avoid messing up time. Unfortunately, Buster just happens to be eating a box of raisins as they went exploring, and the box accidentally falls from his pocket, off the path, and outside the boundaries. It isn't until everyone returns to the school that they realize that they now have scaly, lizard-like limbs, all thanks to that one box. Mr. Ratburn invites them in to class, also having lizard-like legs, and eats a fly as the intro comes to a close.
  • Apparently the fate of all life on Earth in The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes! depends entirely on whether or not Captain America approves of Black Panther performing a Heroic Sacrifice to stop the Kree from destroying the sun.
  • Advertisement:
  • Beast Wars: G1 Megatron wanted to have any descendent with the possibility try this (he somehow knew he wouldn't be alive to try it himself by the time the technology that'd allow time travel would be developed enough for this), with the nail being killing G1 Optimus Prime as the original transformers slept on prehistoric Earth, in order to sway The Great War into the Decepticons' favor because of course Optimus never dies, and when he does it's always permanent. Beast Wars Megs very reluctantly tried this once, because he likely knew had he no other options, Unicron would've likely killed everything in this time continuity. When the timeline is restored by the Maximals and the Heel–Face Turn Blackarachnia, Megatron decides to try something a little different and goes after the primitive humans, as their help would later assure Autobot victory over the Decepticons.
  • Similar to the Popeye example, there was a Christmas Episode of Beavis and Butt-Head where an angel shows Butt-Head how life would be without him, showing things like Principal McVicker being normal and Beavis working at a soup kitchen with Stewart. Despite this, Butt-Head's influence still permeates into this universe, too.
  • Ben 10: Alien Force: In "Time Heals", Gwen goes back in time and stops Ben and Kevin from tampering with the Omnitrix and causing the current mutation that Kevin is suffering and Wangsting over. Apparently, Kevin's mutation provided the key to victory in a future battle with Hex and Charmcaster, as they have taken over the city when Gwen gets back to her own time.
  • An episode of Captain Planet and the Planeteers ("Two Futures") shows how the world would have been in a HUGE mess if Wheeler hadn't accepted his ring.
  • Danny Phantom:
    • In the episode "Masters of All Time", Danny goes back in time to stop Jack from accidentally turning Vlad half-ghost. The result is that Jack ends up half-ghost, and Vlad and Maddie are married and living rich lives in Wisconsin. It is more or less subverted in terms of personality: Vlad is still manipulative and controlling, lying to Maddie so she would leave Jack, Maddie is still very obsessed with ghosts and in love with Jack, and Jack is still in love with her, and more or less a decent guy who unlike Vlad, did not abuse his powers for personal gain.
    • In The Ultimate Enemy, Danny getting caught cheating on a test ends up causing a chain of events that leads to his friends and family dying in an explosion and his ghost half becoming separated from his human half, then turning evil and murdering his human half before terrorizing Earth and the Ghost Zone for decades.
  • DCAU:
    • Justice League, "A Better World" has an alternate universe where the League is a group of "well-intentioned" extremists, set off by the nail being the death of their Flash. Implications of this episode would face the main continuity for nearly the remainder of the show.
    • Meta-example with the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Bane": It's only a well-placed Batarang to Bane's Venom feed that prevents the episode from playing out exactly the way Knightfall did.
  • The Fairly OddParents:
    • Most of Timmy's time-traveling adventures backfire because he doesn't realize until it's too late that he was the nail that made things go wrong; for instance, a Stable Time Loop involving Mr. Crocker's obsession with fairies.
    • Not to mention the episode where he wishes he was never born. Turns out his gender is a nail as well - his parents had a girl instead, and the life of everyone Timmy knows is better for it.
    • There was also the episode "Father Time" where Timmy, after melting his dad's trophy with heat vision, goes with Cosmo's crazy idea to go back and time to stop his father from winning the "stupid trophy" in the first place. When that happens, Timmy's dad gets the last place prize; an all-expenses paid mandatory twelve-year scholarship to Lil' Tyrant Dictator School. The result... a Bad Future where Mr. Turner rules the Earth from his headquarters in Dimmsdale with an iron fist of creepy happiness, treats all of his subjects as his children, and never got to marry Mrs. Turner. Therefore, Timmy Turner (by technicality) no longer exists and loses his godparents (who vanish JUST before the revelation of Dictator School).
  • Family Guy:
    • In "Meet the Quagmires", Peter goes back in time to sow his wild oats and ends up not marrying Lois, who married Quagmire instead. Apparently, their not marrying allowed Al Gore to become President — and Gore apparently killed Bin Laden, instituted zero-tolerance gun control and universal health care, and fixed the public school system. In addition to all that, Dick Cheney shot Tucker Carlson, Antonin Scalia, and Karl Rove. With one bullet. Brian likes it this way. Whew. Except for the fact that Chevy Chase is the host of The Tonight Show. Even after they "fix" the time-stream, the present still isn't the same: somehow, Roger Smith ended up in their house.
    • In "Back to the Pilot", Stewie and Brian take Stewie's time machine back in time to the show's pilot episode. While Stewie isn't looking, Brian prevents the attacks on the World Trade Center in September 2001, resulting in George W. Bush not being able to exploit the American public's fears and losing his reelection bid to John Kerry in 2004. Bush reforms the Confederacy and declares civil war, but Brian insists that things can still turn out fine. To test his belief, Stewie takes them five years into the future where the show has been Shifted to CGI and the war has turned the country into a ruined hellscape.
  • Subverted in the Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes 2007 animated series episode "Out of Time". While the Four are on a field trip to prehistoric Earth the Thing swats a mosquito, just as Mr. Fantastic warns them not to change anything. The camera then pulls back to show he's already killed a dinosaur. Reed later assures him that this can't possibly have had the effect of Doctor Doom ruling the world. But when the Torch gives cavemen the secret of fire, he's worshiped as a god in modern New York (although In Spite of a Nail, 15,000 years of Johnny Storm worship hasn't changed anything except the Statue of Liberty).
  • Freakazoid! inverts this. The titular hero ends up at Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and stops the Japanese from invading. When he comes back to the present, the world seems to be a better place: Sharon Stone can act, Rush Limbaugh's a "bleeding-heart liberal", EuroDisney is booming, cold fusion works, and there are no Chevy Chase movies. Just one catch: the Brain is President.
  • Futurama:
    • The entire series would not have happened if A) Fry hadn't run into Bender at the suicide booth, B) They didn't run into Leela at the diner, C) If it wasn't Tuesday when Fry and Bender went to the head museum, D) If Bender hadn't broken a lightbulb on his antenna, changing his programing, and E) If the professor didn't have his previous crew's career chips with him on the ship. This is subverted with Fry falling into the tube in the beginning because it is later revealed that Nibbler knocked him in to help save the world in the future.
    • "The Farnsworth Parabox", which features a universe "exactly like ours" except for the fact that the results of all coin tosses (or at least those in the recent past) are reversed. (According to the DVD commentary, it's a probability maths injoke.) This leads to results like Bender being gold-plated, and Fry and Leela being married. Oh, also the colors are all mixed up, the sky is bright and swirly and the background music is a Theremin. How'd we forget that? Other perpendicular universes (parallel universes, like the cowboy universe, never intersect) are visited, including a universe where everyone lacks eyes, where their heads are bobble-heads, where everybody is a robot, a Roman Empire-themed universe (complete with Roman numerals calculus) and a hippie universe... however there do seem to be universes without the main characters, such as an octopus universe, a universe filled only with women and a completely frozen universe.
    • In "All the President's Heads", the gang travels back in time to The American Revolution to stop Prof. Farnsworth's ancestor David, who betrayed the Revolutionaries by counterfeiting money. After they stop David, Fry burns the counterfeit bills with a lantern he found in a church, which turned out to be one of the lamps used to signal the coming of the British (one if by land, two if by sea). Because of this, the British win the war and the gang come back to an America that's still under British rule.
    • In "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings", Robot Devil sets up a "ridiculously circuitous plan" that bounces from Bender, Calculon, Leela, and Fry's opera which ends with either him marrying Leela or getting his robot hands back from Fry.
  • An episode of Jacob Two-Two had Jacob accidentally break his older brother's Beatles record and use a time machine from his spy neighbor (seriously) to go back and fix it, but Jacob messed up something else that he had to go back and fix, etc. Ultimately, he was able to fix everything except his brother's record from being destroyed, but it turned out his neighbor had a copy anyway.
  • The Legend of Tarzan: Jane plants a little flowering vine because she can't stand how ripe fruit smells. The vine grows and starves out all the food the Elephants need. So the Elephants move into the Gorilla's territory until the vine is gotten rid of. Fifteen minutes later, the Elephants and Gorillas are trying to kill each other.
  • In the Lilo & Stitch: The Series episode "Melty", Lilo embarrasses herself in front of her crush Keoni and goes back in time to make it so it didn't happen, but her every attempt to stop it from happening makes everything far worse. In the end she fixes everything by going back and recreating the embarrassing moment.
  • The Looney Tunes Show: In "Best Friends Redux", Daffy travels back in time to prevent Bugs from meeting his childhood best friend Rodney Rabbit. In doing so, he creates a present where Bugs never met him and no one knows who he is.
  • Looped is about two friends stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop and every episode takes place on the same Monday, but the day keeps going differently depending on their actions.
  • The Loud House goes to so far as to name the episode “The Butterfly Effect”, setting viewers up to know what’s in store. When Lincoln loses control of his yo-yo and destroys a project Lisa’s been working on, he decides not to tell her, instead choosing to walk away and say “What’s the worst that could happen?” Without supervision, the chemicals cause an explosion, blowing up a hole in the wall where Lori and Leni’s closet is. When examining it, Lori finds a signed picture of her boyfriend hidden on Leni’s side, which Leni says he gave to her to hide, but she forgot where it was. Lori gets mad because her boyfriend got her socks for her birthday (probably because Leni forgot about the real present), and thinks that he is cheating on her with Leni, prompting her to break up with her bf and date Clyde instead. As she slams the door on her way out, the railing in the closet comes loose, and hits Leni on the head, knocking her out. When she wakes up, she is super intelligent, going off to college and inventing cars that run on apple juice. Her smartness makes Lisa feel inferior, and she gives up the pursuit of knowledge and drops out of school to work at a gas station. Without Lisa or any smart sibling to tutor her, Lynn fails her classes and gets kicked off all her sports teams as consequences. Frustrated, she kicks a ball right as Lola is coming down the stairs. The ball hits her in the face and disfigures her, ending her pageant career and driving her to run away from home with Lynn, they become fugitives. Lola’s accident makes Lana overly conscious for her own safety, and she enclosed herself in a plastic bubble. Luna writes a song about all the new chaos going on that goes viral, catching the attention of her favorite rock star, who takes her to go on his tour, which she’s later kicked off of for wrecking a hotel room. Without a roommate to practice her jokes on, Luan passes time watching the news, and sees all the injustice of the world, inspiring her to give up comedy and become an activist. One of her acts is freeing all of Lana’s exotic pets, including a vampire bat who bites Lucy and turns her into a vampire. Worst of all, Lily, who shares a room with Lisa, is turned into a giant from exposure to the chemicals. Turns out, it was all a fantasy sequence, to which Lincoln replies, “So THAT’S the worst that could happen.”
  • ¡Mucha Lucha!: In "Woulda, Coulda, Hasbeena", Señor Hasbeena goes back in time to prevent himself from losing a crucial fight and the three mascaritas go after him to protect the timeline. While in the past, Buena Girl collides with the Headmistress' past self. When they return to the present time, the classroom is full of Buena Girls asking if the story will be on the test.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In the episode "The Cutie Mark Chronicles", Rainbow Dash's first Sonic Rainboom actually indirectly caused all the rest of the Mane Six to get their own cutie marks note .
    • In "It Ain't Easy Being Breezies", Spike disrupts the Breezies' migration by jumping on a branch and dislodging a leaf.
    • In "For Whom The Sweetie Belle Toils", Sweetie dreams of a Bad Future where Rarity loses her career and sanity due to Sweetie's prank removing the stitch from Sapphire Shores' headdress.
    • The Season 5 finale "The Cutie Remark" has Twilight Sparkle attempting to prevent this due to Starlight Glimmer flipping out and altering history so that the Sonic Rainboom failed and the Mane Six never united. Every attempt by Twilight to stop Starlight results in her succeeding in a slightly different way and resulting in a different Bad Future — all of them but the last caused by some threat that the protagonists originally stopped. After seven of these are hit, Starlight has a My God, What Have I Done? moment and pulls a Heel–Face Turn when Twilight reassures her that not all friendships turn out to be disastrous. She ends up becoming a Sixth Ranger to the Mane Six (Mane Seven?) as a result.
  • In the Phineas and Ferb epsiode "Phineas and Ferb's Quantum Boogaloo", future Candace travels back in time and helps her younger self bust Phineas and Ferb on the first day of summer. When she returns to her own time, she discovers this act has lead to the tri-state area becoming a dystopia ruled by Doofenshmirtz. She then has to travel back in time again and stop herself from helping her younger self from busting her brothers.
  • In the Rated "A" for Awesome episode "Thera's Date With Destiny" Noam's new future-predicting invention shows that Thera will be going to prom with Chet. They try to change the outcome, but each attempt either has them start dating even sooner or she goes to prom with someone else she doesn't want to go with. That is until the last vision, which doesn't show her date's face, but it's hinted to be Noam. Each vision after the first also shows her with a different hairstyle.
  • Rick and Morty:
    • In "Rick Potion no.9", Morty asks Rick to give him a love potion to make Jessica dance with him, except Rick neglects to warn Morty not to use it if Jessica has the flu. The result is that the potion becomes airborne, spreading throughout the entire world causing everybody (except the Smiths) to love Morty. Rick's initial attempt to fix this with the use of animal DNA turns everyone into grasshoppers monsters; then he decides to use even more dna on the hopes it would work, instead it just makes things worse by transforming them into mindless Blob Monsters. The outcome ultimately forces the duo to move to a new reality where Rick succeeded in curing the epidemic, except he and Morty died afterwards to take their place, leaving their original family behind as Morty is traumatized by what transpired.
    • "Rattlestar Ricklactica" has Morty replacing an alien snake with an ordinary snake in the hopes it would save the Snake Planet's civilization. The turnaround is that this causes the snakes to break into a global war when snakes from the future invented time travel to kill Morty, the Earth Snake, and attack the planet to unite against what they view as danger to their species.
  • Robot Chicken:
    • A sketch shows what would happen if jerks got a time machine. It ends with one jerk stopping Nazism from ever getting started by humiliating Hitler, thus becoming a Hero with a Time Machine.
    • In a parody of Popeye, an angel shows Wimpy what would have happened if he did not exist when Wimpy attempts suicide. Popeye and Brutus are friends, Olive has huge breasts, Goon gains a doctorate, there is no war, and all hamburgers are free. The angel, seeing that he failed, pushes Wimpy off the bridge.
    • In a parody of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, the mouse tries to wash down the cookie with the boy's mother's breast milk, but accidentally drinks her blood instead, turning him into a vampire, who makes various people his followers, on whom the US government declares a nuclear war, which other countries get involved in, destroying the whole world. The ending reveals this as a story the mother tells the boy, to explain why she killed her husband for "giving a mouse a cookie".
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power:
    • The entire plot of the show happens because Adora and Catra impetuously decide to abuse Adora's newfound Force Captain rank to go joyriding on a Horde skiff. Without that, Adora wouldn't have found the Sword and discovered the ability to transform into She-Ra, been captured by Bow and Glimmer and thus defected to the Rebellion, and thus the entire story would not have happened. (In particular, it's likely Plumeria and Dryl would have been destroyed fairly quickly without Adora's presence, and Salineas wasn't likely to last much longer.)
    • Also, Shadow Weaver's defection to the Rebellion at the end of the second season sets off a chain of events that shakes the literal pillars of the world and shatters almost every aspect of the series' status quo. Catra encountering Adora in the Crimson Wastes, a place neither of them would probably have been without Shadow Weaver's actions, leads to Catra's first Villainous Breakdown and the portal incident that nearly destroyed the world and killed Angella, starting Glimmer down the path - admittedly greased by Shadow Weaver's manipulations and the involvement of Double Trouble - to becoming the Unscrupulous Hero who would set off the Heart of Etheria through desperation and overconfidence, nearly destroying the world again and leaving it in the path of Horde Prime's armada...and Horde Prime is only discouraged from eradicating all life on the planet by Catra telling him the Heart of Etheria is a superweapon. In other words, the events that nearly destroy the world three times, and leave it facing an Alien Invasion of spectacular scale, came about because Shadow Weaver tricked Catra into giving her a chance to escape.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Inverted by having Homer's guardian angel Werner Klemperer show Homer what his life would have been like had he not married Marge. In the alternate timeline, Homer is rich and happily married to a beautiful woman, while Marge is the President, enjoying both success and popularity. Needless to say, this was not a successful trip for the guardian angel.
    • In a "Treehouse of Horror" sketch, the Butterfly Effect is taken to ridiculous extremes as Homer keeps traveling back in time and each time he steps on something, it changes the future in wildly differing ways. He comes to a future where the family is wealthy, his sisters-in-law are dead... but no one has heard of donuts. Homer runs back in time screaming (meanwhile it is raining donuts outside) and just indiscriminately squashes whatever is around him. He comes back to find everything normal... except everyone has forked, lizard-like tongues. He shrugs: "Close enough."
  • Star Trek: The Animated Series, "Yesteryear", in which Spock and Kirk find themselves in an alternate timeline where a young Spock died and an Andorian is in Spock's place. As it turns out, Spock's Set Right What Once Went Wrong by posing as his older cousin is part of a Stable Time Loop and the alternate timeline was because he took too long with his earlier trip through the Guardian of Forever.
  • In the Totally Spies! episode "Futureshock", the spies' rival, Mandy, breaks a nail during a cheerleading practice (the incident possibly being a Double Entendre) and being the vain, shallow type she is, believes this makes her flawed. After David suggests she take up student broadcoasting until her fingernail grows back (since no one will see her hands while she's at a newsdesk), Mandy does so and develops a liking for it. After the spies are accidentally sent into the future (where Mandy now rules Beverly Hills and has renamed it "Mandy Hills"), they discover that Mandy (now with her own TV-network and numerous TV-shows about herself) went from having just one talk show at Beverly Hills High School to running "Mandy Media Enterprises" all in the span of just a month—they also discover that Mandy plans to Take Over the World by "Mandifying" the entire planet. Fortunately, the heroines (teaming up with their future selves) manage to defeat her, and after being sent back to their original time period, they get some WOOHP-issue nail polish to stash in Clover's locker, and trick Mandy into stealing it. After putting it on her nail, it makes her nails regrow and she decides to go back to cheerleading.
  • Ultimate Book of Spells: When the Wizarding School went into a field trip to the past, Gus took a crystal as a souvenir. Unfortunately, without that crystal to power up his wand, Cassy's great-grandfather couldn't defeat Zarlak, resulting in a Bad Future where Zarlak rules. Fortunately UBOS managed to take the heroes back to the past to set things right.
  • The Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? episode "Timing is Everything" had one of Carmen's henchmen, Mason-Dixon, go back in time and tamper with one of Carmen's first heists. After he caused her to fail at evading the police, she went on to become his discouraged henchwoman.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In the infamous "A Pal For Gary", the second half of the episode happens simply because SpongeBob ignored the gypsy's warning about Puffy Fluffy being dangerous around other pets.
    • In "Back to the Past", SpongeBob and Patrick use Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy's time machine to go back to the time when the heroes were younger and trapped Man Ray in tartar sauce and freezing him alive. Unfortunately, Patrick eats the tartar sauce that was supposed to trap him, resulting in a Bad Future where Man Ray extends his reign to all of Bikini Bottom.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: