The 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 affect teenaged girls, as anyone (boys, men, women, etc.) can become just as obsessed with their bodies and their weight 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.
Another thing that people can interpret from this episode is that just because someone's "thin" or "skinny," that doesn't automatically mean that they're healthier and/or in better shape than someone who isn't, as being underweight can be just as bad as being overweight—in fact, some studies have proven that being underweight is actually a lot more harmful to a person's health that being overweight.
"Daddy Queerest" shows that some homophobes can have no reason to dislike gays, and that sometimes, you can't change their ways. 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, his husband 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.
"I Can't Stan You:" People often talk shit about each other, even their friends, and it's a part of everyday life to gossip and it doesn't necessarily mean that they hate the people they gossip about. You can't force people to like you.
"The Boring Identity" and "Haylias": Trying to change someone just 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.
"The Shrink": The world is often scary and unpredictable, and you can't control what happens. But you do control what you do after those things, and your family will always help you through it.
"LGBSteve" not only had a Very Special Episode on gender identity that was quite popular with adult animation in The New '10s, but also claimed that even the most seemingly open-minded and progressive people can make mistakes, but that it doesn't automatically make them a bad person.
"My Purity Ball and Chain": While the conversation on puberty and sexuality will be uncomfortable, it's vital for understanding sexual health and consent. Letting someone else lead the conversation can result in biased and unhealthy consequences.
"An Incident at Owl Creek": Be careful with what you post online because once it's there, it's there forever. It severely affects the person involved and there's no way to undo it. The only solution that's available to you, is to just accept what's happened so it can't be repeated and move on with your life.
American Dragon: Jake Long had an episode that had the moral that just because someone is plain, that doesn't make them a nice person any more than being physically attractive makes someone mean or cruel; it's the character underneath the appearance that determines what kind of person they are.
Haley's Moment of Awesome"The Reason You Suck" Speech to her grandfather drops the anvil that expecting someone, especially a minor, to fulfill thankless duties with minimal at best support from a mentor/authority figure is both unfair and unhealthy; this comes with a side of "Just because they're an adult, that doesn't mean they're always right".
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.
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, the main problem with the episode in the first place was that it was handled too Anviliciously. While Arthur was punished and was villainized by everyone around him, D.W. got no comeuppance whatsoever, so it's easy to see why the anvil is ignored.
"Ms. Foutley's Boys": You shouldn't be in a relationship just for the sake of it. There's absolutely nothing wrong with being single, and if you're going to date then it should be with someone you love. Ginger tries to force her mother Lois to date Buzz because she's afraid of her mother being alone forever despite how much she finds Buzz and his sons a headache to deal with. And when Lois does eventually remarry, it's after a full season of dating and making sure that Dave is the right man for her.
"Fast Reputation" digs into the anvil on Slut-Shaming. Fed up of being called a nice girl, Ginger decides to crash a high school party. After having a Not What It Looks Like moment with a boy called Jake, she instead gets a reputation of being "fast". She realises she preferred her old reputation.
Dodie herself is a great anvil on what someone who only craves popularity is like. The very people she wants to be friends with can sense her wannabe attitude a mile off, and the attempts she goes through to get popularity never get her what she wants.
"Losing Nana Bishop" - you don't have to like your relatives; just respect them. A very good lesson that is all too relevant for people who grew up in dysfunctional families and have tense relationships with relatives.
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 dont see our greatness - they hate us! And we deserve it. Weve created an era of fear in the world. And if we dont 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 honor 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 dangerous ability can be beautiful and vital once you understand control and its meaning. Zuko and Aang learn this when they witness 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 biologically 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 which don't handle it very well by using the Easily Forgiven route), and completely justifies it. Katara does not forgive the man who killed her mother, and makes it clear that she will never forgive him (especially since he doesn't regret it); instead she realizes that letting revenge, even incredibly justified revenge, dominate her life will destroy her. In the process, she does finally forgive Zuko for betraying the Gaang at the end of the second season, 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 HeelFace Turn, especially after it had been subverted (he had made the wrong choice) in the season 2 finale.
For all the worthlessness the episode was, The Great Divide showed that feuds that started years ago with no real clarity on who was right and wrong are pointless and that even if lying is wrong; if it defuses or removes a problematic situation, go for it.
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.
A major message of Book 4 is that fighting for what you believe in does not make it true. It comes across strongly when Bolin discovers that what he believed was right ended up harming others, even the ones he loves.
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.
Avatar had it's badass girls as well, see this post for more examples.
Bryan Konietzko: Despite what you might have heard, bisexual people are real!
Parents are not perfect, they won't always make the right choices no matter how much they love us, but we shouldn't let ourselves be blinded by resentment, either for them or our siblings, even when rightly or wrongly they get better lives than us, even if it's not fair for them to get better lives than us. Having said that, back to the show's themes of balance, parents should never prioritize one child over the others, even if there are legitimate safety reasons for it or serious global and environmental importance riding on it, and while parents shouldn't be too controlling they also shouldn't be too hands off when raising their kids, because both can be very damaging to their kids and cause their kids to become alienated from them and their family. Also, parents should never just assume that kids can raise themselves just because the parents might have done that, and parents should not just insensitively ignore their kids personal issues or ignore when their kids hurt each other or side with the kid who inflicted the pain in the first place just because addressing those issues or punishing the kid who did wrong would be inconvenient for the parent. Also, it's really not a good idea to act like it's not your fault when your poor parenting blows up in your face.
Love at First Sight, alone doesn't. work. It takes an investment of time, effort, honesty, forgiveness, cooperation and understanding with a bedrock of friendship first before going further. Without these, a healthy relationship cannot exist and they'll be a lot of hurt feelings, but if you mess up, that's ok, you can at least be civil, if not Better as Friends. However, if you do have these virtues with that special someone then whether they're your First Love or fifteenth, the person you always wanted to be with or someone you initially never imagined you'd be with, you'll have a healthy, fulfilling relationship for the long haul.
"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.
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.
The episode "Never Fear" deconstructs the idea of having no fear by showing why that's not a good thing. Scarecrow uses a poison that causes a person to act without fear. A man who fears heights foolishly swings through Gotham like Batman and almost plummets to his death. A timid employee at Wayne Industries storms into Bruce's office, loudly quits and kisses Wayne's secretary without her consent. Batman murders a crocodile, nearly gets himself killed several times, and threatens to have a man fall to his death for information on where Scarecrow is and doesn't bother saving him when it happens, though fortunately Robin (Tim Drake) steps in. Fear might be something that holds us back, but it can also keep us in check so we don't foolishly endanger our lives or anyone else's.
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.
"You shouldn't be a hero for the thrill of it and the praise afterwards. You should be a hero because it's the right thing to do." An entire episode was dedicated to teaching Ben this, and it's something that can easily apply to other fields. You shouldn't do good things because of praise and/or because you find it exciting. You should do good things because it's the right thing to do.
Big Mouth is not subtle about anything when it comes to puberty. However, since it carries aesops on being sex-positive, consent, puberty and relationships, it's better to make everything clear.
Sexuality is a spectrum; it's okay to not know what to call yourself because it's more important to know what you're attracted to first. Also, you shouldn't be in a rush or pressured to define yourself.
You shouldn't be afraid of your own body or sexuality. It's okay to explore yourself and it will help you to learn new things about yourself.
It's never ok to force someone into a sexual act they are not comfortable or haven't agreed with. You should ask someone what they want and communicate what you want, but consent is a requirement, not an option for sex, and no means no.
"Granddad's Fight": Robert's short fuse eventually led him to kill an annoying (but ultimately harmless) old man, and this only created more conflicts for him later down the road, as described below.
"Stinkmeaner Strikes Back": Stinkmeaner's ghost possessed Tom to seek vengeance upon Robert. And Stinkmeaner was defeated not through violence, but by Huey persuading Ruckus to show compassion towards Stinkmeaner, who rode on The Power of Hate.
"Stinkmeaner 3: The Hateocracy": Stinkmeaner's old acquaintances, the Hateocracy, went after the Freemans to avenge Stinkmeaner. And they were only defeated when someone bothered to call the police and have them arrested.
"Stinkmeaner: Begun the Clone War Has": Robert finally ends his Nigga Moment by sparing the life of Stinkmeaner's clone, and agreeing to make peace with each other, letting go of the bad blood and moving on.
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.
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, The implication that All Jews Are Ashkenazi, 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.")
The China, IL episode "Total Validation" gives a particularly twisted take on couples therapy clinics, but does conclude that love is not without compromise, and that relationships where one person is "always right" and the other "always wrong" are not good for either person.
In another episode, "Bi-Topping-Ality", the Mayor's refusal to sell anchovy pizza at his Church of Pizza restaurant sparks a controversy quite similar to the gay marriage debate that was going on in America at the time. When the Mayor finally decides to have all the anchovy eaters in town arrested, Baby Cakes, who has spent the whole episode curious about the forbidden topping, explains that people should be free to make their own choices, live their own lives, and be who they are.
Baby Cakes: Who cares why people choose stuff? Maybe DNA, maybe not. Maybe you just want to be someone else for a day. What I mean is — all right, here's a metaphor. If a guy chooses to marry another guy, he should be able to, right? Mayor: Well, of course. right. Baby Cakes: So, I'm 95% of the time a pepperoni guy, but some days I see an anchovy and I want him in my mouth. And it's that freedom of choice that we need to protect, not science. Science is dumb.
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.
Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood has two episodes on voting. Daniel doesn't get his choice, but he's told to think of positive things about the alternative. It's a good lesson for everybody. Not bad for a preschool show.
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 completely 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 gave a great example that small things (such as cheating on a test) can often lead to large consequences.
Dough Ray Me shows that increasing everyone's money supply doesn't make people richer, it just leads to inflation. Huey, Dewey, and Louie thought that duplicating their silver dollar would allow them to buy more things. Instead, the ever increasing supply just caused prices to increase to reflect the new value. It's the amount you have proportionate to the supply that counts. While this may seem like a Captain Obvious Aesop to those who've studied economics, the subject is not commonly taught and many people lack a basic understanding of its concepts.
Just because a reboot doesn't do everything that the original version did doesn't mean it's bad. The only important part of a reboot is whether or not it gets the heart of the franchise correct. Society Marches On and a few tweaks here and there are necessary in order for the work to appeal to a new generation of fans. Original fans need to accept that they don't "own" a franchise, and that changes can be made without sacrificing what made it work.
On the other hand, while those changes are necessary, removing everything that made the franchise appealing in the first place will leave the reboot a poor successor that turns off fans old and new. Executives can't expect people to automatically enjoy a work just because they slapped a beloved franchise's name on it.
The originator of a role you know and love can't play the part forever for a variety of reasons, making The Other Darrin necessary. Additionally, a replacement actor isn't necessarily a bad choice for the role just because they're not the actor you're accustomed to. Chances are they love the character and the franchise just as much as you do, and are eager to give it their all, well aware that they have big shoes to fill.
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 believe everything they're told..
"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 us tropers, and some of them might not even like being famous.
"The Boy Who Would Be Queen" is a fan-favorite episode for showing that it's okay for somebody to like stuff that targets the opposite gender. In a world which constantly reinforces stereotypical gender roles through advertising and other expectations, it's a really important anvil.
In "Ruled Out", Timmy gets fed up with all the rules his parents enforce when they won't let him watch a violent TV special, so he wishes that his parents would "care less" about him. At first, he enjoys it as he's allowed to do whatever he wants, but two weeks into the wish, Timmy gets sick from eating nothing but junk food and the Turners' hygiene and the house goes to pot. The whole episode demonstrates that while it might be annoying for your parents to not let you do whatever you want, the rules are there because your parents care about you and want you to be healthy and safe.
"Not All Dogs Go to Heaven" is more of a straight example of Anvilicious as it was very poorly executed through the author surrogate, comes off as rather mean-spirited because of it, and due to Brian's atheism only having been established recently. But it *does* have a few good morals:
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 may not give you satisfactory 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 (a benevolent) 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.
"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.
Similar to "Peter-assment" above, in "Baby Got Black", Peter and Jerome get into an argument over the latter not letting his daughter date Chris, and Jerome says that black people can't be racist when Peter claims that he is. The episode shows that, either way, racism is racism no matter which group is discriminating.
The episode "Road To The North Pole," drops a very, very harsh anvil about Christmas consumerism, and how taking advantage of someone's magnanimity will destroy their goodwill.
"How the Griffin Stole Christmas": The plot of the episode is about Peter becoming a mall Santa and taking advantages of the privileges until the real Santa confronts him about the abuse of his identity and decides to make Peter's life a living hell until he stops using his identity for personal gain. The whole episode can be interpreted as an Aesop about copyright infringement and how it effects content creators.
"The Dating Game": The plot of the episode has Quagmire sign up for Tinder but develop an obsession with it due to its simplicity towards sexual liaison. The "Tinder is Gross" song highlights the anvils about the dangers of having too much of a good thing and how constant sex loses the emotional passion in a genuine relationship.
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 its a terrible system to put in place. Considering that this was made during the Bush administration and this subject hasn't gone away, its pretty refreshing.
Masterstroke of Malevolence drops one for artists, saying that any work can mean something to its audience and that meaning is important, even if its not the one the creator intended.
In "South of Friendship, North of Honor", Wayne is broken after his partner Emily was bullied off the force and out of their school, an event for which he blames himself and which he deals with by looking the other way no matter what the rest of the corrupt safety patrol do. Through Fillmore's encouragement, Wayne (and the audience) realize that lying down and watching wrongdoing be done is not only a surefire way for a place to become unsafe for citizens, but also a way to turn you into something you don't like and can't respect.
"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, and people who are shallow don't care about you as much as you think.
"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.
"The Birdbot of Ice-Catraz": As unpleasant as it may be, hunting is a necessity, not evil and helps prevent overpopulation, depletion of food sources and mass starvation.
"Godfellas": Good and Bad aren't always as black and white as you think, as situations can be grey and complicated. You can't do everything for people because they'll become dependent on you but if you do too little they'll lose faith or resent you for it. If you truly want things to be better, try to influence people into being better.
When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all
"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.
Thanks to show writer Mark Evanier, every time the Buddy Bears show up, we get a message about groupthink and The Complainer Is Always Wrong, namely that blindly following the group and being unable to form your own opinions is not the way to be.
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."
Also with their gun episode, they subtly drop the Aesop of teaching kids the difference between what they see on the TV screen and what's real. Hudson references this early on and Broadway's imitation of his cowboy heroes nearly kills Eliza.
Gravity Falls, among other things, is known for the lessons it will drop hard when it needs to be said.
A sad, but true, one is presented 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.
"Soos and the Real Girl": Girls in video games, dating sims in particular, are no substitute for actual women. Talking to girls in the real world isn't as hard as you think - all you have to do is be yourself. And even though there is always the possibility of rejection, meeting people and forming real relationships are well worth the risk.
"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.
"Northwest Mansion Mystery": Just because you have such a despicable upbringing doesn't mean you're doomed to follow in your family's footsteps. It's never too late to change your ways.
"Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons": You don't have to like or play something someone else likes or plays. However, that still doesn't give you the right to mock them for liking it either. Especially notable, as it subverts the average "try it and you'll like it" Aesop.
"The Stanchurian Candidate" explains to political candidates the dangers of speaking your mind without getting your priorities straight.
"The Last Mabelcorn": Don't just blindly take the word of someone who tells you to your face that you're a bad person. Sometimes good intentions are just as important as good deeds.
One of the overriding themes of the series is the Power of Trust. Lying to people, especially your loves ones, in a misguided attempt to protect them or yourself, or doing so out of a sense of mistrust can lead to conflict. The biggest mistake Grunkle Ford made was not telling Stan the truth about the portal, instead keeping the danger from him. Stan nearly destroyed his relationship with Dipper, Mabel, and even Soos by lying to them about the portal and what he was planning. Dipper nearly erased Ford's memories after discovering the fact that he didn't tell him about his work with Bill.
No matter how unlikely it may seem, if you can truly get to and understand them, there will be opportunities for you to bury the hatchet with former enemies. Pacifica was able to befriend Dipper and Mable after spending time with them and letting them know about her, Ford and Stan were able to rekindle their friendship after talking with each other and realizing they had let their anger go too far, and Gideon (To an extent) has realized what he's done and decided to try and become a better person.
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.
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 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.
The infamous "Arnold Betrays Iggy", though hated for being mean-spirited in Arnold's humiliation, does teach an important moral in Arnold angrily severing all ties with Iggy at the end: it's not worth staying friends with someone who is unwilling to forgive their grudge against you, especially if they refuse to hear your side of the story and/or blame you for something that was not your fault.
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.
The episode "Legends" has an unspoken anvil. Using fantasy to escape a harsh reality isn't healthy and it denies progress, Ray used his powers to recreate his pre-war world and enslave the inhabitants to recreate their pre-war lives as he remembered them. As soon as Ray was defeated the survivors broke out from the mental slavery and decide to rebuild society. Ray may have been a child but he still denied progress for forty years, it's better to learn from a tragedy than to deny its existence.
Interestingly enough, Codename: Kids Next Door, has the episode "Operation: F.U.T.U.R.E." which explores an allegory about how wrongmisandry is. In the present, young Margaret claims that her brothers pick on her and boss her around. However, this is the same girl who's going to grow up to the tyrannical Madame Margaret who will create a dystopic future where girls have became oppressors to innocent boys everywhere, making her no better than the boys she despises (and no better than the adults the KND fight). Meanwhile, Numbuh 4 has grown to be the jaded leader of a rebel band of boys who are trying to take down Madame Margaret. What sets them apart is when an ally comes forth in the form of a girl (Numbuh 3's granddaughter Sally) wanting to join the boys, Numbuh 4 eventually decides boys and girls can be allies.
Mr. Possible: Sounds like your Mr. Barkin is tough but fair. Kim: Dad, I'm a cheerleader! We don't do detention! Mrs. Possible: Really? Who does do detention? Kim: I don't know. Other kids. (beat) Ones who break the rules. Mr. Possible: Like you did.
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.
"Transnational Amusements Presents: Peggy's Magic Sex Feet": Peggy gets depressed after a creep insults her larger-than-normal feet, which prompts Bobby to deliver this excellent response:
Bobby: Mom, I'm fat. But big deal. I don't feel bad about it, and you never made me feel bad about it. And just because there are people out there who want me to feel bad about it doesn't mean I have to. So Bobby Hill's fat. He's also funny, he's nice, he's got a lot of friends, a girlfriend. And if you don't mind, I think I'll go outside right now and squirt her with water. What are you going to do?
"The Peggy Horror Picture Show" has a similar message, with Peggy's drag queen friend assuring her that being a woman is about more than just being a thin supermodel, and that traits like self-confidence and courage are far more important than looks or adhering to any traditional norms of femininity.
The episode even teaches that Femininity, just like Masculinity and Beauty, is relative and can be taken off easily. Peggy came from a meeting with her friends feeling unfeminine because she has large feet, can open jars easily, and wears very practical clothing with Hank comforting her that she is feminine because she is a wife and a mother; the drag queens consider Peggy a model of femininity because, like their favorite icons, she takes fashion risks and is very confident; Caroline's Mother even reminds her and the audience that being a man or a woman isn't defined by your assigned sex either.
The Little Drummer Boy: Throughout the special, Aaron is embittered with hatred for all humans due to the murder of his parents until playing for the newborn Jesus. When his lamb returns, Greer Carson's narration mentions that "Aaron's heart was filled with joy and love. And he knew at last that the hate he had carried there was wrong. As ALL hatred will ever be wrong." A valid point regardless of when it aired, but especially for its original airing in 1968 (a year that saw, among other things, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King that April; followed exactly two months later by the assassination of New York Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy along with riots following Dr. King's death and at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago).
The classic 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 1951 short, Chow Hound drops a very subtle and dark anvil about the dangers of greed and how it corrupts people. A sadistic and absuive unnamed dog uses a cat and a mouse to bring back meat for him and whenever they bring it back, he doesnt share any with them or even thank them at all. Then, in a dark case of Reality Ensues, he eats a whole deli shops worth of meat and becomes grotesquely obese and sick, which leads to the cat and mouse giving him his commupence (This time, we didnt forget the gravy!)
One episode of The Loud House uses Lincoln wanting to sit at the adult table as a metaphor for not being in a rush to grow up and enjoying your childhood.
A series-wide anvil is this: yes, family can drive you insane in ways that no other person in the world can. Yes, family is hard to deal with. But in the end, they're the people who love you the most and who have your back no matter what.
In "Toads and Tiaras", the lesson of "Be yourself" manages to pair quite well with "New and different doesn't mean bad" because while Lana wins the competition by being herself, she does admit to enjoying dressing up to play the part of Lola, something she never would have discovered otherwise.
Many episodes have the message that being in a large and chaotic family isn't an excuse to be selfish, since your other siblings deal with the exact same thing, too.
"The Green House" shows that you need to protect the planet for the planet's sake, not for yours.
"A Tale of Two Tables": Growing up will happen eventually, so don't rush to do so and enjoy your childhood while it's still happening.
In "Gown and Out", Lola worries that she will lose when she moves up to a higher-profile regional child pageant than the ones she easily won in her hometown, and she fakes being sick to avoid the loss. Lori then delivers the moral that if you take your passions seriously you will always be facing stronger competition, victory will never be a guarantee and that you cannot expect to achieve greatness if you insist on remaining a big fish in a small pond.
The 1938 Frank Tashlin directed 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.)
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.
"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.
A big one is the importance of avoiding Poor Communication Kills (which sometimes causes problems in FiM as well). In the first movie, it would have taken five minutes max for the Humane Five to patch things up between them and expose Sunset Shimmer's manipulations if they had talked to each other face to face about everything. In Rainbow Rocks, Twilight trying to avoid letting everyone down, the Humane Five not talking their issues with the band out with each other at the start (thus letting tension build up), and Sunset's uncertainty of her place in the group and fear of speaking up (especially about the previous problems) allow the Sirens to come dangerously close to succeeding.
Though it wasn't the main message, the second film shows how nasty things can get if a friendly competition goes too far.
The second film also shows that redemption is a very long and difficult process. No matter how hard you try, people are still going to dislike you, and even your friends will not fully trust you, and that when it comes to bullying, turnabout is not fair play. The bullying Sunset endures from the student body (and Principals Celestia and Luna) utterly breaks her and real world victims of similar actions were often Driven to Suicide.
"Friendship Games" also drives home that a competition should be done fairly, and that the participants shouldn't carried away. Sci-Twi causing a Reality Bleed that could destroy the human world b/c her school pressured her into trying to use magic to win is just a worst case scenario.
In the same film, we get shown how paying it forward when others give us a second chance to be better often results in a better outcome than trying to pay them back and that often a kind hand extended to someone who's lashing out because they're hurting is a much more effective "weapon" than blasting things in the face or throwing a punch.
"Forgotten Friendship" has the very necessary but oft forgotten Aesop of "There's a difference between not being mean and being kind and sometimes the former can be more hurtful than actively being mean".
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 to follow them.
The same goes for its 1955 remake Good Will to Men.
OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes: "No More POW Cards" delivers two rather heavy-handed, but important, messages: it's possible to enjoy flawed or "problematic" media for the good things about it, but positive representation of marginalized groups is still important.
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 dark 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 (especially towards parents who are keen on having their children follow in their footsteps, and in the process stifling their kids' imagination and having their true identity obliterated.)
Phineas and Ferb also gives us a bearable health food aesop that has been slipped into kids shows since ever: the episode "Candace's Big Day". In the B-plot of the episode, 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.
The finale drops 2 on antagonists (loosely speaking) Candace and Doof. Doof realizes that he's been letting his past control him and make him act like a villain, which he's terrible at, instead of the decent human being he actually is (bonus for his daughter Vanessa being the one to show him this). And Candace learns that allowing yourself to be consumed by a goal that isn't healthy doesn't just hurt you but everyone around you (learned by accidentally erasing her brothers from existence).
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, even to boys their age. 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 they did 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: feminism isn't about attacking men or saying that women deserve special treatment; it is about giving women the same opportunities and choices as men, making them full citizens with the same rights. It's a refreshing Deconstruction of the You Go, Girl! trope.
The Private Snafu shorts gave really helpful anvils to the soldiers they were shown to, and some of them apply today as well...
"Gripes": What the Army puts you through may be rough, but without proper authority and training, soldiers' morale can go to pot.
"The Goldbrick": Cheating your way out of training can end up making you unfit and unprepared for when such taught tactics can be of good use.
"Fighting Tools": Your weapons can be powerful and effective if given the proper care and maintenance.
"Rumors": It shows how a small rumor can develop into a force that devastates morale and heightens fears.
"Infantry Blues": All branches of the military have their discomforts and problems, so do your very best in the position you're in instead of wishing you could do something else.
"Censored": You may not like having your letters censored, but it's necessary to ensure that no vital information falls into the enemy's hands.
"Snafuperman": it is necessary to study your maps and field manuals before you go out into the offensive.
"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.
The episode Nobody Doesn't Like TJ revolved around TJ learning that Gordy doesn't like him. He spends the episode trying to figure out why Gordy doesn't like him; learns from Ms Finster that, even if she puts him into detention, that doesn't mean she hates him and finally trying to show Gordy how cool and fun he is, so Gordy would like him. Everything backfires and Gordy admits that his 'reason' for not liking TJ is just that: he just doesn't like him. It dropped two anvils: Just because someone punishes you for breaking the rules, doesn't mean they hate you or are nothing but horrible people (Ms Finster above) and that, harsh as it may seem, you cannot be liked by everyone in the world. Sometimes, a person just doesn't like you, for no apparent reason and trying to change that will only worsen things. Just accept it.
Several episodes ("Appreciation Day","The Best Burger in the World","Wall Buddy","Paint Job") show that taking elaborate shortcuts to avoid work leads to more trouble than just doing the job you're asked to do.
The Christmas Episode 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".
There's an episode where Sabrina gets fed up with so many restrictions like PG-13 rated movies, curfews, lack of money etc that she casts a spell to become an adult. She soon learns that being an adult does not involve having fun all the time and that there are lots of responsibilities she has to contend with. If she doesn't reverse the spell soon she'll be stuck like that forever; a very poignant moral on how childhood should be enjoyed while it lasts or it'll be gone forever.
The dieting episode stresses that girls shouldn't try to lose weight to impress boys or be popular. The girls of course don't try the healthy ways to lose weight like eating right or exercising - but look for a quick fix that ultimately doesn't work. Very relevant with the likes of diet pills and other apparent quick solutions to lose weight - which are of course bogus.
A small one is the episode with Salem's birthday. Sabrina becomes convinced that her initial gift is too low-key and tries to get Salem something elaborate. In the end he finds her original gift in the trash and says it meant most because it came from the heart. When you see that some people go to ridiculous extremes for the sake of gifts - spending money they don't have and going to too much trouble - it's refreshing to see someone point out that a personal gift is what matters most. Sabrina's original gift? A hand-made photo frame of her and Salem.
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.
Season Five hits audiences with a lesson: people's beliefs on right and wrong can't simply be changed (if they can be changed at all) by simply getting the person to "see the light". It's a drawn-out, complex process that often people need to figure out themselves. Ashi couldn't care less about Jack saving her life multiple times, as she still values his death over her own life, and still wants to kill him once they're both in safety. It takes seeing Jack being equally kind to others and not just to her that she really starts to question her worldview.
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.
The Sonic Boom episode "Eggman's Anti-Gravity Ray" gives the audience a good explanation of feminism (and subsequently deconstructing the You Go, Girl! trope) in one short scene:
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 Patties. 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:
"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 hunts 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.
As Patrick puts it in "I'm Your Biggest Fanatic", hero worship is unhealthy. When SpongeBob meets his jellyfishing idol Kevin, he's completely oblivious to Kevin's nastier traits due to his adoration of him. Kevin takes advantage of SpongeBob's naiveté to humiliate him like he has with so many of his fans and SpongeBob eventually learns that Kevin is not the jellyfish expert he presented himself as. Ultimately, SpongeBob learns that he can still appreciate the things he loves without having to fit in with any elite cliques to validate his enjoyment.
In "Can You Spare a Dime?", after Squidward quits his job at the Krusty Krab due to Mr. Krabs accusing him of stealing his first dime, he ends up jobless and homeless. SpongeBob offers to let Squidward stay at his house and help him until he's able to get back on his own feet. However, Squidward soon takes advantage of SpongeBob's kindness and relentlessly freeloads off of him for months on end (to the point where even the narrator gets tired of waiting and a new one is hired). Eventually, SpongeBob, frustrated by Squidward's selfish behavior and unwillingness to get back on his feet, tries to give him gradually less-than-subtle hints to get a job, which Squidward either is oblivious too or chooses to ignore, driving SpongeBob off the edge. The episode shows that being too nice can result in people selfishly taking advantage of that person's kindness and freeloading of them, and you should not let them walk all over you and know when to stand up for yourself.
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.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) had its 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 more strictly 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.
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.
The Transformers in one episode "Webworld" it actually have two messages, they were 1) Institutionalized 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 or how desperately they need it, won't work.
Transformers Prime had a nice one in an early episode when Jack demands that the Bots go after his school bully when said bully is mistakenly abducted by the Decepticons: yes he may not like said bully and yes said bully is a jerk but he's still a person and also an innocent bystander in the Cybertronian conflict.
One episode highlights Tino's 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 behavior. 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.
The episode where Tish is part of a Shakespeare play has a nice one about how something outside of your comfort zone can still be fun; Tino, Lor and Carver all loved the play despite only going for Tish's sake.
Tino's mom drops a nice one after she finds out he's trying to change his image to attract girls. She first tries the whole "Tish and Lor like you for you right?" which he takes to mean that being himself will get him girls. Most shows would stop there but not this one. She then extends it to "No. You can be yourself and people still won't like you. Be yourself because yourself is who you should be. Because if you're not you, you won't like you." It's been pointed out that the additional message to Be Yourself models a much better mindset and if followed, will make a person a much better romantic partner.
In "Grow Up", two related ones get dropped when Tino tries to act "grown up" after an embarrassment involving a juvenile trampoline. One, growing up doesn't mean you have to give up all parts of being a kid (highlighted by his mom jumping on the trampoline with the rest of the kids). And two, just because something isn't targeted at your age group (or whatever group you belong to), that doesn't mean you can't like it.
"Charity Case" drops the refreshing Aesop "People who are different from you are perfectly capable of forming meaningful friendships with people they love, and you should never try to befriend them out of simple pity". The message comes up in a story where Tish convinces her friends to hang out with a socially awkward girl named Bebe Cahill for the weekend, assuming that she doesn't have any friends because she has some rather odd mannerisms and nerdy interests. The kids end up having an utterly miserable time—since they have nothing in common with Bebe—and ultimately find out that she's not actually as lonely as they assume. She's close friends with Bluke and Frances, and assumes that Tish and her friends must be desperately lonely because they insist on following her around.
Winx Club has one throughout the series about divorces. Divorces are hard, and getting over it is even harder. Most people who get divorces won't get back together. But those who get divorces can still be good parents. Actively wishing and dreaming that they'll get back together is not the right thing to do. Those getting a divorce simply need to listen to each other. That doesn't mean get back together, it means being understanding of the other person, and anyone else who may be affected by all of this.
You can move on after your first love, even if he/she has died. That doesn't make that love any less "real," it just means that you are able to move on with your life.
The 1972 Peanuts TV special You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown is based off a series of strips from October 1964 in which Linus runs for school president. Linus becomes a messianic figure in the election, making a number of outrageous campaign promises such as doing away with kindergarten graduations, demanding wage increases for faculty, and welcoming dogs on school grounds. Ultimately he wins, with his opponent casting the deciding vote. At the end, Sally takes him to the principal to talk about his platform, where he is grimly reminded that he's still a student and has no real power whatsoever. Sally, who was hoping Linus would do something about the locker she was too short to open, angrily storms off...managing to open one of the lockers when she kicks it in anger. Basically, it shows that political candidates can promise you the world but don't always deliver, and sometimes you're better off solving your own problems rather than relying on other people to fix things for you.