Follow TV Tropes


The Unintelligible / Western Animation

Go To

  • Donald Duck is probably the most well-known example of this in animation. Granted, he is this status is mostly for the audience. Donald's iconic "quacking" accent has always made him the hardest of the Disney core lineup to understand, with many famous Mondegreens arising from it. It is possible to comprehend him once you're used to the voice, however.
    • DuckTales (1987) is one of the first instances where Donald is treated as being this In-Universe, constantly inspiring people to ask "What did he say?" from the people who can actually understand him. In fact, it's implied that a combination of this and fear he'd steal the show was why he was removed from the main cast and replaced with Launchpad McQuack.
    • Donald's inability to be understood carries over into the reboot, Ducktales 2017, where it's eventually revealed even his own nephews have a hard time understanding him: Huey says he relies on context clues, Louie understands "every third word", and Dewey flat out thinks he's completely unintelligible. This is then immediately subverted, as a fed up Gyro proceeds to force a voice modulator down Donald's throat that makes him sound like Don Cheadle for the remainder of the story. Really, the only characters that don't have to constantly wonder what he's saying are Uncle Scrooge and Donald's twin sister, Della.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball:
    • Juke, the stereo-headed kid, only speaks and writes in beatbox sounds. He has a switch on his head to make him speak normally, but he can't reach it, and nobody else is aware of it.
    • Ocho, the 8-bit spider, only spoke in arcade beeps in the pilot and in Season 1. From season 2 on, he can speak English.
    • Mrs. Margaret Robinson. She only speaks, and writes in "meh". Her husband is still able to understand her, however.
  • In the Van Beuren Studios Little King cartoons, he is normally voiceless like in the comics, but in the short "Jest of Honor", he does speak—but it turns out to be indecipherable gibberish.
  • Tooter Shellby in The Snorks can't speak, but only toot out of his snorkel. The other Snorks can't understand him, but some other sealife can.
  • All adults in the various Peanuts animated specials. (They are also unseen.) They all sound like a muted trombone. This is because they were voiced by a trombonist who was told to mimic the line's delivery with the instrument.
  • South Park
    • Kenny's mouth is (almost) always covered by his parka, so his speech comes through as muted nonsense. Matt Stone is actually saying lines through his hand, and knowing the context can usually allow you to recognize many of the words. This allows the creators to get through some words that would otherwise be censored. Some of his speech is readable in closed captions. Other times his dialogue consists of verbal gibberish used for comic effect, as a sort of "fill in the blanks" device. Because we rarely hear Kenny's unmuffled voice, the identity of Mysterion is not spoiled early just by hearing his voice, due to the fact that he takes a gruff intonation that clashes with the clean farewell in The Movie.
    • Timmy can only say his own name and a series of meaningless grunts. This was originally supposed to represent his mental disability. However, in later episodes he occasionally shows understanding of complex situations, and attempts to communicate complicated messages through inflection and gestures. However, this is subverted in South Park: The Fractured but Whole when he undergoes his superhero persona, Doctor Timothy, a parody of X-Men's Professor Xavier, being able to speak with the other characters in complete and cognitive sentences through telepathy, with an eloquent accent to boot.
    • Advertisement:
    • In one episode they have a strange creature from New Jersey called "Snookie", which can only speak in weird gibberish and say "Snookie want smoosh-smoosh."
  • Coco in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. Frequently, the other characters repeat her lines a la Repeating so the Audience Can Hear: "Coco coco!" "Ripoff artist?!?" The ambigious nature of her dialogue is often played for laughs, such as when Coco makes a suggestion about dealing with a common enemy that leaves everyone else shaken and Mac replying "I think we'd go to jail if we did that." Her clucking does, however, match the syllables of an equivalent, sensible phrase in English ("Co-CO!"/"Yeah, right!").
  • Snowpea in ¡Mucha Lucha! is only capable of saying their own name.
  • Man, talkin' bout dang ol' Boomhauer on King of the Hill. Boomhauer's speech actually is decipherable, but his Motor Mouth pacing, array of verbal tics, and thick accent often make it possible only to get the gist of what he's saying. The show often subverts the gag in a variety of ways for comedy:
    • Sometimes he momentarily becomes completely incomprehensible (except for his usual verbal tics), and for the character he's talking to to act like he just said something profound.
    • Another gag is for minor characters to not understand him at all, even when he is being relatively clear.
    • And yet another is for his friends to tell him they can't understand a word he's saying... due to echo/bad phone reception/any reason other than his speech patterns.
    • In a "Rashomon"-Style episode, during Boomhauer's retelling of the events, he speaks perfectly normally, while everyone else speaks the way he usually does.
    • His mother and younger brother share his unique speech patterns.
    • Lampshaded in an early episode where Hank makes friends with Willie Nelson; at Nelson's party, we see Boomhauer talking to Bob Dylan, who's just as hard to understand.
    • The basis of the joke is you have to be a True Texan to understand him.
  • Japanese exchange student Toshi on American Dad!. He has accurate subtitles, but his friends always react as if he said something else entirely.
  • Cool McCool's uncle Tom was incomprehensible to all except Cool's father Harry during the "Harry McCool, My Pop the Cop", segment.
  • In a similar manner, Papi on The Proud Family speaks only in Spanish, with accurate subtitles about how much he hates Suga Mama.
  • Bluey from Avenger Penguins
  • Mush-Mouth on Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Though his speech was simply normal speech with a "buh" added after every vowel, and was thus entirely intelligible i-buf you-buh pai-bud a-butte-buntio-bun.
  • Parodied on Drawn Together, in which Ling-Ling (a send-up of Pikachu from Pokemon) speaks in badly garbled pseudo-Japanese, called Oriental in one episode; the other characters have to read his subtitles to understand him, when they can at all.
  • Gibber, one of the air pirates from TaleSpin, would only whisper into the ear of the person he wished to talk to. The audience never heard exactly what he said, only the other's reaction to it.
  • An American Tail's bad guy Warren T. Rat had a minion cockroach, Digit, who could speak words legibly, but when calculating sounded like static on a shortwave system.
  • Likewise, in the Clyde Crashcup shorts on The Alvin Show, Crashcup's assistant Leonardo would only communicate by whispering into Clyde's ear.
    • He did speak audibly on one occasion, when upset with Clyde, in a sort of whimpering wail, without any real words to it.
  • Simon on Frisky Dingo, who speaks only in quiet mumbles which the characters in the show can apparently understand but which are incomprehensible to the viewer. On careful examination, it appears that the voice actor simply repeats the same nonsense sentence fragments, such as "When I was seven..." over and over.
  • When Ben from Ben 10 is in his beastly Wildmutt form, he qualifies. There's nobody who can understand him, though.
    • Also from Ben 10, the alien bounty hunter Sixsix, who appears in the episodes "Hunted" and "Galactic Enforcers" and the made-for-tv movie Secret of the Omnitrix, speaks an unknown alien language. Those working with him tend to be able to understand him, and it's implied that he's pretty mouthy. Apparently you can avoid Repeating so the Audience Can Hear if no one wants to repeat it.
  • Lil' Cheney on Lil' Bush, he begins all his sentences with rah, rah, rah followed by a random word relating the conversation.
  • Parodied in Lilo & Stitch. Stitch will occasionally revert to an alien language, often for the purpose of saying something rude. Later in the film, he manages to convince Jumba to help him rescue Lilo from Gantu with a single syllable.
    Jumba: After all you put me through, you expect me to help you just like that? Just like that?!
    Stitch: Ih.
    Jumba: Fine.
    Pleakley: "Fine?" You're doing what he says?
    Jumba: He is very persuasive.
  • Shnitzel in Chowder can only say "Radda," but everyone can understand him as if he's saying full sentences.
    • This was lampshaded in one episode, where Schnitzel reads a card to a board game... that actually reads "Radda Radda Radda."
  • Pretty much every robot in WALL•E either talks in beeps and whirrs or can only say its name plus a couple of extra words. The irony is it surpasses some other cartoons by doing that alone.
    • The bots gain some tonal expressiveness as the movie goes on. EVE, in particular, starts off sounding very robotic and by the middle of the movie has a recognizably human (if distorted) voice.
  • Wasabi on Sushi Pack speaks only "mustard", but the other members of the Pack can understand him just fine. Ben, not so much.
  • On Care Bears: Adventures in Care-a-lot, the robot Wingnut speaks in beeps, whirrs, and clicks, but all the Care Bears are able to understand him. Oddly, his creator, Grizzle, is unable to understand him. In one episode, Wingnut translated for another robot that only spoke in blurps.
  • H.E.L.P.E.R., the Robot Buddy of The Venture Bros., speaks in a series of frantic beeps, which doesn't seem to impair any of the characters in the show from understanding what he says.
    • On a couple of occasions H.E.L.P.E.R. has behaved as if everyone has completely misunderstood what he was trying to convey, although, considering the audience, they may have simply ignored his advice and done something stupid anyway.
  • The Clangers only ever spoke in slide whistle tones, which nevertheless had the rhythms of human speech. This was probably because they did in fact have "lines" (though they were never heard by the audience) and when BBC read that one of them was "Oh sod it! The bloody thing's stuck again!" they were not amused. Their friends, the Soup Dragon and the Iron Chicken, only spoke in growls and squawks respectively. All of these non-verbal communications were interpreted by The Narrator as necessary.
  • The title character in Ivor The Engine could only communicate through his organ-pipe whistle. How comprehensible he was varied from episode to episode and character to character, though Jones the Steam seemed able to hold full conversations with him.
  • Zipper on Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers rarely speaks anything the viewer can understand due to his often fast and very high-pitched voice (the high pitch being appropriate for him being a fly). The other Rescue Rangers all seem to be able to understand him to some degree, although Monterey Jack is really the only one who seems to be able to understand him perfectly.
    • Chip 'n Dale themselves were The Unintelligible in most of their shorts with Donald Duck.
    • If one were to slow down their dialogue, they speak very clearly; it's worth noting that until 1950, all of their dialogue was repeated from their first episode, "Private Pluto".
  • The eponymous character of the Canadian cartoon Kevin Spencer apparently does speak, and the other characters around him react as if he had actually said something, but the audience never hears his voice. Instead, the show's voice-over narrator tells us what Kevin "says."
  • The Looney Tunes' Tasmanian Devil, with several notable exceptions ("What for you bury me in the cold, cold ground?"). In the spinoff series Taz-mania, his family seems to understand his growls and gibbers just fine.
    • There's also Buster/Shorty from the short "Rabbit's Kin", his high pitched sped up voice makes it difficult to understand what he is trying to say, however, if you were to play it in slowmotion you can understand him perfectly.
    • Lola Bunny in The Looney Tunes Show when she's talking really fast.
  • The Godpigeon in the "Goodfeathers" shorts on Animaniacs spoke in such an impossible mumble (an extreme parody of Marlon Brando as Don Corleone) that he had to be translated by his associates. The one time he was subtitled, the pigeon he was talking to completely misunderstood him. (He thought he was being given romantic advice; the Godpigeon really just wanted to go get pasta.)
  • There was also an episode of Pinky and the Brain where there were two old fellows, one of which understood the other's incoherent rambling.
    *mumble mumble*
    "Yes, yes, I know, I know, but where on earth are we going to find a duck and a hose at this hour?"
  • The World Leader in The Secret Show speaks in an unintelligible gargle that only her husband can understand — he translates for both the viewers and the other characters.
  • Recurring character, Monsieur Meccaneux the mechanic in Victor & Hugo has a great line in rambling Yorkshire-ese which is often met with mute imcomprehension by the brothers.
  • All dogs in The Mighty B! are The Unintelligible. This wouldn't normally be worth noting, except for the fact that they're the kind that the other characters can understand fine, just not the audience.
  • Gary, SpongeBob SquarePants's pet snail, can only communicate through meows, but everyone understands him just fine.
    • Except at one point where his response to one of SpongeBob's borderline insane ideas is, "Ehh, NO."
    SpongeBob: Oh what do you know? You're a snail!
    • And when SpongeBob was able to visit Gary's dream, revealing the snail's true loquacious nature.
  • Bucky the squirrel from The Emperor's New Groove, although if Kronk is around, he Speaks Fluent Animal.
  • Grubber of the Gangreen Gang in The Powerpuff Girls, who communicates purely in raspberries. Despite this, he can still imitate people's voices flawlessly and once demonstrated that if he stands up straight he speaks clearly (and generally looks less weird).
  • Klunk and the General, in Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines.
    • In reality, if one listens to the General carefully, one can tell he is actually just talking very fast.
  • Ruffled Feather from the "Go Go Gophers" segments of Underdog speaks a fictitious American Indian language. It doesn't offer much variety to the phonemes; in fact, if Running Board didn't understand him, we might assume that he just sputters insanely. This is ironic, because Ruffled Feather is The Smart Guy who comes up with most of their plans to screw up the cavalry.
  • Ron Stoppable's pet mole rat, Rufus, in Kim Possible.
  • Fiskerton of The Secret Saturdays speaks in a series of grunts and mumbles. According to the series creator, his voice actor has a script of what he would say in English, but translates it to 'Fisk-speak'. Fisk does have bits of easily intelligible speech mixed in with the gibberish (most notably, his catchphrase, "Say what?"), though.
  • Sputz, one of the members of Lars' clique, in Rocket Power, though Lars seemed to be able to understand him perfectly.
  • The (very un-P.C.) animated adaptation of Dick Tracy from 1961 had, of course, Mumbles. His partner in crime, Stooge Villa, was the only character (or at least, only other gangster) that could understand him.
  • One episode of The Simpsons had Homer telling Marge something in a panic.
    Homer: Marge! (unintelligible nonsense spoken rapidly)
    Marge: Homer, slow down!
    Homer: (unintelligible nonsense spoken slowly)
    Marge: Think before you say each word!
  • On his second apperance on The Fairly OddParents!, Sylvester Calzone's speech is so slurred it's impossible for the viewer to understand him.
  • In Yellow Submarine, Old Fred tries to get the Beatles to help him, but his agitation has his entreaty to each of them coming out in frantic, unintelligible gibberish, always ending in "...BLUE MEANIEEEES!!!" (which, by the time they get to George, Ringo and John have joined in).
  • James William Bottomtooth III, James William Bottomtooth VI and Virgil Mastercard from Family Guy.
    • Peter's brewery co-worker, Opie, speaks in complete gibberish that the audience can't understand, but everyone else can understand him perfectly. In the episode "Underage Peter", the town's drinking age is raised and it's revealed that he spoke the way he did because he was always drunk.
  • Rico from The Penguins of Madagascar to an extent. Although as the series progresses, his vocabulary increases to occasionally include intelligible phrases and words besides "Ka-boom!"
  • Clockwork Smurf and Wild Smurf of The Smurfs are both this in the cartoon show, whereas in the comic books they either are able to speak in Smurf language from the start or learn how to do so.
  • Paw Rugg from The Hillbilly Bears on The Atom Ant Show; he mumbles most of his sentences where the only intelligible word is usually the last one.
    • Discussed in a skit made during the 90s, when the Bears go on a talk show to talk about Paw. Maw admits she has trouble understanding Paw, but while she means she doesn't understand what he's saying, the audience assumes she doesn't understand who he is as a person. The audience suggests Paw can find someone else to be with who will understand him better. Paw responds by shooting "I Luv U Maw" on the studio wall, and that's all Maw needs to know.
  • Vulturo of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law has this as a Verbal Tic where he descends into incomprehensible mumbling every sentence.
  • The adults in Ed, Edd n Eddy. Any time we hear them "speaking", it is usually garbled mumbling or sound effects.
    • Interestingly deconstructed in "Once Upon an Ed" with Double D in Ed's story. In the latter's story, Double D only babbles incoherently, which makes sense considering the story is told in Ed's perspective and as we all know, this is all Ed hears whenever Double D speaks in verbose vocabulary.
  • The villains of the pilot episode of The Tick, the Idea Men, could not be understood because the helmets they wore muffled their voices too much. They had to wave a sign with their ransom demands in front of a camera in order to get The City to understand what they wanted.
  • In Transformers Prime, Bumblebee does not speak, presumably for similar reasons as his movie counterpart. He communicates by way of electronic beeps à la R2-D2, and is understood just fine by his fellow Cybertronians, but can't use human speech. Raf Esquivel can understand him anyway, and as of the end of season one, the reason for this remains unknown. Even he has said he doesn't know why he can understand 'Bee.
    • This gets plot relevance later when It exposes the fake Optimus Prime, who can't understand a word he's saying. Not that it helped much.
  • Without a Universal Translator Mustache, the alien Meap from the Phineas and Ferb episode "The Chronicles of Meap" can only say the word "meap", which is utterly meaningless to English speakers. To be fair, though, it's evidently a legitimate language amongst his species, where the single word contains implausibly high amounts of context and nuance. To illustrate, in "Meapless in Seattle", Meap has to warn his home planet that the villain, Mitch, had obtained the source of Cutonium and was returning with it to their home planet with the intent to take it over, and as such to ready the armies for war. Trying to explain the situation in English to another fellow alien only gets a confused "meap?" in response; taking off the translator mustache and uttering a single "meap", however, gets all of that across instantly.
    • In "Tri-Stone Area", the entire cast is turned into this, since the episode revolves around caveman versions of the main characters who spend the episode speaking in a nigh-incomprehensible caveman language and in Doofenshmirtz's case, grunting, with the only english coming from the photo-animation cutways that feature the animators explaining what's going on.
  • Epoch from Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, his associates understand his screeching and gibbering just fine.
  • Pinkie Pie becomes this in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Bridle Gossip" when her tongue swells up after walking through the poison joke. When the main cast goes to confront Zecora, thinking she caused the various problems they're suffering with a curse, and Pinkie wants to sing her song about Zecora again, she briefly tries, before begging Fluttershy to do so. Fluttershy agrees, not sounding thrilled about the idea.
  • Used to sneak a muffled Precision F-Strike past censors in BURN-E, one of the Pixar Shorts that came alongside WALL•E, who does not speak actual words as OTTO and WALL•E or EVE do, merely electronic "sounds" that resemble words.
  • In Tom and Jerry: Shiver Me Whiskers, the red and blue pirates speak in variations of "Argh" while their parrots translate for them. However, the purple pirate speaks normally and it's his parrot who speaks in "Argh".
  • Bluey from Avenger Penguins spoke in some nearly incomprehensible language.
  • On Futurama, Nixon's clone of Spiro Agnew could only speak in grunts due to his lack of a head.
  • The former title character of Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch cannot talk like the other characters, instead only communicating by honking and displaying symbols across his windshield.
  • Yellowtail (and to a lesser degree, his son Onion) from Steven Universe. Sour Cream lapses into the same odd speech as step-father and half-brother in "Drop Beat Dad".
    • In "Super Watermeleon Island", Steven's sentient watermelon clones speak in roars.
  • Like his spiritual predecessor and Sitcom Arch-Nemesis Artoo-Deetoo, the astromech droid C1-10P, aka "Chopper" in Star Wars Rebels talks in unintelligible droid-speak, though not the same format as Artoo.
  • In Kaeloo, Quack-Quack only speaks in quacks, which Kaeloo and Mister Cat understand (Stumpy does sometimes, but usually fails hilariously). Apparently a single "quack" is enough to tell about his whole sad life's story.
    • Quack Quack's girlfriend, Eugly, also communicates through mumbles or Hand Signals. Usually, the others understand this, but they may need Pretty or Quack Quack to translate for them.
  • In Skywhales, the alien tribe speaks a kind of hooting language that's never subtitled for the viewer.
  • Bill & Ben, The Flowerpot Men only speak a made-up language called "Oddlepoddle" which consists of the word "flobbalop" and variations on said word.
  • In the Mickey Mouse cartoon "Guillver Mickey" the Lilliputian General due to his tiny size and high pitched voice is completely incomprehensible when he speaks to Mickey, the only intelligible word he utters is "fire!" when he orders his men to shoot Mickey with their cannons.
  • In the Bobby's World episode "Geriatric Park" Mr. Kelso the nursing home resident who is mistaken for Bobby's great grandfather is completely incomprehensible without his dentures, whenever he tries to speak it comes out as garbled mumbling, he starts speaking clearly once he gets them back.
  • Ricky's great-grandmother from The Rapsittie Street Kids: Believe in Santa. She speaks in unintelligible mumbles followed by a word or short sentence related to the conversation. However, according to her voice actress Debra Wilson, she had been given actual dialogue but the editors decided to splice her dialogue together so she couldn't be understood.
  • Slimer in The Real Ghostbusters and the Sequel Series Extreme Ghostbusters essentially only mumbles. In one episode they provide him with a text-reader computer for him to write his thoughts, but it's never used again. The reason why Slimer can't talk normally is never explained as other ghosts do speak normally, like Buster.
  • The Twins in Men in Black. They are always speaking their Starfish Language. Nevertheless everyone on the MIB personnel seem able to understand them except for J and the audience.
  • Mr. Mammoth in The Raccoons speaks only in mumbles. Luckily he has an assistant that translates for him to the rest of the characters.
  • In the Alvin and the Chipmunks episode "Chip Tracy" a parody of Dick Tracy we have the gangster Grumbles based on the villain Mumbles, who is a caricature of Edward G. Robinson who mumbles gibberish that only Alvin as Chip Tracy and Eleanor's character can understand, at one point Theodore asks what he's saying and he gives him a device that translates his gibberish into coherent speech and gives away his boss' plans.
  • Matt's Monsters: Dink, the teams monster sidekick, speaks in his own language, which only Matt can understand.
  • PJ Masks: The Ninjalinos and PJ Robot both speak in their own language which is incomprehensible to the viewer. Night Ninja can understand his ninjalinos, and the PJ Masks can understand PJ Robot.
  • While in Metalocalypse Nathan's speaking voice is mostly understandable, his singing voice can fall into this, understandable because he's the singer for a death metal band, which as mentioned in the Music category is famous for this. It's lampshaded at one point when he tells Pickles he's sure he can fit the word 'destiny' into a song at one point cause it's not like anyone understands what he sings anyway.


Example of: