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by Lydia Bugg
Editor’s Note: There are so many great cartoon characters that I want to add to this list. But I can’t, because this is Lydia’s top 10. Do you have your own? Let us know in the comments. It’s a subject that’s surprisingly fun to debate.
A few months ago, we counted down a list of the greatest rogues in Hollywood. It’s a great list, but rogues are everywhere, and you can’t always spot them because they’re so good at hiding. Actually, they could be standing behind you right now.
Because the previous article was pulling characters from the live-action category, we had to leave out an entire subcategory: cartoons. So we decided it was time to fix that, and compiled a list of the sneakiest, suavest, smartest rogues too cool to have actual flesh.
10. Tommy Pickles
Rugrats is about to get rebooted, so we’ll get to see a new version of Tommy Pickles, the fearless leader of their tiny baby gang. He’s probably the youngest rogue in history at just one year old. He’s pretty suave for a baby, though; he even makes wearing a diaper look kind of cool.
The danger that the Rugrats face is mostly imagined, but whether Tommy is picturing himself as a cowboy, a spy, or an astronaut, he’s always great at whatever he does. Even though he’s the youngest of his friends, he’s the first to lead them into adventure and the fiercest protector of the other three.
In fact, most of the Rugrats’ adventures wouldn’t have happened without Tommy stealing a screwdriver from his dad so they could escape their playpen. That is some first-class roguery right there.
Not only is Tommy already super cool as a one-year-old, but you just know he’s going to grow up to be some kind of scatterbrained scientist like his dad. Or a criminal. He’s naturally curious and resourceful, and if you combine that with his bravery and adventurous spirit, that totally cements his spot on this list.
9. Ms. Frizzle
The original badass teacher, Ms. Frizzle has it all. The Magic School Bus gave us the coolest rogue vehicle of all time -- it’s like the TARDIS, but way cuter.
The internet still argues over what, exactly, Ms. Frizzle is. A witch? A mad scientist? The Doctor’s long lost-cousin? The only thing we know for sure is that whatever crazy trip she and her students go on, she’s fully equipped to handle it. A lot of people complain that Ms. Frizzle puts her students in danger, but are they really in harm’s way when they’re with her? She’s more than capable of handling any and all problems they encounter.
Ms. Frizzle is a true lady, sacrificing her time and magic powers to teach a bunch of kids how magnets work or whatever ... something Insane Clown Posse would truly appreciate.
Although now that I think about it, there was an episode that aired in the ’90s where they went to Ms. Frizzle’s house and it was totally dope. There’s no way she could afford that mansion with a custom doorbell shaped like her pet lizard on a teacher’s salary. Something tells me Ms. Frizzle and the bus have a side hustle that involves rapelling from the ceiling into a diamond vault.
8. Finn The Human
Adventure Time is one of the best cartoon TV shows ever, and Finn “The Human” Mertens is a fantastic boy rogue. He’s got all the classic trappings: cool-ass magic dog, big sword, awesome tree house, and a nose for adventure. It’s right in the title of his show.
One of the best things about Finn is how non-violent he is for someone who carries around such a huge sword. He loves to fight, but it’s only for fun, and if he does actually have to wade into battle, it’s always fair. He’s not big and strong, so he does a lot of very roguish ducking and dodging in his fighting style.
Even though he’s mostly a warrior, he can also be very charming, especially to the many princesses of Ooo who are all pretty enamored with him. He’s a kind and selfless kid with a huge heart, and a butt-kicking action hero who defeated a lich and saved the world. But Finn also has a rough past and a horrible relationship with his father. He once tried to build a ladder that reached into space so he could go punch his dad and take his arm. Whoa.
A lot of cartoon characters don’t have that kind of depth and darkness to them. Finn does, but it definitely doesn’t define him. In fact, he’s mostly defined by his loving relationships with other people, like his friendship with his brother Jake and his loyalty to Princess Bubblegum.
7. April O’Neil
April O’Neil was originally a computer programmer in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic. She’s most widely known as a reporter, the profession given to her for the cartoon show for more of a Lois Lane meets mutant turtles vibe.
April deserves more respect than she gets, because she always starts out with a damsel in distress story line and then takes matters into her own hands. She trains under Splinter and becomes a karate-kicking expert in her own right, no mutations or pizza addictions necessary. She’s a vigilante who fights crime with a pack of toxic chemical-created animals at night and then reports on what a good job they did by day.
She’s the Ninja Turtles’ driver, researcher, and public champion. Without her they wouldn’t get much ninjaing done at all. Sure, she gets kidnapped a lot, but she’s the linchpin of the Ninja Turtles team and Shredder understands that. Taking April isn’t done to exploit her character’s weakness; it’s Shredder’s understanding that he is knocking out their quarterback.
She’s been voiced by all kinds of great actresses including Mae Whitman, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Megan Fox. They understood that April O’Neil is an icon in a yellow jumpsuit, and one of the most underappreciated cartoon rogues.
6. Sandy Cheeks
She’s the world’s greatest scientist, and also a squirrel that lives under the sea. Sandy’s love for science is matched only by her love for karate, bodybuilding, and rodeo. She’s no southern belle, but she has that Texas charm that makes everybody love her.
Sandy Cheeks is cool because the stereotypical cartoon nerd usually has to be weak. It’s a way to balance the character out, so that they don’t become too perfect and therefore boring, but it also sends a message to kids that you can only be one or the other. In real life, you don’t have to pick. Dolph Lundgren is a chemical engineer (no, thats not a joke), and he can recite the periodic table of elements while he kicks your ass. So in a sense, Sandy Cheeks is the Dolph Lundgren of Spongebob Squarepants.
Although, she’s probably even smarter than Dolph Lundgren. She invented a spaceship, a shrink ray, and a teleporter. Not to mention the tree dome and space suit she uses to survive underwater. Sandy just might be the smartest rogue of all -- cartoon or otherwise.
“If James Bond were an annoying frat boy” must have been the original pitch for Archer. It had to be. Because Archer can do everything James Bond can do and still somehow be such a nerd. You can aspire to be like Archer and somehow still feel sorry for him at the same time.
He’s really good at being a secret agent when he tries; he just isn’t giving it his all ... pretty much ever. The best part of Archer is when they pull back and show him doing something really daring and cool for a minute, then have him instantly snap back to being more concerned about finding his ocelot than doing his job.
It’s great because it makes him relatable. We can picture ourselves as Archer kicking ass during a car chase, but it’s a lot easier when he’s accidentally rolling down the side of a mountain.
Spies are the ultimate rogues: sneaky, charming, and deadly. All things that Archer can be at times even though we see a lot of the exact opposite.
4. Jonny Quest
The original pilot for Jonny Quest never aired, because it was a completely different show called Jack Armstrong. You see, Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy used to be a popular radio drama character created by General Mills to sell kids breakfast cereal. But when Hanna-Barbera wanted to make it a cartoon, it wasn’t able to come to an agreement for the rights to Jack Armstrong, so they made him a blonde and changed his name to Jonny Quest. Which is way cooler anyway.
Honestly, everything about Jonny Quest is better than his cereal-slinging counterpart. His dad is a super genius, and his manny, Race Bannon, is a super spy the government hired to protect him. Plus his dog’s name is Bandit, which is objectively the best dog name ever.
The thing that’s so cool about Jonny isn’t just all of the awesome things he gets to do as a kid ... it’s the fact that you can tell how badass he will be when he grows up. Hell be a combination of Dr. Quest and Bannon. He’ll be a genius scientist who can simultaneously fly an airplane with one arm, work on a cure for cancer with the other, and slay on the drums for a world-famous rock band with his feet.
3. Turanga Leela
Han Solo was number three on our list of Hollywood’s greatest rogues, so for the number three cartoon rogue I can’t think of anyone better than Turanga Leela.
She’s a ship’s captain who specializes in delivering goods that aren’t always 100% legal. She’s not just a pilot, though -- she’s also an adept fighter. And her best friend isn’t a big talker who sometimes gets mistaken for a common house pet, despite being a hyper advanced alien species. If that doesn’t sound familiar, it totally should.
The one-eyed, ass-stomping leader of the Planet Express crew on Futurama could have been something much different. She’s Fry’s love interest, which would have been so boring if they went the Lois Griffin, Peggy Hill, Marge Simpson, or Francine Smith route and made her an unfulfilled housewife who used to be hip. Instead, they made her a female Han Solo with mutant parents, who is also really good at kicking people in the head. She’s one of the greatest hard-hitting, high-flying, space-age rogues there is.
2. Carmen Sandiego
Congratulations! You now have the Carmen Sandiego theme song stuck in your head for the rest of the week!
When you think of a classic spy, Carmen Sandiego is probably number two on your list, just under James Bond, which is a pretty big accomplishment for a cartoon character. Especially considering the strange mishmash of things the character has been used for.
She started off in the world of mid-’80s edutainment computer games, went on to a strange live-action, cartoon hybrid game show on PBS in the ’90s, which was quickly followed by a Saturday morning cartoon show. Due to the bouncing back and forth between so many different creators and studio heads, the Carmen Sandiego canon is a little messy.
Sometimes she’s the ultimate gentlewoman thief who only steals for the thrill, and other times she’s a straight up villain. She did name her company V.I.L.E., which stands for the Villain’s International League of Evil, with “evil” being right there in the name, but I still think she’s mostly a good guy. Probably.
One of the best things about Carmen Sandiego is her iconic outfit. Red is a potentially too-noticeable color for a thief to wear. The classic “I’m about to steal something” outfit is typically the all black cat suit rocked by female spies across the world. But for Carmen, her brain is her cat suit -- she can dress head to toe in the most eye-catching primary colored trench coat on earth and she’s still going to sneak into your museum and steal all of your cursed mummies. No curses for anyone but Carmen! Take that!
1. Bugs Bunny
The classic cartoon scoundrel and OG rogue has to be Bugs Bunny. He’s lodged firmly in the hearts of every American, right behind all of that popcorn butter.
Rabbits are normally jumpy prey animals, but Bugs is cool in any situation. He’s a master of disguise, and uses his clever wit to outsmart anyone who dares take him on.
The carrot is kind of the key to Bugs Bunny. It shows that not only is he laid back, he’s so laid back that he’s enjoying a delightful snack while another man is attempting to hunt, kill, and eat him. Watching Bugs defeat Elmer Fudd, his main antagonist, over and over again, you can almost start to feel sorry for Elmer until you remember what the stakes are (hint: it’s bunny murder).
As crafty and capable as Bugs is, he’s never a bully. He’s always antagonized and announces his intentions before going into battle. He doesn’t fight unless he has to, because he’s a true gentleman.
In later iterations of Looney Tunes (namely the 1996 Michael Jordan classic Space Jam) he’s the leader of The Tunes. He’s the one they look to for getting them out of trouble because that’s what he’s known for. He can escape any situation, not only unscathed, but with a cool-headed grace attainable by only the best of rogues.