Of all of the cartoons that exist, you wouldn’t expect Peppa Pig to be the one who caused a minor controversy in Australia. It’s not like Peppa, a preschool-aged anthropomorphic pig, runs an underground fight club, not-quite-accidentally shanked Suzy Sheep, or stole Mr. Elephant’s savings with a shady crypto scam. So what gives? Spiders, that’s what.
The first season of Peppa Pig has a seemingly benign episode called “Mister Skinnylegs,” which dedicates half of its five-minute run-time to her brother, George, discovering a spider in the bathroom sink and deciding that he wanted to be its friend. The spider is chill enough that he lets George carry him around by a strand of just-spun silk, and George carefully deposits him in a doll-sized bed. So far, so good, right?
Apparently the problems started when Peppa’s father, the cleverly named Daddy Pig, told Peppa that she didn’t need to be afraid of spiders because they’re small and “they can’t hurt you.” She seems satisfied enough with that explanation to force the family to have a tea party with their new arachnid pal, and by the time the end credits roll, the narrator is satisfied enough to say that “Everyone likes Mr. Skinnylegs.”
But that’s total crap, because at least one Australian viewer very much DID NOT like Mr. Skinnylegs, and complained to the country’s national broadcaster, ABC, after the episode aired online in 2012. The letter-writer had a problem with Daddy Pig’s not-entirely-scientific comment that “spiders can’t hurt you” (and, to be fair, Daddy Pig sounds like a real idiot).
“The ABC considered the episode unsuitable for broadcast in Australia and it had been restricted from being aired on the ABC’s television networks,” the network wrote in response to the complaint. “However, the episode was accidentally published online due to a technical problem. The ABC apologized to the complainant and advised that the episode was no longer available online. In addition, the ABC undertook to improve internal communication about restricted episodes to ensure the error would not recur.”
In 2017, the episode ran again in Australia, this time on the cable network Nick Jr. A mom who was only identified as Jess saw it while watching the channel with her daughter, and dashed off a letter to her cable company. “It came on and I thought, ‘Is this the [restricted] episode I’m thinking of?” she said at the time. “It was, so I turned it off.”
Nickelodeon Australia Management sent a response that originally shrugged off the whole “maybe Australian kids shouldn’t pick up spiders” concern, arguing that the cartoon’s content was rated G, and also didn’t Mr. Skinnylegs look freaking adorable?
“Nickelodeon made its own programming decision to keep the Episode on air,” its email to Jess read. “The context of the way the spider is portrayed in the episode lessens any impact of scariness or danger; the spider does not look real, it has a smiley face and is shown in context of a show with other talking animals and therefore in an environment where the animals and creatures are not shown acting out their real nature.”
After some pushback and a bit of online criticism, Nickelodeon Australia changed its mind and decided to remove “Mister Skinnylegs” from its rotation. (The character of Mr. Skinnylegs does appear in another episode, season four’s “Spider Web.” That episode hasn’t attracted any controversy, maybe because Daddy Idiot manages to carry the spider out of the house without incident.)
Last March, Peppa Pig’s original creators handed the series over to a new animation company, and it was announced that they would produce 104 new episodes between 2021 and 2027, inflating the total Peppa catalog to 485 episodes. We’ve gotta say, we’re hoping that Mr. Skinnylegs makes at least one appearance. BECOME UNGOVERNABLE, PEPPA.