I’m glad some people got a kick out of last week’s list of Top Seven Worst Cartoon Ladies, because now it’s time for the sequel.
A solid female character in animation is hard to find. If you are able to extract their likes and dislikes from their gender (they like shopping BECAUSE THEY’RE GIRLS! They hate getting messy BECAUSE THEY’RE GIRLS!) you’re still stuck with having to make them look ‘cute’ or ‘sexy’, and have a role beyond Love Interest or Nagging Psychobitch. These seven characters all have a degree of depth and thoughtfulness in their creation. Their qualities came first, and their gender second.
Let’s get rolling, shall we?
7. Dora The Explorer: Love or hate Dora, you have to admit that she is a pretty stellar example for young girls. She’s bright, she’s friendly, she’s willing to scrape her knees and get dirty, and she sticks to her guns in the face of adversity. And by adversity I mean cunning foxes who steal her monkey’s sandwiches, or whatever. I put Dora at seventh on this list because her redesign to appeal to an ‘older’ crowd makes me cry tears of rage. She went from clever adventurer to mall-haunting pre-teen overnight. Oh, Dora of yore! How I miss thee!
6. Gretchen and Spinelli from Recess: Recess is a show that centers around schoolyard stereotypes. In the main cast, we have the Fat Sensitive Kid, the Mischievous Kid, the Smart Kid, the Tough Kid, the Sporty Kid, and the Awkward Wimpy Kid Who Is Only Occasionally Useful. The charm of a show like Recess is that the kids realize their labels, and regard them with a resigned sort of malice. I’ve picked Gretchen and Spinelli out here because really, out of those main cast members I’ve mentioned, which are the girls? Guesses? Guesses? Gretchen and Spinelli were created as schoolyard archetypes, not as schoolgirl archetypes, and that I can appreciate.
5. Kim Possible: Much like an aged version of a Powerpuff Girl, Kim Possible saves the world before curfew, trying to do her homework and get a date along the way. Kim is in every way a girl’s girl. She idolizes a clothing chain. She gets embarrassed in front of boys. She hates her little brothers and uses the Puppydog Pout to get something she wants. The reason I’m including her on this list is that Kim likes what she likes…because she likes it. Too often animators will create a character that is supposed to exemplify a Successful Modern Woman. She’s smart! She’s capable! She owns her feminity, and yet, she is completely defined by societal expectations and all of the males around her. Kim defines herself, and while she has the normal teenage tendency to worry about what other’s think of her, it doesn’t shape her life.
4. Gadget from Rescue Rangers: Some…times! Some…crimes! Go slipping through the cracks, but these…two! Gum…shoes! Are picking up the slack, there’s no case too big, no case too small! If you need help just call…Gadget, apparently. Rescue Rangers centers around some rodents who solve mysteries. It’s pretty simple. The titular characters receive most of the credit, serious Chip and goofy Dale, but every kid who watches that show knows that Gadget is the real hero. It’s always Gadget who makes the machines that get them out of trouble, Gadget who sees through the scam, Gadget who crafts the master plan to solve the crime. And you know what’s appealing about Gadget? They don’t try to hide her brilliance behind a (heh heh) mousey facade. She is just a genius. No glasses. No gimmick. No social awkwardness. All of the things that are typically associated with the smart girl are conspicuously absent, and they let her play the hero just as much as the boys do, even if the show is named after them. It’s a nice change of pace.
3. Gosalyn from Darkwing Duck: Gosalyn, put simply, is a kid. She’s not a smart kid, or a dumb kid, or an athletic kid, or a sensitive kid, or a tough kid, or a wimpy kid. She’s just a kid who lives with her dad, who happens to be a Bruce Wayne-esque fly-by-night crimefighter. Sometimes she worries about him, sometimes she wants to join in on the fun, but at the end of the day, she’s just…well. She’s a kid. The simplicity of her character without relying on overused tropes is what gets Gosalyn on my list. It’s not easy to craft a character that doesn’t rely on a stereotype that we are already familiar with, while still making her appealing and instantly familiar. She could ride in my sidecar anyday.
2. Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender: I could take almost anyone from Avatar and point to them as a model for outstanding character development, but Azula is here for a very specific reason: she is a crazy bitch. She is a crazy bitch with fire powers and mommy issues, and she will eff you up the a, if you so much as look at her funny when she’s got her crazy hat on. I’m a big fan of villains. It’s tough to make a villain who doesn’t seem like a moustache-twirling Dick Dastardly or a hulking inferno of unspecified fury. Villains need motivations too, you guys! Something has to make them interesting, and worth our time. With lady villains, it is almost always sexuality. She’s evil! What else is evil? Uhh, sex? Yeah. Sex is evil. So let’s make her very sexy and she can even make untoward advances at the disinterested protagonist! Sounds like a plan. Gladly, Azula doesn’t rely on these things to make her a stellar baddie. From the start of the series, her intentions are clear. She’s not evil, necessarily. She just went round the bend several years ago, and never came back. Good for her.
1. My number one choice for awesome lady cartoon comes from a classic conundrum: how to make girls funny. Sometimes they just aren’t, and that’s okay. The same things that are hilarious coming from a man may not induce the same belly-laughs from a chick. Some female comedians have resorted to giving up their girliness to get a more masculine sense of humor, but I don’t think that’s necessary. A gal can be funny in a skirt. A purple skirt. With a yellow sweater, and bows on her ears:
Babs Bunny was created as one of the two main characters of the Warner Brothers’ hit, Tiny Toons. The animators noticed a significant underrepresentation of ladies in the original Looney Tunes, and so when its ‘sequel’ began, they decide to split the character of Bugs Bunny into two halves. The male half, Buster Bunny, contains all of Bugs’ sly charisma and mischievous smooth-talking mannerisms. The female half, Babs, got all the screwball humor, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Babs is a tornado of comedy, constantly lampooning the other characters in the show, doing spot-on impressions of pop-culture icons, or just inserting a quick, 1930’s era one-liner into the mix. Unlike her counterpart, the loathable Lola Bunny, Babs can go toe to toe with her male companions and come out with the top joke. She’s zany, over-the-top, and endlessly appealing.
All while wearing a skirt. Who’d-a thunk it?