Not Tinkerbell again...
June 15, 2009 4:09 PM   Subscribe

What animated movies star awesome female characters? Bonus points if it's appropriate for a younger children (a 3 year old and a 6 year old), extra special bonus points if it's not utterly irritating to adults. Scary bits may need a certain amount of skipping over.
posted by Artw to Media & Arts (56 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
As a kid, I really liked The Secret of NIMH.
posted by HumuloneRanger at 4:14 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mulan rocks
posted by legotech at 4:16 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

EVA is pretty badass in WALL-E.
posted by rokusan at 4:17 PM on June 15, 2009

Best answer: The Secret of NIHM has some pretty heavy stuff for a three-year-old (but is a great movie). Check out some Miyazaki like Kiki's Delivery Service.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:17 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Man, Secret of NIMH scared me when I first saw it (around age 5), but my younger sister handled it fine. I recommend My Neighbor Totoro.
posted by Shesthefastest at 4:18 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Lilo and Stitch is a fantastic movie, and age appropriate. The Secret of NIMH is a wonderful film, also with a female lead (she's a mouse), although it might not hold the attention of a three year old (and there are some quite scary bits - including animals being experimented on).
posted by moxiedoll at 4:18 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Triplets of Belleville, where 3 (4 really) spunky old ladies try to save a young cyclist.
posted by bluefly at 4:20 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My Neighbor Totoro has a preponderance of female characters - two inquisitive girls, a grandma and a mom - as well as a few good male characters. The non-human catbus and Totoro are male as well. The movie is fun and pretty much not scary though there are some spooky aspects to it.
posted by jessamyn at 4:21 PM on June 15, 2009 [8 favorites]

NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind is great and has a female lead, but it's way, WAY too scary. 8-10 years old at least. I second Totoro with Kiki's Delivery Service a second choice. It may be a bit much for a three year-old, but should be OK for a six.
posted by GuyZero at 4:22 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed Coraline.. Not sure how suitable it is for the really young one (six should be OK though) and it is scary but I'd say it was worth a try.
posted by seanyboy at 4:26 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Maybe not quite what you're going for, but The Last Unicorn. The unicorn is female and Molly Grue is also an intriguing female character to appear in an animated movie.

Probably a bit too old for the 3-year-old. The 6-year-old could probably handle it (I was 7 when I first watched it and don't remember being all that scared). Whether or not it's irritating for adults depends on your tolerance for the music of the band America.

I will second Lilo & Stitch and nth Miyazaki, but except for My Neighbor Totoro, wait on his other stuff.
posted by darksong at 4:26 PM on June 15, 2009

"Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" stars an awesome woman, but it isn't remotely appropriate for children.

Most of it is "scary bits". It's fundamentally an SF horror story.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:29 PM on June 15, 2009

I second Miyazaki.

It's not a movie, but when the first season of the animated series' The Life and Times of Juniper Lee becomes available later this year, I'll be buying it for my daughter.
posted by zarq at 4:31 PM on June 15, 2009

Spirited Away, another Miyazaki with strong female characters, including a protagonist who befriends spirits, saves her parents, and falls in love. Maybe a little scary for a 3-year old though.
posted by ldenneau at 4:34 PM on June 15, 2009

Response by poster: heh. I've seen Coraline. I'm gonna wait on that one.
posted by Artw at 4:45 PM on June 15, 2009

Dorrie in Finding Nemo is my favorite animated character ever. Ever!

Seconding Mulan and Lilo & Stitch.
posted by witchstone at 4:45 PM on June 15, 2009

Spirited Away freaked out my wife. YYMV on that one for your kids.
posted by GuyZero at 4:46 PM on June 15, 2009

Cinderella is a pretty good movie.
posted by paperzach at 4:50 PM on June 15, 2009

Nthing Miyazaki. Totoro is appropriate for little kids and is a very fun and charming movie. Spirited Away may have some scary bits but is a good choice for slightly older kids. It centers around a female lead who has to learn to fend for herself in order to save her parents.
posted by Lobster Garden at 4:50 PM on June 15, 2009

Best answer: Mulan has a strong female lead and it's a movie I can watch with my nieces and nephews multiple times and not want to pull my hair out.
posted by CwgrlUp at 4:54 PM on June 15, 2009

Not animated, but Matilda is a fabulous movie for kids and adults. Alice in Wonderland! Powerpuff Girls! Reboot!
posted by soft and hardcore taters at 4:58 PM on June 15, 2009

Yeah, Spirited Away was just about too scary for me. Maybe Chicken Run?
posted by mostlymartha at 5:00 PM on June 15, 2009

My kids (3 and 6) are indifferent to NIMH. My 6 year old daughter loves Ferngully (though it drives me nuts). My kids can't make it through Mulan.
posted by plinth at 5:00 PM on June 15, 2009

Ooh, yes, and on preview, seconding Matilda. It makes me better about being a girl every time I see it.
posted by mostlymartha at 5:01 PM on June 15, 2009

Nthing Lilo and Stitch. It's one of the few Disney (non-Pixar) animated movies that I love. It's not just that the heroine (and Stitch) are awesome, but the drawing style alone is so different from most American animation.
posted by maudlin at 5:12 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Incredibles has a stong female character, but not the lead.

Not animated, but The Secret Of Roan Inish is an excellent movie for kids and adults, with a strong female character. The plot may be a bit difficult for a 3 yr old, but you will love it!

Or how about The Wizard of Oz?

Oh, and NOT the Triplets of Belleville for young kids- but a great movie.
posted by TDIpod at 5:16 PM on June 15, 2009

Best answer: Whisper of the Heart is another good Studio Ghibli movie. As is The Cat Returns
posted by anansi at 5:27 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As the parent of 8 year old and 5 year old girls, I suggest saving Coraline and Spirited Away until your daughters are quite a bit older. Too weird and scary. Wall-E may be too scary for your 3 year old.

I'd second (third, fourth) My Neighbor Totoro, and also suggest Kiki's Delivery Service. These are Miyazaki movies that are suitable for kids. There are "scary" parts in them for dramatic tension but there aren't guns and blood and trippy shit and bad guys.

The mom in Totoro is sick and hospitalized away from the family, which worries the girls a lot, and the younger one runs away to the hospital and gets lost, which worries the family/villagers a lot. All is well in the end.

Kiki encounters a thunder and lightning storm while she is riding on her broom (she's a witch), and some assertive crows. There are some social tensions about who's cool and fitting in. There's a stressful scene at the end where a dirigible crashes and Kiki's almost-boyfriend is hanging onto a rope for dear life--but Kiki saves him in the end. She is awesome!

Other suggestions: Jessie from Toy Story 2 is pretty awesome.

As far as the Disney crop go, Belle from Beauty and the Beast is probably the best of the lot, bookish and kind, standing up to the Beast and the beastly guy from the village, and has a sweet loving relationship with her dad, who's her sole parent.

Personally, I adore Ursula from Little Mermaid, but my kids go gaga for Ariel. I hate that she's a child bride (at 16). If nothing else it's catalyzed a lot of discussion about how old people should be before they marry.

It's not animated (well, some of it is), but Enchanted features a wonderful female lead character. I think that movie does a great job of balancing the stuff that make princess mythology so thrilling (befriending woodland creatures! wearing lovely dresses! singing and romance and princes!) with some of the less picture-perfect aspects of life, the universe, and royalty. Thankfully, there are several happily-ever-afters. There are some scary parts--Susan Sarandon is *marvelous* as the wicked queen, and the dragon at the end is awfully intense.

I wish I could think of some more. We had an animated version of Heidi once upon a time that the kids loved but that made my skin crawl.
posted by Sublimity at 5:30 PM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Yes yes yes, Lilo and Stitch. I just bought this on Amazon after years of loving it, and the little girl Lilo is about 6 years old, plucky, weird, and stubborn. It's also one of the funniest cartoon movies I've seen, and I've personally seen grown men tear up at the ending. Shelve Miyazaki for when they're older; his world of giant-headed babies and melting witches and pig parents is for bigger kids.
posted by zoomorphic at 5:34 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Um, Shrek?
posted by BoscosMom at 6:34 PM on June 15, 2009

Anastasia! My husband and I even like this movie. Note: Rasputin can be a little scary for very very young children.
posted by misha at 6:41 PM on June 15, 2009

I'm going to nth Totoro, I think that your girls will identify with the sisters bonding together and looking out for each other. Plus the Totoros are pretty awesome. The cat bus might be a little creepy, but I know some kids that think it's pretty cool.

We literally just finished The Cat Returns, and I have to say that yet again Ghibli has done a fantastic job with a strong female character. The idea that "knowing yourself" is what will save you, and an overarching theme of kindness is really good... bonus that Tim Curry voices the "villain".
posted by librarianamy at 7:18 PM on June 15, 2009

Millionthing Totoro. I just saw it and it struck me as possibly the most realistic depiction of little girls ever. Of course, it's possible Hayao Miyazaki actually saw me and my sister on a visit to Los Angeles or something and that's how he came up with those characters, because it is kind of uncanny how similar they are to me and my sister as little girls. Possibly the best part of the movie is watching the girls laughing and playing together. Like real children, they laugh uproariously at totally dumb things, run around, fall down, get up and run around again. It's great.

As a little girl, my favorite movie ever was The Wizard of Oz. I was terrified of the Witch, but hey! Dorothy totally pwns her in the end. So you have to get through the first viewing but then the 500 times you watch it after that, you can cover your eyes through the scary parts and look forward to "Ding, dong, the witch is dead".
posted by crinklebat at 7:25 PM on June 15, 2009

Just want to warn you to stay away from Flicka at all costs. Your girls might like it, but the adults will run screaming from the room like Mr. Chekov from a Ceti eel.
posted by txvtchick at 7:35 PM on June 15, 2009

All Dogs go to Heaven
posted by faintly macabre at 7:46 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes, Shrek! and in an odd way, Finding Nemo, with Dory as an unlikely hero. No one would expect her to to rise to the occasion, but she does, again and again. Good message of: It's not what you have that matters, it's what you do with what you have.
posted by kch at 7:48 PM on June 15, 2009

Spirited Away is a really great movie. It's a little scary, yes, but it's got a really great message about family and materialism. I think you'd be okay with that one.

As far as Triplets of Belleville goes, as I watched it a few years ago, I looked at my wife and expressed to her my sincere hope that parents did not take there kids to see it expecting a kids movie.
posted by elder18 at 8:04 PM on June 15, 2009

Not animated, but my kids (now 5 and 6.5) have enjoyed the live-action Madeline for years, and Frances McDormand in the role of Miss Clavel always tickles Mr. Padraigin and myself.

As far as other live action films, since I'm on the subject and since your kids will be ripe for real people movies soon enough, we've gotten a ton of mileage out of the Spy Kids movies (not only are there some great, strong female characters in the daughter and mother, but a few great female villains in the series, plus a good lesson about sibling cooperation). Plus, the casting is totally entertaining for adults--not just Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino, but smaller contributions from Teri Hatcher, George Clooney, Alan Cumming, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, the list goes on.

My kids also love the somewhat terrible Sharkboy and Lavagirl, which I recently realized is a total ripoff of the film version of Neverending Story (and almost superior to it, which isn't saying much). Anyway, the movie's weak but Lavagirl herself is pretty bad-ass (and it's funny to see George Lopez, David Arquette, and Kristin Davis in such a silly film).

Pollyanna is a big hit here too, and I picked up a bunch of Shirley Temple DVDs on the cheap somewhere that my kids get a huge kick out of, just the way I did when I was their age and one of the local TV stations ran a "Shirley Temple Theater" every Saturday morning (right after "Abbot And Costello Theater", if I recall, which I also adored).
posted by padraigin at 9:04 PM on June 15, 2009

I'm amazed no one mentioned Kiki's Delivery Service, another Miyazaki movie with a strong, unafraid girl for a heroine. Good movie, too.
posted by argybarg at 9:47 PM on June 15, 2009

Response by poster: I've marked a few replies as best answers, but really all of this is great. Keep it coming!
posted by Artw at 10:11 PM on June 15, 2009

The protagonist of My Friend Flicka was originally a boy.

Not animated, but Mary Pickford starred in many silents based on childrens's books: Daddy Long-Legs, Pollyanna, Little Lord Fauntleroy (dual role as mother and son), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.....
posted by brujita at 10:43 PM on June 15, 2009

It's not a feature film, but I would highly, Highly, HIGHLY recommend an anime series called Haibane Renmei.
It's a short series, 13 episodes, and I've always thought about it as a series that I'd love for my nieces to see, or my daughter, if I had one.
If you go to google video, and search on the name, you can watch a few episodes in full (broken into 10 minute segments).
I hope you enjoy it!

Here's a trailer
posted by willmize at 1:50 AM on June 16, 2009

Oh, and NOT the Triplets of Belleville for young kids- but a great movie.

Oh, I'm probably misremembering it. I think I saw it with a 7 year old who was fine. sorry.
posted by bluefly at 3:43 AM on June 16, 2009

Charlotte's Web
posted by CodeMonkey at 5:41 AM on June 16, 2009

So many of my choices have already been mentioned. The Barbie movies, although pink and princessy actually did make an effort to be positive role models for critical thinking and making positive choices. The animated Madeline movies are also show a lot of problem solving.
posted by saucysault at 6:29 AM on June 16, 2009

How about Quest for Camelot, the Swan Princess, and Thumbellina?

Mainly nthing what's already been said, but:

Secret of NIMH is great, but I think probably a bit too dark/intense for a three year old, same with Spirited Away. Likewise, I don't think that Triplets of Bellville (while a great movie) would keep their attention.

My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service would probably both go over well. Ferngully is wonderful. Anastasia is too, but might be a little more mature than you're looking for.

Most of the Disney 'princess' movies would fit the bill, assuming you haven't gone through them already: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, Cinderella, Snow White, Mulan, Alice in Wonderland. Lilo and Stitch is wonderful!

(note: also classic, but technically having male leads with strong supporting females would be Aladdin, The Lion King, Hercules, Shrek, Finding Nemo, Robin Hood, Tarzan, etc.)
posted by Kattiara17 at 7:18 AM on June 16, 2009

Nthing Kiki's Delivery Service (and most other Miyazaki flicks) and Mulan.

I would vote against Matilda, the film. I found that the charm and utter precocity of the lead character were totally lost in the film adaptation. That particular story is something they might be able to enjoy themselves in book-format when they're 8 or 9 or so.
posted by Phire at 7:45 AM on June 16, 2009

Seconding Quest for Camelot. A strong female lead, not awfully scary in my opinion, and probably won't bug you too much.
posted by Jelly at 10:59 AM on June 16, 2009

I loved the book that Secret of NIMH was based on (IIRC, it was called Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH) but the movie creeped me the hell OUT. And I was older than three- maybe six or seven? However, it was my (three years younger) brother's second favorite movie after The Hobbit, so YMMV for that.

That said, we BOTH loved The Hobbit. I have no idea why I was fine with giant spiders and trolls that want to eat you and dragons and goblins and Gollum and freaked out at a rat with glowing eyes, but eh. Kids are odd.
posted by oblique red at 2:29 PM on June 17, 2009

Wife of ArtW here (the questionasker) and mother of 3 year old. Bonus points if the female character is the main character, isn't overly concerned with her appearance, passive or whiny. Action is good, strength of spirit more important.
posted by smart75 at 3:59 PM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, this discussion partially inspired by this article:
posted by smart75 at 4:12 PM on June 17, 2009

Response by poster: Late follow up: My Neighbor Totoro and Lilo and Stich have turned out to be huge kid favourites - many thanks to all who suggested them.
posted by Artw at 12:50 PM on August 13, 2009

Response by poster: BTW I am now pretty frequently asked to crawl around on all fours with a toddler riding on top of me being a "kitty bus" and making appropriate noises. Just thought you'd want to know.
posted by Artw at 1:03 PM on August 13, 2009 [23 favorites]

Miyazaki's and Studio Ghibli's movies are all over this thread, because they are brilliant and always have great female characters.

But just for your convenience, I'll order them in age-appropriateness (themes, scariness, complexity of plot. Most of them are for children a bit older than yours, but in few years will be great. Also, as someone who has watched all of them (over and over again) as an adult, none are irritating to adults. That's why I've put everything as "and up".

Ages 3 and up

My Neighbour Totoro
Kiki's Delivery Service (has a subtle teenage romantic subplot, but friend's sister was watched it at age 5 and loved it)

Ages 6 and up

Spirited Away
Castle in the Sky/Laputa (original title, nothing to do with the Spanish word)
The Cat Returns (not directed by Miyasaki, but Studio Ghibli)
Howl's Moving Castle (some war violence, but not graphic - from a great children's book)
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (? I haven't seen this yet, but the themes seem younger)

Ages 8 and up

NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind (fairly complex plot, serious death scene)
Porco Rosso
Whisper of the Heart (not scary, but romantic themes would bore a younger child)

Ages 10 and up

Princess Mononoke (some frightening violence, complex plot)
Grave of the Fireflies (directed by Takahata, and one of the best of the entire stuido, but very mature and serious in themes)

Ages 25 and up

Only Yesterday (because you have to be old enough to be nostalgic for childhood)


I haven't seen the Earthsea adaptation by Miyasaki's son; perhaps someone else could describe what age it would be best for.

on preview: My husband and I may be 10 times your 3-year's age, but we also adore the Cat-Bus :) It's my favorite part.
posted by jb at 11:29 AM on November 1, 2009

Oh, I realised I should have included a link to a website about Studio Ghibli: It's the best guide I've found. There are more movies I didn't list because I haven't seen them, like Pom Poko (about environmentalist racoon-like nature spirits) which might be good for your kids.

On the non-Miyasaki/Studio Ghibli side -- when I was about 6 or 7, I saw an animated version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe which I loved; I subsequently became a huge fan of the book series. I don't know what quality this version is because I remember little except that Lucy was blond, but there was also a BBC television adaptation which makes up for what it lacks in special effects with good acting. This may be a bit scarier than the animated version I saw.
posted by jb at 11:38 AM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I got the Powerpuff Girls box set as a present, and I'm 35. Come on. Powerpuff = awesome. And it's got a monkey in it!
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