We often like to gab about the problematic media we were force-fed as a child. You know how it is... as much as we all still have a favorite Disney princess deep into our twenties, it's hard to find a children's movie that doesn't solely focus on romance as an endgame. But I think, if you take a few steps back, you can find some genuinely strong female characters from your favorite children's films. In fact, you'd be shocked to learn that some characters are an essential part to shaping and inspiring your own burgeoning values today.
Of course, when I tend to talk about "feminism" in pop culture, I'm always taking it on with a light perspective. There aren't a lot of movies about militant cartoon riot grrrrls. There should be, but there aren't. But even still, I've wracked my brain and garnered enough significant heroines behind your old time faves. Be it live action, claymation, or yes, even some controversial Disney princess picks, these characters have helped inspire us to become better women. Or, hell, they've at least inspired me to become a halfway decent woman.
So without any delay, here are seven feminist characters from a few of your favorite childhood movies.
1. Kiki From Kiki's Delivery Service
Incidentally, most Hayao Miyazaki protagonists fit the bill, but I have a soft spot for Kiki. She has a stellar work ethic and knows how to creatively overcome failure. Kiki is a boss, because, in spite of overexerting herself, she's is no damsel in distress, her pitfalls and her triumphs are her own, and in the end, she's the one who does the saving. #headwitchincharge
2. Matilda From Matilda
Speaking of self-sufficient children, all the snaps for this mischievous, brilliant child. Matilda's incredible because she's able to rise herself up from an abusive family situation. Her innovative way of trolling her tormentors, fierce sense of justice, and, um, you know, telekinetic powers allow her to vanquish that terrifying principal, and move on to have a lovely life with Miss Honey.
3. Sarah From Labyrinth
OK, I gave Labyrinth a lot of hell when I watched it for the first time a few months ago, but, last week, I caught an outdoor screening, and I couldn't help but realize that Sarah is a positive female role model for young girls. She's undeniably whiney at first, make no mistake, but, once she realizes that the world isn't fair and she's in charge of her own destiny, she can do anything. That includes finding the Goblin Kingdom and defeating David Bowie's bulge. And at the tender age of 15, no less.
4. Mulan From Mulan
Mulan as a character pretty much directly defied gender roles, first by having to go under the guise of a male as an act of sheer bravery, and then by saving China as a woman, on a woman's terms. Remember when she gets the team to crossdress? Wonderful.
5. Dorothy Gale From Wizard Of Oz
When casually browsing through potentially feminist films, I would see some people vouch for Wizard Of Oz and some people vouch for Alice In Wonderland. And honestly? I have to vouch strongly for Team Dorothy on this one. Unlike Alice, who quite literally happens to fall upon a strange situation, Dorothy is nothing but active. She runs away to spare Toto's life and leave behind the dusty old land of Kansas. She inspires her team of guy friends to follow their dreams, to find the courage (and heart, and brain). She offs two witches and exposes one wizard in, like, a 24 hour span. She always had the power to do whatever she wanted; she just had to learn it for herself.
6. Sally From The Nightmare Before Christmas
This is a personal choice, but I am so pro-Sally. She's really the unsung hero of your favorite goth kid classic. While Jack is making a whole mess of Christmas, Sally is able to look past her feelings and realize that he's wrong, wrong, wrong. She's someone who will valiantly fling herself out the window for freedom (um, although I recommend a less dramatic effort. She's the one who tries to rescue Santa and save the day. She's the only one, as Santa so eloquently puts it, who makes any sense in that insane asylum.
7. Belle From Beauty And The Beast
"But you said Disney princesses aren't— " Shhhhhh. Shhh. It's ok. Here's the deal. While I understand and respect that Beauty and the Beast has its own negative undertones like any other Disney picture, Belle, especially Act One Belle, is as feminist as a Disney princess gets. She's independent, heroic, self-sacrificing, and she shuts down the local town misogynist. The only thing I'm sad about is that she never truly got to experience adventure in the great wide somewhere, at least within the time span of the film. Still, Act One Belle is the veritable best ever.
Honorary Mention: Hermione Granger From Harry Potter
I mean, she's really a book character, but for those who just watched the movies she remains ever important and ever inspirational.
Images: Disney (1); Giphy (8)