Sep 032012

—-> Episode 12: Best Cartoons for Girls 1 <—-

A recent google search lead me to believe that there is NO guide to good cartoons for girls! I did find one very short list, but it seemed to exist mostly so that the writer could bash what they thought bad cartoons for girls were. So I made one! Today we’re going to talk about four great cartoons for girls.

Doc McStuffins (buy it here or download it here)

Josie and the Pussycats (buy it here or download it here)

Jane and the Dragon (buy it here or download Season 1 here and Season 2 here, and the original book series here)

Rainbow Brite (buy the show here, the movie here or download the movie here)

I wanted to compile a list of great cartoons for girls, so I started with the shows that I love. Consuting with Jon, I drew up a list of guidelines to define what a good cartoon for a girl was. Then I opened up the question to our listening audience and friends on twitter. I asked parents of little girls what shows they thought were good for their daughters. I asked adult women what inspired them as children, and adult professionals in comics and animation what works made them want to enter the field. The response was a little overwhelming, so what I ended up with was a pretty long list of great shows, and then a short list of shows that met with all of the following criteria …


  • The lady characters can’t be one-dimensional.
  • Main target audience cannot be adults.
  • The cartoon had to pass the Bechdel Test. I modified the Bechdel test to accomodade for some of non-movie formats.  The conversations between female character have to occur at least twice in every season of a multi-season show, and the conversations can’t focus on ANY male character, or a ‘girl talk’ subject such as makeovers, identity crisis, or conflict resolution.
  • There has to be either at least two female leads, or some other indication that the female lead isn’t a token character.
  • The main female characters in the show can’t fall into any of the following categories:  unwanted romantic pursuer, parent or guardian figure, extended family member, or foil of the male main characters.
  • If a female lead is smarter or more talented than the rest of the cast, it can’t be partnered with the cynicism that it won’t get her anywhere.
  • Sterotypical girly things such as depictions of ballet, cake-making and resolving conflict, should not take up more than half of the show.
  • The concept of gender has to exist in the show – no all-girl casts or gender neutrality.
  • The show or movie has to have quality that stand up over time.
  • I can’t be the only person who likes it.

When I was narrowing the final list of five best cartoons for girls, I found a lot of very good shows for girls that just didn’t pass all of the criteria. In this episode, Im going to talk about two shows that are good for the littlest of viewers, a show about an all girl band, and a colorful queen of badassery.


1) Doc McStuffins

The Doc is in!

The Doc is in!

This is a Disney Junior show that is currently on the air. In my area, it plays at least once every weekday morning, and you can also catch at least one episode on the Disney Junior website. It’s a 3D CG animated show, and while it airs on the Disney Channel and Disney Junior, it’s made by Brown Bag Films, which is based in Ireland and LA. (They also make the Olivia and Octonauts cartoons.) Season 1 of Doc McStuffins started in spring of 2012, and has been renewed at this time for a second season to come out around the same time in 2013. The lead character of the show, Dottie McStuffins, has a magic stethoscope that allows her to talk to toys (this isn’t explained in every episode I’ve seen, but it doesn’t need to be). The show is super educational, as Dottie helps the cure the toys of their illnesses – such as a hungry hungry hippos game with a stomache ache, and a stuffed cow that was left out of the rain, so tiny viewers learn a lot about good health habits and what they can expect from a trip to the doctor. She also acts as counselor, helping the hippo discover why they felt like they had to eat too much, and the stuffed animal forgive her owner for leaving her out all night. This part is perhaps the greatest strength of the show, because it’s very educational about emotions, and why certain things might make the viewer feel a certain way.

What really makes this a great show for girls?
Well, the main character is a girl, and a doctor. That’s a pretty big deal – but she’s also very confident, works hard to solve problems, and is all-around the kind of girl character that I would be very happy to have any little girl watch.

Why is this show not in the top five best cartoons for girls?
Well, apart from a snowman toy and a dragon toy, there doesn’t seem to be any male character that Dottie interacts with – no playing with other boys her age, only girls. Also, Dottie’s two number one toys, that dragon toy and a ballerina lamb seem to pretty clearly respresent the stereotypes of little boys and little girls, with little room for a middle ground representation of what it means to be a boy or be a girl.


2) Josie & The Pussycats

Josie, the Pussycats, and their entourage.

Josie, the Pussycats, and their entourage.

In the late 60s, Hanna-Barbera wanted in on the commercial success that Filmation was having with The Archie Show, cartoon based on the Archie Comics characters. They, like MANY other companies, tried to develope their own teen band based cartoon: Mysteries Five. Mysteries Five was a flop, and was backburnered in development until it re-aired under it’s more familiar name of Scooby Doo, Where are you? If you remember back from episode 2 and a half of our podcast, this show would eventually become Scooby Doo, and yes, Scooby Doo was directly based on the Archie Comics gang. If you don’ remember, you can catch up on that episode here! Rather than try and fail again, Hana-Barbera went directly to Archie Comics and collaborated to adapt their other band-based property into a show. If you’re familiar with the original comic book series, it was at this point in time that some characters were dropped from the book and some started to appear. Josie, the cute female lead and her ditzy blond friend found their trio rounded out not by Pepper (who looked like a modern-day hipster) but by Valerie, who would be the first african-american female main character on a Saturday morning cartoon. Together, they formed the cat-suit wearing band. Pepper’s boyfriend Sock also phased out at this time, replaced by Alan M, the band’s faithful roadie with a big crush on Josie. Alexander and Alexandra, rich, mean siblings travelled with the band. Alex was managment, but his sister was alternately trying to get into the band, trying to seduce Alan M, or simply carrying around her unusually intelligent cat Sebastian. Aside from everything else about this show being great, there’s some wonderful animation in the opening sequence of Melody drumming and Valerie playing the tambourine – of much better quality than a lot of what you’d expect to see at that time. A few years later, the show morphed into Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space, where the band wandered from planet to planet after accidentally being launched up in a missile.

What really makes this a great show for girls?
This wasn’t a show that I watched as a child, and I never really thought of it as being pro-girl, until I was buried with emails and tweets from women who cited it as being inspiring. The forerunner to Jem and the Holograms, Josie and the Pussycats were strong ladies who cared more about making music and getting to a gig on time than they did about finding the right man. In fact, the only man-chaser among them was Alexandra, and her prioritizing of romance over the good of the band (which was, after all, the income of all six characters) always leads to no good.
Why is this show not in the top five best cartoons for girls?
Because it’s just not that deep, Melody is a bimbo (albeit a very funny one) and Valerie is shown playing the tambourine instead of the guitar. It doesn’t always pass the Bechdel test, and Alexandra does fall into the category of unwanted romantic pursuer.


3) Jane and the Dragon

If only this picture could really show exactly how much butt Jane can kick ...

If only this picture could really show exactly how much butt Jane can kick ...

Based on a book series that began in the late 80’s, Jane and the Dragon is a CG, 3D animated show that ran for 26 episodes.  It was made by New Zealand’s Weta Workshop and Canada’s Nelvana, and was broadcast by PBS here in the United States. The first book in the trilogy is summarized in the show’s theme song – Jane was unhappily training to be a lady-in-waiting when the Prince was kidnapped by a dragon. She saved the prince and won the right to train to be a knight instead, with the ultimately friendly dragon as a sidekick. It had a well-deserved Annie Award nomination in 2008 (Best Animated Television Production) proably at least in part because the scripts are excellent explorations of the role of the girl as adventurer, encompassing all the challanges involved in questioning the status quo without any cynicism about her ultimate potential – a problem that haunts a lot smart and capable girl characters. The animation is pretty good on this show, even if the models, now seven years old, seem a bit uncanny valley. If you have a little girl who loved Brave, this is a great series to carry on the tradition with.

What really makes this a great show for girls?
Jane questions everything around her, and stand up for everyone who needs championing, from the kitchen-maid who is bullied by the spoiled prince to the orphaned dragon himself as he searches for his origins.

Why is this show not in the top five best cartoons for girls?
That’s a really good question. Frankly, it belongs there, but unfortunately the Uncanny Valley aspect of the CG animation makes it hard to call it timeless.


4) Rainbow Brite

o Rainbow, y u so colors?

o Rainbow, y u so colors?

Rainbow Brite was a cartoon made by Hallmark to support their Rainbow Brite doll line. DiC Enterprises was behind the animation. There were thirteen episodes and a fulll-length movie,  and the show started airing in 1984. While merchandise line was was rebooted by differnt liscensees in in the past decade, none were massively successfull and the show itself was never relaunched. There are fresh animation bumps of the Hallmark website, (the one called “return to Rainbow Land” looks suspiciously like it could be the beginnings of a pilot) so maybe it’s something they’re working towards. In the decade of reboots, it’s something that would be cool – if it was done well.

Do we like the new Rainbow Brite, or do we want to kill it with fire? Decide for yourself after watching the previews on the Hallmark website.

Do we like the new Rainbow Brite, or do we want to kill it with fire? Decide for yourself after watching the previews on the Hallmark website.

What really makes this a great show for girls?
Rainbow Brite is the ruler of her world – and not just because she’s the girl with the magic belt, the snobby horse, a council of advisors, and an army of fluffy peasants – although all of those things are true. She’s braver than everyone else, she’s stronger, and she fights to protect not just all of her friends, but also the worlds that she’s responsible fore – including earth! Nothing ever comes before her job, and I never saw an episode where she cared about shopping, makeup, boys, or anything other than doing what was right and saving the world.
Why is this show not in the top five best cartoons for girls?
The color coding of gender is something that has been discussed by a lot of people who are a lot more intellectual than I am, and this show does it quite a bit. The only boy characters are red and blue, and that’s one thing, but when you add the Tickled Pick character into the mix, things fall under fire a little bit. There’s also the problem of Shy Violet, the stereotypically smart character who has no social skills and the plainest of all the outfits. This stuff is nitpicky. It’s details that aren’t really what the show is about, which is why the show is on this list, but it’s enough to keep it out of the top five.


Did you agree with these choices? Disagree? Have suggestions for other shows that are great for girls? Email and let us know!

Hey, ATC is on iTunes! Maybe you drop by and review us sometime, huh?



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  3 Responses to “Episode 12: Best Cartoons for Girls 1”

  1. […] I just discovered the pretty cool Animated Things Club podcast the other day, but already it’s impressed me with the breadth of the topics. Needless to say, the latest one is the topic of this post. Yes, they’ve decided to look at what are the best cartoons for girls to watch. […]

  2. […] pfft. On the other hand, the Animated Things Club has a great list of cartoons for girls, plus some good discussion about it. Go check it […]

  3. […] pfft. On the other hand, the Animated Things Club has a great list of cartoons for girls, plus some good discussion about it. Go check it […]

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