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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What are some good movies (and TV and books) with young girls as heroes?

Coraline

Today’s question comes via reader Dan, who writes:

I’ve been trying to introduce my six-year old daughter to more “mature” movies/stories, from her perspective, at least, which in my mind means non-Disney, essentially. Over the summer, we read and then watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Gene Wilder version, of course) and Harry Potter: Philosopher’s Stone, and just finished The Iron Giant. All fun movies which she adored. However, last Sunday, she asked me why the boy was always the hero. It left me kind of speechless and hit me that it was very true (even Hermione, who’s a great character, played the damsel in distress).

Immediately, I felt awful. I just wanted to share with her movies that I loved. I didn’t make the connection that I may have liked them so much because I related with the main character (i just thought it was because I loved chocolate and magic and always wanted a pet giant robot… or robot dog). It also made me understand why The Wizard of Oz remains one of her favorite stories, because Dorothy, while a scared girl out of her element, is a bad ass! She smacks the blustery lion, stands up to the wizard, and kills the witch. What other female character shows as much bravery? (It’s even more impressive that this was written in 1900!)

I was wondering if you, given your expertise — and long tenure as a girl — could point me in the direction of some movies that have a strong female lead/major character that a youngster would enjoy. I’m a big fan of Belle and liked the new Rapunzel movie [Tangled], but again was hoping for something non-Disney. After some research, I decided to try Labyrinth this weekend (while Sarah starts off as a spoiled brat at the beginning, she takes responsibility for her actions and stops at nothing to fix them… plus, it has David Bowie, the bog of eternal stench, and Hoggle! I was also going to try Star Wars (Leia isn’t the lead, but she’s remarkably brave) and Coraline, which I haven’t seen, but heard good things.

Any suggestions that you might have would be greatly appreciated.

Dan addressed this to me, but I’m opening it up to everyone because this is a tough one. There simply aren’t that many movies that fulfill Dan’s requirement, but I’m sure there are more than I am recalling at the moment. I do heartily recommed Coraline. I would also recommend, also from animator Henry Selick, The Nightmare Before Christmas, because Sally is really the hero rather than Jack, and she does some very brave things to save Christmas.

From recent years there are a few films you might have missed: Nim’s Island, about a young girl who lives with her scientist father on a remote island and has adventures both real and imaginary (through a book!). Abigail Breslin stars in that, and also in the wonderful, wonderful Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, which I cannot recommend highly enough. Hotel for Dogs is a sweet movie about a young teenaged girl who sets up the titular institution. Because of Winn-Dixie is an even better dog movie with a young girl as its protagonist. Bridge to Terabithia has a girl as a coprotagonist with a boy, and is about the power of books and imagination.

So, there’s a few to get you started. And now the floor is open:

What are some good movies (and TV and books) with young girls as heroes?

I’m opening it up to TV and books just so we’ll get the maximum number of options for Dan and his daughter.

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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