Database for Animation Studies


Girl Cartoons Second Wave: Transforming the Genre

The US girl cartoon genre began in the 1980s with the Federal Communication Commission’s deregulation of television, allowing the programming of toy-based cartoons. The toy industry’s gender binary of girl toys vs boy toys was translated into the definitive split of girl cartoons and boy cartoons. This first wave of girl cartoons defined the gender normative parameters that would identifiably label a cartoon program as a girl cartoon: rainbow unicorns and star sparkles in friendship communities with motivational girl leaders that displayed confidence, determination and savvy while processing emotions and solving conflicts through communication. These characters were young girls, not teenagers or young adults with developed bodies. It is rarely addressed that these cartoon characters presented an empowered girl media product in popular culture a decade before the nomenclature ‘Girl Power’, and did so sans sexualization. In this article, the author discusses the second wave of girl cartoons that came about with US television’s cartoon renaissance in the 1990s. This research explores the ways that lead girl characters were newly portrayed and how they evolved from the girl cartoon representations in the first wave era. Along with the representation of empowered girl characters, this research identified a feminine triptych. In character settings with more than one girl lead, the feminine portrayals were represented in the triptych of the beauty, the brains and the brawns. This research also revealed a persistent glitch to the empowerment of girl cartoon protagonists in the form of secondary characters, identified as mean girls and misogyny boys or no-homo boys. Another shortcoming is identified as boobs and boyfriends, to demonstrate the compulsion to give characters above the age of 12 sexualized bodies and heteronormative relationships. Several cartoon episodes of The Powerpuff Girls, Maggie and the Ferocious Beast, Dora the Explorer, Ni Hao- Kai Lan, Franny’s Feet, Lilo and Stitch: The Series, Maya & Miguel, Word Girl and Mighty B! are textually analyzed to document both verbal and visual gender cues.

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