Thoughts on storytelling and the world of animation. Caution! SPOILERS!

Blog post #11 – Smart Women in Animation

Girls with brains aren’t exactly common in the animation world, but they pop up now and again.  For this blog post I’d like to focus on a few.

Velma Dinkley

From the show Scooby Doo in all its various forms.  Velma is part of a mystery solving group that included a beatnik and a very large, cowardly Great Dane.  She is full of information regarding ciphers, ghosts, witchcraft, and other random, esoteric topics that enable her to solve some of the bizarre mysteries they come across.


Penny is the niece of Inspector Gadget, of the same show name.  She’s really the reason her uncle is successful.  She and her dog Brain run around behind his back, secretly helping him out with the use of her special computerized book.  I SO wanted that book when I was little and now I realize that I have it right here in my hands, right now.  Wow.  I win.

Gadget Hackwrench

Gadget is actually a mouse, part of a team of ‘Rescue Rangers’ along with Chip and Dale of Disney fame.  She tinkers.  A lot.  This girl can craft the most awesome mechanical objects from the most random things, like MacGuyver.  She’s rather oblivious to what’s going on in the rest of the world, but really, the rest of her team is so wacky it’s a wonder they manage to rescue ANYBODY.

Daria Morgendorffer

I always thought of Daria as more cynical than smart, but was assured by my husband that she was always tops in her classes.  AND cynical.  And then he said, ‘If you were an animated character, you’d be her.’  I wonder what he meant by that?

Jeanette Miller

Jeanette is a Chipette, created to more or less be a female counterpart to Simon Seville of Alvin and the Chipmunks.   She’s nerdy AND clumsy, but warm hearted.  She totally rocked the 80’s styles, though.

Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusk

The brainy one in the anime Cowboy Bebop.  Yes, she’s a girl.  She’s a genius at computers, hacking, and probably flying ships and building, too.  Her ‘genius’ makes her completely incomprehensible to other people, both in her speech and her actions, which fall right into bizarre.  She pretty much lives in her own little world.  She’s part of a team of bounty hunters that probably have bounties ON them out in space.

Do you see a theme above?  Notice the presence of glasses or goggles, the clothing styles, the general awkwardness.  Of all of these, Penny is probably the most well-adjusted of these girls, and SHE has an uncle that needs mechanical maintenance.  However, she’s totally asexual.  Nothing girly about her.  Edward, too, has had all femininity stripped from her character.  She could be a young boy, and is often confused for one in the show.  Apparently, in the animation world, if you’re a female character, you can be smart, or you can be beautiful, but not both.   Still, it’s nice for young girls to  be exposed to these animated girls that DO play with things other than dolls, and it’s show them it’s OK for them to be interested in computers, science, and books.  After all, it’s these girls who save the day/solve the mystery at the end of the show.  However, it makes you feel like you have to make a choice:  brains OR beauty.

The list for the rest of the entertainment world is actually much smaller.  (Please note I’m only listing what I know, so these are mainly the most obvious.)  Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series would have fallen into this list, likely right at the top. Other additions might include Amy Farrah Fowler from The Big Bang Theory, Abby Sciuto from NCIS, and Kaylee Frye from Firefly.  Of these, only Kaylee manages to get brains and beauty without being too weird, but that’s mainly because of Joss Whedon’s unusual yet admirable approach to female characters.

It’s a stereotype and an exaggeration, but effective in helping the audience get to know the character quickly.  Oh, she’s wearing glasses and mismatched socks, she MUST be smart.  I’m not sure whether to be annoyed at the presentation of such a character or relieved that there’s so many of them out there.

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4 thoughts on “Blog post #11 – Smart Women in Animation

  1. When I first watched Cowboy Bebop I actually thought Ed was a girl (for obvious reasons) until the episode they make it explicitly obvious she’s a girl. I even had a friend recently argue with me and then later look up that she was in fact a girl. I love that you listed them out and then gave us the revelation that there is a choice between smart or beauty. I wasn’t even thinking along those lines until you brought that up.
    Which is why the recent series adaptations of Tinker Bell confused me so much. (Tinker Bell appears near the end of the clip)
    I remember the original Peter Pan film where she was a jealous, easily angered and emotional little Pixie that could only think about Peter. While in the recent films of her, she’s a smart “Tinker” who saves Pixie hollow and her friends a number of times with her smarts. But it’s TINKER BELL, she’s a beautiful, curvy and jealous pixie from Peter Pan! I mean, now that I think about it, all the other “Tinkers” in her group all look nerdy or just fit a stereotype about hand workers while all the other groups, wind, sun, water, animal, etc. everyone is beautiful in their group. Tinker Bell, and now that I think about it the dust boy, Terrance, she befriends too, don’t fit within their groups, they’re too “pretty” and look odd next to their co-workers. Well, I guess its a step up towards anyone can be what they want, the pretty faces can be smart, less limiting, I guess?

  2. Pingback: Blog Comments for Week 13 | animusoflife

  3. cruiz89 on said:

    I can see the principle of exaggeration being used amongst many of these cartoon characters. It is a stereotype that “smart” people tend to have spectacles or dress in a certain fashion. It is hard to show a smart person by just using their voice, so the artist has to develop their idea of what an intelligent person, (or chipmunk) would look like. In the end you end up getting a pattern like the one you presented. It be interesting to see what other patterns there are amongst cartoon characters, and could be a topic for a future blog.

  4. Pingback: Comments for Week 11 « cruiz89

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