The Boys of Animation

A few days ago, Beth and I were trying to think of female characters from the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and all we could come up with was Cindy Bear.

Then we got to thinking about how animation in general is, in Beth’s words “a total sausage fest.” Warner Bros. had Petunia Pig, Granny, and that cat Penelope that Pepe le Pew was in love with; and that’s about it.

Disney was a little better on this front, but characters like Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck were basically just counterparts to and love interests for the male characters, and I’m not sure they ever had starring roles. Things became a little more balanced with shows featuring families and ensemble casts. Fred and Barney might have been the main players on The Flintstones, but Wilma and Betty were still quite significant.

Scooby-Doo had a regular cast of two guys and two girls (plus Scooby himself, of course).

And Josie and the Pussycats put female characters in the title of the show. And when I was growing up in the eighties and pretty much every toy made was spun off into a cheaply animated program, shows geared toward girls usually gave us female leads. Most of them weren’t just counterparts to male characters either, except for She-Ra, who was He-Man’s twin sister rather than his girlfriend. She DID have her own show, though, so she wasn’t exactly on the same lines as Cindy and Petunia.

Still, though, as far as classic cartoon stars go, you’re looking at a very male-dominated profession, with one of the few exceptions being Betty Boop.

The Nostalgia Chick actually addressed this same basic subject in one of her videos, so I might as well include that in this post. It also has Nellie McKay as background music, which nets Lindsay some extra cool points.

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6 Responses to The Boys of Animation

  1. I think it all comes down to a failure of character development. Cartoon creators would tend to distill a character down to one dominant trait, and then inevitably they would make that character male. Why? Because they’re dumb. But no, really. And going further with that, the dominant trait of any females they would add would be “femininity.” I’ve always noticed, the clear sign of a crappy ensemble of cartoon characters is the one that carefully includes one of each of a variety of Types: the everyman Hero, the cool and loyal Sidekick (if there is a black kid, they get this part), the Fat Kid (who is a slob and eats constantly), the Nerd (who is a supergenius and wears glasses), and the Girl (whose sole personality trait is that she is The Girl). SOMETIMES they’ll mix it up and let the Nerd also be a girl, but she is still in every way The Nerd and in NO way (besides being a girl) is feminine, because that would take away from the Girlness that the Girl embodies. Yeh.

    There’s a cartoon on PBS that I love called “Word World,” and it actually has an ensemble cast of type characters which are not only many different (and not stereotypical) types, but in which there are many female characters who have actual character traits other than femininity! I remember being impressed with this, and then I thought, “My gosh WHY am I impressed with this? Why don’t ALL shows do this? Why does this have to stand out as UNIQUE?” I have no answers.

    • vilajunkie says:

      Have you ever seen “Recess”? It used to be on Saturday mornings on one of the Big Three networks, but I think it moved to Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network, and if it’s on now at all, it’s on one of the spin-off cartoon channels with syndicated cartoons no longer being made. Anyway, the main group of kids is pretty well balanced, even including an ASIAN-American tomboy (who has some secret girly tendencies that she only shares with the strict female teacher during an episode where she has to sleep over at the teacher’s house). And the rest of the cast is mostly stereotypical, but the power among the cliques is shared pretty equally. BUT…in certain episodes (and more than you’d think at that), the entire school bands together regardless of their cliques, which is what more kids’ shows SHOULD be doing but don’t. Or if they do, it’s only Very Special Episodes About Being Yourself. “Recess” had some cool concepts for a public elementary school cartoon; it’s too bad more shows, cartoon or live-action, don’t have the same.

      Oh, and snarky kids are usually punished in some way rather than the adults letting them get away with it. SO REFRESHING even though I was/can be snarky too. :P

    • Nathan says:

      Along with the one dominant trait, a lot of classic cartoon characters were based primarily on a funny voice, and most voice actors are male.

      • vilajunkie says:

        However, most voice actors of boys and younger male teens are women–which I’m sure you knew from Bart Simpson and many of the other Springfieldian boys, as well as Timmy Turner, who I believe is voiced by Tara Strong, one of the most renowned cartoon and video game female VAs. No idea if she’s related to Rider Strong, “Shawn Hunter” of Boy Meets World.

      • Nathan says:

        That’s true. And I’m pretty sure Tara Strong did some voices for the Super Mario Bros. cartoons.

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