Take a read and tell me where I've gone wrong. Girls' shows have changed but perhaps not enough.
This was a hard one for me. Unlike the boy’s action list, I didn’t grow up watching a lot of these shows so I’ve tried to do a little research and sought friend’s opinions. I’ve even watched a few candidates and called my 7 year old granddaughter once or twice. At the end of the day I sort of formed an idea of how I would make the selections and I decided to take into account the importance of the show within the category itself as well as the quality of the animation production.
It is very difficult to compare work from different eras as production standards can vary so much from decade to decade. Also there is the question of out and out exploitation, which was the case of the early shows designed and funded by toy companies (Mattel and Hasbro primarily). Like Boy’s Action shows, all of the early girl’s strip shows (52-65 half-hour episodes) were funded by toy companies that syndicated the shows directly, giving the stations the series and allowing them to sell half the advertizing while the toy company would retain the other half and run their own commercials. There is no question that this was a questionable practice and many parent groups were up in arms over the overt commercialism. On the other hand this practice allowed for a large number of episodes to be produced in a cohesive and linear production run that, like the boy’s action shows, brought the property to its audience daily, creating an intimacy with viewers who quickly bonded with the characters and story lines.
So, without further explanations or apologies, here are my top ten Girl’s shows.
10. Sabrnia, the Teenage Witch
A Filmation and later DIC series that had started life as an Archie Comic , then in 1969 as an animated show within Filmation’s Archie’s Funhouse show. Sabrina’s a young girl in what we used to call Junior High School who also happens to be witch. The show went through several repackaging stages at Filmation but nearly disappeared until DIC (then owned by Disney) went into production on a new package of 65 that was stripped on an ABC Saturday morning block.
Not a great show or an example of great animation but a true pioneer. First run in 1969 this show was good enough to build a following of young girls and to continue runs into the new century. Well over 100 episodes have been produced and who knows, there’s always a chance for a revival..
9. Jem and the Holograms
Young girls loved this show and it was clearly a groundbreaker. Produced by the Marvel/ Sunbow /Hasbro consortium, the show ran from 1985 up until 1988 and was released directly to first run syndication with a production run of 65 episodes. This show at least made an effort to provide a decent music track and when Jerrica Benton, the show’s lead character, tugs on her earring she transforms into rock diva Jem, lead singer of the group Jem and the Holograms. This show racked up lots of fans and sold lots of merchandize for Hasbro. I have talked with women that to this day claim their love of music started with watch Jem and the Holograms. Animation by Toei in Japan is stiff but not bad for its time and the demands of live action characters.
8. Lilo and Stitch
Both fun and charming, this was a great little show that even some boys enjoyed watching. Spun off from a Disney feature, the show features beautifully animated characters and built a strong following over 3 seasons with 65 episodes being produced. The storyline continues where the film ended with Lilo and Stitch trying to locate Dr. Jumba’s experiments that went wrong, and after retrieving them helping them change from bad to good. I had the pleasure of recording Daveigh Chase as a lead in a series I co-produced and I loved her voice characterization as Lilo Pelekai. This whole show was Disney warm and fuzzy and the character designs were wonderful.
7. Little Mermaid
Ok, another Disney spin-off, but a very good one and a show that scored a bulls-eye with an enormous number of young girls. I remember when this first came out and it seemed that every young girl was in love with this show. It was the first time Disney created an animated series from one of their theatrical releases and it opened the gates for all the properties that were to follow. The series first aired in 1992 and although it seems like more were made, only 31 episodes were produced with the last coming in 1994. Wonderful animation, good music, and the very beautiful Ariel, what little girl could resist this show?
6. My Little Pony
One of the first great toy line shows for girls with a run from 1983 through 1995. 86 Episodes of pure merchandizing genius – If Boys wanted GI Joe figures, girls wanted every new Little Pony that Hasbro could concoct and offer in their stable. Let’s face it, the shows were of poor quality and were shameless vehicles meant to do little else but sell product, but the kids loved these shows and the brand had great resilience and legs in a market where properties burn out fast. I place this show rather high but not because of quality but because it was a trend setter – My Little Pony showed that strip shows could push product for girls as well as they could for boys. Soon other shows would follow and animation for young girls would start to challenge the around of shows targeted for Boys.
5. Care Bears
Wonderful design concept originally created for greeting cards (American Greetings) that was later launched as a television special airing first in 1985. If ever there were cute and hugable characters designed to appeal to little girls, these are them. To try to follow the various paths this property has taken over the years would be far too confusing but in 1985 DIC, in cooperation with Nelvana who had produced the original TV specials, produced the first television series with 26 episodes. Nelvana later took control of the property and produced an additional 70 episodes. American Greetings continues to sell scads of plush toys based on characters from the original series and there are always rumors of new revival productions about to start up. As far as the animation is concerned there is nothing in particular to recommend it but it works on the level it is meant to – it speaks to young girls and it sells merchandise. Care Bears is another property that won’t go away.
4. Josie and The Pussycats
I worked on this show a number of years ago and while I didn’t think that much of it at the time I had no idea I would be commenting on it forty years later. I have the show fairly high but I feel that it was another groundbreaker in that featured a band of independent young women who, while not performing their music managed to become entangled in one mess after another but always managed to come clear through their pure gumption and intelligence. They didn’t need the boys to protect them or figure out what to do – in fact most of the men or boys around them were either creepy or not so bright. Josie, Valerie and Melody were great role models for young viewers and they looked great in the leopard leotards when they performed. Good music tracks, fun episodes and the first fully integrated black female animated character.
3. She-Ra – Princess of Power
Adora, twin sister of He-Man began swinging her sword of Protection in 1985. She kept swinging and kicking butt for 93 action filled episodes, each with its way of empowering young girls like no animation series that had come before. This was it, no more soft fuzzy little plush creatures or soft spoken little kids wearing ribbons in their hair – No, this was GI Jane for girls. A young beautiful woman that could defeat any number of evil creatures in battle and yet transform back to a lovely and beautiful Princess after she had knocked the stuffing out of a bunch of monsters and evil characters. If this was the era of Women’s Lib, then She-Ra was Girl’s Lib.
Mediocre animation but Jeeeze, no one really cared. The stories were predictable but that was exactly what the audience expected. Young boys and girls are not into layered story lines – they want a good guy and a bad guy and the good guy to win out. In the case of She-Ra it was a lot of bad guys and girls losing out to She-Ra…. This was an important departure from the normal girls’ series of the period and that’s what makes this show number two. Mattel was also very pleased with the top sales.
2. Dora the Explorer
This is one show that I have actually watched a few times with my granddaughter. I think this a wonderful show with all the right messages for kids and with strong production value. This little gem ran for over five seasons with 111 episodes produced. The show presents ethnic diversity but by itself that would mean nothing, but there’s a lot more to them than the PC value. They are very well written and seemingly everyone wants to join Dora and Boots on one of their never ending trips in aid or support of someone or something.
1. The Powerpuff Girls
This is my number one because it speaks to kids on a number of levels with Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup taking up the empowerment of young girls where shows like She-Ra and Jossie and the Pussycats left off.
The highly stylized design is not my favorite but it worksb just like Craig McCracken wanted it to and after a hand full of Emmys, six seasons and 79 episodes who can deny this show’s success?
Animated in Korea by rough Draft, the show pushed the envelope (for girls’ shows) by introducing elements that were more adult and at times violent. Filled with inside gags and references to other material the show still appealed to a wide generational spread among girl viewers. The Powerpuff Girls were clearly the stars and the center of this cartoon universe with their distinct personalities and their superpowers. These girls were cute, fun, and didn’t need any boys to protect them.
The look of the show harkens back to the years of limited animation but it is clearly a style chosen rather than dictated - the bottom line is that it works and all the pieces come together just right.
Ok – that’s it for better or worse. Let me know what you think and as I’ve said, you’re welcome to create your own top ten if you’d like. I have perhaps overweighted the history aspect at the expense of more contemporaty shows but you're welcome to tell me where I've missed the boat. Next week will be top ten kids, a more general category with a lot more shows to consider..
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