Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2013

In 2012, I waited until the last possible minute. It wasn’t until December that I posted Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing from Children’s Movies in 2012. Even though in the age of the internet, the facts were impossible to miss, I kept hoping that, somehow, I’d overlooked something.

This year, I’m going to face the upcoming year of multi-million dollar sexism marketed directly at my three daughters– ages 3, 6, and 9– head on, in January.

Of the 21 movie posters for young kids pictured below, only 4 appear to feature a female protagonist; 16 seem to feature a male protagonist and 10 are named for that male star. In one case, “Peabody and Mr. Sherman,” the movie is titled for its 2 male protagonists.

Of the 4 movies starring females, just two are titled for the star. It’s the small budget 7 million film from Moscow, “Snow Queen,” that was brave enough to name its film after a female. “Frozen” is the title chosen for Disney’s version, the same movie studio that changed “Rapunzel” to “Tangled,” to obscure its female star. Fittingly, in the poster for “Frozen,” the woman’s image also fades into the background.

Both “Dorothy” and “Epic,” buffer the female on the poster with males, Epic with a constellation of them and “Dorothy” by listing no less than 7 famous male actors.

The poster for “Planes” may look mysterious, but it comes from the producers of “Cars,” a movie which had many more male than female characters. Tellingly, the preview for “Planes” doesn’t show a single female character.

From the position of characters on the poster in “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2,” it looks like the male is the star, but maybe, hopefully I’m wrong. When you look at the poster, try to imagine a gender flip, the female in front and the male’s legs and hip in the female’s red-carpet-ready pose. That image will make you laugh.

If you are going to argue that there could be strong females in all of these movies, even if they are not the star of the movie, that’s not the same. Please read The curse of the Minority Feisty in kid’s movies.

“Saving Mr. Banks” is coming out in 2013 but does not have a poster yet. On, it’s described:

Author P.L. Travers travels from London to Hollywood as Walt Disney Pictures adapts her novel Mary Poppins for the big screen.

That movie could be really cool. But why, why, why is the movie called: “Saving Mr. Banks?” If there is a female protagonist in this film, could she be concealed any more?  I know the androgynous “P.L. Travers” is how the writer’s name is shown on her books, but Mary Poppins came out in 1934. The writer had to use the initials to sell her book. Of course, J.K. Rowling opted for the same tactic years later, but hasn’t her success done anything for women writers? The year is 2013. When are writers going to be able to come out as women? Finally, and I hate writing this, and I hope that I’m wrong: From what I see on the internet it looks like the protagonist of the movie is, in fact, Walt Disney played by Tom Hanks.

There’s a movie I’ve heard of with no poster and I’m not sure if it’s coming out: an indie, English dubbed release of the French movie “Ernest and Celestine”

I have not yet seen any of these movies. As I’ve written about a lot on Reel Girl, movie posters are their own media. Even if a kid doesn’t see the movie, she sees the ads drive by her on the sides of buses or loom above her pasted on walls. She hears the movie titles. Not to mention, she sees the protagonists on TV, cereal boxes, diapers, clothing, toys, sheets, and in video games.

The posters below are found from Google images. There are multiple posters, and I chose the one I’m predicting that I’ll see around town. Whenever I see a movie poster on a bus or wall with a female character solo, front and center who is not surrounded by multiple male characters, or when multiple female characters are shown, I rush to post the sighting on Reel Girl.

As you look at the posters below, ask yourself: Who looks like the star/ leader/ protagonist of this movie? What would this poster look like if the positions, number of male characters, and title references were switched to female characters? Why are females, half of the kid population, presented as a minority in children’s films? Why is the imaginary world, a place where anything should be possible, sexist at all?

So here we go.

Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing from Children’s Movies in 2013

Monsters University



Despicable Me


Smurfs 2

Chapter 14 smurfs-2

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Percy Jackson 2 Sea of Monsters


Leo the Lion


Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2


Mr. Peabody and Sherman




The Hobbit: There and Back Again

Escape From Planet Earth


Jack the Giant Slayer


Oz the Great and Powerful


The Croods




From Up on Poppy Hill



The Snow Queen





Turbo Movie Poster

Batman The Dark Night Returns




35 thoughts on “Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2013

  1. Pingback: Post #10: Sexism in Animation | Caitlin Siessel

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    • There’s a Studio Ghibli movie in there. I was surprised to see the girl half hidden behind the boy. Women and girls are generally dominant actors (in the sense of action, not theater) in Miyazaki movies. Even when male characters rescue female ones (Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) they ultimately don’t.

        • I think since Miyazaki usually has such wonderful and independent female protagonists, it’s okay to have one movie where the male is the lead. The problem is with other studies which produce film after film after film of male leads where females provide only support (if anything at all). The Miyazaki model has the reverse ratio of the norm.

          • Hi Annie,

            I agree. It’s just a bummer to see it in the male diminated line up.


          • I think this movie is made by Studio Ghibli but NOT Miyazaki. If his not being involved in the film is the reason for that, it is potentially upsetting for future movies =/

          • Now, technically, the movie IS from Miyazaki – just not the one we’re thinking of, but his… Son, I think. He’s done another movie before, called the Tales of Earthsea, which… Isn’t very good. For a whole damn lot of reasons.

          • Actually, the screenplay was written by Hayao Miyzaki and the movie was only directed by his son, Goro. I’ve seen the movie and would say that it is much more centered around the female character and her (very touching and empowering) development, with the boy as a secondary character. Unfortunately, the poster does not reflect this, but I would say that the film itself is probably more important.

  3. I agree there aren’t enough females in kids’ movies, but as an avid comic fangirl, I have to say that including ‘The Dark Knight Returns: Part 2′ in here disturbs me. It’s rated PG-13, but I own it, and think it should probably be rated R because of how much violence there is (ideally, there’d be a rating of like 15+ or something, but those don’t exist). Just because something is animated doesn’t mean it’s for kids.

    Of course, the gender issues with that movie (and the graphic novel on which it’s based) are numerous- I’m constantly railing against fellow comic fans that are male over the issues the comic and game industries have when it comes to gender (and race). Strong female protagonists are few and far between, I’d be the first to point that out. But I can’t help but point out right now that animated movies aren’t always made for children, and I think the last time anything Batman that was animated and appropriate for children was probably the animated series from the early nineties- anything after that, you’re getting into preteen-and-up territory.

    Also, I think one thing to add to the race discussion is that the voice actors giving life to those animals and magical creatures are usually white; and when human children or characters are in kids’ movies, again, very rarely are they persons of color. I’m not saying that the issue of race is *more* important than that of gender, or that there’s a way to declare one is more or less bad than the other. But it’s important to consider the issues of representation of persons of color because then this means that GIRLS of COLOR are EXCEPTIONALLY marginalized in popular media- for kids and adults alike.

  4. Pingback: And the Oscar goes to … sexism! | aufZehenspitzen

  5. What’s extremely unfortunate and concerns me greatly…is that there aren’t boys or girls who are real, but animated and rarely are expressing any real human qualities. The children of the next generation both boys and girls will vaguely know what it means to be human.

  6. You can add the Adventures of Tin Tin to that list. I watched it last week with my daughter and I don’t think there was a single female in the whole film. Quite the accomplishment. Disappointing, really.

    • Hi Diana,

      Tintin is one of the all time worst for female characters. Turns out, the creator of the series said he didn’t want females in his stories. If you search Reel Girl for “Tintin” you’ll find lots of posts on it.


  7. Lack of children of color. Seriously. Last movie i can remember was Princess and the Frog, and that was a total miss. Other readers could say I’ve missed the point, but I’m the big sister of 12 (F), 9 (F) and 7 (M) year old and we aren’t white. I don’t know what to be more upset about. *sigh*

    • Hi Fem Fat,

      Agreed more ethnic diversity is needed, but race is less of an issue b/c so many characters in kids movies are magical creatures, robots, cars etc, all stereotypically gendered. if you look at racist cartoons like “Tom and Jerry,” now there is a note apologizing for the racial stereotypes and no mention of gender ones. Same with Tintin, totally acist comics like “Tintin in the Congo,” Speilberg woudl never make a movie about that but his sexist movie is AOK.



      • I don’t have statistics to back me up, just a general sense of things but I would say that even in movies with magical creatures, robots, cars, etc. where actors either wear a lot of makeup or it’s an animated film that just requires voice actors, I feel like non-white actors tend to not get hired unless they are playing a role where their ethnicity is acknowledged. And even then, white voice actors might still be cast to play other ethnicities. I would point to Mulan and The Princess and the Frog. Compare those casts, to say, Finding Nemo where almost every character is a sea creature. And since many non-Caucasian American actors have American accents there’s really no reason you can’t cast them as often as you cast Caucasian actors. If it’s a cartoon, theoretically no one knows the person behind the voice (unless they’ve intentionally hired a star with a recognizable voice).

      • This is a huge issue! Race is always more underrepresented than gender. You are more likely to see a non-human character in a movie than an Asian actor (
        Whereas, Cars have gender, they are all white voice actors. What Cars is teaching children is that: 1. Men run the world, even the Car world. and 2. that it is only Whites who get to talk. In Cars especially where Larry the Cable Guy voices one of the main characters in a movie voiced by only white actors. Larry the Cable Guy has been know to tell quite a few racist jokes in his stand-up.
        There is almost nowhere for children of color to find inspiration in characters of color in children’s movies.

        • Hi Alex,

          I completely agree that characters of color are under-represented in kids movies. However, the sexism in 2013 is worse than than the racism marketed to kids. For example, cartoons that were racist like Tom and Jerry or Tintin, now would never be made or have apologies and explanations before the broadcast. Yet, gender stereotypes are accepted and celebrated in children’s media. Also with cars, robots, rats etc, the gender of the character is clear and stereotyped, the race is usually not. That said, it’s kind of stupid to get in a debate about who has it worse, females or people of color. The only way I find it useful to explore is that mainstream culture has evolved to recognize that marketing racial stereotypes to kids is not OK, but is not there yet with gender stereotypes. What we really need is more women and people of color in power so that they can be the ones to tell their own stories.


    • It’s a very small sample, unfortunately, but if you’re looking for pocs, you may want to look at these:

      The Kirikou movies
      Michiko e Hatchin
      Seirei no moribito
      Static shock
      Nadia: the secret of blue water
      Juuni Kokki

  8. I agree with you about your second group of stories, where the girls are active rather than passive, and where they rescue themselves or others (including males). Unfortunately none of those stories has been made into a major film. Would that they were!

    The examples in your first paragraph all either have passive women who are rescued by men, (Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty), OR had their plots radically altered by Disney to make the male characters more powerful and reduce the role of the female, (Little Mermaid, Rapunzel).

    The problem with the sexy villainess trope is that it feeds into the Madonna/whore divide. C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books are a great example: female characters are either virginal pre-pubescents, or sexualized evildoers. Adult female sexuality is pretty much equated with evil in Narnia. Male villains are not sexualized in the same way.

    In the Oz books on the other hand, you have a range of powerful female characters throughout the series: adult women and girls, villains and heroines, royals and ordinary folk. Evil is never associated with becoming a sexually mature woman; it’s simply a reflexion of selfishness.

    Another point, which Peggy Orenstein makes very effectively, is that there is a difference between a sexually mature character and a character that is presented as a sexual object or fantasy or threat. From what I could see in the Oz trailers, the evil witch is being presented as sexually threatening to the audience identification figure, the male wizard.

    • Yes, but you implied that female protagonist-female villain stories in fairytales were rare. I didn’t say the women were as active as we might like, but they are the heroes of their stories to the point that the princes in Snow White and Cinderella are not named. They are just plot devices to save the heroines from the villains. I think that’s an important distinction. I’m not trying to argue that it’s empowering, but that a different kind of story is being told.

      I hated Tangled for so many reasons I’m not even going to get into it.

      I think tropes and dichotomies insofar as they contribute to the discourse. We run into danger when we take them as ultimate truths and don’t examine the complexities of each particular situation. Yes, I would like to see more films and literature without those problematic elements (and perhaps contribute to their creation). But I think that when we discuss the types of media in existence we have to take a more subtle look at it and see what kinds of anxieties and messages those stories communicate beyond simple black and white terms.

      • Maybe it would be more accurate to say that “well-known fairy tales with independent female protagonists”, are rare. Our library has several collections of folktales and fairy tales with heroic women, but most girls have never heard of them, they don’t make it into the popular collections of stories, and they almost never get made into movies. They are rare in the sense that you aren’t going to find them readily if you don’t already know about them.

        Robert San Souci has done a wonderful job of adapting such stories as “Brave Margaret” and “Weave of Words” (he also did the picture book on which the Disney movie was based), but unfortunately they are not on the radar for most families.

        It’s also too bad that the version of Cinderella we are most familiar with if the Perrault/Disney one, in which her success depends on the fairy godmother, rather than the Grimm one, in which she takes more initiative!

        • OK, I can definitely agree to that. 🙂 Fairytales are why I got into writing. I think that a lot of productive work is done in classic stories and there’s also value in a lot of the new fairytale fiction that is rewriting those classic tales (mostly YA), though I do have to say that I tend to hate the ones that are too “modern”. Are you a librarian? I’ve read a lot of fairytales and fairytale inspired literature but i’m always open to suggestions.

          I mean I love the Disney version of Cinderella because it’s just so 50’s and I like that style of music. The Grimm version is one of those stories I wanted to flesh out but I think more than her taking some initiative (because she’s still very reliant on magic and help from others) I like the way a lot of Cinderella stories work in her relationship with her mother.

  9. OK, to address the posters in order.
    1. I really hope they’ll include more female characters in the movie. Otherwise, there’s the unfortunate implication that males are the ones who get to go to university (higher education).
    2. I think the minions are actually really adorable but they do support the “male is the default” idea.
    3. Wow, they’re doing Percy Jackson again. I know it’s really popular (though personally I can’t stand the way that glorified fanfiction has altered Greek mythology.) I do know that there are female characters in it, so I’m surprised they didn’t end up on the poster. I mean, Hermione makes it on the posters.
    4. I’m cautiously optimistic for Frozen. Because, hey Idina Menzel (who I like sometimes… when she doesn’t sound like she has a speech impediment) and Jonathan Groff. And I’ve always liked these lesser known fairytales. I’m curious about the animation. It seems like an odd choice to hide the character so much and not put anything else on the poster.
    5. When I heard about Oz, I was interested. But the trailer put me off. The visuals seem hit or miss. I’m not really sure about the casting choices. But I was especially confused by the focus on James Franco. This better not be another movie with strong, powerful female characters who are waiting for a man to save them.
    6. The Croods is another odd choice because the trailer makes it seem like there’s a rebellious female character at the heart of it.
    7. Epic looks like “regular character finds a way into magical world”. I’m going to hazard a guess and say the guy in the top right corner will be her love interest. I always hope there’s going to be meaning in something like that (e.g. The House of Mirth which is about all these different male forces exerting pressure on the female protagonist) but that rarely happens.
    8. Again, cautiously optimistic about Dorothy of Oz. The animation doesn’t look great but I LOVE Lea Michele and the rest of the cast is promising. Not loving the concept that the main antagonist is a male character who is using the wand of the Wicked Witch of the West.
    9. The Snow Queen doesn’t look like it’s going to be great. But the prominence of the blond female character and the Snow Queen seem to hint that they’ll be staying true to the original story about how a little girl saves her friend.

  10. “Saving Mr. Banks” is coming out in 2013 but does not have a poster yet. On, it’s described:

    Author P.L. Travers travels from London to Hollywood as Walt Disney Pictures adapts her novel Mary Poppins for the big screen.
    I don’t know if this is right but I remember reading about how the author based a lot of the story on her relationship with her own father. So I imagine that if the movie is about the actual writer, that might be why that’s the title. I also vaguely remember reading that she was unhappy with the final film so perhaps the movie is going to be about the tension between the writer and the producers of the film.

  11. What’s really unfortunate is that 2 of these movies are based on 2 of the rare classic children’s stories with female heroines and villains: The Wizard of Oz and The Snow Queen. The Oz movie has clearly shifted the focus to the male wizard, who was an ineffectual humbug in the original book, and subservient to the female characters in the sequels. From what I’ve seen of the previews, the film also succumbs to the Hollywood steretype of making the witches sexy. Cause hey, why would you want evil adult women in a film if they aren’t sexy?

    Hard to tell what’s going on with the Snow Queen movie, but a brief recap of the book: the boy in the story is the passive victim, carried off to the Snow Queen’s lair, and it’s the GIRL who must risk terrible dangers to rescue him. Any wagers on whether or not they’ll stick to with the girl heroine in the movie, or whether they’ll. feel the need to give her a male partner?

    • Hi Lesley,

      Yes, I felt exactly the same way about Oz. Why didn’t Ozma get a movie?? I love her. We need her. Our kids need her. And she’s the ruler of Oz for Goodness sake.


    • “What’s really unfortunate is that 2 of these movies are based on 2 of the rare classic children’s stories with female heroines and villains”

      (Of course I’m using a looser definition of “hero” which is closer in meaning to “protagonist”.) Snow White, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Rapunzel…

      And then there are stories I’ve always loved like The Six Swans, The Goose Girl, East of the Sun and West of the Moon (and the less empowering Cupid and Psyche myth), and Maid Maleen.

      “From what I’ve seen of the previews, the film also succumbs to the Hollywood steretype of making the witches sexy. Cause hey, why would you want evil adult women in a film if they aren’t sexy?”

      Just because I’ve read a bit of fairytale criticism, I’ll counter with, why are adult females with power who are good either not sexy or asexual?

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