Tag Archives: studio ghibli

7 of The Greatest Animated Female Characters in Film

This is a guest article from my very good friend Ruth Hartnoll who co-runs the awesome blog Crown Rules which you should definitely head over to and bask in its glory. Anyway here is Ruth’s post on her favourite animated female characters. Enjoy!

1. Kiki – Kiki’s Delivery Service


Kiki’s Delivery Service sees a young witch leave her parental home for her mandatory year of independent life. She travels to a distant town on a broomstick and sets up her own air courier service. She does all of this with her faithful sidekick, her cat Jiji.

This film was made in 1989 – the year I was born. In the same year Walt Disney bought out The Little Mermaid. That story sees a woman stripped of her independence and identity so that she can chase after a Prince. I think we both know who won 1989 – Hayao Miyazaki. Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of the few films where the adventure is had by a female character – for that alone she gets a firm place on my list.

3 Things That Make Kiki Great

  1. She sets up her own business and gets her own place when she’s 13
  2. She’s brave, smart and self-sufficient – all the characteristics a girl needs to get on in the world
  3. She’s not always happy and perky, like so many female characters, and she’s still brilliant

Best Scene


The scene in the woods when she goes back to visit the female artist she happened to stumble across on one of her deliveries. The two characters talk about everything but men and they comfort each other with cocoa. What a bloody great scene that is.

2. Yzma – Emperor’s New Groove


There is no female character in animated cinema history that has made purple more fabulous and tyranny more appealing that Yzma from Emperor’s New Groove. She’s the villain, without falling into any of the female villain stereotypes (step mother, mother, jilted lover), and her assistant is a (loveable) muscled and stupid man.

Yzma kills it in this film. She sounds like she smokes 40 a day, could probably have her own headlining act in Vegas and she makes grey skin du jour. My love for Yzma is so paramount that when I take over the world I will have a National Yzma Day where all women can be tyrannical without reason, whilst wearing purple.

3 Things That Make Yzma Great

  1. She’s super quotable: “Pull the lever Kronk! Wrong lever! Why do we even have that lever?”
  2. She basically invented the colour purple
  3. She’s old and still as spritely as a dame

Best Scene

The potion making scene. The animation, the quips – flawless.

3. Wyldstyle (Lucy) – The Lego Movie


Wyldstyle is the fast quipping, punky and hilarious female from 2014’s The Lego Movie. She saves the hapless Emmett on countless occasions and is always ready with an inspiring speech, flick of the hair and wrench. Man, can that girl build a spaceship-submarine-time travel machine quickly.

Side Note: I was at a wedding recently and a 6 year old boy turned to me and said his favourite character in The Lego Movie was Wyldstyle. My feminist heart filled with joy and I proceeded to tell him about the importance of female role models in children’s films. He got bored and ate some cake, but I really felt I got through to him.

3 Things That Make Wyldstyle Great:

  1. She goes after bad men because good men go after her
  2. She’s as equally funny as her male counterparts and looks a damn sight better than them to boot
  3. She’s an engineer, maverick and traveller

Best Scene

She saves Emmet and fights off a load of police whilst flying through the air, whilst constructing a getaway car, whilst finding time to flick her hair in slow mo. My kinda gal.

4. Satsuki and Mai – My Neighbour Totoro

 Satsuki & Mai

I am going to cheat and put two female characters in here, but it’s only because you can’t have one without the other. Satsuki and Mai are the central characters to Miyazaki’s most loved work; My Neighbour Totoro.

Again, Miyazaki puts the two girls at the centre of the action and shows that girls can be heroines. As the girls’ mother is ill Satsuki takes on the role of guardian, not mother, to her sister and shows that being a guardian doesn’t necessarily mean being safe – it means looking after someone, even if that might involve a bit of danger and fun. Oh and they get to spend a lot of their time with a giant, fluffy imaginary beast. I don’t know what else a film could need really.

3 Things That Make Satsuki and Mai Great

  1. They look out for each other and show a positive female relationship in action
  2. They get to run around with a giant, fluffy, ridiculous beast called Totoro and don’t question it for a second
  3. They’re both brave, adventurous and independent

Best Scene

The now more than iconic bus stop and cat bus scene. It’s a bus that’s a cat people, need you ask why I love it so much?

5. Marjane Satrapi – Persepolis


Persepolis is the startlingly beautiful and autobiographical film by Marjane Satrapi. It’s a coming of age story set in 1970s Iran and shows the impact of a country run by Islamic Extremists. Marjane is less than quiet about her opinions on the new regime and is eventually sent off to Europe to live alone, all whilst she’s a teenager.

This film shows a female character in real, mortal danger and shows her unnerving and resilient nature against oppressive figures. Marjane lives abroad, educates herself and messily falls in love and we get to see all of it in its black and white glory. Persepolis is so achingly beautiful that sometimes it’s hard to take it all in at once. Just go and watch it right now.

3 Things That Make Marjane Great:

  1. She’s an out and out feminist and frequently voices her opinion even if it may get her into trouble
  2. She’s resolutely human and makes some pretty bad mistakes on the way – which is an important thing to see your heroine do
  3. She’s educated, fearless and imaginative

Best Scene


One of the best montages in all of film history exists in Persepolis. There’s a great part where Marjane lifts herself out of a depression and does it all to Eye of The Tiger. Genuinely funny and moving all at the same time.

6. Jesse – Toy Story 2 & 3


The Toy Story trilogy is my favourite trilogy of all time (fuck off Star Wars) and that is largely down to Jesse. Jesse is the spunky and boisterous cow girl that eventually steals the heart of a space man and manages to rock a plaid shirt like no other woman before her.

Toy Story was, of course, a great exercise in film franchising because you could buy all of your favourite characters as they appeared in the film. Ka-ching. If any of my friends have kids then they are getting a Jesse doll and the whole box set so they can see what it looks like to play alongside the boys and be considered an equal. Jesse for president.

3 Things That Make Jesse Great:

  1. She’s scared of rejection and has one of the best montages in Pixar’s history, then she finds all of her die hard loyal friends and has adventures with them. Yay!
  2. She’s a horse and space man whisperer (she knows about his Spanish setting, after all)
  3. She’s Calamity Jane for 90s kids

Best Scene


The montage. Sob.

7. Young Ellie – Up

 Young Ellie  (Up)

That fucking montage. Heartbreak aside, Young Ellie is so great. She’s loud, outgoing and steals the heart of a man with a balloon and a winning smile. Fair shout. Young Ellie also demonstrates that you can suffer great loss (cue the tears) and recover to live a life filled with happiness. She didn’t get to travel, which makes me sad, but that’s part of her story – she’s the whole reason Mr Frederickson finds his bravery. What a catalyst she is.

3 Things That Make Young Ellie Great

  1. She’s loyal, brave and someone I would want to be friends with
  2. She makes a depilated house a wonderland
  3. She helps others realise their potential

Best Scene

Adventure is out there! The scene in the bedroom after Little Mr Frederickson comes back from the hospital. They tell stories under their own handmade tent. Nostalgia abound.

Ruth Hartnoll is a full time copywriter, part time queen at www.crownrules.uk and obsessive theatre & poetry enthusiast. She adores animated characters, particularly female, and encourages all women and girls to go and to have lots of naughty fun – if the boys are doing it, we can do it better. Adventure is out there! Follow Ruth on Twitter here.

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Quickie: Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki is a young witch in training. Having moved away from her family and struggling to adapt to life in her new town, moves in with local baker Osono and starts up a delivery service. But how will Kiki cope when she loses her powers amid the attentions of local boy Tombo?

You’ve no doubt seen countless coming of age stories before, but have you seen one about a witch who lives in a bakery and sets up a delivery business whilst being pursued by a boy who wants to make a flying machine out of a bicycle? That’s what makes Kiki’s Delivery Service so alluring – it tells its story in a totally unique and magical way that it feels unlike anything else.

It does play pretty young at times, sometimes verging on cheesy, although that could be due to the language translation in the dubbed English version I saw. However, its messages of believing in yourself, the rewards of hard work and always trying to challenge and improve yourself are nonetheless strong ones that can apply to absolutely anyone of any age. Kiki may be a witch but her problems are those that will ring true with many, young and old, and as such she’s a very relatable protagonist.

One could argue that Kiki’s Delivery Service will resonate more with female viewers than male, but it’s so charming that it’d be difficult for anyone not to get completely swept up in Kiki’s wonderful world.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Grave of the Fireflies

Japan towards the end of WW2. Seita is but a young man but is forced to fend for himself and his little sister Setsuko after their mother is killed during a bombing raid.

Studio Ghibli are arguably best known for creating magical universes populated by wonderfully weird creatures, but if you go into Grave of the Fireflies expecting more of the same then you’re in for a shock.

The art style is familiar and is similar to that of My Neighbour Totoro, which is understandable as the two films were made alongside each other; tonally, however, the two films are about as different as they could get. Within minutes we know that this isn’t going to be an easy ride as we see Seita and Setsuko’s mother burned and bandaged following a bombing raid. Following that, as we see the pair struggle to survive and fend for themselves, the film continues to get bleaker.

But amongst the bleakness, there are moments of hope and joy. Seeing the relationship between the pair is delightful, particularly as Setsuko continues to play, unaware of their true peril. Seita doing whatever he can to provide for his sister is genuinely moving and heartbreaking in equal measure.

Grave of the Fireflies is not the whimsical tale many have come to expect from Studio Ghibli, but despite the overtly sombre outlook it is still an expert lesson in the horrors of war, the importance of family and the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: My Neighbour Totoro


Satsuki and Mei move to an old house in the Japanese countryside with their father to be closer to their ailing mother in hospital. Satsuki starts a new school, whilst Mei struggles to adapt to the move. However, whilst exploring the surrounding area, Mei stumbles upon a giant, fantastical creature she refers to as Totoro.

At its heart, My Neighbour Totoro is a children’s film, but it doesn’t shy away from dealing with some mature issues. The illness and potential loss of a parent is a topic that some may feel is a little too much for children to fully take on board, but this film tackles it head on, unafraid of asking children to deal with more adult concepts. In fact, examining the way children cope with such issues is at the very core of the film. Are Totoro and friends real, or have the children just created these creatures as a way of coping with their difficult situation? This isn’t an unusual idea; Alice in Wonderland is probably the most famous example of this (Totoro actually has a very ‘Alice’ feel at times), whilst Pan’s Labyrinth is a more recent film that plays with the same idea. However, whilst Totoro feels like a much more child-friendly experience than the aforementioned examples, it exhibits a charm and kindness that can be appreciated by viewers of any age.

Where it does differ from the usual format of children’s films is in its story – as in, there isn’t one. That might be slightly unfair, but there is very little to speak of in terms of discernible plot or conflict for the characters. Some may be put off by this and find the film a little uneventful, but that’s actually part of Totoro’s charm. It doesn’t need to be bogged down by layers of plot; it just exists in its own world and we’re being treated to an insight into that world. It’s not flashy; it’s not complicated; it just is.


As is immediately evident, the animation in Totoro is simply delightful. It’s unmistakably Japanese but feels much more accessible than some of the other Anime or Manga that comes out of Japan. It is beautifully drawn and the colours jump off the screen; every shot is a visual treat and it’s difficult to believe this was made back in 1988 as it still feels so fresh, original and relevant. The odd scene might show its age a little but some (the rainstorm scene in particular) are as beautifully drawn as anything I’ve seen before or since.

Just as the art-style is ‘very Japanese’, as is the film’s culture. It deals with spirits and magical creatures in a very casual way, as if their presence is no big deal. The soot sprites, a fictitious type of supernatural spirit (or yōkai to give them their proper Japanese name), are a prime example of this, as Satsuki and Mei are more intrigued than scared by them, something that wouldn’t likely happen in a Western film of the same nature. The fact that the Japanese have a particular name for these creatures shows how a part of their folklore they are, and whilst it was fascinating to experience a bit of that, it felt as if I was missing out on so much purely because I’m not Japanese. Having said that, I would actually argue that the film didn’t have enough of the weird and the wonderful. Totoro and friends don’t show up nearly as often as they probably should and it would be nicer to see them have a slightly larger impact on the children’s lives rather than too often being nothing more than creatures of fascination.

My Neighbor Totoro

Totoro is a magical film that champions the imagination and the wistful innocence of children whilst refusing to shy away from more complex issues. It might be slightly slower paced than one might expect but it was a real privilege to experience something as meticulously crafted and full of heart as this.

NB – I watched the dubbed English version of the film, the 2006 Disney version with Dakota and Elle Fanning as Satsuki and Mei respectively. Dubbing non-animated films is largely (always?) horrendous but it works reasonably well with animation and the dubs didn’t really bother me. However, I would definitely like to re-watch it again with the original Japanese language track, as I believe that is how the film was intended to be appreciated.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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