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Netflix originals can almost always assure quality, particularly with their animated shows. You could have something profound yet odd with BoJack Horseman, graphic yet endearing with Castlevania or polarising yet not without its fans like Disenchantment. While these are all adult oriented, some newer releases are proving that younger viewers and older animation nuts like this writer have a lot to back up their subscription.
Netflix has not only added to their stellar animation library. They continue to mix modern, progressive values into their more child oriented programs. Over a short few months, Netflix has released three brand new animated original shows with female leads, these being Hilda, She-Ra and The Princess of Power and Carmen Sandiego. This is a nice boost for female representation with each of the leading ladies being distinct, providing different lessons and morals to their viewers.
While Hilda is a down to earth show encouraging imagination and leaving your comfort zone, Carmen Sandiego is spy thriller and She-Ra is a classic 80’s action series – all great for empowering and inspiring young girls and informing young boys that women can be smart, inventive, tough and bad-ass. While a programme can have an excellently depicted female side character, placing them as core protagonists definitely makes them appear more important and therefore, worth more attention and influence in the mind of younger viewers.
Yet, these characters are not just “strong female character” tropes. What makes them stand out is their personality, not their gender. They are defined and made strong by the values they hold, the lessons they learn and how they deal with problems, making each a varied and positive role model.
Hilda might seem like a goody two shoes at first. But she does make mistakes, can be selfish at times and her actions cause her ramifications that have lasting effects throughout the series. That said, she’s a character that encourages leaving your comfort zone, trying new things and never letting a unique experience or adventure escape you. She pushes viewers to be themselves and open to change. The moral of the series is that remaining stuck in one’s ways can result in missing out on quite a lot, a very important concept for children to learn.
For many kids, moving home as Hilda does (going from a cabin in the wilderness to a city) can seem horrifying. One has to say goodbye to everything and start again. They must find new friends and adapt to a new place. Yet, Hilda shows the positives it can yield.
She-Ra and The Princess of Power presents someone learning how to control and perfect her mystical powers while facing totalitarian threats. The series has your typical “power of friendship” morals and mostly stands on the strength of its characters and story, but does impart more surprising messages. She-Ra (real name Adora) trained for years to be a soldier for The Horde after being adopted by them as a baby. Yet, after witnessing the needless destruction her group causes, she decides to leave them and rebel with a former rival force ran by the princesses she was once influenced to believe were evil.
With just this premise, viewers learn not to allow themselves or their view of the world be influenced by higher ups, to make one’s own judgements and question authority. Also, you learn sometimes friends won’t have your back like Adora’s in The Horde, namely her bestie and later rival Catra.
She-Ra has also rightfully been praised for its diversity. Different skin tones, races and body types are shown throughout the series and it’s easy to find threads online of people stating that the multicultural and differently shaped character designs have led them to identify positively with the show.
Lastly, Carmen Sandiego goes the more traditionally educational route by showcasing different parts of the world with a ‘fun facts’ segment to go with them. However, the series also portrays a dynamic and self empowering main character, similar to She-Ra’s Adora but more self reliant. Whereas She-Ra emphasises teamwork, aside from help from her hacker – Carmen mostly does the field work herself.
Carmen is also a more self confident character than Adora and falls better into the badass heroine column for her skills being natural. Adora is a trained soldier but still does need the magical aspect of the legendary sword and She-Ra transformation.
Adora and Carmen are alike in that they both were adopted and raised by evil agencies as children and eventually rebel against them after disagreeing with their methods and stances. Thus, the shows’ share lessons on questioning authority and deciding one’s own fate. That said, Carmen Sandiego’s spy elements could certainly appeal to young boys more so than She-Ra, which features sparkles, unicorns and a lack of overly masculine male characters. This contrast of styles means Netflix have young generations well catered for in terms of progressive strong heroines and moral messages.
Well made cartoons provide a fun, charming escape from reality, as well as important life lessons. With Netflix’s current roster of shows, one imagines these lessons will have an impact on a few youngsters, helping them grow into stronger, more accepting people.