The stories we hear and see have a profound effect on us, especially when we’re young and searching for role models. Lately, the animated movie that seems to come to mind on the subject of empowering young females is "Frozen" (which has announced an upcoming sequel), which worked well to open the conversation about how young females are portrayed in the media and how they can empower or demean their young female viewers. As excellent as this movie is, it shouldn’t get all the attention.

Here are five of my favorite family-friendly Animated Movies with feminist themes and female leads, in no particular order.

They feature strong female leads, kid-friendly explorations of feminism, and are entertaining for all ages:

'Monsters vs Aliens'

I don’t think this movie gets nearly the attention it deserves as a family-oriented feminist film. The main character is a woman (Susan/Ginormica) who, when she first acquires her gift (extreme stature and strength), doesn’t want it. She wants instead to be small like she was before in order to live the “normal” life she thinks she wants with Derek, her fiancé.

As the plot moves forward, she discovers the extent of her prowess and becomes empowered by it instead of disgusted. Derek is eventually revealed to be self-centered, something that she only sees after her character develops.

This plot twist is fairly over-used in Movies like this (think Hans in "Frozen"), but it does provide a lead-in to the message that one doesn’t need a relationship to be complete and the important step in Susan’s development where she sees that her life wasn’t better before she became a giant.

This film is an excellent example of feminist allegory and is still enjoyable to me now that I’m older.

It is worth noting that the cast of the movie is largely male, leaving Susan the only memorable female in the plot, which is a little disappointing, but on the other hand, this too could be seen as adding to the symbolism, since she has to function in a male-dominated world within the movie. Discovering empowerment by acknowledging one’s personal power and overcoming body shame?

This movie’s got it.


This is one of those movies that hits a person over the head with sociological symbolism, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. The main character is Judy Hopps, the “first bunny cop” to walk the beat in Zootopia, a diverse metropolis. This can be interpreted as being allegorical of her being the first female on the force (although it may also be seen as symbolic of her being the first of a racial minority to be on the force, as race plays a major role throughout the film). She has experiences that are sadly common amongst female pioneers, including being talked down to despite being in a position of authority and being relegated to unwanted/less important jobs (she is first assigned to be a meter maid, despite her noted achievements at the academy).

In terms of being a role model, Judy works hard to surpass the expectations of others (“I’m not gonna write a hundred tickets. I’m gonna write two-hundred tickets! Before noon!”). Despite being really disappointed at being swept aside and underestimated, Judy doesn’t let others’ impressions of her get in the way and saves the day despite them. She is also shown as not being immune to prejudice herself, despite what she’s been through, ultimately having to recognize that ascribed traits don’t define anyone. This seems to me to be a realistic character flaw to give her, making her more relatable and illustrating this theme more effectively. Judy is a character that viewers can learn from and with during the adventure.


A year before "Frozen", "Brave" introduced the new generation of untraditional Disney princesses. The main character, Merida, is, for one thing, designed to appear more realistic than her predecessors. Her bust and waistline are proportional to her body, she has messy hair, and she has a face and demeanor that actually seem to correspond to her age (like Ariel, she’s sixteen, but Merida actually looks it). In terms of character, Merida is tough, resourceful, and has to grow as the plot progresses, instead of remaining static. Furthermore, Merida was the first animated princess I’d ever seen who didn’t get married at the end of her movie, thereby not being defined by a romantic relationship.

I also appreciated the generational aspect of Merida and her mother learning from each other and the way both of them have to improve by the end. Not wanting to be married to a man she doesn’t know (who appears to be a bit of a loser) and not wanting her romantic life to be controlled by her parents is an old and over-used plot thread, but this movie manages to make it work to show a coming-of-age story about a young woman who is intrinsically powerful.


Disney has been doing a lot of over-haul in terms of princess plots as of late (not that I’m complaining). What’s great about "Moana" is that it takes what "Brave" does one step farther and eliminates the need for a romantic storyline completely.

No one ever talks about Moana needing or wanting to get married. The movie doesn’t even show any potential suitors. This is a plot dedicated primarily to a young woman seeking to save her people and fulfill her destiny. She does exhibit the high-strung over-eagerness that has become a recent cliché in female-driven plots such as Anna in "Frozen" or Judy in "Zootopia", but she has redeeming qualities such as her determination and her belief in herself that still make her a likable character. In her position of having to be taught by Maui, she is somewhat subordinate to him, a position he sometimes uses to mock her, but her lack of tolerance for his more obnoxious tendencies and the positive self-esteem which she is able to model for him arguably evens their positions.

Perhaps the most significant feminist aspect of Moana is how de-emphasized her gender is. It is almost taken for granted that she will succeed her father as village chief, and the only reason why her father doesn’t want her to venture beyond the island is that he doesn’t let anyone do so since his best friend died. At the same time, the movie has a strong female presence surrounding Moana, in the form of her grandmother as her role model and eventual spirit guide and a religion that places strong significance on a female deity.

'Lilo and Stitch'

Like "Monsters vs. Aliens", "Lilo and Stitch" is not specifically known for feminism, yet does exhibit feminist elements. For example, the leader of the Galactic Council is shown to be a female alien.

She is shown as a male leader would be portrayed, authoritative and non-stereotypical. Once the focus turns to Earth, a household headed by a female is shown, and although it’s not always especially functional, this is shown more to be a result of her lack of experience than her gender. Nani, Lilo’s older sister, is shown to be resilient and willing to do anything to protect her sister. Although she is offered help by a love-interest early on in the plot, she insists on taking care of Lilo on her own, not requiring rescue and only taking up a relationship with him once she has stabilized her life with Lilo.

Lilo herself is shown as a quirky and interesting young girl who is not portrayed as stereotypical either.

She is a determined character that girls can relate to in terms of struggles with family and peers. Despite the fact that her sister is shown with an idealized body, Lilo’s body is realistically proportional for a young girl. The themes may be subtler than in "Brave" or "Frozen", but "Lilo and Stitch" is still an excellent example of pro-feminist fiction.

It’s important for kids to be exposed to positive female role models and empowering messages in media like movies (and they tend to be interesting to older audiences as well). The movies above are a good sign that filmmakers are acknowledging this, whether consciously or not. Hopefully, these and movies like them will set the trend for family-friendly media to come.

What are your favorite family-friendly animated feminist movies? Add them in the comments below!