How do you write a “strong” female character? Does she need to be the opposite of “girly,” the radical, bra-burning feminist stereotype (who is obviously still conventionally pretty, as to not frighten viewers)? Do you need to show her shunning the help of men (and failing, so another lead can take over)?
The general answer here is: not never, but very rarely- which the film/cartoon industry happens to fail spectacularly at.
As this tweet by SungWon Cho (ProZD) shows, writers have such a popular schema of what a “good” female character is that it’s sometimes difficult to find one that doesn’t fit into it. (Adding to the list: Chloe (Life is Strange) and Vexy (The Smurfs 2))
That’s not to say that characters like these are automatically trite and should automatically be dismissed as such. Mako Mori (Pacific Rim), for example, has dyed hair and is both physically and mentally fit, and she’s a great enough character to warrant an alternative to the Bechdel Test. She’s well-loved not just because of her design and willful attitude, but because her narrative arc is genuinely heart-wrenching and interesting on its own. The same can be said about The Lego Movie’s Wyldstyle (bottom left in ProZD’s collage), who simply has a relatable case of identity crisis. But rather than start with a design trope and working to justify it, wouldn’t it be more engaging, more absorbing to do anything else that isn’t… that dead-eyed “punk” girl emoji?
Is a middle-aged mother of three strong and memorable? What of the high school academic, earning her way with pen and paper? Or a bubbly, girly girl who prefers pink and pop over black and punk rock? According to popular media, absolutely.
There are so many possibilities and backstories to explore, and writers do an incredible disservice to both their audience and themselves by limiting the women of their cast to one sad cliche.