From Betty Boop to Jessica Rabbit
Autre temps, autre femmes as they say in the funny pages. And true enough: animated dames are no longer just flirts in skirts. Today’s cartoon heroine is less likely to dance a hula and more likely to drop you with a left hook and dance on your corpse.Perhaps we exaggerate, but see for yourself: here are some animated ladies, classic and modern, you can find online.
BETTY BOOP was the silver screen’s first popular animated cutie. Her big eyes and squeaky, sweet voice (“Boop-Boop-A-doop!”) combined with provocative attire and inadvertent innuendo to give her a screen persona that was part innocent victim and part saucy vamp. She showed up in over 100 Max Fleischer cartoons from 1931 to 1939.
The funny pages were OLIVE OYL‘s first home, but in 1933 she was brought to the screen by the Fleischer brothers as Popeye’s perpetual love interest. Tall, dowdy and skinny, Olive Oyl seemed an unlikely sex object, yet Popeye and his rival Bluto were constantly fighting for her affection. Fickle in the extreme, Olive flirted with Bluto until he became abusive, then screamed for Popeye to rescue her. Popeye’s reward was usually a big, sloppy kiss (from Olive, not Bluto).
JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS was part of the 1970 Saturday morning cartoon lineup from Hanna-Barbera. Josie was a spinoff from the Archie comics and cartoon, and The Pussycats were her fellow members in a “rock” band. Level-headed and sweet, she represented TV’s wishful take on the “youth movement” of the early ’70s: mod clothes and hair, sure, but (mercifully) old-fashioned values.
JESSICA RABBIT made her first appearance in the feature film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. An updated version of animator Tex Avery‘s va-va-voom gals of the forties and fifties, Jessica was sexy, sultry and suspect, proclaiming her innocence while overheating every male in sight.
The 1989 hit The Little Mermaid hailed a new era of Disneyanimated musicals, and ARIEL was a truly modern Disney heroine: spunky, slightly sexy and yet, still a teenage princess. Her father was the domineering King Triton, both cruel and loving toward Ariel; her only wish was to escape and be with a cute guy she saw on a boat. Her flowing red locks, bare midriff and teeny bikini top helped secure her place as one of Disney’s most popular female characters.
Teenage princess? Bare midriff? Add sheer clothing and you have JASMINE, a worthy successor to Ariel as a modern Disney babe. As the love interest in Aladdin, Jasmine was exotic, fiercely independent and mature beyond her seventeen years. While Jasmine was adept at protesting her status as “a prize to be won”, she used her feminine wiles to help Aladdin defeat the evil Jafar, and in the end Aladdin was allowed to marry her.
Japan’s animated heroine SAILOR MOON proved that teen girls in skimpy outfits had international appeal. The displaced Moon Princess, she was sent to the earth as the klutzy teenager Serena. As a typical teen, Serena’s life was a rollercoaster of math tests, harmless crushes and spats with her girlfriends. When threatened by the evil Negaverse, Serena transformed into Sailor Moon, a leggy beauty in red boots who was able to whup badguys with her magic tiara and wand.
AEON FLUX made her debut on MTV’s Liquid Television in 1991. Unlike most animated heroines, Aeon had little sweet or innocent about her. A cold-blooded killer, she wore a chastity belt and little else. Futuristic urban landscapes were the backdrop for her choreographed assassinations, and her get-up suggested bondage and sado-masochism, making her an instant cult figure.