The other kind of princess
Movies for young girls are all about princesses, it seems. The main female role is waiting for someone to come take care of her and carry her off into her dream world. There's a good reason for this: many young girls want to be just that kind of princess.
But what about those of us who never wanted that dreamy life? We had other dreams. We wanted to be more of a fairy godmother, fixing what was wrong and creating a better world. If our role model got the prince, it would be through her own success, not waiting around for the prince to find her. So where were our heroines?
Heroines like that are mostly found in books. Meg in A Wrinkle in Time. Julie/Miyax in Julie of the Wolves. Tess in Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Leslie in Bridge to Terabithia.
The last one of those examples was made into a movie recently, one of a handful of films with strong female leads who make a difference. Two other examples of books-to-movies of this kind are The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe movies. But what about movies like this that weren't classics first?
One of my favorite movies growing up was not well-known. It was shown a few times on tv in 1991, then released onto VHS in 1996. But The Girl From Mars had just the kind of teen heroine I needed at the time. Dee Dee (Sarah Sawatsky) is a smart science nerd who convinces everyone in her school that she's telekinetic. Her father is running for office at the time, and she feels left out of everything. She transforms herself into a superpowered alien out of self-defense, and pulls it off, completely fooling the whole town. Eventually, she goes back to being a "normal Earth girl", but in the process learns that she has more control over her life than she thought, and more influence in the world than she could have ever imagined.
The "American Girl" movies that have come out recently are excellent examples as well. The heroines of these movies are strong preteens who adapt their lives to new situations. Set in historically important times (the suffragette movement, World War II, and others), these girls learn what it means to make a difference and to stand up for what you believe in.
In this era when so much emphasis is put on appearance instead of character, movies with strong heroines who take charge of their situations are more important than ever. Sharing these movies, and related books and history, helps build self-esteem in girls and show them that they are valued and valuable members of society. These movies reinforce the idea that "it's what's inside that counts", and can lead to discussions about volunteerism, character building, peer pressure issues, and other positive self-esteem builders.