10 Tough-As-Nails Female Disney And Pixar Characters To Look Up To

(Image credit: Disney)

The ‘90s were a weird time when it came to female empowerment in entertainment. On one end of the spectrum, you had Grrl Power with groups like The Spice Girls, and Queen Latifah demanding “U.N.I.T.Y.” And on the other end, you had movies like The Little Mermaid, where Ariel gave away her voice just to be with a man, and Belle from Beauty and the Beast, whose romance began with her being held captive.

Sure, there was certainly progress (I mean, hell, Ellen Ripley and others have been kicking ass for awhile now). But, when it came to media directed toward children (Most notably from Disney), it left a lot to be desired. 

Thankfully, Disney has pivoted substantially with its portrayal of female characters over the years. So, here are 10 tough-as-nails female Disney and Pixar characters that we can all look up to. 

Ming-Na Wen's animated Mulan smiling

(Image credit: Disney)


Mulan is an interesting case, since her movie was actually a part of the Disney Renaissance of the ‘90s, so you could already see a shift in Disney by the tail end of the decade.

Mulan (Who was likely not a real person), is an inspirational story since its whole premise puts “manliness” into question. I say this because Mulan, who is definitely NOT a man, is ultimately the one who saves the day in the end.

Mulan is the kind of character that I’m perfectly happy showing my daughter, since she’s noble, loyal, and brave, which are all qualities that I hope both of my children can acquire throughout their lives. 

Merida in Brave

(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Merida (Brave) 

Turning to Pixar is 2012’s Brave, as Princess Merida (And, yes, she is a princess) is the kind of young woman who does things her way, or no way. This is often difficult for her because people want her to be something she’s not. For example, she finds her dresses confining, and she’d much rather unleash a storm of arrows than entertain a male suitor. 

And, in a lot of ways, Merida is an example of the grrl power that I was talking about earlier. Yes, she wants to be a good daughter, but she also wants to be herself.

I also love that Merida is such a clearly defined character. We know from the very beginning just who she is, and it’s more that the people around her seem to change, rather than her having to change. In fact, the lesson Merida learns throughout the film is to take others into consideration, which is not a terrible thing to learn at all.  

Meilin Lee in Turning Red

(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Meilin Lee (Turning Red) 

Sticking with Pixar, Turning Red was the movie that made me believe that the company is in its golden age. And it’s mostly because of Meilin Lee, who I just love to pieces. Mei Lee is in every way a teenager. She likes boys, boy bands, and being with her friends, and I just love that about her. 

The plot of Turning Red is of course a metaphor for growing up, but what I adore about the film is how it approaches how a young girl grows up. As a man, I never had to worry about things like my period, or trying to be a good daughter. 

That said, I also never had movies that showcased conflict of that nature. But, I wish I had, and I’m glad that my daughter can grow up with a character like Mei Lee. She struggles, sure, but ultimately decides that she should embrace her emotions, because her emotions are what make her who she is. 

In fact, that’s a great lesson that anybody can learn, which might be a reason why my son loves the movie, too! 

Raya and the Last Dragon poster art

(Image credit: Disney)

Raya (Raya And The Last Dragon) 

Raya learns a ton of lessons in Raya and the Last Dragon (Which we once gave five stars and called “a masterpiece”!). At a young age, Raya has a trusting heart, and she wants to see the best in people. But, because of an early betrayal, she hardens her heart, and begins to see the world differently. 

This is very realistic, and if that was the film’s message (That we can't trust anybody), then I honestly wouldn’t be too upset, because I often believe that myself.

However, Raya, who can kick some serious ass, also learns that in order to heal the world, we need to see the good in people, even if it’s our worst enemies. Honestly, I think the whole world could learn from Raya, but she’s not the only character from the film that I think that we can look up to… 

Gemma Chan in Raya and the Last Dragon

(Image credit: Disney)

Namaari (Raya And The Last Dragon) 

On the other end of the spectrum is Namaari, Raya’s sworn enemy. It’s because Namaari followed her mother’s orders that she seemingly doomed the world, and in every way, we are meant to dislike Namaari for betraying Raya.

But, at the same time, Namaari might learn an even bigger lesson than Raya. Because unlike Raya, who had been taught at a very young age to have faith in humanity, Namaari was taught the exact opposite, so it’s little wonder that she didn’t trust Raya in the beginning. 

But, in the end, Namaari learns to accept responsibility for her past actions, and she does, which makes her admirable. In fact, I wish more people would admit when they're wrong, as that's not an easy thing to do.  

Elastigirl in The Incredibles

(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution)

Elastigirl (The Incredibles) 

A big part of being a parent is the ability to stretch yourself – stretch your time, stretch your patience, hell, it even seems like you’re even stretching your day sometimes. So, it makes perfect sense that the matriarch of The Incredibles is literally elastic. 

Elastigirl is a full-time mom, and a part-time superhero, until she has to wear both capes (Actually, she doesn’t wear a cape, because capes can get you killed!). 

And in Incredibles 2, Elastigirl is back on the scene to get people to love superheroes again. Because a woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do. Elastigirl, like many moms, really seems to be able to do it all.  

Colette Tatou in Ratatouille

(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution)

Colette Tatou (Ratatouille) 

In one of Pixar’s best movies, we also get one of Pixar’s best characters in Collette Tatou, who will cut you with a knife if you get in her way. 

Being the only woman in the kitchen is tough, but Collette managed to not only stand out, but even shine. Plus, she rides a kick ass motorcycle. Colette Tatou is who I want to be when I grow up! 

Auliʻi Cravalho's animated Moana

(Image credit: Disney)


Remember how I mentioned The Little Mermaid at the start of this article? Well, Moana is the positive step in the right direction away from movies like The Little Mermaid that I like to see. 

Moana doesn’t need Maui to fix her problem. Instead, it’s the other way around, and Maui needs Moana to save the day. In this way, Moana is a character with complete agency, and she saves not only her island, but possibly even the entire ocean itself. There’s a reason why Moana is my favorite Disney movie, and it might be because Moana is my favorite Disney character.  

Elsa singing "Let it Go" in Frozen.

(Image credit: Disney)

Elsa (Frozen) 

Elsa could have stayed Queen of Arendelle, but she didn’t want to. And do you know why? Because she’d much rather be herself. In the epic song, “Let It Go,” Elsa literally lets her hair down, and the song is all about letting go of everything that holds you back.

In a lot of ways, Elsa is the embodiment of being yourself. And that’s a lesson that we can all learn a thing or two from. 

Go Go In Big Hero 6: The Series

(Image credit: Disney Television Animation)

Go Go Tomago (Big Hero 6) 

Majoring in Mechanical Engineering, Go Go Tomago is often the calmest person in her team of Big Hero 6. 

That is, until she gets behind the wheel, since she’s a demon on the road. The leather jacket-wearing, bubble gum popping Go Go might just be the coolest person in this entire article, and that’s saying something.

And, that’s the list. But, which one is your favorite? For more news on all things Disney and Pixar-related, be sure to swing around here often! 

Rich Knight
Content Producer

Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.