2016 is the year of celebration for women and their superpowers. From the recent release of the Wonder Woman trailer at San Diego Comic Con to the increased memorabilia offerings of female characters from Suicide Squad, the powerful role models prominent in today’s media have shifted in both gender and audience. Included in these recent additions is the Warner Bros. Animation film, DC Super Hero Girls: Hero of the Year, scheduled for DVD release on August 23rd.
Based on the DC Super Hero Girls franchise, Hero of the Year focuses on everyone’s favorite female heroes during their early teenage years. The cast includes a variety of beloved characters from Supergirl and Batgirl to Harley Quinn and Katana. At last week’s San Diego Comic Con, producer Jennifer Coyle and many of the cast members discussed their excitement over the film’s release with members of the press.
Though there are pre-existing DC Super Hero Girls comics and shorts, Jennifer Coyle, the film’s producer, explained that there is no requirement to have viewed them in order to enjoy this movie. Coyle also described the plot of the film to the media.
“In their first 72 minute adventure, the heroes of Super Hero High take on their darkest foes yet, Dark Opal and Eclipso. The villains try to channel the powers of the amethyst at the top of the school in order to plunge the world into darkness and take over the universe. The heroes at Super Hero High are the only ones standing between them and total world domination.”
While the film can be watched and enjoyed by men and women of all ages, it is directly applicable to the lives of young women establishing their own unique identities in middle and high school. Each of the characters in the film has an inimitable superpower and journey, which offers important life lessons for viewers. Anais Fairweather, the voice of Supergirl, hopes that people have increased feelings of self-empowerment once they finish watching the film. Though Supergirl has powers from beyond this world, each audience member has their own strength within them that can be utilized to achieve goals they may have previously thought improbable. Similarly, Stephanie Sheh, who voices Katana, hopes that this movie can teach girls that using their inner strength to be competitive does not mean they are being aggressive. Too often young girls are taught that playing nice and compromising is a necessity for approval by the outside world. However, Hero of the Year proves that challenging and motivating your friends is the best way to ensure success for all.
This project resonated strongly with Teala Dunn, the voice of Bumblebee, due to her own childhood experiences. Although she watched many television shows and films when she was growing up, she never had the opportunity to see any African-American superheroes that she could directly relate to. She hopes that young girls can watch the film and get excited that they can finally have an animated role model that looks like them.
An interesting facet of this film is the presentation of well-known villains, such as Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, depicted as innocent and free of all past indiscretions. Coyle feels that allowing these characters to have new beginnings makes them more palatable for younger girls and allows their characters to develop in ways previously unavailable to them. She noted, “It’s nice to meet a Harley Quinn who hasn’t met the Joker yet.” Tara Strong, who voices both Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn in the film, loved being able to play these traditional villains in a more positive light. “I think it’s so endearing and sweet to see their lives before anything bad happened to them and it’s so interesting to see them in this world,” Strong explained.
DC Super Hero Girls also sets itself apart with its creative team, which consists mostly of women. Many of the animators and story artists as well as the producer are female which is represented in the way the characters appear and interact with one another. Coyle explained that it is a “conscious decision to ensure that the characters are not posing too feminine, are in appropriate crime-fighting clothing and can hold their own against the boys and the bad guys.” The costumes are clear nods to the original comic book depictions but allow the girls to be more covered up and in outfits that young girls could wear as appropriate Halloween costumes. Since the characters are young as well, it was important to the creative team that they not be overly sexy or coy and reacted to their environment in the same way that a male hero would. Grey Griffin, the voice of Wonder Woman, also loved how female-dominated the cast was. Griffin and Strong are veterans of the voice-over industry and have seen it make strides in recent years regarding its inclusion of women. “Although there is so much ageism in Hollywood on-camera with women, with voice-overs, I can play a fifteen year old and an infant and there is no limited window to be the sexy girl,” Griffin noted. She also clarified that when her and Strong started, “they would hire one woman to be the grandma, the teenage girl and the boy…basically, we were the Swiss army knife of voice-overs and the fact that this cast is mostly female is amazing.”
As Tara Strong said, “you don’t have to have a superpower to be a hero.”