Emma Roberts, star of 2007 film Nancy DrewA new wave of movies aimed at young girls is coming, starting this Friday with the theatrical release of Nancy Drew. The director of that film, Andrew Fleming, points out that the recent preteen and teen culture presented models of behavior very different from that of the children at which they have been aimed and which most of their parents would endorse.

The LA Times reports the good news that this is about to change somewhat:

WITH former tween starlets in court and rehab, daily turning up in tabloid stories more suited to Tom Sizemore than perky pink Elle Woods, Hollywood is rediscovering the appeal of a fresh-scrubbed, wholesome face. As "edgy" heads over the cliff, it’s time, it seems, to give girls a few new plotlines.

The good girl-versus-mean girl high school dramas that have played out at the multiplex over the last decade are being pushed aside in favor of stories that let their heroines do more than shop, snipe or try to throw the nearest rival in front of a bus.

Starting this summer, a new crop of tween movie characters with big-studio backing — some endorsed by actress-producers Julia Roberts, Jodie Foster and Charlize Theron — are emerging. There’s a girl detective who runs circles around her local police force, a dancing high schooler who by force of sheer exuberance integrates her local TV station, and a little girl who survives alone on a remote island, a pocketknife around her neck, in the company of a sea lion and iguana. That last heroine, played by Abigail Breslin in Fox-Walden’s "Nim’s Island," planned for release in the spring, also has the distinction of being the first girl at the center of a kids’ action-adventure film with a blockbuster budget.

Andrew Fleming, co-writer and director of "Nancy Drew," the first of the films to test the waters when it opens Friday, thinks the generation of girls weaned on the spiritual worlds of "Harry Potter" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" is hungry for an alternative to the "umpteenth expression" of Madonna’s material girl.

"Young female culture has swung so far out now, with Lindsay, Britney and Paris being the center of attention, in a very self-absorbed and worrisome way," Fleming said. "So many girls are more like Nancy Drew, but they’re living in a world right now where they don’t get any kind of validation for being kind or thoughtful or conscious of right and wrong."

The story lines in the new ripple of girl movies suggest that it’s harder but ultimately more satisfying to do the right thing, and those behind the new films repeatedly mention their desire to offer better role models for children. Conveniently, there’s also money to be made. After all, 6- to 14-year-olds represent about $51 billion in annual purchasing power, according to market research firm 360 Youth. Mainstream media executives have been all but bowled over by the phenomenal successes of tween fare such as "The Cheetah Girls" and "High School Musical," which began on TV. But studio execs have puzzled over how to parlay those titles and stars into big-screen fare that breaks out across age and gender lines.

It’s good to see high-profile Hollywood actresses such as Mss. Roberts, Foster, and Theron stepping up to support a better culture for young females. As the LA Times story notes, the people producing these films expect to make money from them, but we certainly should not hold that against them. After all, big financial losses seldom stop Hollywood from churning out crude, socially and morally corrosive nonsense. The new girl movies constitute a positive development regardless of the precise mixture of motivations involved.

Whether this is a long-term trend or just a brief respite remains to be seen, but it is certainly a welcome development. It is now up to the public to ensure that the trend stay strong.