Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Powerpuff Girls: The Movie

Why did it take me nine years to see this?

"The Powerpuff Girls" are probably in my top five of greatest cartoons ever made, coming straight out of the Golden Age of Cartoon Network.  I don't know if the Powerpuffs were the best cartoon during that time of roughly 2000 - 2004, but they definitely were up there amongst the best of the best like "Dexter's Laboratory", "Courage the Cowardly Dog", and of course, "Dragonball Z".  Yeah, it might have been the story of three sweet perfect little girls, but they were also super badass super heroes.  They totally could have kicked Superman's ass, I guarantee it.  Heck, the Powerpuff Girls probably could have kicked Goku's ass!  And they'd do it without fingers.

Some episodes of the show were sweet little comedy shows.  Some were violent battles for the fate of the planet.  At least one episode was a rock opera.  Then there were a few episodes that honestly frighten me to this very day, like the one where a fashionable mad scientist creates a commercial line of Powerpuff clones... only with such poor construction that they fall apart and die in seconds*.  That one still gives me nightmares.  Or the tragic tale of the mentally retarded fourth Powerpuff Girl, Bunny.  The movie naturally should have been the most awesome fighting, the best animation, and the wildest superpowers ever.  So did it succeed?  Well, if I feel like reviewing it nine years after the fact, what do you think?  Have I ever bothered to review old movies that I didn't like on this blog?

At its core, "The Powerpuff Girls:  The Movie" is an extended episode of the series.  At only seventy-three minutes, its barely feature length, but I really can't imagine much more being added.  The plotline is a bit too complex for a single episode (which were typically only ten minutes long), and clearly the cost of animation for this thing was far and beyond the costs of a regular episode.  Still the storyline is about the Powerpuff Girls fighting a monster destroying Townsville, that's basically what every episode was about when they weren't dealing with Buttercup liking the boy who eats paste or stuff like that.  For the movie, the creators have given the Powerpuff Girls their greatest foe ever... and it turns out to be their first foe ever.  Yes, its the origin of the Powerpuff Girls and their battles with the evil genius monkey, Mojo Jojo.

As far as origin stories go, one would think immediately that they're unnecessary for this series.  The "Powerpuff Girls" opening credits was their origin story, the narrator was able to describe it all in exactly thirty seconds.  What the movie deals with is the first weeks of the Powerpuff Girls' lives, from when the Professor names them until they finally decide to become superheroes.  Ultimately I can't say I learned anything particularly new about the Powerpuff Girls in any way, its not like after seeing this movie you're entire perception of the series is changed.  As I said before, its basically just an episode of the series, only made a lot longer and with the best animation quality a Cartoon Network series has ever seen.

After the Professor accidentally creates the Powerpuff Girls, they're born fully grown (for a five-year-old) and have their complete personalities.  So Blossom is still as bossy and goody-two-shoes as ever, Bubbles is still cute and a bit wacky, and Buttercup just wants to be sarcastic and kick ass**.  So the Professor builds them a room, takes them to pre-school, and thinks everything is going to be perfectly fine.  Unfortunately then the girls learn how to play tag and in an extensive beautifully-animated sequence proceed to destroy the entire town.  But worse than that, they destroy the Mayor's beloved pickle cart, and so the entire town rejects them.  With the Professor now in jail, the Powerpuffs have nobody to turn to but a certain monkey with a giant brain who claims to have a plan to make the town "better"... Then things get worse.  But luckily the Powerpuff Girls realize they can kick ass in the last ten minutes and win the day.

Throughout the movie Craig McCracken really pushes his artistic vision of the Powerpuff Girls to its limit.  The color pallet for some of the action scenes towards the end gets particularly dark, though the rest of the movie looks like a normal Powerpuff Girls episode. Then there's the tag sequence, which I said before is beautifully animated and amazing.  The Powerpuff Girls is a flat world, ultimately, and a few camera angles really show just how 2D some of the characters are, especially the Professor.  I've mentioned before on this blog how I'm a huge fan of animation that's willing to go ultra-stylized and avoid realistic perspective.  "The Powerpuff Girls" is like a more action-packed and less stylized "Secret of Kells".  One detail I particularly liked was a scene that was in complete black and white except for the girls' eyes, which still had their unique colors.

Back in 2002 the critics were at times very critical of "The Powerpuff Girls", considering it too violent (this was especially the opinion of Roger Ebert who gave it two thumbs down).  Of course, I don't know what the critics expected out of the Powerpuff Girls.  Did they ever watch it?  In the opening credits, a bad guy gets his tooth punched out while blood splatters across the TV.  If they bothered to check Cartoon Network's schedule back in 2002, they'd see "Dragonball Z", "Gundam Wing", "Batman the Animated Series", and "Samurai Jack" - these were all seriously violent programs.  I think at least fifty people died in every episode of "Gundam Wing".  Kids like violence, we all like violence!  Its entertaining to watch things get beat up!  And kids are going to watch violent crap anyway.  Critics, you're talking out of your ass.  I do feel bad for the kids of the parents who actually believe this bullshit.  The only reason why anybody thought this movie was particularly ultra-violent (which it really isn't) was because it starred little girls.

Strangely, "Powerpuff Girls:  The Movie" was the only theatrical feature ever created by Cartoon Network in its entire history, so far.  This is unlike Nickelodeon, who since "Harriet the Spy" in 1996 have made over a dozen movies in their run.... most of them terrible like "Nacho Libre" or "The Last Airbender".  The tragic thing is that "The Powerpuff Girls" movie was a huge flop, just barely being able to pay back its $11 million budget.  The only reason why this movie wasn't the biggest flop of 2002 was because of a certain infamous film called "The Adventures of Pluto Nash", probably the most expensive failure of a movie ever.  I don't remember why I didn't see this movie, maybe I was embarrassed to see a "girly" movie like this.  And the girls probably thought the movie was too violent.  This movie still feels a bit obscure to me for some reason, which is why I felt this review was important.  My word does little, but if I can at least illuminate one person to a good forgotten movie, I've done my job.

* I've always suspected this episode, Knock it Off, was supposed to be some kind of clever commentary on the mass marketing of the Powerpuff Girls brand.  By 2001, literally the every single object on Earth was sold in a Powerpuff Girls version. 

** Guess my favorite.


  1. I miss the time when Cartoon Network was actually good. I think the day that they cancelled Megas XLR was when the decline turned into a nosedive, culminating in the cancelation of Toonami. I miss Toonami.

  2. "Knock it Off" was actually the only episode of Powerpuff Girls I ever watched. Man, was that ever creepy.

    There, now you don't have to continue listing letters.