July 3, 2002
BY JIM DEROGATIS
As any Looney Tunes fan knows, the best cartoon shorts appeal to two
audiences simultaneously, hooking children with memorable characters and the
eye candy of the animated action, and amusing parents and older kids with
the sharpness of the writing.
This trick can be difficult to sustain over the course of a
feature-length film, though Hollywood has been trying quite a bit lately,
with efforts like "Hey Arnold! The Movie" and "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius."
In terms of pairing sophistication and silliness and really offering
"something for everyone," both of those films are inferior to "The Powerpuff
Girls Movie." Unfortunately, as good as it is, "The Powerpuff Girls Movie"
isn't nearly as strong as the half-hour shorts that air regularly on cable's
THE POWERPUFF GIRLS
MOVIE / ***
With the voices of:
Blossom Cathy Cavadini
Bubbles Tara Strong
Buttercup Elizabeth Daily
Mayor/Narrator Tom Kenny
Mojo Jojo Roger L. Jackson
Professor Utonium Tom Kane
Warner Bros. presents an animated film directed by Craig McCracken.
Written by McCracken, Charlie Bean, Lauren Faust, Paul Rudish and Don
Shank. Running time: 84 minutes. Rated PG (for non-stop frenetic
Cultural observers have gotten a lot of mileage from ruminating about the
girls' gender. Even in this post-feminist era, female superheroes remain
rare, and the few that have emerged (Lara Croft) seduce male viewers more
than they impress them. Not so with the Powerpuff Girls. Essentially sexless
(they're in kindergarten), Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup don't make much of
a deal about gender. They just get down to the business of fighting crime
before bedtime, making the city of Townsville safe for all.
There are far broader life lessons to be learned from the girls than the
fact that anything boys can do, girls can do, too, as my 5-year-old daughter
puts it. A friend who's a political philosophy professor contends that the
show is based on Plato's Republic, with each of the three girls
symbolizing one of the levels of society envisioned by the Greek
philosopher. (Blossom equals the philosopher-king, Buttercup is the warrior,
and Bubbles stands for the materialistic merchant class.)
Another pal, the TV critic at Newsday, suggests that the plot of the
movie is lifted from John Milton's Paradise Lost. (The girls'
nemesis, Mojo Jojo, is the angel cast out of heaven.) Meanwhile, my own pop
culture-biased reading sees an allegory for the rave scene: Frenetic techno
music powers the soundtrack, and the girls become superheroines only with
the addition of Chemical X (as in "Ecstasy," which might explain the
psychedelic stares of their familiar bug eyes).
All of this just goes to show why crowds of stoned college kids enjoy the
cartoon series as much as my daughter, who has threatened never to speak to
me again if I don't give the movie four stars. (Her capsule assessment:
"It's super!") But I am only holding the film up to the high standards that
the girls set on TV, and that's why it's a bit of a letdown.
The series' Gen X creator, Craig McCracken, has warned hard-core fans
that to reach the largest audience possible, the film had to make
compromises where the series does not. Hence, to appeal to the many viewers
who don't get the Cartoon Network, two-thirds of the script is devoted to
explaining how the girls came to be so powerful.
Like the series, "The Powerpuff Girls Movie" starts with the Dr.
Frankenstein-like Professor Utonium concocting the girls out of "sugar,
spice and everything nice," then accidentally kicking the recipe up a notch
with some Chemical X when his lab chimp Jojo knocks into him. That story is
recapped in a short introduction to every TV episode, and a five-minute
prologue was all anyone needed in the movie. Instead, the tale is drawn out
with a lot of soul-searching as the girls, like Peter Parker, come to learn
that "with awesome powers come awesome responsibilities."
Another problem is that the troublesome chimp who serves as the girls'
Green Goblin or Lex Luthor (he becomes Mojo Jojo because he's also doused
with Chemical X) isn't nearly as interesting a supervillain as series
regulars like the rampaging monsters, the hillbilly Fuzzy Lumpkins, the
female Seducer or Him (who is no less than Satan incarnate). All are sadly
missing on the big screen.
What we get is Mojo Jojo conning the girls into helping him build a
machine that turns all of the monkeys in the Townsville Zoo into super
simians. He thinks the gonzo gorillas will help him take over the city
(there are several cheeky references to "The Planet of the Apes," as well as
a nod to the trip-hoppers Gorillaz). Instead, they turn on one another,
buying the girls a little time to come back from exile in outer space
(misunderstood by Townsville, they fled the planet) to--you knew it--save
Compared to classic PPG half-hours like the "Seducer" episode (which is
based on the Medusa myth) or the punning "Meet the Beat-Alls" (in which
nearly every line of dialogue is based on a Beatles lyric), the movie
version is relatively bland and unimaginative stuff. But it still has its
One is the simple but effective two-dimensional animation, whose twin
inspirations are Japanimation and the "Underdog" series of the 1960s (an
acknowledged favorite of McCraken's). The sight of the girls zooming around
the simple but colorful cityscape is a lot cooler than the computer-animated
Spider-Man webbing his way through the skyscrapers, and it's a reminder that
plain ol' pen and ink can still be as thrilling as more high-tech efforts
such as "Monsters, Inc."
Another winning factor is the action. Some parents may be disturbed by
the bountiful kicking and punching, and if so, "The Powerpuff Girls Movie"
should be avoided. My daughter and I have had the "cartoon vs. reality"
discussion many times, and she seems to understand that hitting a classmate
is much different from zipping around the house, pretending to save the
Which brings us to the biggest reason to like the movie: the characters'
ideals. The Powerpuff Girls are smart, resourceful and strong, as well as
funny, caring and infinitely lovable. As a parent, these are traits to be
encouraged. There are only a handful of role models who embody these
qualities anywhere in the many TV shows or movies that are so relentlessly
marketed to kids. For this reason, both my daughter and I just can't get
enough of the Powerpuff Girls. And we're both sure that their next movie
will be even more super.