Review: ‘Powerpuff Girls Rule!!!’
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Blossom, Bubbles, Buttercup — the sound of those names alone is enough to send a bodily thrill through certain young people of a certain age, and certain older people certain other people might think ought to grow up already. (But those other people should mind their own business.) The 10th anniversary, more or less, of the birth of ‘The Powerpuff Girls’ — from the accidental mixture of sugar, spice, everything nice and Chemical X in the laboratory of Professor Utonium — is being marked today by the first new ‘Powerpuff Girls’ cartoon in nearly four years and the release Tuesday of the entire series in a set of six double-sided DVDs, running time 1,745 minutes and as perfect a work of art as television has ever produced. You can watch the inauguration and then run out and buy it.
The great cartoon-makers make cartoons not specifically for kids, or for grown-ups, but for the kids within their grown-up selves. Craig McCracken is the three-dimensional human being who first thought of turning cartoon kindergartners into superpowered crime fighters, and he has written, storyboarded and directed the new episode, which will cap a marathon of past adventures (beginning today at 6 a.m.), including his own 10 favorite episodes, and a documentary featurette on the history of the show. (The new episode and the documentary are both included in the DVD box, along with myriad other extras.) It is better than the ‘Dick Van Dyke Show’ reunion or any other television get-back-together I can remember.
The fourth series to be developed out of Cartoon Network’s ‘World Premiere Toons’ (after ‘Cow and Chicken,’ ‘Johnny Bravo’ and ‘Dexter’s Laboratory,’ on which McCracken worked for pal Genndy Tartakovsky, who later worked on ‘Powerpuff’), it was the one that struck fire. Within a couple of years, the Powerpuff Girls were branding not only the usual clothes, games and backpacks, but also a commercial airliner (a Delta 737) and an entrant in the Daytona 500. When I visited the CN Burbank office-studio in 2000, an entire floor had been given over to the series.
The new episode, which is called ‘Powerpuff Girls Rule!!!,’ is both perfectly in the spirit of what has gone before and, like any special edition of any series, a little apart from it. Notably, it has been computer-animated in Flash (like McCracken’s current ‘Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends,’ and by the same team) and looks unusually pristine and crystalline, though not at the expense of its original timing, compositional weight and unique (if highly allusive) visual grammar. (McCracken studied his own show’s first season in order to get it right and played with the software to preserve the handmade feel.) (McCracken addresses some of the technical issues in this interview with the website Cold Hard Flash.)
The story concerns the Key to World Power, which has been entrusted for the day to the city’s hapless mayor. Every villain in Townsville turns out to try to make it theirs — I haven’t seen this many cameos since the last time I watched ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’ — but pride of evil place goes, of course, to Mojo Jojo, the big-brained, turbaned chimp who is the Lex Luthor to their Superman, the Moriarty to their Holmes, the Blofeld to their Bond. He is as loquaciously redundant as ever, which also makes him Polonius to their Hamlet, and denying it as always: ‘I do not repeat myself like that; I am clear, concise and to the point; Redundancy is not my thing.’ But you will see a new side to his character here. He sings too — a sad original ballad (‘I want to control all the people now/Give ‘em my orders and get some action/Be super-awesome and declare/That I — what’s the word? — rule!’) and Tears for Fears’ ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World.’ As a crooner, he is a great supervillain.
From a preschool perspective, the series might be called transgressive, since it is a cartoon in which the characters beat each other up and destroy a lot of property. (Collateral damage, thy name is Powerpuff.) But it is also cute (wherefore the merchandise), producing an original mix whose tang is perfectly captured in Bubbles’ line about Mojo Jojo (imported from the show for a talking doll): ‘And I would’ve kissed his little boo-boo, but then I remembered he was a bad monkey, so I kicked in his face.’
— Robert Lloyd