New ‘Powerpuff Girls’ packs a bigger character punch than the original
Sugar, spice, everything nice and an accidental dash of “Chemical X.” These were the ingredients needed to create the beloved 1990s cartoon “The Powerpuff Girls.” And now, more than 15 years after the original Cartoon Network debut, the studio is turning back to that formula for a brand-new “Powerpuff Girls” series.
One of Cartoon Network’s most recognizable shows, the original “Powerpuff Girls” aired from 1998 to 2005. Created by Craig McCracken, the series followed the adventures of laboratory-generated super-powered sisters Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup as they battled crime and protected their hometown from the forces of evil.
A refreshing ka-pow of girl power, the original series came at a time when female protagonists, let alone female superheroes, were still a rarity. Although female empowerment was a buzz phrase, the notion that young girls could be cute and tough crime-fighters was still a novel idea. On top of that, the show’s action was often paired with valuable life lessons such as the importance of bathing, of eating broccoli and of not eating paste.
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Now Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup are back, with the premiere airing tonight at 6 p.m. To the untrained eye, it would appear as if the trio had reappeared unchanged. Their signature pink, green and blue ensembles are intact. Blossom still has her big red bow, Buttercup her attitude and Bubbles her pigtails. But the new girl gang of “Powerpuff” action has grown to meet the new animated audiences of today.
True fans will recognize the subtle visual differences. Blossom’s bow has been rounded, Bubbles’ pigtails have moved and Buttercup has acquired a bit of a cowlick. But more significant are the changes viewers can’t just see.
Helmed by Executive Producer Nick Jennings and Co-Executive Producer Bob Boyle, the creators are hoping not to change the core of the series, but will usher in a deeper look into the lives of the “Powerpuff Girls.”
“The first part of the process for us was to really just sort of figure out ‘Who is Blossom? Who is Buttercup? Who is Bubbles?’” Jennings explained. “By developing them as stronger personalities and understanding them more as characters, we were able to write stories that are more relatable to people. I think you connect with them better.”
For example, in one new episode, Buttercup (the team’s muscle) finds a new group of friends that results in her spending less time with her sisters. Dejected, Blossom and Bubbles turn to classic “Powerpuff Girls” villain Princess Morbucks to fill the void and elevate their feelings of missing out. This, of course, has disastrous consequences.
The goal was to develop the girls enough that audiences would be interested in just hanging out with them. To make it so fans could watch Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup in everyday situations and be just as entertained as they would be watching them battle a giant robot.
Same goes for “The Powerpuff Girls’” rogues gallery. While some familiar villains such as Mojo Jojo and the previously mentioned Princess Morbucks have been updated and will be featured in the series, not all will make a return. While villains and monsters are still definitely a part of the show and will have a place in the big battles, these characters are now less of a catalyst for conflict. Today’s “Powerpuff” baddies are more of a consequence of a normal situation that somehow gets out of hand.
Or, in the case of a new villain named Manboy, who debuts this week in a new “Powerpuff” episode, an old-world example of hyper-powered masculinity.
The Brawny Man-looking bad guy has all the power of a man, but the size of a boy. “Manboy is a perfect kind of villain for us,” said Jennings. “He’s an old-thinking type of male character set into this modern-day world.”
One character who didn’t make the cut in the new “Powerpuff Girls” series? The mayor’s red-headed assistant Ms. Bellum.
“We felt like Ms. Bellum wasn’t quite indicative of the kind of messaging we wanted to be giving out at this time, so we sort of had her move on,” Jennings explained. “And that was a good choice I think on our part.”
The Ms. Sara Bellum character was the super-intelligent, capable and apparently beautiful woman (her face was never shown), who for some reason never rose above being the assistant to the generally clueless mayor of Townsville.
In fact, in the first couple of episodes available for preview, there are few adults in the mix; the emphasis is on the girls solving their own problems.
Jennings and the “Powerpuff Girls” crew are very aware about the types of messages and themes they are exploring in the new series. While a series may have been considered progressive just by featuring three female superhero protagonists in 1998, modern Cartoon Network series such as “Adventure Time” and “Steven Universe” have set the bar higher by infusing more feminist themes regarding women’s roles and gender identity and expression into their shows.
In addition to shattering old tropes and kick-punching dated ideas, the new “Powerpuff Girls” will also address issues of gender and identity. One upcoming episode in particular touches on ideas of gender identity -- a topic open to conversation even in animated shows, thanks to programs such as “Steven Universe,” which explores gender fluidity and rejects established gender norms.
“We did an episode where there’s a unicorn. Basically when it starts out, he’s a pony, but he wants to be a unicorn,” Jennings explained. “He has to go through a transformation to become a unicorn and so it’s a whole [episode that asks], ‘What are you on the inside? What are you on the outside? How do you identify yourself? How do people see you?’ There’s a lot of subtext in that.”
And while the showrunners are mindful of their target demographic, they don’t believe in shying away from more complicated themes, with a proper approach.
“I don’t think you can be too young to start talking about those issues and thinking about those things and just presenting an attitude,” said Jennings, “and a voice that is going to resonate with people.”
But despite all the changes, the showrunners found that they didn’t need to change the girls’ surroundings too much to modernize the story. Townsville remains Townsville, even with an updated look and expanded population. And while the girls have now moved on from kindergarten to a K-12 school, they still maintain their youthful charm.
“The essence [of the show] is very much intact,” reassured “Powerpuff Girls” writer Haley Mancini. “We just blew out the world to bring it into 2016.”
“We want to be really respectful of the original show because we’re big fans of it,” Jennings said. “We don’t want to downplay or diminish the importance of that cartoon. We want to expand it and bring in a whole other generation of kids to love it.”
The original “Powerpuff Girls” did resonate with people. That’s why Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup are still among the more recognized Cartoon Network characters years after the original series ended its run.
“I think that ‘PowerPuff Girls,’” said Rob Sorcher, chief content officer for Cartoon Network, “is one of those things that never really went away.”
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