[7 July 2002]
The Powerpuff Girls Movie brings to the big screen the super-heroine stars of the Cartoon Network’s popular series. The movie helpfully provides background, in the off-chance you haven’t seen the series. At its start, a narrator (Tom Kenny) fills you in on who’s who and how the three adorable super-heroes came to be. The rest of the film shows how the girls—strange and frightening at first—came to be accepted by the city of Townsville.
Their well-intentioned “parent” is one Professor Utonium (voice of Tom Kane), a “forward-looking man,” the narrator tells us, “who looks back to a sweeter time,” when girls were made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.” As he’s concocting his girls in the lab, an accident occurs, and Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup (Cathy Cavadini, Tara Strong, Elizabeth Daily) have added to their genetic makeup a dash of “Chemical X,” which allows them to fly and shoot laser beams from their eyes.
Clearly, these are not regular little girls. But they’re not entirely out of the ordinary: they speed-decorate their room in their signature shade of bubblegum pink; they cuddle with stuffed animals; they go to school and try to play nicely with others; they stall the Professor before bedtime. And they demonstrate familiar little-girlish downsides—Blossom can be bossy, Buttercup often looks sullen, and Bubbles tends to be a little whiny. The Professor warns his creations not to use their super-powers in public, because people just “won’t understand.” The girls follow this directive for a little while, but ultimately, they realize they must be themselves in order to “do good.”
Still, this movie is about being extraordinary, and coming to terms with that in a very ordinary-minded world. At first, the girls’ differences scare their fellow citizens. They wreak havoc on Townsville when an innocent game of tag turns into an elaborate chase all over the city, with the girls deploying their lasers and barreling through buildings, leaving devastation in their wake. The next morning, the newspaper headlines read: “Freaky bug-eyed weirdo girls broke everything.”
In an effort to win over their neighbors, Blossom, Buttercup, and Bubbles make friends with another outcast, the formerly normal and now super-powered chimp, Mojo Jojo (Roger L. Jackson). Also a victim of the lab accident, the chimp has been does with Chemical X, which makes him not only super-smart (his brain pops out of his skull), but also malicious and egotistical—he wants to rule the world. He lies to the girls, convincing them that if they help him, everyone will like them. Though they make this initial error, the girls end up, as they often do on TV, saving Townsville from the clutches of the nefarious Mojo Jojo.
The twist in this super-hero formula is that the girls are so little and cute, and resourceful. And the animation goes a long way toward making their cuteness funny rather than cloying. It’s a madcap mix of retro space-age (think: The Jetsons) and the too-adorable sensibility and irony of Hello Kitty.
The scenery and characters in the Powerpuff movie (and TV show) are simply drawn, mostly primary shapes. But the artwork is not without sophistication; for example, during that tag game, a gigantic decorative mirror ball that adorns the top of a skyscraper is knocked off its perch. Rolling through the streets, this mirror ball reflects the scenery as one of James Cameron’s digital effect might.
The art design makes excellent use of dark and light, both visual and symbolic. During happy times, the girls inhabit a world filled bright colors. As the situation gets gloomier—say, after the girls have destroyed their classroom, and it must then undergo loud reconstruction, the color scheme takes up dark grays and browns, with occasional deep yellow or red accents. This darkness culminates in the extended fight sequence at film’s end, when the girls take on Mojo Jojo’s horde of enhanced primates. Here the girls, darting about the streets and up and down buildings, leave bright streaks of color behind them, little rays of hope.
Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup are smart, self-assured, and admirable. They always save the city; they are energetic and overtly emotional, powerful females and innocent little kids. Best of all, the Powerpuff Girls haven’t even neared adolescence, when too many girls become less sure of themselves, more tentative about speaking up and acting out, and concerned about fitting in to particular social molds. Perhaps the younger members of their audience can appreciate their potency, and grow up understanding the possibilities and fun of girl power.