Just because Kim Possible, the Disney Channel’s new animated series, appeals to pre-teens and is not mean-spirited, eerie, or rife with sexual innuendo, doesn’t mean it lacks value. Its merit lies primarily in heroine Kim Possible (Christy Carlson Romano, known best for her role as overachieving high schooler Ren Stevens in Disney’s Even Stevens). A feisty red-haired teen, Kim divides her time between cheerleading practice and saving the world from the evil. She attends Middleton High (you can visit Middleton High on the show’s website and try out for the Mad Dog cheerleading squad, of which Kim is a member). She wears baggy, low-cut jeans and crop tops. She doesn’t have her driver’s license, so she has to call on her friends for rides; fortunately, she knows folks with airplanes and helicopters at their disposal.
When not fighting crime, Kim lives a dream life in a two-parent, two-big-income household; her mother (Jean Smart) is a brain surgeon and her dad (Gary Cole), a physicist. She has two bratty but lovable little brothers. Her family and friends know about her other life and even support it; she’s quite famous and her exploits are often written up in the newspaper. Still, though, they are parents: her father asks her not to talk about “hotties” at the breakfast table.
Kim’s sidekick and best friend, Ron Stoppable (Will Friedle), would like to be more than friends. Kim, however, has her eye on — or, as she puts it, “crushes on” — Josh Mankey (A.J. Trauth). While Josh causes Kim some anxiety, Ron, on the other hand, is a loyal, enthusiastic, freckled boy who, with his pet naked mole rat Rufus (Nancy Cartwright, also the voice of Bart Simpson), accompanies Kim on her dangerous international missions. Usually Ron and/or Rufus do something to jeopardize the mission, but Kim comes to the rescue.
Mostly, though, Kim has devices and abilities that might seem highly desirable to youngsters who want to be “cool” when they get older. These include her “kimmunicator,” the hand-held everything-in-one mechanism, on which she receives communiqués concerning dire threats to the planet, as well as her own internationally known website, run by her friend Wade (Tahj Mowry). And she gets to stay out late on school nights, as long as it’s for a good cause.
Here, high school existence is framed by yet another formulaic-but-fun cartoon with a retro, “too-cute” aesthetic, like The Cartoon Network’s Powerpuff Girls or Dexter’s Laboratory. The characters are drawn with huge eyes and heads, the good ones all speak in smooth, sweet tones, and they live inside a series with a catchy theme song, Christina Milian’s “Call Me, Beep Me.” And while it clearly targets pre-teen and younger viewers, Kim Possible includes adult-friendly humor, in the event that parents feel the need to watch tv with their kids. But nobody in or watching the series will ever be offended or over-stimulated, or even surprised.
Kim Possible adopts what has recently become a familiar formula for tv, the series featuring a crime-fighting female. It’s, well, impossible not to compare Kim to other TV females like Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) of ABC’s Alias, or even Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup of Powerpuff Girls. But how cool is it that we can now say, “Oh, just another crime-fighting female”?
Even better, this one is even more self-assured than some of her predecessors. Unlike Buffy, for example, Kim is able to stay on the cheerleading squad while saving the world. Her double life actually helps her. On the show’s website, Kim observes that the exercise and acrobatic demands of cheerleading are “mega-handy when I’m going up against those wacko bad guys.” As her arch-nemesis, evil scientist Dr. Drakken (John Di Maggio), puts it, “Why did she have to be a cheerleader? If she’d been on the debate team, I would have vaporized her by now.” But his stereotypical view, that brawn is harder to fight than brains, doesn’t hold up with regard to Kim. In fact, she is clever, as well as graceful and physically fit. She even puts her girly implements to work, using lip gloss and her compact mirror to defeat her adversaries.
Dr. Drakken isn’t her only problem: she also has to deal with the hostility and disparaging remarks of fellow cheerleader Bonnie Rockwaller [Kirsten Storms]. For Kim, these two are equally aggravating, and equally possible to overcome. But Kim has another, more secret nemesis, one that will be familiar to many young viewers: her own self-doubt. Despite her good looks, bubbly personality, and superhero status, she is still afraid of being rejected by Josh, a heartbreaker with fashionably two-toned hair and blasé attitude.
Perhaps there’s a grain of truth in Kim’s fantastic existence: while she is a high school student, her most passionate interests are not her classes or homework assignments. Instead, she expends her boundless energy on extracurricular activities, both standard (cheerleading, getting a date with Josh for the school dance) and less so (maintaining global security). The only thing scarier than evil villains are boys you like. And in the end, the formula always wins, and Kim always gets the villains — and the boy — by combining use of her brains, body, and heart. Perhaps she’ll inspire similar representations of flesh-and-blood high school females.