The City of Townsville… is in desperate need of heroes!
Yes, it is a dark time for the City of Townsville. It has not yet become the bright, fair, happy (if continually monster-threatened) community familiar to fans of Cartoon Network’s "The Powerpuff Girls" TV series.
It is a dark time for the city because the Powerpuff Girls have not yet been born/created, leaving the city unfair, unhappy, and still monster-threatened!
All that is about to change, because locked in the mind of one man — Professor Utonium — is the secret formula to create the perfect little girls, girls who he can teach about right and wrong, girls who can brighten his life and maybe help others, too.
Deep in his lab, Dr. Utonium combines sugar, spice, and everything nice, when his mischievous lab-monkey, Jojo, causes him to accidentally add an extra ingredient to the concoction… Chemical X!
And thus are born… the Powerpuff Girls!
But with them is born a new threat: Also exposed to Chemical X is the professor’s lab monkey, who begins his transformation into the evil, villainous, fiendish, diabolical, and redundantly speech-making speechifier, the master-criminal Mojo Jojo!
But enough about that.
The Powerpuff Girls Movie is the first big-screen adaptation of a TV series from cable TV’s Cartoon Network, which also produces such fan-favorites as "Dexter’s Lab," "Johnny Bravo," "Time Squad," and "Ed, Edd, n’ Eddie." Indeed, the movie is prefaced with a "Dexter’s Lab" short ("Chicken Scratch"), telling the story of its diminutive hero’s somewhat icky encounter with chicken pox.
By releasing the movie, Cartoon Network is seeking to follow in the footsteps of rival children’s network Nickelodeon, which has already made two successful big-screen Rugrats adaptations (along with last week’s disappointing Hey Arnold! adaptation), and one other successful film, Jimmy Neutron, not based on a TV series.
With The Powerpuff Girls Movie, Cartoon Network gets off on the right foot. The movie delivers what fans of the series will want, while successfully adapting to the demands of the big screen.
For a start, the animation is taken to the next level. It follows the same thick-lined, hand-drawn animation style that the series is known for, but the filmmakers make the needed adjustment for this to work on the big screen, as well as adroitly using computer-generated animation in places to achieve visual effects not found in the TV series.
The movie also delivers the quality that the series is most famous for: the juxtaposition of intense cute-factor with intense cartoon action.
Throughout the first part of the film, which tells the story of the girls’ creation and early family life with the Professor (Tom Kane), both children and adults in the audience find themselves constantly smiling and going "Awww…" at the girls and the things they do.
The action, as one would expect, is more intense and more elaborate. It follows the same highly-stylized visual storytelling language established in the TV show, but is given greater scope and further augmented by the computer animation.
Fans of the series will be especially pleased that the film gives us a feature-length retelling of the Powerpuff Girls’ origin. While the opening of every episode of the TV show shows the accident that created them, and while over time new details about it emerged in the series (such as the fact their nemesis, Mojo Jojo, caused the accident), this time their origin is treated with the kind of length not possible in the show’s 22-minute (plus ads) small-screen format.
We get to see it as the three girls first meet the Professor, who given them their names: Blossom (Catherine Cavadini), because she opened right up to him; Bubbles (Tara Strong), because she’s so bubbly with laughter; and Buttercup (E. G. Daily)… because that also starts with "B." We get to see their first day of kindergarten. We get to see the Professor adapting to his new role as a parent, as well as discovering that the girls he has made have "ultra-super-powers."
This fact almost makes the Powerpuff Girls’ first adventure their last. At school the girls discover the game of "Tag," and oblivious to the effects of their powers, almost wreck Townsville, which turns against them. Wandering the streets alone, they meet the down-and-out Jojo, who also says he is hated by the townspeople. Seeking to redeem themselves, the girls agree to help Jojo build his "Help the Town and Make it a Better Place" Machine, so that everyone will like them.
Things don’t go as the girls plan, and they have a hard time winning the affection of the Townsvillians and the role of being the town’s official superheroes.
In the process, long-time fans of the series get treated both to the things they’ve always loved the series for, as well as new treats (such as knowing how Mojo Jojo got his volcano-top fortress and how Bubbles got her purple-octopus-with-a-top-hat doll).
How does the movie fare from the perspective of first-time goers — particularly of parents whose kids insist on seeing it?
Overall, it fares well. The girls are incredibly cute. The fact that this is their origin story makes it accessible for those encountering them for the first time. And there are well-placed gags in the film that will keep adults chuckling, such as when Mojo Jojo declares that for too long he and his kind "have been under the thumb of man," but that "the time has come… to oppose that thumb!" There are also clever allusions to other films that adults will recognize, as when Buttercup shouts, "Get your hands off him, you darn, dirty ape!" (cf. the original Planet of the Apes).
The main drawback for first-timers will be the intensity of the action. Though there is no blood and gore here, and nobody gets seriously hurt (just knocked out, like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon), the action sequences are still very fast and furious. While this action style is part of what made the Powerpuff Girls a success on the small screen, the effect can be overwhelming on the big screen (be sure not to sit too close to the screen).
Even in non-action sequences, the directing sometimes can be frenetic, and there will be a good number of adults in the audience wishing that the filmmakers had pulled it back a bit, kept a somewhat slower pace, and kept the action sequences shorter. Indeed, at 87 minutes, The Powerpuff Girls Movie is a bit long for a children’s feature and could use some judicious cutting.
First-timers may also find themselves a bit bewildered by a few of the characters in the film. The story is so focused on the five main ones (the three girls, the Professor, and Mojo Jojo), that some of the regular supporting characters aren’t built up enough, particularly The Mayor of Townsville, and his ultra-competent, ultra-tall assistant, Sara Bellum. Fans will realize that they are perfectly in character, but first-timers may be confused by the schticks the two have and wonder "Can The Mayor really be that much of an airhead?" and "Why don’t we ever see Miss Bellum’s face?"
Despite these limitations, parents who take their kids to see the movie will find it a cute, funny (if at times perhaps too action-packed) family viewing experience. One tip for such parents: Do not refer to this as the "Powderpuff Girls"! There is no "d" (and your kids will laugh at you if you use one).
Those — adults or children — who are already fans of the series will get a thrill as "for the very first time, the days is saved thanks to… the Powerpuff Girls!"
(Written by Jimmy Akin) The film is a mixed success. Fans of “The Wild Thornberrys“ will enjoy it, but it doesn’t have much ability to reach beyond its core audience.
(Written by Jimmy Akin) When Cartoons Collide!!! That’s what they could have used as a tag-line for Rugrats Go Wild.
(Written by Jimmy Akin) The second Rugrats movie begins with a wedding: little Tommy Pickles’ widowed grandfather, Lou, is finally marrying his late-in-life flame, Lulu.
(Written by Jimmy Akin) Changes are coming to the pastel-colored Rugrats universe, and The Rugrats Movie brings them. It is the biggest things that has happened to the series in its nearly ten year run: a new Rugrat is being born.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.