Powerpuff Girls: The Movie, The

Reviewed By Collin Souter
Posted 07/04/02 12:01:38

"Laugh now while you can, monkey boy!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

A good movie version of a TV show should always feel as though the unacquainted viewer has been invited in on the fun. Me, I’m new here. I’ve only just recently been brought up to speed on this whole “Powerpuff Girls” thing. I have been aware of the TV show for a while, but have only occasionally come across it. Were it not for the infectious enthusiasm for the show of fellow film critic Nick Digilio, I might have dismissed it altogether. What can I say? Curiosity got the best of me. Prior to the movie version’s release, I went out and rented a couple videos. As you can imagine, it has been rather difficult to find a video store that still has them on the shelves. I wanted to get a better idea of what you fans have been so ecstatic about.

I am happy to say that I find “The Powerpuff Girls” TV show charming indeed. I can almost understand what makes some people go absolutely mad over it. I have been a devotee of animated shows myself, and not just “The Simpsons,” or any other Fox or Comedy Central show. I remember flipping out big time over a Japanimation series called “Ranma ½,” a show that boasts the same kind of wit, imagination and overall fun. Since the show didn’t air on American television, I had to wait a month for every video to come out. It hooked me. Believe me, I’m no stranger to this sort of fandom.

You uninitiated folks out there needn’t worry about feeling alienated from the fun of “The Powerpuff Girls Movie,” for it has been made with you in mind. It tells the story of how the big-eyed, floating, kick-butt trio of little girls came to be. It may as well be the pilot episode. I haven’t seen the actual TV pilot, but I can’t image a team of writers and animators this creative would opt to do a re-make. I can’t do the telling of the story justice the way the narrator can, but I’ll do my best.

It all starts with Professor Utonium (voice by Tom Kane), a square-jawed scientist who longs for the simpler times in life when crime didn’t run rampant. He lives in the City of Townsville. One day, he mixes sugar, spice and everything nice, but accidentally spills something called Chemical X into the mix. Viola! Three adorable pint-sized supergirls with super powers come to life. Professor Utonium, thrilled with the companionship, adopts them as his daughters and does everything in his power to be a good father to them.

He names the red-head Blossom (voice by Catherine Cavadini), the blonde pig-tailed one Bubbles (Tara Strong) and the brunette Buttercup (the always engaging E.G. Daily). The three go to school and get along famously with the other kids. They learn the best and simplest of schoolyard games, Tag, and begin to play their own version of it. Here, they discover their super powers and end up almost tearing the city apart.

The people in Townsville learn of the three girls, but they don’t like them very much since they wrecked everything, including the school. Professor Utonium advises the girls that it would be best if they didn’t show off their super powers in public, since people generally don’t take kindly to things they don’t understand. But if you give people time, they might come around (one of the many valuable lessons kids will learn from this film). The girls take his advice.

One night while walking home, they meet a strange monkey man in the street with a giant brain sticking out of his head who also feels like a misunderstood outsider. His name is Mojo Jojo (Roger L. Jackson) and those who know the show know he should not be trusted. I could be wrong on this, but I think he’s the most popular nemesis of the Powerpuff Girls. But, again, you won’t need to know that going in.

I could go on about Mojo Jojo’s plan to “make the world a better place,” but “The Powerpuff Girls Movie” only runs 77 minutes and it would be best if I just stop describing the plot right here. From this point on, the movie makes mad and ingenious leaps and bounds with its central villain. His brand of madness spins out of control to the point where even he doesn’t quite know how to handle it. I’ll just say that the movie has a lot of fun making references to a particular sub-genre of sci-fi film that kids will most likely miss.

The animation looks deceptively simple, almost a cross between anime (especially their eyes), Warner Brothers caricatures and Ren & Stimpy-like detail. Instead of a sunny backdrop, most of the film has a gray overcast. Scenes that have fluorescent lights look appropriately drab. But the movie also has a colorful vibrancy, as though it wants to take advantage of its new-found screen proportions.

Creator/co-writer/director Craig McCracken clearly wants kids to get something out of this film. He knows parents will be taking their kids to see it, even though young adults who get the show’s more subtle humor will also populate the theater. The level of violence may annoy some of the parents out there (it does carry a PG rating), but there certainly exists moments of truth in this film that kids will identify with. This movie teaches the value of listening to one’s parents, of tolerating people who look and act differently and of working together as a team. Parents needn’t worry about this film being as loud, crass and despicable as “Scooby-Doo.”

So, is there a reason to see “The Powerpuff Girls Movie” if you’ve never seen the show? I would say yes. In fact, being an outsider might make the storyline all the more interesting and original. It has plenty of charm and imagination. One truly inspired scene occurs when the girls find they have not only alienated themselves from the people of Townsville, but from the whole planet. Where they end up pondering this predicament is truly a setting that comes out of left field and ends up adding an unexpected element of beauty to the film.

I still recommend renting a couple videos anyway. Although the movie has some pop culture references here and there, I wish it had cut loose a little more as the show often does. One episode in particular, the first one I ever saw, consisted of nothing but Beatles references. Every line of dialogue and every shot came from a Beatles song, movie or album cover. Actually, now that I think about it, Van Halen fans will probably get a huge kick out of this movie.

But “The Powerpuff Girls Movie” has bigger fish to fry. It wants to be about childhood and not about pop culture. It wants to just go back to the days of tag, peanut butter and jelly with the crusts cut off and sleeping with your favorite stuffed animal. I can certainly go along with that, but I still miss some of the show’s edge. The movie doesn’t want to take the chance of separating the kids in the audience from the jokes for too long, which I guess is just as well, considering the jokes are often very funny.

I still feel somewhat new to this show and I’m eager to see more episodes. I find it cute, charming, smart, sneaky, hilarious and strangely nostalgic. I probably won’t own any hats, t-shirts or dolls, but I’m having a good time anyway. The true fans in the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy it and approve of it. As a film critic, I approve of it as a good, moral film for kids and a fun piece of colorful entertainment for everyone else. Thanks for inviting me.

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