Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television, and games.
The Origin of the Girl Gang
During Cartoon Network's beginnings, they held an animation showcase known as What a Cartoon! where new animators would pitch their cartoon pilots to become potential series. One of the animators was Craig McCracken who pitched a couple of shorts about a trio of crime-fighting, super-powered girls based on his college thesis film The Whoop*ss Girls. That concept would later be retooled into The Powerpuff Girls. Not only was the series praised for its abstract animation, fast-paced action and wide variety of characters, but it quickly evolved into a huge franchise with merchandising and occasionally anniversary specials. Nowadays, the franchise itself would go through some questionable and creative liberties, whether having an anime adaptation, rebooting the animated series or developing a live-action series on CW as delusional adults. Whatever the case, the original series still remains influential in animation history.
At the peak of the series' popularity, Cartoon Network took interest in making theatrical films based on their shows and The Powerpuff Girls was the perfect candidate with McCracken as the director and Gennedy Tartatovsky as animation director. During production, McCracken was motivated by the network to make the movie as serious and action-filled as possible. However, once there was new management at the network, they were unhappy with the final product and some edits had to be made. Despite some fair promotional use and decent reviews from critics, the movie became a commercial failure. Nonetheless, the movie on its own did make history as the network's first and only theatrical film. There were even plans for a Samurai Jack film at one point, but that was eventually scrapped and reconstructed years later. The only other theatrical film that was released was Regular Show: The Movie but for a limited release. And no, Teen Titans GO! To the Movies does NOT count. It may be the highest-rated show on the network but it wasn't MADE by the network.
The Powerpuff Girls Movie is still underappreciated and a worthy product of the franchise's legacy.
After Professor Utonium (voiced by Tom Kane) accidentally creates The Powerpuff Girls, the girls have a difficult time controlling their powers and must save Townsville from the evil Mojo Jojo (voiced by Roger L. Jackson).
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"The City of Townsville..." As soon as you hear that opening line from the Narrator, then you would immediately know how faithful it is to the show. It is an ingenious move for the plot to be a fleshed-out origin story on how the Powerpuff Girls were made and their rise to becoming superheroes. The first few minutes do establish the setting and characters well on how crime-infested Townsville is, and Professor Utonium attempting the create the "perfect little girl" using sugar, spice and everything nice with an accidental dosage of Chemical X. At first, when the girls were born, things started out calm and happy. That is, until once they start school and learn how to play tag, the tone starts to elevate into unintentional territory. One of the initial criticisms that the movie received was its use of violence, especially how sensitive media got after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was an understandable circumstance back then. To judge the movie on its own, the scenes where the girls unknowingly destroy Townsville were meant to convey how uncontrollable their powers are and the citizens became prejudiced towards them out of fear. Sure, it does have the typical morals like "with great power, comes great responsibility" but it works effectively, thanks to the girls' naivety and adaptation to society. As soon as Mojo Jojo enters the scene, the story gets interesting when his diabolical plan comes into fruition. The outcome is both predictable and unpredictable at the same time. Eventually, when the girls fight Mojo during the third act, this is where the spirit of the show truly shines. The energy definitely hypes up its audiences to reach their expectations. Like the show, the movie also provides some humorous moments and references throughout. You'll be laughing at the Mayor's eccentric love for pickles or spotting the other villains' making cameos. As an origin story, it works decently. It may come off as a sporadic first impression, but after a while, it becomes tolerably acceptable.
When an animated TV show makes a jump into the big screen, you know that there will be a boost in production values. For those that have kept track watching the show, The Powerpuff Girls was the last Cartoon Network show to be made under Hanna-Barbera studios before the studio officially changed. It was also the last to use traditional cel animation during its fourth season and transitioned to digital ink-and-paint midway through. With the new technology that the animators had, they made quite impressive work. Many of the character designs stay true to the original while some mild changes were given like making certain characters rounder and with bigger eyes. Even though the character animation maintains its television quality, it is prominent that they added more movement to the flying and action sequences. As inadvertent as it was, the action sequences are easily the highlight of the animation. There is a sense of effort thrown into the fighting scenes. They are energetic, fast-paced and definitely leave a good feeling whenever the girls get the job done. We also get to see some creative machinery operating by Mojo's monkey army whether it is a baboon robot throwing bombs or creating a tornado out of tomato sauce. The movie would sometimes incorporate some CGI whether it be on cars, glass, giant robots and give the city some scope. If there was anything to nitpick, the use of lighting could be inconsistent. The characters would look flat under direct sunlight which made them easily mistaken for those from an episode of the show. Other times when they are in the shadows, they have shadings to give them more depth like a movie. Nonetheless, the show's animation quality did receive a great upgrade for the big screen.
Since the movie is about the Powerpuff Girls' beginnings, we do get a nice introduction out of the characters and they are simple enough to understand, especially for newcomers. Starting with the Powerpuff Girls themselves: Blossom is the smart leader, Bubbles is the pure-heart sweetie, and Buttercup is the tough tomboy. They all share an innocent and adaptive nature when they go through an arc trying to control their superpowers and learn to use them in the right moment. Their creator Professor Utonium is the town scientist who now struggles to be a loving father while trying to keep the girls safe. Other characters like the eccentric Mayor, his assistant Ms. Bellum and teacher Ms. Keane act more like minor supporting characters rather than contributing much to the plot. The same goes for the other recurring villains like Fuzzy Lumpkins or The Ganggreen Gang.
But then, we have the main antagonist Mojo Jojo. He was once the Professor's rambunctious lab assistant monkey. But, once the Chemical X accident mutated his brain and became intelligent, he swore revenge on the Professor for "replacing" him and manipulates the girls into building him a machine that creates a mutated monkey army to take over Townsville. Like the show, Mojo Jojo is easily one of the entertaining villains in animation history for his over-the-top accent and redundant speeches. As predictable as his plan was, one could almost feel sympathy for him similarly on how the girls were treated. The monkey army is surprisingly funny when they soon became smart, disobey Mojo and start planning to take over themselves. The line-up includes Rocko Socko, Ojo Tango, Baboon Kaboom, Ha-Cha Cha-Cha and A "Whole Lotta Monkeys" (actual cast credit). Speaking of the cast, the voice actors did outstanding performances. With experience and history with the show, they know exactly how to bring their characters to life.
Overall, The Powerpuff Girls Movie holds up as an underrated animated movie. As an origin story, it is welcoming for newcomers. Sure, the movie's violent and serious tone had an awkward start originally. But, it got overshadowed with some grand animation, exhilarating action, talented voice acting and a growing fan base. This movie is a must-watch for Powerpuff Girls fans and action movie lovers. For those who can't stand dark and serious matter, it is worth a rental at best. The movie is available to watch online or find on DVD (since there's no official Blu-ray release) with deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes features. At the time, there was also a Dexter's Laboratory short before the movie called "Chicken Scratch" which eventually became a TV episode. Long story short: it is okay, had its weird moments but it was satisfying seeing Dexter on the big screen. While Cartoon Network doesn't officially have any current plans for any new theatrical projects, we can agree that at least they tried.
To cap this off: "So once again, the day is saved thanks to the Powerpuff Girls!"