About Last Night: The Powerpuff Girls

They’re back, but in CG and without Craig McCracken.  Have The Powerpuff Girls lost a step?  Well…

This shouldn’t have worked.  Hell, this shouldn’t even have existed.  The Powerpuff Girls were done.  Finished.  They had four excellent seasons, a movie that had no right to be as good as it was, a Christmas special for the ages, two wildly all over the place seasons – where series best episodes like “The City of Clipsville”, which pulled off the Clip Show fake-out seven years before Community did, could be followed by utterly abominable half-hours like “See Me, Feel Me, Gnome Me” – when creator Craig McCracken left to make Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, and a tenth anniversary special where Craig came back to end it strong.  That was it.  The show was finished.  It had its six seasons and movie.

But, no.  Cartoon Network brought it back for one last hurrah and, in the process, set off so many alarm bells that my ears were left ringing for days on end as a result.  Yes, all of the voice actors were back – E.G. Daily, Cathy Cavidini, Tara Strong, Tom Kenny, Tom Kane, Jennifer Martin and Roger L. Jackson – in all of their original roles, but series creator Craig McCracken was nowhere in sight, and the two seasons where he was just in an Executive Producer role instead of running the show were frequently uneven.  And then there was the art style change, from half-anime/half-Hanna Barbara hand-drawn to total CG.  I barely got over the switch to Flash in the final two seasons, which often looked cheap, and have a personal preference for hand-drawn or 2D animation, not to mention the fact that, in still shots, the new art style looked, well, ugly.  And then there was that Ringo Starr song which, whilst not exactly being a worrying knock against the special, reminded me why we don’t let Ringo write songs anymore.

So, gotta be honest, I was all set to hate this special because I’m always wary when people drag up classic properties from my childhood for another go-around.  Sometimes they’re fantastic (2011’s Winnie The Pooh and The Muppets films, especially), other times they really aren’t (2004’s The Magic Roundabout and Garfield films) and Cartoon Network have had past experience in both camps (for every Teen Titans Go, there’s the uncancellation of Dexter’s Laboratory).  Turns out that my fears were unfounded, though, as the return of The Powerpuff Girls was actually good.  Really good.  Huh.  Didn’t see that coming.

The Powerpuff GirlsHell, if I’m being honest, one of my favourite aspects of the whole special was that of the animation.  What looked off-putting and rough in still images looks amazing in motion!  It’s rough, but there’s detail.  Animations are often jerky, yet just as frequently smooth and perfectly fit the madcap pace and energy of the special.  Characters have been re-designed (Mojo Jojo looks more menacing than before, for example) but are still recognisably themselves.  The movement of the camera from 2D to 3D plains is almost seamless as a result.  You know what I kept getting mental comparisons to whilst watching this?  TearawayTearaway!  This really is just the Tearaway art and animation style but with a muddier colour palette and it’s every bit as gorgeous in motion as that sounds.  Yes, sometimes things dip slightly into the uncanny valley, but not often enough to be distracting and certainly way less than I thought it was going to.

In fact, “[x worry] was way less of a problem than I thought it was going to be” is kind of the running thread throughout the special.  The lack of Craig McCracken and seemingly any of the writers of the original series, like Amy Keating Rogers, John McIntyre, Charlie Bean and Lauren Faust – I could be wrong, though, I can’t make out the credits all that good – didn’t matter anywhere near as much as I thought it would because the special still brought the funny regardless.  It brought a lot of the funny.  Dance battling was a thing, people!  There was a Soul Hayride!  The group tantrum the girls pulled out is the kind of gag I can’t believe the original series didn’t do.  Ditto for Professor Utonium’s “Because… science!  Lots of science!”  And the ultimate swerve on what Mojo Jojo’s true plan was called to mind the ending swerves of “Mime For A Change” and “Him Diddle Riddle”.  In a good way.

I must note, however, that I never did click with the pacing of the special.  It’s fast.  Really fast.  Like, madcap.  Lines and zingers fly all over the place, scenes are practically anorexic, they have that little flab, and the whole time I felt like I was watching the episode at 2x speed.  Everyone races through their dialogue in an attempt to fit everything in.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing, fast-paced humour can be hilarious if it’s pulled off well as it was here, but it makes the experience tiring.  I feel like I sat through the sitcom equivalent of a hyperactive child who has just snorted fourteen bags of sugar and sherbet up his nose.  The half hour would have benefitted from pausing itself for at least five seconds every few minutes, I feel.  I mean, I’m not sure where it could have found that time, this is one stuffed half hour, but it might have helped.

The Powerpuff GirlsThere’s also a distinct lack of action sequences in this special, too, although that can be forgiven due to it clearly never being the intention.  After all, some of the show’s best episodes were nothing but wall-to-wall jokes (“The Powerpuff Girls’ Best Rainy Day Adventure Ever”, anyone?) and this half hour was so packed with hilarious jokes that a lot of my fan criticisms (like how Bubbles can now use ice breath despite six seasons’ worth of canon contradicting that fact) are rendered moot.  Fact of the matter is that this special was hilarious, I had fun and it ended up being far better in practice than it ever sounded on paper, even it is kind of light and disposable (hence the shortness of this review).  Would I like to see it expanded to a full rebooted series?  Not really; again, I feel that The Powerpuff Girls have had their time.  But as a nice fun one-off treat for a staple of my childhood (and young adult phase with my recent fanatical reconversion to cartoons), I’m glad it exists.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations

  • Original show creator Craig McCracken, who wasn’t even consulted on this special, has been off doing Wander Over Yonder for Disney Channel.  When I’ve actually been able to catch an episode (because finding places to watch that show as a non-American is a huge pain in the arse), it’s been pretty damn fantastic and I recommend it totally.
  • The best episode of The Powerpuff Girls is “Meet The Beat-Alls”.  All other suggestions are wrong.
  • In the way-more-prolific-than-you’d-think pantheon of “Songs Inspired by The Powerpuff Girls”, I’d put Ringo Starr’s “I Wish I Was A Powerpuff Girl” (which doesn’t appear in the special, thank the lord) behind The Sugarplastic’s “Don’t Look Down” and ahead of bis’ “Fight The Power” and just about everything off of the Power Pop album (the Sahara Hotnights and Shonen Knife tracks on there don’t count as the former was already on the group’s Jennie Bomb album and the latter already appeared on the genuinely-superb-I-highly-recommend-it Heroes & Villains CD).
  • Speaking of bis, the pure nerve of Cartoon Network running an advert over the credits and denying me the chance to either celebrate the best end credits song to any cartoon ever or rage against its replacement!  Now I will never get an answer!  I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY, CARTOON NETWORK!
  • And speaking of Ringo Starr; in some alternate universe, Craig McCracken directed this special, met Ringo and somebody documented the likely hysterical reaction.

    OK, that's an image I did not ever need to see.
    OK, that’s an image I did not ever need to see.
  • Is it just me, or did anyone else find Tom Kenny’s Narrator voice to be considerably… off?  I know, I know, time’s change and vocal evolution and all that.  Was just odd, is all, and it reminds me that we are all on the slow, inexorable march towards the sweet embrace of death.  Nobody is safe, not even the voices of our childhoods…  That got a bit dark.
  • “How come she gets a pillow!?”
  • “Sorry, Mayor, but we won’t be able to get your pickle jar down for you.”  “But it’s right there next to you…”  “I SAID SORRY, NOW DEAL WITH IT!”
  • “OK, Octi!  This time you be the magical rainbow polar bear, and I’ll be Winston Churchill!”  I have absolutely no idea what any of that meant, but it was hilarious all the same.
  • “The hotline!  …The zookeeper?  …He got served?!  We’re on it, Mayor!”
  • “Corgis are SOOO cute!”
  • Yes, the fact that Ms Bellum’s face was obscured for the entirety of the dance-off did amuse me greatly.
  • “We would never play softball for evil!”
  • “I’LL BE BACK!  We’ve got a game next Tuesday!”
  • We got three classic-style Mojo Jojo monologues and a rake gag with him.  This special has been totally worth it.

Callie Petch will be fighting crime, trying to save the world.

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