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Powerpuff Girls

The Powerpuff Girls: Sugar and Spice and a Bit of Ka-Pow!

by Terrence Briggs

© Cartoon Network.

One good thing we can say about the Spice Girls and Sailor Moon: The "girl power" trend in today's animation is very much a positive one. Somewhere between the physically imposing action-figures that are the female X-Men and Power Rangers and the essentialist passivity of the Jewel Riders and the Sky Dancers are the Whoopass Girls, a creation of Dexter's Laboratory art director Craig McCracken. After coming to life as a CalArts student film, the girls moved to the Cartoon Network for a series of shorts as The Powerpuff Girls.

Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup may be Powerpuffs now, but they still open up cans of whoopass on baddies like Mojo Jojo, Roach Coach, and Him (as in, Him is his name). When not opening said cans, the girls settle down in their suburban home with their guardian and creator, Professor Utonium, avoiding bedtime, chasing cockroaches and doing chores.

By no means are the girls' personalities as kindergartners restricted to their home life. The show gets much comic mileage out of the girls' grade-school dialogue and demeanor. Less comic mileage comes from the show's narrator, who in terms of effectiveness lies somewhere between Rocky & Bullwinkle's classic motormouth and The Mouse & the Monster's soulless wannabe. He's not entirely annoying, and is occasionally welcome ("THE CITY OF TOWNSVILLE! No, wait, I...already said that..."), but with interjections such as "Mojo Jojo! Say it ain't so-so!" he tends to not add much funny to the proceedings.

The girls themselves are interesting enough in a general sense. Their enormous peepers would put Tezuka to shame, and their limbs of fury flail like stuffed dolls. The comic situations aren't exactly character-driven, so the personalities of the character never really develop beyond the basics (Buttercup's the woman of action, Bubbles is the ditz, Blossom's the planner, and that's about it). No real character interplay here to spice things up, but the 11-minute mini-plots don't leave much time for anything.

The villains so far are a mixed bag. Mojo Jojo held my interest simply as a deep throat who excessively explains everything with repetitive bits of redundancy. Sedusa holds little interest beyond the inspired melodrama of the incredible Jennifer Hale (which is quite a bit of appeal in itself). Roach Coach is as flat a commanding personality as any I've seen; his dialogue consists of an unappealing amalgam of go-go clichés.

This women-in-power stuff has carried a certain appeal to me ever since the She-Ra days. At the very least, Powerpuff Girls works as an interesting comic deviation from the more sexual presences of the busty comic-book femmes and Sailor Moon squad. On another level, with the show's embrace of and spin on the camp classics of today's slacker generation, it's the show you refuse to admit you watch.

On the most important level of execution, however, it's the visual equivalent of background noise. Powerpuff is power fluff, as sweet and empty as a snack cake, and as hyperactive as the kids who eat them. Maybe the show's potential for reining in more mature audiences will surface in some future episode.

Say, the Whoopass Grandmas...

Terrence Briggs, all-purpose animation fan, is more than happy to receive comments from readers on his work.

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