The Powerpuff Girls
screenplay by Craig McCracken, Charlie Bean, Lauren Faust, Paul Rudish, Don Shank
directed by Craig McCracken
by Walter Chaw I remember this Nora Dunn skit on "Saturday Night Live" where she plays a French chanteuse draped over a piano singing "Send in the Clowns" translated into French and then back into English again. The result was incomprehensible and funny--for a while. Craig McCracken's The Powerpuff Girls Movie (based on his Cartoon Network series "Powerpuff Girls", natch) is American animation translated into Japanese animé back into American animation: similarly incomprehensible, not quite so funny, and it overstays its welcome, too. Because the humour of the piece is reliant on the slow burn and the extended take, when a joke doesn't work there's a lot of down time (Men in Black II suffers a similar malady), and because most of the jokes don't work, even for the bib-and-diaper set, at around seventy minutes The Powerpuff Girls Movie is powerfully boring stuff.
Professor Utonium (voiced by Tom Kane), shocked by the venality of his metropolis of Townsville, endeavours to create three little girls that he can raise with old-fashioned values--the ingredients, of course, sugar and spice and everything nice. But rambunctious lab monkey Jojo (Roger L. Jackson) adds another element, Chemical X. When the smoke clears, three freaky bug-eyed little girls emerge slotted into the personality Rolodex once inhabited by Charlie's Angels: Blossom (Cathy Cavadini) is the smart one, Bubbles (Tara Strong) the bimbo, and Buttercup (Elizabeth Daily), dangerous. All piping sweetness, the trio reveals its superpowers during a disastrous (and extended, and extended) game of tag that ruins Townsville. Eager to make things right, the trio helps evil primate genius Jojo (also changed by Chemical X, now calling himself "Mojo Jojo") build his volcano fortress and mutate the city zoo's entire primate population.
The Powerpuff Girls Movie appears to be a prequel to the television series, rendering the tension of whether the heroic trio will find their heroism something of a flaccid fait accomplí. Although I liked the jokey in-references of the genius monkeys (the flying ones hum the winged monkey theme from The Wizard of Oz, a baboon constructs a baboon-bot that excretes dung bombs, and a banana-nosed monkey does a mean Jimmy Durante), including the inevitable references to Planet of the Apes (the good one), that segment comes too late to salvage the rest of the film.
The picture isn't particularly offensive, but it's laggard and disinteresting, a really funny fifteen-minute short stretched beyond its limits to fill an almost feature-length film. (A pleasantly grotesque "Dexter's Laboratory" short (also by McCracken) preceding The Powerpuff Girls Movie boasts of an unbelievably lame punchline that sort of sets the tone for the main attraction.) Still, the myriad shortcomings of The Powerpuff Girls Movie are relatively harmless in the grand scheme of things as fans will defend it (and the film does have a few very defensible moments), kids tend to love anything (and this picture at least has a few smart moments amid the din), and childless neophytes won't see it anyhow. It's a victimless crime. Originally published: July 3, 2002.