The Powerpuff Girls Movie (2002)Rated PG for non-stop frenetic animated action.
Starring the voices of Catherine Cavadini, Tara Charendoff, E.G. Daily, Tom Kenny, Roger L. Jackson, Tom Kane, Jennifer Hale.
LVJeff's Rating: 7/10
Photo ©Warner Bros. All rights reserved.
Matter Over Mind
The public will likely forever credit success of "The Powerpuff Girls," an animated Cartoon Network show, to its cute characters, bright colors, and catchy music -- and they would probably be right. For the grade school children who no doubt comprise the bulk of the show's audience, those elements are all that are required for their satisfaction. But it would be a shame for adults not to give the cartoon a closer look. They would find out what is at its heart -- irony, playfulness, satire, homage -- a bubbling stew of comic twistedness emerging from the pop culture-saturated mind of its creator, Craig McCracken.
"The Powerpuff Girls" is the scroll upon which McCracken composes odes to all the crazy, funny things that made him the person that he is today. The show lampoons corny lessons taught to children, indulges in Japanese monster-movie silliness, and worships great rock bands and cool movies. It's also violent as it illustrates its basic, ironic premise -- that superheroes can be sweet little girls who happen to have the power to kick the living crap out of evil villains. Most refreshing about the show is how unapologetic it is. It's decidedly not aimed at kids, yet they flock to watch it. Reveling in hyperactive destruction, the cartoon may shock unsuspecting parents -- but it doesn't seem to care. It wins over a core audience by staying true to itself. The result is a treat to watch, rivaling "The Simpsons" in the glee with which it dishes out its wicked irreverence, all the while under the guise of rainbow-hued cuteness.
The Powerpuff Girls Movie follows suit by relentlessly presenting the show's most popular elements. But the movie stretches these elements, and it doesn’t always work. For instance, one of the show's trademarks is its elastic pacing, which changes from quick to deliberate in a moment's notice, all to better suit the needs of whatever comic timing is currently being used. While the fast parts work fine no matter the format, the slow parts tend to drag in a feature-length film. The movie does retain the show's warped sense of humor, complete with cultural references (how many people can spot the reference to O Brother Where Art Thou?). However, humor seems to be fighting with story exposition for screen time. The comedy high point occurs when the villain, the simian Mojo Jojo, discovers the main flaw in his plan to take over the city, and monkey jokes fly fast and furious. Unfortunately, this scene feels like an isolated moment.
What does work for the movie is the expansion of the show's visuals. The characters are drawn with neat, thick black lines and colored in bright monotone. Movement is spare, yet snappy, which gives the effect of a work overloaded with energy released in short bursts. This energy translates surprisingly well to the big screen, and the animators take advantage of the cartoon's distinct style with some fantastic eye-popping sequences. The rush of watching the girls' first game of tag, as they zoom around, over, and through the tall buildings of the city, is unmatched even by Spider-Man's theme park ride-like web-swinging scenes.
The color-scheme consistently matches the Girls' moods. When they first appear, they are happy and eager, so the sun shines and the silver gleams. Later, they feel abandoned and are surrounded by shadows. At one point, they try to run away from their problems, and their loneliness is reflected in shades of grey. Finally, when they face Mojo Jojo, the battleground is awash in apocalyptic red. This emphasis on color and visuals gives the movie an overall surreal feeling. Once the screen has caught the viewer's eye, it ventures into dark territory and stays there for a while, strangely heightening one's emotional sensations until given release in the violent climax. It feels simultaneously exciting and disturbing, and not a little trippy.
Hypnotically watchable, The Powerpuff Girls Movie dazzles the eye. But it caters more to the senses than to the mind. The movie plays up the cartoon's more obvious strength of snazziness while neglecting its less conspicuous writing strength. Does this mean the show’s best-kept secret will remain unexposed? Will parents continue to believe the cartoon is strictly for kids? I suspect the Powerpuff Girls prefer things this way -- and want to see how long they can get away with it.
©Jeffrey Chen, Jul. 7, 2002