Film of the Week: 'Powerpuff Girls Movie'

By STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent  |  July 3, 2002 at 11:18 AM
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LOS ANGELES, July 2 (UPI) -- "The Powerpuff Girls Movie," a spin-off of Craig McCracken's popular television series on Cartoon Network and the WB, is an often clever but overly violent animated feature. It's not for small children, especially not little girls.

This story of three adorable, big-eyed, 5-year-old girls with alarmingly ferocious superpowers offers an informative portrait of what little boys think little girls ought to like -- such as smashing up cities while fighting gigantic mutant monkeys -- instead of that sissy stuff they actually do like. The King Kong meets Godzilla level of destruction that clogs much of the movie left many of the real 5-year-old girls in the preview audience cowering on their mommies' laps.

You're going to hear a lot of flapdoodle about how this movie furnishes girls with strong, empowered feminist role models. Overall, though, this is an action show by guys (four of the movie's five screenwriters are men) for guys (even with its boy-repelling name, 70 percent of its TV audience is male).

The film starts out engagingly enough. Kindly Professor Utonium is a rectangular-headed inventor who lives in a snazzy late 1950s bachelor pad complete with abstract paintings and Danish Modern furniture. One night in his laboratory, he mixes sugar, spice and everything nice together with the mysterious but potent Chemical X.

Unbeknownst to the professor, his lab assistant, Jojo the Monkey, takes a swig of Chemical X, causing his brain to grow until it bulges from his skull. The hideous ape slinks off to begin his cataclysmic career as the evil genius Mojo Jojo.

The next morning, the professor discovers that he has created three synthetic sisters: the sweet blonde Bubbles (sugar), the feisty brunette Buttercup (spice), and the civic-minded redhead Blossom (everything nice).

The movie is at its best when McCracken is getting in touch with his (limited) feminine side. Little girls will enjoy watching the Powerpuffettes use their Mighty Mouse-like ability to fly and levitate objects to paint their new bedroom pink. And the laser beams that shoot from their eyes sure come in handy for slicing those icky crusts off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

There are a few interesting insights into girl psychology. For example, the girls fight crime not for abstract ideas of justice but to become more popular with the citizens of Townsville.

At kindergarten, they are introduced to the game of tag. Unfortunately, the sisters get a little excited about this new pastime and roar off at 600 miles per hour, slamming into the skyscrapers of Townsville. Their tag game goes on and on, until the skyline is demolished and, worse, the audience is bored.

There has been much talk lately about whether 3-D computer-animated features have rendered traditional two-dimensional cartoon movies obsolete. Well, the Powerpuff Girls might be the flattest-looking characters since "South Park." The elliptical-headed girls resemble shiny vinyl stickers.

This style stems from the cartoon's impoverished origins as McCracken's art college project. (Back then, he more descriptively called them "The Whoopass Girls"). With a miniscule budget, he deftly minimized the drawing time required by distilling a character's change in facial expression down to a single line's alteration.

Like Jay Ward's beloved "Rocky and Bullwinkle" cartoons, McCracken would complement the minimalism of his animation by adding a lot of verbal jokes aimed at adults. The movie version's $25 million budget, however, allows McCracken to rush through the witticisms to concentrate on what appears to be his true love -- scenes of mass mayhem with crowds fleeing in terror and buildings toppling as the heroines duke it out against an army of super-monkeys.

Sadly, McCracken doesn't really understand the basic rules for superheroes. Cartoon figures since Popeye have excitingly transformed to access their superpowers, but the Powerpuff Girls' don't have to. Further, their capabilities are too overwhelming to allow for much worry. Finally, in the movie version at least, they all possess the same powers, so they can't team up in novel combinations to thwart particular villains, the way that, say, the diverse X-Men can. Thus, there's no need for strategy.

"The Powerpuff Girls" is another example of a broad trend in current culture: pseudo-feminist male fantasies about violent females, as in "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," "Charlie's Angels," and Jennifer Lopez's recent "Enough." The nerdier the fellow, the bigger the charge he seems to get from watching girls whomp guys.

Rated PG for "non-stop frenetic animated action."

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