The Powerpuff Girls Movie

Movie Information

Genre: Animated Comedy
Director: Craig McCracken
Starring: Catharine Cavadini, Tara Charendoff, E.J. Daily, Roger L. Jackson
Rated: PG

This has got to be one of the strangest movies I’ve ever encountered. It’s ostensibly a kiddie picture — and to judge by the kids in the audience, it does work on that level. But what exactly is an in-joke based on the idea that the viewer has a strong familiarity with the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? doing in a movie ostensibly aimed at a 5-to-10-year-old demographic? (I understand that one episode of the TV series on which The Powerpuff Girls Movie is based is entirely a take-off on the Coens’ The Big Lebowski.) Who in that age group is likely to get the joke, when an evil mastermind monkey tells his simian brethren that they have all been “under the thumb of man for too long — it is time to oppose that thumb”? In a sense, the approach isn’t new. Cartoons have long worked on two levels. Certainly, Rocky and Bullwinkle was riddled with puns and esoterica that was never meant to be grasped by the Saturday morning kid crowd. (I’m not even sure that moments in that show — “magic” words that consisted of obscure movie-star names such as Roger Pryor and Aileen Pringle — were likely to be caught by the majority of its adult viewership!) The Powerpuff Girls Movie, however, takes the idea to increasingly bizarre extremes. I’m not sure how to describe this oddity. It’s kind of like Rocky and Bullwinkle on Speed (there’s definitely a reason for the PG rating based on “non-stop frenetic animated action”), but that’s neither completely enlightening, nor does it quite catch the intensity of the movie’s strangeness. Perhaps the most telling thing is to realize that director and Powerpuff Girls creator Craig McCracken originally developed the characters as the Whoopass Girls during his student days at Cal Arts. It was only after he opted to soften the name and rethink the concept to sell it to the Cartoon Network that it transformed into a (pseudo) kid’s show. I can’t say I exactly liked the movie, but I have to admit I was completely fascinated by it — at least once it hit its stride. Hitting its stride, however, is part of the film’s problem. McCracken and company deemed it necessary to turn the film too much into the origins of the Powerpuff Girls TV series, and the results are just too protracted. The creation of the girls from “sugar and spice and everything nice” (an idea that also certainly borrows from Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, with its hero created from a heart-shaped cookie) is fine, as is the accidental introduction of the “Chemical X” ingredient that gives them their special powers into the mix (a clever stand-in for the “criminal brain” in Frankenstein). But the film doesn’t truly come to life until the evil Mojo Jojo (also inundated with “Chemical X”) cons the girls into helping him transform all the various simians he can corral into super monkeys. Until then, all the movie’s much-promoted “non-stop frenetic animated action” is just so much frenzy without a point. Once the actual plot kicks in, the film comes to life with almost alarming creativity. Part of this stems from the fact that, while the girls themselves are fairly engaging, the real star of the proceedings is Mojo Jojo. In this regard, the filmmakers understood the importance of a good villain, and Mojo Jojo is a very good villain indeed — though he’s not a terribly clever one, despite his “Chemical X” engorged brain. His master plan for a monkey-centric world doesn’t take into account the possibility that his creations might not immediately accept him as the emperor of the known universe. Granted, he’s got a good line of double-talk (“Do not continue with your ramblings. For my ramblings are the ramblings to be obeyed. It was I who laid the original plan and set it into motion. Don’t you see? All you monkeys are my plan. So your plans are my plans because you made plans and my plan was to make you. But I never planned for my plans to make plans to stop my plan!”), but it’s largely ineffectual as concerns controlling his supposed subordinate simians. And it’s certainly ineffectual where the Powerpuff Girls are concerned, but it makes for a pretty entertaining last half of the movie. There are, in fact, many good things in the latter half of the film — including a wonderful section where the girls exile themselves to an asteroid for the havoc they’ve unintentionally caused — but it isn’t quite enough to pull the film out of the realm of being more of a curio than anything else. However, as curios go, you could do worse than this.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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