Animated Anarchy: The Powerpuff Girls Are Reborn!
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As of a few days ago, Cartoon Network broke the news that they were reviving The Powerpuff Girls for a 2016 prelaunch. According to Pete Yoder, Cartoon Network Enterprises’ vice president of consumer products for North America, The Powerpuff Girls (or PPG) has been one of the top performing brands for the network garnering about 2.5 billion dollars in retail over it’s 16 year history. Well, 21 years if you go back to the Whoopass Girls short of Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation.
Craig McCracken’s iconic series had incredible humor, action, and sense of intelligence, which made it stand out during the late 90s/early 2000s. As the series was one of the progenitors to Cartoon Network’s success along with Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo, and Courage the Cowardly Dog, it makes sense that Cartoon Network would try to revive it. The Powerpuff Girls is the most timeless amongst the crop of Cartoon Cartoons with the enduring appeals of superheroes, growing up, sly parodies, and loveable nature of Blossom, Bubbles & Buttercup. There was no shame in loving PPG as it was part of one of the greatest periods in cable animation history with a cool film adaptation/origin story to boot.
The reaction to the 2016 reboot is unsurprisingly under heavy criticism, being bombarded with the “you ruined my childhood” stamp of anger. Many complaints at first came to the art style, which has minimized the iconic black outlines of the original seasons. In all honesty, that is the only significant change in the look of the girls. Everything else is perfectly fine, with the girls remaining the same aside from Buttercup’s hardly noticeable cowlick. And the Internet is too quick to forget the radical redesigns of the 2014 special and holy-crap-this-is-real anime adaptation.
What’s hit the news lately has been the surprising replacement of the original voice actresses: Cathy Cavadini, Tara Strong, and Elizabeth (E.G.) Daily. According to the ladies’ reactions on Twitter, the surprising casting was done without any contact from Cartoon Network for rehiring. Despite the three main characters getting re-cast, we’ll still have Tom Kenny to return as The Mayor and unseen Narrator, and Roger L. Jackson will stay as the iconic Mojo Jojo.
I’m personally mixed when it comes to this, considering they didn’t want to get such relevant voice actresses back for the roles. On the one hand, we need more young blood in the voice acting community. I love that aspect of Adventure Time and Regular Show who will get unexpected actors/actresses to create memorable characters. I mean, Tara Strong’s work as Bubbles is probably my favorite out of her entire career, but she borders on being overly exposed and too easily recognizable. I wish were given some samples of these new voice actresses in these roles to get some genuine fan critique. But I agree with the majority that not contacting with the veterans who made these characters so distinguishable is disrespectful.
To the Internet’s credit, I can understand why they are worried about this reboot as Cartoon Network’s slate is not perfect. Despite their bizarre forms of comedy, Clarence and Uncle Grandpa have their individual sense of appeal. The fear of this reboot really centers around the atrocious Teen Titans Go!; a show that exists only to stomp on all the goodwill created by the first series in favor of bombarding people with ADHD comedy and ungodly levels of fanservice. It would be a nightmare if this show were to turn into something like that…yet, that’s exactly what happened with the 2014 Special, “Dance Pantsed.”
“Dance Pantsed” was the attempted revival of The Powerpuff Girls complete with all the original voice actors, but without Craig McCracken’s involvement like Seasons 5 & 6. The later seasons of The Powerpuff Girls are nowhere near as good as the earlier stuff, but they retained the inventive, satirical charm that differentiated the series from other cartoons at the time. “Danced Pantsed” is the very worst of every bad PPG episode by cramming in dated references, bizarre retcons, and wasting the talent of everyone involved. A bad redesign might turn off people from the surface, but terrible writing will make the fans truly angry.
Do you remember that fantastic episode filled with references to the Beatles? Well, let’s get Ringo Starr to play a character who never talks and just exists for his name to stick out as a math pun. Or that episode where Professor Utonium creates a super suit but embarrasses the girls through dated lingo? “Dance Pantsed” takes it a step further by stating that the professor’s dedication to science because he was an uncool break-dancer. You don’t take a script clearly written from 2004 and apply it to a 2014 world. The CGI itself can be described as janky at best looking like crinkly paper-cut material with shifty movements.
Many of the Cartoon Network staples have had overhauls in their own way like Dexter’s Laboratory or Johnny Bravo, but they were done within the same production cycle with notable creative changes. Dexter’s Lab roughly changed to a more square, 50s-inspired style with a wider expanded focus on many tertiary themes and characters. It wasn’t a very pleasant change in my opinion, but the same could be said for Johnny Bravo’s shift, which I personally enjoyed. It also moved to a more retro, pop-art style and mixed in the characters of Carl and Pops who added a unique, if mean-spirited form of humor which strangely worked to the show’s dynamic.
The Powerpuff Girls certainly had the most unique series of trade-offs throughout its history. The anime adaptation, The Powerpuff Girls Z, understood many of the characters, but doesn’t quite capture the spirit of what Craig McCracken intended. PowerPuff Girls has a neat, tongue-in-cheek tone towards old-school superheroes and anime from the 60s, notably present with the look of the characters, the quick cuts of the action, and the speech patterns of Mojo Jojo. So for someone to crank the series into a more straightforward, magical-girl centric show is a case of holding the wrong end of the stick. And you can tell just from watching the theme song how “anime-tropey” they made it.
The formula to what made the series so great is even more relevant today in our age of superhero worship than it was 15 years ago. The new creative force behind the scenes will be Nick Jennings, another creative mind who worked with Adventure Time and Rocko’s Modern Life. The other creative force will be Bob Boyle of Wow! Wow! Wubzy! and Yin Yang Yo! fame. The mix of the two sounds odd, but Craig McCracken giving the series his seal of approval compared to everything else mentioned fills this blogger with hope.
I do think this reintroduction of The Powerpuff Girls to a new audience is a good thing. We want Cartoon Network to have more shows to continue their current era of fantastic storytelling. Similar to the way Steven Universe tackles big issues and crosses gender boundaries, The Powerpuff Girls can do that with a heavier, smarter emphasis on modern day sensibilities and it wouldn’t even be the first time.
So what are your thoughts on this new series? Anxious for the revival? Do you think missing the original voice actresses is a deal breaker? Do you have different opinions on the other versions of Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup? Leave a comment below and keep your eyes peeled for the next time Animated Anarchy saves the day once again!