Powerpuff Girls, The Review

A common complaint levelled at films spun-off from popular television series’ is that they are either lumbered with the most perfunctory of plots (Holiday on the Buses being the most self-explanatory) or are unable to extend their running times from the typical 20-30 minutes to feature length. The Powerpuff Girls, whose series has garnered a sizeable cult following, manages to bypass these flaws by positing itself as a prequel to the series and by expanding its already absurdist situations to even more absurd extremes. As such it is likely to appease existing fans, although whether it can win over non-believers is a moot point.

The prequel status places The Powerpuff Girls amongst that popular sci-fi/fantasy sub-genre concerning itself with the origins of superheroes. Currently enjoying a renaissance with the releases of Spider-Man, Hulk and Daredevil as well as M. Night Shyamalan’s sly subversion Unbreakable, it’s intriguing to notice that The Powerpuff Girls doesn’t pay much heed to teasing out the usual developments. Whilst we witness their creation, the obligatory third act in which they are treated as outsiders (“freaky bug-eyed weirdo girls” screams a newspaper headline) and their first mission with which they win over the hearts of the general public, the filmmakers treat all other moments in-between as montage material. Of course, the film lasts only 70 minutes, yet this length is used for three big set-pieces and little else. To a degree, character development is hardly necessary, although this does create a situation where there is no tension or dramatic impetus to keep the viewer engaged. Indeed, this is where the non-fans become exasperated; all the others will recognise that the true pleasures of the series, and this film, is its decidedly skewed sense of humour.

The primary influences here would appear to be Chuck Jones and Robert McKimson. This is somewhat odd as the distinctive visual style is more akin to eastern styles, especially Osamu Tezuka’s 1963 series Astro Boy (itself influenced by American filmmakers – the Fleischer brothers’ own take on a superhero, Superman), although computer imagery affords The Powerpuff Girls the opportunity to escape mere imitation and produce its own individual style. Moreover, the use of technological assistance proves to be the perfect tool to attain the Jones/McKimson style of humour. Chuck Jones had, of course, produced his own take on the superhero genre with Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century, but the main reference points here are the general absurdist tones of the Road Runner series of cartoons and the gleeful post-modernism of Duck Amuck. Jones’ masterpiece, What’s Opera, Doc? , also plays a huge part; it’s ever increasing sense of the ridiculous plainly obvious in the scene where villainous ape Mojo Jojo sees his claims for leadership opposed by is numerous chemically-enhanced minions. What initially seems a simple scene is expanded and expanded to such absurd lengths it proves to be The Powerpuff Girls’ finest moment.

What pushes this scene that little bit further, however, is the McKimson connection. By far the most “far out” of Warner Bros’ animators during their golden age of the forties, McKimson had the ability to introduce surrealistic elements completely unannounced into what would at first appear to be, for example, your average Daffy Duck cartoon. One of his finest works, The Great Big Piggy Bank Robbery, encapsulates this perfectly as a riff on the Chandler-esque P.I. yarn is transformed into a truly warped joke at the expense of the Dick Tracy serials popular at the time, all within the space of seven minutes. Full of truly memorable imagery often worthy of Luis Bunuel’s collaborations with Salvador Dali, The Great Big Piggy Bank Robbery is a far greater work that The Powerpuff Girls, yet the latter does at times match its spirit, as well as that of Chuck Jones’. Indeed, non-believers in the cult of The Powerpuff Girls with a penchant for Looney Tunes would do well to take the plunge with this feature, it’s certainly a more rewarding experience that Warners’ own attempt at recapturing their former glories, Space Jam.

The Disc

Unsurprisingly, both picture and sound presentation is absolutely flawless. We are offered a DD5.1 soundtrack that perfectly captures the techno-drum and bass-kiddie pop score, and an anamorphic transfer in the original 1.85:1 ratio, both of which remain clean and clear throughout.

Sadly, the special features are aimed almost exclusively at the younger members of the audience. The one exception is a wonderful Dexter’s Laboratory short entitled Chicken Scratch which accompanied theatrical showings. Hugely entertaining (though, again, one for fans only, I would suspect), the length only strengthens the Looney Tunes connection.

Elsewhere we are offered a 48-page “mini-magazine” which should fill any gaps in Powerpuff Girls knowledge, but also seems primarily to be flogging tie-in trainers and bed spreads. Returning to the disc, there are five brief interviews with the cartoon characters that were recorded especially for DVD and possess little of the humour found in the main feature, the theatrical trailer and a four-minute “making of” featurette entitled The Director’s Chair. This latter piece never outstays its welcome owing to the short length and, thankfully, doesn’t attempt to be humorous. However, as the DVD is aimed at young audience members it never really goes into any great depths either.

All extras include optional subtitles as available for the main feature.

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