“Don’t you know that only big fat sissies take baths?”
“I’m not fat…”
“The city of Townsville…”
It’s only fitting to open this review with those words, for they start every episode of The Powerpuff Girls. I think I can hear a few of you out there (probably the ones living under rocks in third-world countries) collectively saying “Huh? Who are the Powder Puff Girls?” Don’t worry…I’ll tell you. Then there’s those out there who are saying, “What is a manly college graduate doing reviewing a cartoon made for five-year-old girls?” Um, I won’t dignify that with a response, but I would like to address your general attitude of hopeless negativity…oh heck, I’ll get on with the review.
So who, or what are the “Powerpuff Girls,” anyway? It’s a Cartoon Network original cartoon series. It was created by Craig McCracken, a graduate of CalArts, the same school that produced John Lasseter (of Toy Story fame), Brad Bird (director of The Iron Giant), and Tim Burton. The Powerpuff Girls got their start as a student film McCracken did at CalArts, named “Whup Ass Stew.” The Girls at that time were called the “Whup Ass Girls.” Hanna-Barbera didn’t much like the name (naturally…it’s not very kid-friendly, or would that be parent-friendly?), and thus came the show as it is today.
The eponymous superheroes are three five-year-old girls with “ultra super powers.” Professor Utonium (their caretaker and father figure) created them in a lab accident. Well, he didn’t create them by accident; only the super powers were unintentional. In typical superhero fashion, they defend their beleaguered hometown of Townsville. Atypical for superheroes, they have no secret identities and attend Pokey Oaks Kindergarten.
Blossom is the self-appointed leader of the group. She dresses in pink, with a girlish bow in her hair, and is a no-nonsense, get the job done sort of hero. Bubbles, dressed in blue, is the dainty, babyish member of the group. She’s not as rough and tough as her sisters, and is fonder of coloring than beating up bad guys. That job is ably handled by Buttercup, the tomboy. She dresses in green, but her favorite colors are black and blue — the colors the evil villains of Townsville are sporting after she is done with them. Like any heroes worthy of the prefix “super,” the Powerpuff Girls face a worthy rogues’ gallery of villains, which includes a megalomaniacal monkey (Mojo Jojo), a very effeminate version of the Devil (“Him”), and the “Gangrene Gang.”
Down ‘n’ Dirty contains ten episodes from the second season of the show. At the time, there were two episodes per half-hour of the show, so technically I suppose there’s only five episodes of the show. In typical Warner Bros. fashion, this is far from the entire season, but is instead something of a sampler from the season. I think they picked these particular episodes because they are the most kid-friendly; I can see at least ten other episodes on an episode guide that I would have picked instead (including “Something’s a Ms.,” an episode I’ll take about later).
The city of Townsville gathers to celebrate the girls’ birthday. Unfortunately for them, the villains of Townsville also try to crash the party — from prison — by sending the girls gifts of mass destruction.
“Beat Your Greens”
This episode is something of a parody of Mars Attacks! and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Sentient vegetables from another dimension plot to take over the world, starting with taking over Townsville by infecting its vegetable supply with mind-control spores. The plan backfires when the kids of Townsville, including our intrepid heroes, refuse to eat their broccoli.
“School House Rocked”
This is probably one of the weakest episodes on the disc, though it does have the benefit of an appearance by a Jack Webb-ish truant officer. The Powerpuff Girls must face their nemeses the Gangrene Gang when the teenaged baddies are sent back to school…at Pokey Oaks Kindergarten.
“Los Dos Mojos”
The girls must face not one, but two versions of their arch-nemesis, Mojo Jojo…except one of them isn’t him at all, but Bubbles with amnesia!
“Stuck Up, Up and Away”
See, this is the problem with episode compilation discs. If you’re not careful, you jumble up the order of the series and confuse people who are just beginning to watch. Stuck Up, Up and Away introduces one of the villains seen in Birthday Bash. Princess is the new girl at Pokey Oaks. She is freakishly spoiled in ways that make Richie Rich look like a Calcutta street urchin. Used to having everything she wants, she demands that her father give her super powers just like her classmates, the Powerpuff Girls. Classroom mayhem ensues.
Far from my favorite episode, of the show in general or this disc in particular, Dream Scheme at least demonstrates the abundant creativity of its creators. The entire 10-minute episode sports narration or dialogue that rhymes in a very Seussian way. It revolves around a ploy by the Sandman to put the residents of Earth to sleep — permanently — so that he can catch a good night’s sleep.
“Just Another Manic Mojo”
The second-best episode on this disc, it chronicles a day in the life of evil supervillain Mojo Jojo. Mojo prepares for the day (in a sequence reminiscent of both Austin Powers and Darth Vader’s brief helmetless revelation in The Empire Strikes Back), eats a nutritious breakfast, and must devise an evil scheme on the spot when the Powerpuff Girls show up at his front door to retrieve a baseball they accidentally threw through his window. Mojo Jojo is probably the most clearly defined character in the series, either hero or villain, and this entire episode devoted to sketching out more details of his personality is welcome. Besides, it gives extra opportunities to show off his excessive wordiness (“For a nutritious breakfast, two eggs is the minimum requirement, and I have but one, which is one shy of two, and it is two that I need! Curses!”).
“Down ‘n’ Dirty”
This is the best episode on the disc…in fact, presented with the discs at the Warner Bros. Store, I purchased this volume strictly for this episode. Buttercup makes up her stubborn mind that baths are for sissies and gives up on personal hygiene entirely. Nothing will change her mind…not being thrown out of her house, not the scorn of her classmates, not even angry villagers with torches. What changes her mind? When even large ugly monsters don’t want to fight with her anymore. (The angry villagers with torches scene is particularly great. As they’re chasing her through a forest, Buttercup suddenly realizes she’s a superhero and can just fly away. See, it’s another example of the show’s fine comic touch.)
Pro: it’s a Mojo Jojo episode. Con: it’s a Princess episode. The spoiled little rich girl has it in for the Powerpuff Girls again. However, she’s frustrated that she can’t come up with a plan devious enough to destroy them, so she turns to another villain to devise a plan for her: Mojo Jojo. Predictable, but has its fun moments.
Remember that issue of Superman where Spiderman moved to Metropolis and the citizens of Metropolis forgot all about the Man of Steel? Neither do I. A sham of a new superhero, Major Man, comes to Townsville and is greeted with the love the town has previously showered upon the girls. When the girls discover his dirty little secret, they give him a taste of his own medicine.
You’re probably still wondering what enthralls me so much about the Powerpuff Girls. There’s two reasons: its humor and its style.
Cartoons, or at least the best cartoons, have always pitched their humor higher than the target child audience. The Looney Tunes cartoons often contained sly innuendo. Heck, the work of Tex Avery had nothing sly about its innuendo. Modern animation is categorically sold as a child’s product, but is also made by people who grew up watching cartoons and understand their appeal to older crowds. The Powerpuff Girls is rife with jokes that would go right over the heads of the tiny tots. Key to many of the jokes is references to films or other cartoons. I’ve already mentioned a few of the influences. The episode that really cinched my love for the series is one entitled “Something’s a Ms.” Unfortunately, in their infinitesimal wisdom, Warner Bros. chose not to include it in this compilation. It contains a homage to one of my favorite Coen Brothers films, The Big Lebowski. It’s brief but spot-on, right down to including Jeff Bridges’ “That’s a bummer, man” dialogue (though for the concerned, the girls don’t spark a doobie).
The Powerpuff Girls has a unique visual style, yet it developed that style by cobbling together an amalgamation of other cartoon designs. Most people will presume that Japanese anime was an influence, though Craig McCracken has said he does not care for that esthetic. Fans of Rocky and Bullwinkle or George of the Jungle will notice the influence of Jay Ward, plus the impact of 1950s graphic arts, 1960s pop art, and sundry Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Some episodes will pull from their own influences, but most of those episodes are on the other Powerpuff Girls compilation disc, Powerpuff Bluff, which I will be reviewing soon.
I probably have more DVDs on my shelf that were released by Warner Bros. than by any other studio. They were early supporters of the DVD format, and generally they do exemplary work. The Powerpuff Girls: Down ‘n’ Dirty is no exception. The episodes are presented in their original full-frame aspect ratio. Overall, the picture is outstanding. No digital artifacts are to be found. The bright colors are accurate and do not bloom. The sharp, crisp lines of the show’s visual style are translated perfectly. The only thing to mar the picture is the occasional dust blip. Visually, it is very impressive. On the sound front, it is presented in its original stereo. Unlike some made-for-television work, the channels are treated distinctly and are used to good effect. Fidelity is excellent with a wide frequency range. You can choose to watch each episode separately, or to “Play All.” When you watch the episodes separately, they are preceded by the show’s intro and followed with credits. When you play all the episodes continuously, the intro is only shown before the first episode. Curiously, the title cards and opening credits are shown when watching the episodes separately, but are omitted when played continuously. It seems odd to give you the name of the episode you just chose from the menu, but not to bother when you’ve been watching several in a row.
The package lists several “powerpacked features”: three interactive games, bios, a trivia game, and a “bonus cartoon.” The bios are one-screen blurbs about Mojo Jojo and Professor Utonium. The trivia game consists of ten questions, but even if you solve them all correctly (which, of course, I did) there is no reward…you are summarily dumped back on the menu. The “bonus cartoon” is nothing more than an advertisement for the Cartoon Network’s “Sheep in the Big City.” Nowhere to be found are the interactive games, unless the disc is DVD-ROM enabled without being labeled as such. I was not overly surprised at the feeble array of extras, considering the scant effort WB put into the “South Park” discs, but I also didn’t expect much for the $15 street price.
Other than the lack of extras, I don’t have much to complain about with this disc (though wait until I review Powerpuff Bluff…I have a doozy of a bone to pick with it). Considering the wealth of outrageously funny episodes the show produced in its second season, I’m a bit disappointed that these were the representative sample they chose. A Very Special Blossom poked fun at the “issue episodes” that tend to besmirch sitcoms. Cootie Gras was great fun, with Mojo Jojo using the girls’ fear of cooties to take over Townsville. Mojo Jonesin’…well, you can guess that it’s a parody of Reefer Madness-style “don’t do drugs” propaganda. And of course, Something’s a Ms., which I’ve already raved about.
At least it’s better than VHS, where you get only four 10-minute episodes per tape for just a few dollars less than this DVD with over two hours of power puffery. I can’t believe I just said “power puffery” in a public forum
The Powerpuff Girls isn’t just for kids. I hope I’ve made that abundantly clear. Or should I say, it’s not just for kids. Those that don’t take themselves very seriously and those that are still young at heart can enjoy the adventures of these pint-sized heroes and their goofy array of villains. Fans of animation will appreciate its visual style. People who love looking for cultural references will have a field day. See, anyone can like the Powerpuff Girls.
As for the disc itself, despite the exclusion of some fantastic episodes, it’s still a worthy addition to the collection of fans. If you never seen the show, please at least give it a rental. However, the low price (I paid $14.99 for each disc) shouldn’t deter anyone from making an impulse purchase.
Until now, I have made no mention of the voice talent. Tara Charendoff, the squeaky voice of “cute little Bubbles,” is the voice of several kids on the series “Rugrats” (as well as the two theatrical features it spawned). Elizabeth Daily, the voice of Buttercup, will be best remembered by Tim Burton fans as Dottie, Pee-Wee Herman’s “love interest” in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. She also serves as a voice artist for “Rugrats,” and was the voice of the titular pig in Babe: Pig in the City. Perhaps the most famous (or infamous) of the voice artists is Roger Jackson, the voice of Mojo Jojo. He was the voice of the Martian translator machine in Mars Attacks! (“For dark is the suede that mows like a harvest”), but he will be best known to moviegoers as the guy who provided the phone voice for all three of the Scream movies. I keep waiting for Mojo Jojo to say something like “Hello, Sidney!” but he never does. Oh well.