Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky wonders how the Powerpuff Girls turn doorknobs without fingers or opposable thumbs. Or do they just smash all the doors?
"We're superheroes! That's what we're supposed to do—fight crime and giant monsters!"—Buttercup (E.G. Daily)
Sugar! Spice! And everything nice! These were the ingredients chosen to create the perfect little girls. But Professor Utonium accidentally added an extra ingredient to the concoction: a can of Whoopass. Thus, the Pow --
Wait. He added what?
Facts of the Case
Straight from the basement laboratory of Craig McCracken, the first season of The Powerpuff Girls finally arrives on DVD. Still sticky from its Chemical X bath, this two-disc set can fly (with a little help), fight crime (if you aim it at the perp's head), and includes the following episodes:
"Insect Inside/Powerpuff Bluff:" Professor Utonium (Tom Kane) may sing the praises of the common cockroach, but Roach Coach strikes a sour note for Townsville. Next, three male crooks crossdress as the Powerpuff Girls. Then they put an ad for a kinky encounter on Townsville Craigslist. Oh, and rob people. As usual, Ms. Bellum (Jennifer Martin) figures it all out.
"Monkey See, Doggie Do/Mommy Fearest:" Mad primate Mojo Jojo (Roger Jackson) steals a magic statue that transforms Townsville's citizens into dogs. Next, the Professor meets the perfect mate, but is Miss Ima Goodlady really? Um, a good…lady…that is.
"Octi Evil/Gesundfight:" Meet Him, the transvestite Satan with a penchant for perverse mind games. Even the narrator is wigged out by his plan to split up our favor sister act. Since Him is the Powerpuff Girls' most subtle, brilliant, and weird foe, it stands to reason that we should follow his first story with the debut of the Amoeba Boys, the Powerpuff Girls' most pathetic, ineffectual, and dimwitted foes.
"Buttercrush/Fuzzy Logic:" Buttercup (E.G. Daily) develops a crush on Ace, leader of the Gangreen Gang. Next, stay off Fuzzy Lumkins' property, y'all!
"Boogie Frights/Abracadaver:" Never has the motto "Saving the world before bedtime" been such a problem for the girls as when the Boogie Man has a late night monster mash. Next, master magician Al Lussion returns from the dead for revenge. Between the demons and zombies, this episode might not be good for the little ones.
"Telephonies/Tough Love:" The Gangreen Gang behaves like a bunch of jerky boys, when their prank calls send our heroes on violent wild goose chases. And for the first time, the Powerpuff Girls don't save the day! Next, Townsville learns to hate the Powerpuff Girls, with a little help from Him.
"Major Competition/Mr. Mojo's Rising:" The girls are not the only game in Townsville any more. Meet Major Man! Is this hunky new superhero really one of the good guys? Next, the meanest monkey in Townsville reveals his true origin—and his special relationship to the Powerpuff Girls.
"Paste Makes Waste/Ice Sore:" Little Elmer eats too much paste. When he gets some mixed with toxic waste, the kids at Pokey Oaks Kindergarten get into a sticky situation. Next, an insufferable heat wave, a new superpower for Blossom (Cathy Cavadini), and an environmental disaster in the making.
"Bubblevicious/The Bare Facts:" Everybody always treats Bubbles (Tara Strong) as the baby of the team. She can be as tough as her sisters. Really! Watch her call Mojo a "doodoo brain." Snap! Then, spend the day with the Mayor (Tom Kenny)—from his point of view.
"Cat Man Do/Impeach Fuzz:" The girls adopt a kitten. Should they be worried that it used to belong to a supervillain? Next, Fuzzy Lumkins runs against the Mayor. Well, it's not like we haven't ever put a half-literate hick into office before…
"Just Another Manic Mojo/Mime For a Change:" Mojo goes shopping. Mojo does dishes. Mojo entertains the Powerpuff Girls in his living room and gives them candy. Mojo saves the day! Next, it's Rainbow the Colorful Clown—at least until a truckload of bleach makes him into an evil mime. Yes, I know that last part is redundant. But as my daughter can tell you, crayons can fix anything. Crayons—and a musical number!
"The Rowdyruff Boys:" In their first episode-length adventure, the girls tangle with the male doppelgangers, thanks to a diabolical experiment by Mojo Jojo. Yes, they are made of snips and snails and a puppy dog's tail.
"Uh Oh Dynamo:" After a full season of baddie-bashing, Professor Utonium finally starts to worry that his precious girls might get hurt. So he builds them their own mecha. Nerd.
You can follow the evolution of Craig McCracken's signature creation, The Powerpuff Girls, with a little help from the extras on this DVD. Begin with "Whoopass Stew," a "pilot" McCracken drew during his tenure at CalArts. "The Whoopass Girls: A Sticky Situation" features three hypercute kindergarteners battling the Amoeba Boys (surprisingly competent in their debut). McCracken's art style borrows elements from Japanese manga, UPA cartoons of the 50s, and the live-action Batman of the '60s.
In the hopes of selling the Whoopass Girls as a series, McCracken put together animatics for three more cartoons, with the girls battling the Devil (who would evolve into Him), Mojo Jojo (in a story that would become "Monkey See, Doggie Do"), and a generic monster that they defeat by combining into a giant mecha (the basis for "Uh Oh Dynamo"). CalArts pals like Genndy Tartakovsky and Rob Renzetti helped out. Another CalArts graduate, Donovan Cook, pulled McCracken aboard the underrated Hanna-Barbera series Two Stupid Dogs, the most artistically ambitious series the cartoon studio had done in a generation. From there, McCracken joined Tartakovsky on the new Cartoon Network's first breakout hit, Dexter's Laboratory. All the while, McCracken pushed for the Whoopass Girls to get their time in the spotlight.
Finally, McCracken had his shot: a slot in the network's "What A Cartoon!" program, meant to shepherd new talent and hopefully generate new franchises to fill the network's air time. But "Whoopass Girls" wasn't going to fly with the suits in charge. Thus, the Powerpuff Girls were born! Drawn in a more traditional Hanna-Barbera style (and with richly colored backgrounds compared to the spare, stylized backgrounds used in the later series), "Meat Fuzzy Lumkins" bears the hallmarks of what would become a successful formula when the series appeared three years later. Our narrator (Ghoulardi himself, Ernie Anderson, in his last credited role) outlines the situation, offers commentary, and closes out the story with the triumphant "Once again, the day is saved—thanks to the Powerpuff Girls!" The girls are alternately cute and tough, and the villainy (Fuzzy Lumkins turns everyone in Townsville into meat) suitably cartoony for the network's target demographics. The sequel, "Crime 101," reintroduces the Amoeba Boys, now idiots, and changes art styles once again.
The art design for the series is also remarkably stylized for a mainstream studio cartoon. McCracken often pushes the UPA influence pretty far, as in "Mr. Mojo's Rising," where the backgrounds are reduced to almost abstract line drawings. McCracken would get even more adventurous in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, showing an even wider range of artistic influences. But here, The Powerpuff Girls skillfully used striking color and clean design to overcome its budget limitations.
By the time The Powerpuff Girls debuted on the Cartoon Network in 1998, McCracken (who co-directed the first season, mostly paired with Genndy Tartakovsky) was so familiar with the world of Townsville that it is hard to find more than a handful of first season episodes that stick to a conventional superhero/action formula. "Insect Inside" and "Monkey See Monkey Do" have the standard "dastardly villain tries to take over the world" plots, and the girls fight their share of kaiju-style monsters ("Paste Makes Waste," "Uh Oh Dynamo"). But just as often the show goes off on wild tangents or tries clever variations. For example, "The Bare Facts" tells its story from the Mayor's point of view, with the battle scene taking place while he is blindfolded, then narrated after the fact by the Powerpuff Girls in Rashomon fashion—Bubbles' version is drawn in crayon! "Just Another Manic Mojo" tries to account for the fact that the girls' greatest adversary has a normal life when not trying to take over the world. If you can call "normal" living in a domed fortress atop a volcano—in the middle of a public park at the center of Townsville.
In fact, Mojo Jojo is a brilliant creation in his own right and a sign of how clever and varied the rogues' gallery for The Powerpuff Girls can be. All the villains have distinctive personalities, allowing stories over the course of the show's six seasons (and a theatrical feature) to occasionally spotlight the bad guys and still work effectively. But Mojo, the monkey with the torturous and redundant grammar ("Excuse me, sir, but can you direct me to the location of where I can locate some eggs, for I would like to purchase them so that they can travel home with me and I can eat them today—and maybe tomorrow?"), is easily able to steal the spotlight from the girls. And Mojo is just one of a tight supporting cast: the fatherly but brittle Professor, the gluttonous and incompetent Mayor, his capable and long-suffering assistant Ms. Sara Bellum. McCracken understands what many other Cartoon Network pretenders continually miss: distinctive character personalities allow plenty of room for varied stories beyond just the surface gags. What is remarkable about the first season of The Powerpuff Girls is that every episode works. There is not a dud in the bunch, and the show never repeats itself. Most freshman shows need to build up momentum, and the first couple of episodes are not as tightly paced as the rest of the season, but The Powerpuff Girls quickly establishes its distinctive tone and style. Compare this to most other popular Cartoon Network offerings (and I won't name names—at least right now), where you can rarely tell one episode from another.
There is a little color bleed and loss of sharpness on the earlier episodes on this DVD, but for the most part, The Powerpuff Girls: The Complete First Season looks good. And Warner Brothers seems happy to throw in the extras, even if they are not always suitable for the youngest members of the show's audience. As noted above, the original "Whoopass Girls" shorts are included, as well as the two "What A Cartoon!" pilots. You can watch promotional material developed for the "What A Cartoon!" premieres back in 1995, including a CNN tour of the Hanna Barbera studio (McCracken and Johnny Bravo's Van Partible are featured as the potential stars of the future), the Space Ghost Coast to Coast episode where "Meat Fuzzy Lumkins" premiered, and the raw footage from McCracken's interview from that episode. For those keeping score of the cartoons premiered that night: Dexter's Laboratory? Hit, and its creator would go on to work for George Lucas in the spice mines of Kessel. Johnny Bravo? Hit. Powerpuff Girls? Major hit, feature film, brand new anime remake (Demashita! Powerpuff Girls Z). "Yuckie Duck?" Flop. "Shake and Flick?" Huh?
Oh, and Warners throws in sixteen promos for the show that ran prior to and during its first season. Notice how the early episodes still use clips from the two pilots, as the series had not yet developed its own art style yet.
After a few haphazard DVD releases, Warner Brothers is finally doing the right thing by delivering The Powerpuff Girls in season sets. Hopefully, we can get some commentary tracks on future sets. And how about a special edition of the movie already?
Once again, the day is saved…by Craig McCracken and Warner Brothers!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "The Whoopass Girls: A Sticky Situation" (Completed and Pencil Tests)
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