"Don't you know that only big fat sissies take baths?"
"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.
Facts of the Case
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).
"Beat Your Greens"
"School House Rocked"
"Los Dos Mojos"
"Stuck Up, Up and Away"
"Just Another Manic Mojo"
"Down 'n' Dirty"
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.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
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.
Warner Brothers is fined for improper episode selection to serve as the sample of the show's second season, and further fined for misrepresentation of the disc's supplementary content. Craig McCracken is given the court's commendation for creating an entertaining cartoon that, while it does lack depth, does provide substance for the cartoon lover.
And once again, the day is saved, thanks to DVD Ver…um, err, I mean, thanks to the Powerpuff Girls!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Trivia Game
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