The Powerpuff Girls Movie

(Craig McCracken, USA, 2002)


Anxiety always lurks in a movie viewer who encounters, for the first time, characters who already have a life and a following on television.

Unprepared spectators wonder, firstly, whether they are going to comprehend what is going on. And secondly, they worry about whether the original concept will successfully make the leap into a cinematic format.

Happily, where The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course (2002) so dismally failed, The Powerpuff Girls Movie succeeds beyond all expectation.

This animated feature can be approached as a funky female version of the first Spider-Man (2002) blockbuster by Sam Raimi. Once again, we track back to superheroic origins, in this case the invention by Professor Utonium in his laboratory of three "perfect" little girls. And again, a stray ingredient, here the powerful Chemical X, triggers an unpredictable alchemy.

Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup are, emotionally, pretty normal kids in their righteous anger at injustice and their need for love. The only hitch is that, once they get involved in a game of tag, their combined energy is enough to ruin the entire cartoon metropolis of Townsville. So, like Spider-Man, the Powerpuffs are feared and ostracised.

To win respect, they will have to do battle not simply with the evil Mojo Jojo (another wayward result of Utonium's laboratory) but also every other deranged, simian creature that Mojo manages to unleash upon the city.

The house style of the Powerpuffs creator, Craig McCracken, is an inspired mixture of '50s-style Warner Brothers cartoons (especially their mock-futuristic glimpses into the homes and gadgets of tomorrow), '60s psychedelia and '90s manga/anime.

Beyond a very cool sense of architectural design, the defining features of McCracken's work are lightning speed, manic repetition and joyous excess. A textbook example is offered in the special Dexter's Laboratory short which, in cinemas, preceded this feature. When Dexter decides to scratch his itchy chicken pox, we are treated to a hilarious montage, defying every known law of time and space, of ever-more outlandish scratching procedures.

The Powerpuff Girls Movie is an utter treat. It does not buy into that familiar snob-reflex of aiming the simple stuff at children and in-jokes at adults. McCracken, obviously inspired by Tim Burton, constructs an entire imaginative world for us, and demands that, young or old, we keep up with its manic pace and inventiveness.

© Adrian Martin September 2002

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search