By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
We assume the nose. We assume the fingers. In fact, we don’t want the nose or the fingers, because they would mar the girls’ particular peculiar beauty. "People have asked if we’re ever going to do a live-action Powerpuff," says McCracken, "but I wouldn’t want to, because then you’re defining them — they’ll have fingers and they’ll have noses and they’ll be real little girls and it just won’t be the same. But as cartoons they’re kind of this symbolic catchall." And then there is the question of the eyes, which no human head could bear, those big eyes that remind some viewers of the big eyes of Japanese anime, but which were inspired as much by the kitschy art of Margaret Keane. (There are Powerpuff Girl dolls on display in the Keane retrospective at the Laguna Art Museum.)
"We both like really flat, iconic, simplistic design," says Genndy Tartakovsky. "We try to create our own universe, not based on life. The trend now in animated feature films is to get as close as possible to doing something realistic, but it’s completely not interesting to me." By Disney standards, The Powerpuff Girls isn’t animated at all, but it is as animated as it needs to be. (When Craig McCracken first went off to CalArts, he was worried it would all be learning "to draw a deer running through the forest.") Speed and power are suggested through dynamic design, extreme poses, whiplash editing, the skittery electronica of the soundtrack. One particularly clever episode, all seen from the Mayor’s point of view, left the screen black for a couple of minutes (he was blindfolded). "Limited animation" — as opposed to the "full animation" of, say, Pinocchio— began as an economy, a cheaper, quicker way to produce cartoons, but at its best, as in the short films of UPA or Jay Ward’s Rocky & Bullwinkleet al., it provides its own elegant shorthand solutions, trading fluidity and complexity of motion for brilliance of color and form and sharp verbal wit.The Powerpuff Girlsincorporates within its deceptively simple aesthetic a kind of résumé of the form. "A lot of that is just from doing your homework and finding out where the best stuff was done," says McCracken. "It’s like if you want to study great design you look at UPA and early Hanna-Barbera, and if you want to study great timing you look at Tex Avery and Bob Clampett shorts. For action sequences look at anime — they really do it better than anybody’s ever done it before. So it’s just a matter of knowing where the best people are and learning from them, and all those influences are sprinkled throughout all our shows. There seems to be this focus on Powerpuff as just this tribute to anime, but they’re missing the UPA tributes and the Jay Ward tributes." There are references as well, passing or extended, to Star Wars, Diff’rent Strokes, The Life of Brian, Monty Python, Spinal Tap, The Karate Kid, The A-Team, Schoolhouse Rock, The Princess Bride, South Park, The Godfather, Star Trek, Pokémon, Batman (the Mayor’s office is modeled on Commissioner Gordon’s, from the ’60s live-action TV series), Yellow Submarine, any movie where a monster destroys Tokyo, the art of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, and the films of Jacques Tati, who appears briefly as M. Hulot in a beach scene, while the look of the Professor’s house recalls the boxy modern manse of Mon Oncle.
THE PICTURES ARE ONLY PART OF THE. . . picture. The voices tell you who the characters really are, and tell the writers, too, who are consistently clever without being showy about it. The Mayor is played by Tom Kenny (also the narrator, and the voice as well of SpongeBob SquarePants and the dog half of CatDog on Nickelodeon) as a kind of cross between Wizard of OzFrank Morgan and Ruth Gordon. Mojo Jojo, played by Roger Jackson (who is the scary voice on the phone in the Screammovies), would be just another evil monkey without his particular redundant way of talking, inspired by the rhythms of Speed Racer’s dubbed dialogue and The Superdictionary,"a DC Comics dictionary I had when I was growing up," says McCracken. "It would define words using sentences, but it would reiterate the definition over and over again, and when you read them out loud they’re the funniest things, because they would be defining, you know, laughing, and it would say ‘Crypto made Superman laugh,’ ‘He made Superman make an amusing sound come from his throat.’ When Powerpuffcame around I just started writing Mojo’s dialogue that way." For example, from the episode where he turned everyone into dogs with his dog ray: "I, Mojo Jojo, am your master and you shall obey my commands like the dogs you are. Because I am your master, it is I you will obey. Obey commands is what you will do. I will give you commands and you will obey them."
As to the girls: "For Blossom," says McCracken, "I wanted a kind of sincerity and strength and cuteness, and a real uniqueness to her voice. Buttercup and Bubbles are more caricatures, there’s the tough voice and the cute voice, but Blossom is this kind of subtle in-between. Catherine was perfect; she isBlossom. E.G. as Buttercup has that gruffness, but there’s still a cuteness to it — she doesn’t sound like a boy. Bubbles was probably the trickiest to cast. A lot of voice actors do the cute-girl voice, but it can become really saccharine and turn you off. And we finally found Tara and she was perfect, and she’s also developed this whole thing where she freaks out and screams, and even when she tries to act tough she’s still cute. When we were recording the first show, there’s a line where Bubbles yells, you callin’ a biped?’ And Genndy said, ‘That’s the show, right there, that sound of this tough girl screaming but still remaining cute.’"