Page 5 of 8
Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup are identical theyre triplets, after all except for the color of their eyes and dresses, and the color and character-appropriate style of their hair: redheaded Blossoms bow-crowned ponytail, which functions visually as a superheroic cape; blond Bubbles Cindy Brady pigtails; brunette Buttercups severe, helmetlike bobbed flip. Model sheets instruct animators in the girls streamlined physiology: "Think of head as a solid ball. Features are painted on, they should wrap around contour of head." "Keep body and legs short and cute." "Hand ends in slight point (like a butter knife)." "The girls arms are muscle. Theyre solid, not flat." Its the very lack of detail that makes them look substantial and strong.
We assume the nose. We assume the fingers. In fact, we dont want the nose or the fingers, because they would mar the girls particular peculiar beauty. "People have asked if were ever going to do a live-action Powerpuff," says McCracken, "but I wouldnt want to, because then youre defining them theyll have fingers and theyll have noses and theyll be real little girls and it just wont be the same. But as cartoons theyre 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 its completely not interesting to me." By Disney standards, The Powerpuff Girls isnt 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 Mayors 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 Wards Rocky & Bullwinkle et 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 Girls incorporates 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. "Its 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 anybodys ever done it before. So its 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 theyre missing the UPA tributes and the Jay Ward tributes." There are references as well, passing or extended, to Star Wars, Diffrent 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 Mayors office is modeled on Commissioner Gordons, 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 Professors house recalls the boxy modern manse of Mon Oncle.