Noses Off 

The unperfumed pleasures of dog pee and monkey poo

Wednesday, Jul 3 2002

As a recognized authority on the subject (recognized, that is, within the confines of these offices), I have been asked to review The Powerpuff Girls Movie -- in which cartoondom’s most perfectly realized color-coded kindergarten superheroines jump from the small screen to the large -- as if in the usual critical sense of deciding “good” or “bad,” not to say good and evil, such a thing were even possible! It is, I am afraid, a work of art as impervious to serious objections (not that I have any) as it is resistant to overextravagant praise. But perhaps I can at least, in some practical or pedantic way, usefully describe its outlines and effects.

It was not, of course, an absolutely foolproof project -- it might have been subcontracted to a middle school art class, or voiced by a French Canadian hockey team, or conceived merely as the precursor to a video game or as a fast-food merchandise tie-in. (Note “merely.” More than $1 billion worth of PpG stuff has been moved so far.) All kinds of things could have gone wrong that didn‘t, the film having been left in the hands of the series’ creators -- Craig McCracken et al. -- whose devotion to the integrity of their 2-D progeny is as intense and touching as Professor Utonium‘s own. The brand has not been betrayed, and despite the (I suppose relatively) pricey special effects and dollopings of digital whipped cream, the movie still feels handmade and personal, the natural product of people whose lives, even before they were made profitable by them, were unusually dominated by cartoons.

Typically for a superhero summer blockbuster, The Powerpuff Girls Movie is an origin story, expanding upon and somewhat deepening (just why was that guy making little girls in his laboratory?) what every PpG show covers in about four seconds of opening titles. It is not sentimental in the Way of Walt, and the cuteness of little Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup, though it seems to stimulate directly excitement centers in the preteen female brain, must be held in some degree ironic. Also, the cuteness is no more important than the ass kicking -- indeed, the film’s great epiphany is that violence, correctly applied, can constitute a civic virtue. I think of my niece, Zoe, who at the age of 13 knows 27 ways to cripple an attacker. Ah, youth.

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As with any film based on an indefinitely ongoing TV series, there are unities to observe: Everything that is true at the beginning of an episode must be true at the end; character, if sometimes complex, is immutable. Which means the real advantages here are visual. The Powerpuff Girls Movie is possibly not the best ever episode -- I mean, there are so many to choose from, and we all have our favorites -- but it is certainly the most beautiful. The hand of man is legible in most every frame; the art (references drawn primarily from the odd-numbered decades: the ‘30s, ’50s, ‘70s, ’90s) has the electrical snap of a great old Saul Bass title sequence, and not only argues for the almost moral superiority of plain old cell animation over the industrial-grade pixilated polish of Toy Story and Shrek, but strikes a blow for abstraction. Professor Utonium is all straight lines and angles; the girls have no noses, and eyes the size of dessert plates. Yet they read as real.

All you really need to know, finally, from a consumer angle, is that it is not boring, and looks fantastic, and maintains the wit and spirit of the original, and that -- like all the best cartoons, which since Gertie the Dinosaur have only been incidentally for children -- it takes care of the grown-ups first. There are obscure puns and cultural references for Mom and Dad, dog pee and monkey poo (metaphorical) for the kids, and fighting for . . . everybody! The men do know, and the little girls understand. Resistance is futile.

THE POWERPUFF GIRLS MOVIE | Directed by CRAIG McCRACKEN | Written by McCRACKEN, CHARLIE BEAN, LAUREN FAUST, PAUL RUDISH and DON SHANK | Released by the Cartoon Network and Warner Bros. | Citywidelab brats or “perfect little girls”?

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