||It's gotten so that any reasonably successful kid's cartoon on a cable network is destined to spawn a theatrical movie which can rake in a few million bucks before retiring to a long life on the video-DVD shelf. Last week there was Nickelodeon's "Hey Arnold!" feature (following in the footsteps of "The Rugrats Movie"), and now the Cartoon Network offers its first effort along similar lines--an elongated flick based on "The Powerpuff Girls," a show which is popular not only with many urchins but, it appears, quite a few older viewers, too.
Certainly the picture, like the series, has a distinctive look to it; the compositions, with their noirish touches, are inventive, and splashes of color are imaginatively applied to them. The city of Townsville, the locale in which the action is set, is given a glossy "Metropolis" aura, and the interior backgrounds are cleverly structured. The super-powered girls themselves are amusingly drawn like kewpie dolls, with huge eyes that betray the influence of Japanese anime, and their creator-father figure Professor Utonium (he makes them from "sugar, spice and chemical X") is fashioned in an angular style reminiscent of some of the more arty Looney Tunes figures of the forties. The mayor of Townsville is also a memorable creation, puttering along like a child's toy lifted from a Monopoly box cover. The voices are good, too. Cathy Cavadini, Tara Strong and Elizabeth Daily do a fine job of differentiating Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup, as the PGs are called, and Tom Kenny, who also sputters the mayor's few phrases, is genuinely funny intoning the ponderous narration that opens the movie (it calls to mind the idiotic stuff that Ed Wood used to employ at the beginning of his dreadful films--except in this instance it's meant to be funny, the way Jay Ward's similar nonsense was). Tom Kane is a suitably avuncular Professor, and Roger L. Jackson's accent as the villainous monkey Mojo Jojo is worth a few chuckles. The direction by Craig McCracken is well-gauged, too, keeping things moving but not hesitating to pause when appropriate (as in a rather lovely interlude when the girls exile themselves to a deserted asteroid).
It's rather a pity that the narrative devised to showcase all these positive elements is a rather pallid one. All that McCracken and his virtual stable of cohorts have cooked up is a fairly standard-issue "origins" episode, recounting the creation of the girls and their first encounter with Mojo Jojo, who dupes them into helping him use Chemical X to fashion an army of rampaging simians, only to have them then do battle against him to destroy the monkey horde. Though there are a couple of nice themes (the meaning of family, the importance of accepting people different from oneself) and a number of appealing episodes (the exile interlude already referred to is notable among them, but there's considerable charm in the girls' first day of school, too), a lot of the running-time is given over to rock-and-sock stuff; and the violence level gets pretty high, not only in the culminating battle (a rather obvious "King Kong" homage to which the periodic interventions of a supremely lethargic pooch add some much-needed humor) but also in an earlier episode, in which the girls virtually annihilate Townsville playing a game of tag. "The Powerpuff Girls" is hardly an adult cartoon along the lines of "Felix the Cat," but some parents might think it goes a mite too far in the ass-kicking department.
So the picture is a mixed bag--it soars visually but remains narratively earthbound. Fans of the show, young and old, will be giddy at the thought of seeing their heroines on the big screen, though they might be a bit disappointed at the result. Newcomers will doubtlessly be taken by the beautifully-crafted images, but they'll probably be less enthusiastic about the story they tell. "The Powerpuff Girls" is a good picture which, with more clever plotting, could have been an outstanding one.