[This is a review of The Powerpuff Girls Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
Between the Gilmore Girls continuation and Full House sequel series Fuller House on Netflix, along with additional revivals, the current TV climate is tapping into nostalgia for beloved properties from the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s. Included in this revival trend is Cartoon Network’s reboot of The Powerpuff Girls. Created by Craig McCracken (Dexter’s Laboratory, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends), the original iteration of the show ran for six seasons from 1998 to 2005 and won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation among other awards.
Now, Cartoon Network, executive producer Nick Jennings (Adventure Time), and co-executive producer Bob Boyle (The Fairly OddParents, Danny Phantom) have brought back The Powerpuff Girls for a new generation. The series premiered with two episodes: ‘Escape from Monster Island’, written and storyboarded by Jaydeep Hasrajani and Grace Kraft, and ‘Princess Buttercup’, written and storyboarded by Kyle Neswald and Benjamin P. Carow — both episodes with a story by Haley Mancini and Jake Goldman.
In ‘Escape from Monster Island,’ the Powerpuff Girls are tasked with saving the Mayor (voiced by returning star Tom Kenny) from Monster Island. But, after Bubbles (Kristen Li) wins a pair of concert tickets, Blossom (Amanda Leighton) and Buttercup’s (Natalie Palamides) bickering over who will attend the show lands the trio in even more trouble. Then in ‘Princess Buttercup,’ Buttercup spends more time with new friends and neglects her sisters as well as her hero duties. Moving in to take her place as one of the Powerpuff Girls is Princess Morbucks.
On the surface, not much has changed from McCracken’s version of The Powerpuff Girls to the new iteration from Jennings; the origin story of the trio of heroines remains intact — Professor Utonium combined sugar, spice, everything nice and the accidental ingredient of Chemical X — and the personalities of bossy Blossom, friendly Bubbles, and aggressive Buttercup remain the same. Plus, the Mayor’s obsession with pickles and his knack for getting himself into situations that necessitate the help of the Powerpuff Girls, as well as the villain Princess Morbucks, also made the jump to the revival.
The differences between the original run of The Powerpuff Girls and the reboot are more apparent upon closer inspection. Certainly, the theme song received an update from Seattle-based pop punk band Tacocat with ‘Who’s Got the Power?’ Of course, many will note the different and younger voice cast starring as the three main heroines, but Leighton, Li, and Palamides manage to fill the shoes of Cathy Cavadini, Tara Strong, and E.G. Daily — largely by staying true to the personalities established by their predecessors.
Additionally, it’s readily apparent in both ‘Escape from Monster Island’ and ‘Princess Buttercup’ that The Powerpuff Girls has been updated for a modern audience with certain touches of the 21st Century. In ‘Princess Buttercup’, Princess Morbucks uses a smartphone app that’s styled like Uber, allowing her to hire a monster for a job terrorizing Townsville and giving her the ability to rate its performance afterward. But, while certain updates to the world of The Powerpuff Girls are a necessity — such as the Powerpuff Girls’ iconic phone is replaced by a smartphone alert — others work as social commentary and a means of giving an episode a deeper meaning.
For instance, Sensitive Thugz in ‘Escape form Monster Island’ provide a riff on the real-world appeal of boy bands to young female audiences. Plus, with songs like ‘I Wanna Listen To Your Problems, Girl’ and ‘I’m A Crazy Dangerous Monster When It Comes To Holding Your Hand, Girl,’ Sensitive Thugz follow in the vein of good-natured boy band parodies similar to Bob’s Burgers‘ Boyz4Now. But, the girls’ obsession with Sensitive Thugz has consequences when Blossom and Buttercup’s fighting over Bubbles’ spare concert ticket leads the two to neglect their hero duties, landing them in the middle of an island full of hungry monsters. Through the experience, Blossom and Buttercup both learn that being too self-involved can be harmful, lending the episode a larger theme on selflessness.
The Powerpuff Girls carries the idea of tapping into a larger theme over into ‘Princess Buttercup,’ in which Buttercup learns that being true to herself and finding friends she can relate to doesn’t necessarily mean she should neglect her sisters or who she used to be. Though both lessons are certainly well-suited to the target audiences of The Powerpuff Girls (which is to say children who were too young to watch or remember the original run of the show), they can appeal to older audiences as well. Themes of selfishness and maintaining friendships are ageless and help give The Powerpuff Girls a wider appeal to include new and returning audiences alike.
However, the lessons of these episodes give the series a much more straightforward approach, whereas McCracken’s original show was characterized by being equal parts silly and serious, with an irreverence that fans continue to look back on fondly. While Cartoon Network’s new Powerpuff Girls possesses its own brand of levity, it’s not quite the same as the show had while under the hand of McCracken.
But, as Cartoon Network continues to gain steam with its new generation of series beloved by children and adults alike — including Adventure Time and Steven Universe — this new version of The Powerpuff Girls is well suited to the current track of the network, which is offering its viewers complex character stories in fantastical worlds. So, viewers returning from the original run of The Powerpuff Girls will certainly find a slightly different show, but Cartoon Network’s revival is no less fun and socially conscious than the preceding series.
Cartoon Network’s revival of The Powerpuff Girls captures the spirit of Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup, while giving the show an update for modern audiences both in terms of superficial updates and the tone of the series. Although the revival doesn’t quite hit the mark on what made audiences fall in love with McCracken’s original series, The Powerpuff Girls is an excellent addition to the franchise.
The Powerpuff Girls continues with ‘The Stayover’ on Tuesday April 5 at 6pm on Cartoon Network.