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TV Cartoon Network Goes to the Girls


Posted 02/10/99

The Washington Post
01/17/99
By Scott Moore , Washington Post Staff Writer
Page TV Week Page 6

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COMMENTARY
In an article about how the cartoon Powder Puff Girls is changing the Cartoon Channel, Xena is mentioned in passing as TV's most beloved cartoonish character ("Television hasn't had a trio of female do-gooders like this since "Charlie's Angels" in the late '70s, though Lucy Lawless's warrior princess Xena still is the most beloved cartoonish character currently on television."

PRIMARY SOURCE

   Call it sophomoric. (Okay, it was created by a second-year film student.)
Call it stoopid. (It's that too, in a way.) But, Cartoon Network's "Powerpuff
Girls" just might be primetime role models for a post-modern feminist world.

   Or, at least a fun way to pass a half-hour at 8 on Wednesday nights.  

   You go, girls.

   Cartoon queen Betty Cohen sees greater significance in the show.

   "It stands out from most other cartoons on television because it appeals to
both boys and girls," said the network president. "Make no mistake, though,
these girls are tough, and they battle dangerous, outrageous villains. And their
relationship with each other alternates between partnership and rivalry, to
which most kids with siblings can fully relate."

   To repeat: You go, girls!

   Cohen green-lighted the animated series's November 1998 launch because of the
popularity of a seven-minute short in the "World Premiere Toons" initiative
(which also has spawned "Dexter's Laboratory," "Johnny Bravo," "Cow and Chicken"
and "Ed, Edd n Eddy").

   Since then, nearly 1 million households tune in each Wednesday for the three
super-powered kindergartners -- brainy Blossom, brawny Buttercup and
bubble-headed Bubbles. "The Powerpuff Girls" was Cartoon Network's highest-rated
series for 1998, and created buzz for the Scottish pop band Bis with its closing
theme song.

   What's not to like about pint-sized sisters who are able to fly and battle
the dangerous villains of Townsville? (At least until bedtime.)

   The cute crime fighters were created by benevolent Professor Utonium, who
added Chemical X to the long-standing little-girls recipe of sugar, spice and
everything nice.

   No matter that they don't have fingers -- not even the four digits favored by
cartoon characters. They have fist-like hands, the better to sock it to villains
Mojo Jojo, Fuzzy Lumpkins and the Amoeba Boys. Television hasn't had a trio of female do-gooders like this since "Charlie's Angels" in the late '70s, though
Lucy Lawless's warrior princess Xena still is the most beloved cartoonish
character currently on television.

   Creator Craig McCracken isn't out to make a statement -- just good action
cartoons. Actually, his pint-sized superheroes began life as a second-year film
school assignment at California Institute of the Arts. Then, they were then
known as . . . whoops, let's just say the girls' names kicked some posterior.

   McCracken's animation is derived from spending his formative years watching
"Underdog" and "Rocky and Bullwinkle." He said the campy 1960s "Batman"
live-action series influences his action scenes.

   "But most of my inspiration is not from animation," McCracken said,
destroying the easy characterization. "I'm a big fan of Sam Raimi and the Coen
brothers," the action-horror director and the "Fargo" filmmakers. "I look at
these as little 11-minute films."

   Let's hope the Powerpuffs don't send the bad guys through the wood chipper.

   McCracken isn't above borrowing trademark techniques from other directors,
but he's going to let the hard-core toonies figure out the references for
themselves. McCracken and collaborator Genndy Tartakovsky also produced
"Dexter's Laboratory," so sharp-eyed viewers will spot the little genius in some
crowd scenes, or see snippets of the "Dexter's" show-within-a-show "Puppet Pals"
on a TV screen. But otherwise Dexter and the Powerpuffs live in different 'toon
universes.

   In addition, McCracken's device of not showing the face of Miss Sara Bellum,
the smart assistant to the idiot Mayor, is not a takeoff on the "Cow and
Chicken" gag of not showing the parents' upper bodies, he said. Neither is it a
stereotypical slur.

   "It's kind of me being stupidly clever," McCracken said. "She's the typical,
hot-looking assistant, represented by her body, except that she's the smartest
person in town."

   The brain represented by a body -- an impossibly curvaceous body, with
long-flowing blond hair descending from an always-unseen head.

   Hey, what happened to that post-modern feminism thing we had going here?

   Well, McCracken said, there are several women on the creative staff. And "one
of the girls who does our storyboards creates tougher episodes than some of the
guys."

   It might not be post-modern feminism, but it's a place for girls to go.
Clockwise from top, Buttercup, Blossom and Bubbles add punch to the female
superhero movement. Sensitive Bubbles strikes a blow for post-modern feminism.

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