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"The Powerpuff Girls Rule!!!": Yes Indeedy, They Do!

Has it really been ten years since The Powerpuff Girls debuted? That iconic show, one of a handful that established Cartoon Network at the end of the 1990s as the place for cartoons, has been off the air so long that it seems much longer. It is, in a way, a reminder of how quickly and thoroughly sweet times can curdle that the tenth-anniversary special “The Powerpuff Girls Rule!!!” should seem like an unearthed treasure from some long-vanished Edenic past.

In cases like this, when you’re given the gift of something at once very new and very old, you have to be careful: Absence can make the heart grow fonder, and The Powerpuff Girls has been away so long that it’s hard not to go all soft and sentimental over a new episode. “The Powerpuff Girls Rule!!!” is a classic in the best sense of the word: It feels pretty much like any other episode we’ve ever seen, being just as sweet and just as silly and just as endearing as any other.

This “special”, actually, doesn’t feature the kind of stuff that is usually saved up for a special: no surprise revelations or once-in-a-lifetime plot twists; no astonishing, let’s-blow-the-budget melee fights; no show-stopping cameos by all the classic villains. It is, for the most part, a regular, straight-forward “Powerpuff Girls” story that starts and ends with the girls saving the day, with lots of clever fights and character jokes along the way. And that all by itself is more than enough to satisfy, like a tall drink of water on a parched throat.

Actually, I’m not quite truthful when I say that “The Powerpuff Girls Rule!!!” lacks the plot twists, cameos, or special fight scenes you’d expect in an out-of-retirement special. I really don’t want to say much about what happens in it, for fear of spoiling some excellent surprises. Suffice it to say that the plot is about what happens when the key to the world (ownership of which, it turns out, really does bestow control of the planet on its possessor) comes to Townsville. As you can imagine, this attracts the attention of every bad guy in the city, and so we do get lots of cameos, and we do get some really nice fight scenes and a splendid race sequence. You also have to remember that this is a show that was never shy about plunging its girls into serious moral quandries, so we also get a rare look at what life under the dominion of a couple of different characters would look like.

But none of these bits is overdone; there’s no sense that the story is straining to give us an encore, or to put a giant punctuation mark on its too-soon-suspended run. Some viewers may be disappointed by its sense of modesty, and find themselves wishing for something really spectacular. Me, I think that Craig McCracken, who wrote, storyboarded, and directed it, gets things exactly right. A special like this works not because it answers all our questions or tries to be the show-to-end-all-shows, but because it makes us feel like the original run never should have ended, that there are still more stories to tell about Townsville. It is, in a way, perverse of him to tease us like that. But this special is so graceful, so relaxed, and so effortlessly entertaining that you have to forgive it when the final credits roll, when you realize that this probably really is the end.

“The Powerpuff Girls Rule!!!” is, really, little more than twenty-two minutes of light-hearted fun; even the songs, which might make you think that something big and operatic is coming down the pike, are basically just head fakes to set up a massive joke at everyone’s expense. This is not a story to be savored for its brilliance (though it has plenty of that) but for its cheerful ability to delight. That’s quite enough, and makes this a genuine don’t-miss offering from a network that once larded its prime time schedules with such like.

“The Powerpuff Girls Rule!!!” will premiere on Monday, January 19, at 8:00pm (ET/PT) on Cartoon Network.

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