In our reboot-loving age, it was inevitable: The Powerpuff Girls is the first Cartoon Network original to return to the airwaves once again in a new package, and not without reason. Craig McCracken’s creation set quite a award-winning standard to live up to, by virtue of the unapologetically silly adventures of its trio of pint-sized superheroes, all as childish as they are powerful.
So, will this remake be more of the same to fans of the original? Well, yes and no. The basics are certainly here: Blossom (Amanda Leighton), Bubbles (Kristen Li), and Buttercup (Natalie Palamides) continue their efforts to “save the world before bedtime,” and have contrasting archetypal personalities, much as in the original series. Blossom is the leader and self-styled mature one, doing her best to bring order and sense to everything. Bubbles is the heart of the group and could still be called “the joy and the laughter” here, while Buttercup fits the mold of a tough tomboy – albeit with some of the edge taken off compared to the original. The supporting cast should all feel familiar too. Clips suggest that Professor Utonium (Tom Kane) makes a charming return as the girls’ doting single parent and advisor, while “The Mayor” (Tom Kenny) is his same old lovably hapless self. So far, there’s enough here to offer plenty of hope that such returning characters as the Mayor’s assistant Miss Bellum and the absurdly verbose ape villain Mojo Jojo will be treated with the same mindset of not fixing what isn’t broken.
At the same time, even if the show echoes the original, it does so without being too beholden to imitation. Tom Kenny’s winning narrator voice was nearly a character unto itself in the first series, while here it takes a back seat. The original show also had a substantial dose of madcap and wacky humor and its fair share of references and nods to pop culture at large, giving it no small amount of appeal to children and open-minded young adults, akin to the creative success achieved by Animaniacs. Here, going on the two episodes provided for review, executive producer Nick Jennings has spearheaded a creative approach where character-driven humor and situations relate-able for kids do much of the heavy lifting, taking after the likes of Steven Universe and Clarence.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since what this new version of The Powerpuff Girls does it does very well. For instance, “Princess Buttercup” touches on the experience of seeing a good friend seem to grow away from you after falling in with a new group of people, when Buttercup joins up with a rebellious group of roller girls that end up nearly monopolizing her time. It’s at this moment that recurring adversary Princess Morbucks (Haley Mancini) swoops in, looking to manipulate the other two into letting her take Buttercup’s spot on the team. For her part Buttercup doesn’t necessarily see her new friends for what they are or see the impact her absence is having on her sisters, but in the end when duty calls, no amount of peer pressure keeps her from her family.
Then there’s “Escape From Monster Island,” where Bubbles manages to score free tickets to a live performance from the trio’s favorite boy band – but only two. An immature feud between Blossom and Buttercup ensues as they seek to influence Bubbles’ choice, first by pressuring her and then by arguing and tearing down the other behind their sister’s back, even after Bubbles does her best to play peacemaker. All this plays out throughout a quest to rescue The Mayor after he crash lands on an island filled with all manner of dangerous monsters, which threatens to end very badly without the girls’ successful teamwork. It’s no spoiler to reveal that everything ultimately works out, and in such a way that neither feuding sister gains from their selfishness.
To their credit, these episodes mercifully refrain from sermonizing on the issues at play and trust the audience to get the points on its own. Make no mistake that this is a goofy cartoon at heart just as the original was. It’s also not shy about going big when it wants to: between these two episodes, we have one battle against a giant robot and at least a half dozen distinct giant monsters. In the end this an appealing remake that ought be a hit with kids on multiple levels, and I’d encourage the young of heart to give it a chance and give it time. It remains to be seen if this thing can fully amount to the Powerpuff Girls you remember, but whether it does or not, a good time awaits anyway. The Cartoon Network crew has done it yet again.
The Powerpuff Girls returns to Cartoon Network with premiere episodes all week starting on Monday, April 4, 2016, at 6:00 PM (ET/PT).
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