Cartoon Network has just released a teaser of its brand new reboot for their critically and commercially acclaimed series The Powerpuff Girls, which will start airing this spring. The beloved heroines Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup will return for brand new adventures and controversially, with brand new voice actors in their roles. So how does the teaser look? Does it look like it has the potential to capture the same spark the original show had in the late ’90s/early ’00s?
First let me address the biggest elephant in the room; the change in voice actors. I was unhappy when I heard that the original actors Catherine Cavadini (Blossom), Tara Strong (Bubbles), and EG Daily (Buttercup) were being replaced. None of them are dead and are still willing to play the roles, so I didn’t see the point in replacing them (heck, June Foray is in her late 90s and she’ll still play Rocky and Natasha Fatale!). But watching the above clip, I don’t think the new voice is so bad, granted it’s only Buttercup speaking in this clip and Blossom and Bubbles could be a different story. I think the new actor, Natalie Palamides, does a fine job here. She’ll never be a replacement for EG Daily in my mind (especially her wonderfully raspy voice), but all things considered she does fine. Palamides provides a voice that sounds close enough to what I imagine a character like Buttercup would sound like.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much else I like about this clip. My biggest issue with this clip are the designs of the villain Manboy and the other human characters. They look rejected background characters from Clarence or Steven Universe, which goes into one of the things that has irritated me a lot about Cartoon Network in recent years. Ever since Adventure Time started airing and became popular, most of their following cartoons (and some cartoons on other networks too) have had a nasty habit of following similar aesthetics to each other. For all of the imagination and boundary pushing that some of these cartoons have done, I really wish that imagination would extend to their character designs.
Although there are slight differences in designs with each example, there’s an overarching uniformity to their designs that just bugs me. All of these characters have the same mouth shapes. All of these characters have the same clean, thin, contour lines. All of these have the same bright, flat colors (except for the murkier Over the Garden Wall). Almost all of these characters have noodly appendages with tiny hands. Such uniformity in design across various shows bores the crap out of me. Blame it on the Nicktoons I grew up with; their stark differences in designs and aesthetics were one of the major things that made animation so interesting to me in the first place. The deformed babies in Rugrats didn’t look like the beady eyed people in Doug, which didn’t look like the assortment of bizarre head shapes in Hey Arnold!, which didn’t look like the slightly more geometric big headed children in Invader Zim. The noodley-armed bug-eyed anthropomorphic animals in Rocko’s Modern Life didn’t look like the Tex-Avery-on-acid designs of Ren & Stimpy, which didn’t look like the “pointy bird thing” designs of the titular Angry Beavers. It made it feel like each creator put their own fingertips on the look and feel of their show while these designs coming out of mostly Cartoon Network shows feels like they’re being churned out of an assembly line. Even if we look back at Cartoon Network’s Cartoon Cartoons of the late ’90s/early 2000s, the designs were admittedly not as varied as the Nicktoons (especially the cartoons produced by Hanna-Barbera/Cartoon Network studios), they still threw in radically different looking shows like Ed, Edd n Eddy, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and Codename: Kids Next Door. And even the more uniform Hanna-Barbera/Cartoon Network studios produced something as funky looking as Cow & Chicken. I have friends that tell me I should watch more Steven Universe, Over the Garden Wall, and Rick and Morty, but I admit their designs stop me at the door when it comes to really diving into them. I liked Adventure Time when it first came out, but I’ve grown so sick of that aesthetic that if I never look at anything from that show again, it’ll be too soon. It’s sad to see them streamlining their new Powerpuff Girls show to look like everything else too.
With that long diatribe said, I have to admit that….I…kinda…never liked the aesthetic of the original Powerpuff Girls show either. That updated UPA art style and the thick contour lines on the characters gave everything a flatness that bugged me. And I admit I’ve never been fond of UPA’s design style either. The big difference for me is that when the show first aired in 1998, no other cartoon looked anything like this (Dexter’s Laboratory is a little close, but that never fully committed to the revamped UPA style in the same way). The creator Craig McCracken made it a point to give his show a look that would make it stand out from every other cartoon on television. I respect that a lot, even if it was a design style that isn’t my cup of tea. It’s the same philosophy the creators of my beloved Nicktoons and many of McCracken’s contemporaries at Cartoon Network at the time had too. This kept things visually exciting in my opinion. Too bad this philosophy has been abandoned at current-day Cartoon Network.
Then again…they did attempt to go for something more radical in the recent past.
The one-off special “Dance Pantsed” was admittedly a more experimental venture with Kevin Dart leading the art direction (who you may know from his gorgeous background art in Steven Universe). I usually welcome this kind of experimentation in animation. In this case, however? Ehhhhh….swing and a miss. I have always found the redesigns of the girls absolutely hideous and seeing them in motion didn’t make them look any better. As a matter of fact, I thought the animation in this special, which was actually CG here, was pretty terrible. It could have been an interesting style if it was used for a brand new show with brand new characters, but it didn’t work at all for The Powerpuff Girls. It didn’t help that the script for this was insipid and unfunny. Even Dart’s usually reliable background art didn’t mix well with the characters. The pinkness of the backgrounds blended too much with the pinker-than-usual characters and their lack of contour lines made them get lost in the backgrounds in some scenes. I can’t believe this special made me appreciate the thick contour lines of the older episodes that used to drive me crazy. I think the only thing I liked about “Dance Pantsed” was that all the original voice actors reprised their roles, but that doesn’t amount to much when it’s in the service of a bad script. This ended up being one of the worst Powepuff Girls episodes I’ve ever seen.
Is there no pleasing me when it comes to The Powerpuff Girls? I don’t want to say no, but….no. On top the the designs that annoyed me, the animation in the clip was very stiff. And the cliche “battle of the sexes” territory that it’s treading with this “Manboy” stuff has been tread a million times before, including older episodes of the series. What I’ve seen here, along with the “Dance Pantsed” debacle, don’t convince me that any new iterations of the show could ever live up to the quality of the original run of the series. And here’s something else about that original run, 1) it went way downhill after a few years, particularly in the episodes when they switched from using paint to digital color and 2) even at its peak, The Powerpuff Girls was hit-and-miss. Isn’t one of the most famous moments in the series this song? I’ve always hated this song. Their gut-bustingly hilarious episodes (“Los Dos Mojos”, “Meet the Beat Alls”) or wonderfully action-packed episodes (“Bubblevicious”, “Stuck Up, Up and Away”) were always offset by hopelessly middle-of-the-road episodes. When it came to that era of Cartoon Cartoons, I’ve always preferred Johnny Bravo, Ed, Edd n Eddy, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Dexter’s Laboratory (although I have mixed feelings about this show too), and perhaps even Time Squad. Can you tell how excited I am for this reboot yet?
(Didn’t their theatrical movie get mixed reviews? Hey, I thought that one at least was pretty good!)