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Powerpuff Girls: The Complete Series - 10th Anniversary Collection, The
Fun and action in an adorably violent package
Loves: "Powerpuff Girls," animation, Bubbles
Likes: Old-School Cartoon Network, Blossom
Dislikes: Current Cartoon Network, Buttercup
Hates: Feeling like a perv for liking this show
The Story So Far
Professor Utronium's efforts to create the perfect little girl took an odd turn when he accidentally added Chemical X to the mix. The result is a trio of superpowered kids: Blossom, the leader; Buttercup, the brawler; and Bubbles, the cute one. The Girls use their powers to defend their home city of Townsville against monsters and villains, while learning a few life lessons as well. The show ran for 78 episodes on Cartoon Network, which have had one season set, and four mish-mash DVD releases, along with a theatrical movie and a holiday special. DVDTalk has reviews of most of these: Down 'N' Dirty | Powerpuff Bluff | Meet the Beat-Alls | The Powerpuff Girls Movie | 'Twas the Fight Before Christmas | First Season
I'm sort of surprised that the Powerpuff Girls ran for six seasons. Perhaps it's the way Cartoon Network scheduled the show, but I only clearly remember a small number of episodes, certainly not 78 of them. In going over this set though, its not as if the show is lacking in quality episodes, with great shows throughout, though certainly in decreasing frequency in the later seasons. There's no denying that the first few seasons, with Craig McCracken and Genndy Tartakovsky ("Dexter's Laboratory") at the helm, were a time of pure animation magic, with classic episodes churned out left and right, full of unique villains, led by iconic bad monkey Mojo Jojo, and fun, innocent silliness and over-the-top action.
Despite plenty of battle-the-giant-monster stories, the show's creative staff kept things fresh, with unique episodes like "Bare Facts," a visually-diverse story told from each PPG's perspective, "Meet the Beat-Alls," a fun Beatles-themed villain-focused episode, and "See Me, Feel Me, Gnomey," an all-singing, double-length rock opera that's so out-there it was never broadcast in the United States. Admittedly, some of the attempts to do something different fell flat, like "Documentary," about a filmmaker obsessed with the girls, or "Makes Zen to Me," about Buttercup's quest for inner peace, but better they tried and failed, instead of churning out the same old thing. So even when they tackled the hacky concept of a clip show, it was done with style and a great sense of humor (and introduced the disturbingly sexualized teenage versions of the PPGs.)
One of the greatest things about the series though has to be the art design, which looked nothing like the rest of the cartoon landscape, and really still stands on it its own, combining elements of '50s and '60s pop art, subversive underground illustrators, classic Hanna-Barbera and anime, creating true eye-candy for kids and adults. Unfortunately, the really impressive parts of the show's look took a back seat and all but disappeared in the show's final years, with the animation becoming cleaner and more mainstream, as McCracken's moved on to his next series, "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends." There were still moments of impressive creativity, most notably the intriguing art of "Substitute Creature," but it looked more like your average cartoon of the day.
Mirroring the decline of the art's flavor, the stories became remarkably less engaging, to the point where, at times, they didn't even feel like PPG episodes. While some certainly may be the result of homages, like "I See A Funny Cartoon in Your Future," which feels like a Jay Ward creation, but how does that explain an "Octi-gone," a faux mystery starring Bubbles, or "Toast of the Town," in which the Mayor becomes an even bigger baby (literally)? In one of the extras, the creative staff admits to straining against the show's formula before calling it quits, and the struggles are readily apparent in some episodes. But on the other hand, there are some touches of brilliance, like the aforementioned musical freak-out "See Me, Feel Me, Gnomey," the amusing alternate-universe Run of the Mill Girls of "Oops I Did it Again," and the profanity-powered "Curses," in which the girls learn some bad words and love to use them.
For as good as the art and writing can be on the show, it's the series' universal appeal that makes it so enjoyable to watch. While my little daughter loves the candy-colored animation and cutesy elements seen through-out, the flat-out action, pop-culture references and sense of humor is often aimed squarely at an adult audience, be it the creepy flamboyancy of the demon Him or the commentary attached to the self-righteous protestors in "Save Mojo." Though the show goes a bit too far into potty humor in the final seasons, with entire episodes devoted to flatulence and urine, for the most part, there's a strong balance between the simple and the subtle, with aware viewers rewarded for their focus with plenty of sub-gags to enjoy. For the youngest viewers though, the excessive violence that the PPGs dish out to their foes might be too much, but that's for the individual to decide.
The complete run of "The Powerpuff Girls" has been spread over six double-sided DVDs, but not kicking in for 12 standard discs isn't the only unfortunate decision here. The packaging, which mimics the first-season set in design and is well though-out in terms of color and function, is the most massive since A&E's old TV sets, packing six white single-width keepcases, one per season, into a big ol' slipcase. Inserted into each case is a portion of a six-piece PPG image, with an episode listing on the back. It'll be rare to find someone with this art together and displayed, so why not include them all as one booklet, making it easier on people. It's not even like you need to collect all six. It's all in one box!
The discs have static, full-frame menus offering a play all option, episode selections, set-up and extras (when applicable.) Unlike the first-season set, these sets offer no audio options, and subtitles are only available in English SDH (so no closed captioning.)
The video quality on these episodes improves with time, as the later seasons look crisp and bright, with bold, vivid color, compared to the earlier shows, which are fuzzy and a tad dull, with lots of noticeable dirt and damage, some visible jitters and excessive noise in darker parts of the image, problems that are consistent in the opening titles throughout the series' run. The thing is, there is a lot of charm in the animation on the earlier shows, making it feel like an older show, which makes them a bit more visually "fun" than the later episodes, which are a bit too clean. Make no mistake though, the later episodes look amazing.
The audio is presented as Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, is very strong, sporting occasional separation between the speakers, clear dialogue and very effective sound effects. The sound of the show was solid from season one, right through season six, and these DVDs reproduce that effort with no issues.
After the underwhelming and incomplete effort on the Season One set extras, and the general lack of bonus materials on series considered to be children's programming, my hopes for this set were very tempered. That's a good thing, because anyone expecting a bonus bonanza will simply be disappointed, though there are a few gems to be found.
Season One sports mostly the same extras as the single-season set, so you start with three "pilot" episodes, including McCracken's original college short, "The Whoopass Girls: A Sticky Situation!" This one is presented in it's finished version as well as in pencil tests, but unfortunately once again without the video intro and commentary that was on the "Mane Event" DVD. There's also "Meat Fuzzy Lumpkins" and "Crime 101," the pilots created to pitch the series. These are decent, but they don't have the same feel as the series. Three sets of animatics, with audio tracks, are available for additional "Whoopass Girls" episodes, including "Monkey See, Doggie Do," which eventually became an actual episode.
A vintage CNN piece looks at the original animation efforts at Cartoon Network, with interviews with McCracken and other young animators. These old news pieces tend to be fun, and this peek back at hand-drawn animation is. It's followed by the "World Premiere Toon In" episode of "Space Ghost Coast to Coast," which introduced the Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo and other series, which is another fun bit of nostalgia. The raw interview footage of McCracken is included, to give you an idea of how the show's odd interviews are done. Also returning is the collection of 16 promos for the show, with a new addition though, as you get a 17th, "Powerpuff Patrol," an early promo that wasn't included before.
Season Two offers up another pair of promos, including the "Survivor" parody "Staylongers" and "Anger Management," which has Rob Corddry counseling the PPG's enemies, but also includes a pair of commentary tracks. Don't get too excited though, as these are the silly in-character tracks from the "Mane Event" DVD, with the Mayor chatting on "Something's a Ms." and Mojo Jojo blabbering over "Slumbering with the Enemy." They are cute for a listen, but are very goofy. Also carried over from that release are a pair of video bios for the Mayor and Mojo, which add new voiceover to old clips to tell the characters' stories. There's actually a trio of extras that seem like new additions, which have the three girls doing Show and Tell about themselves. They are amusing, but brief little pieces.
In Season Three, things get pretty slim, with just two music videos, for Shonen Knife's "I'm a Super Girl," and Apples in Stereo's "Signal in the Sky (Let's Go!). Though the Shonen Knife video isn't that great for such a catchy song, recycling old footage with new graphics, the Apples in Stereo video, created by Will Vinton Studios, is rather awesome, putting the band in the path of a giant monster attacking Townsville. The only other extra is a promo called "Reflections," one of many Cartoon Network commercials putting cartoons into reality. The lack of extras here is especiallu disappointing, when you consider that two episodes, "Bought and Scold" and "Meet the Beat-Alls," had in-character commentary when they were on the "Meet the Beat-Alls" DVDs.
Season Four is similarly short on extras, consisting mainly of a pair of promos, "Morning in the Life," another "real life" look at life in Townsville," and "Blooper Mayor," which plays on the Mayor's stupidity, but it also includes "Twas the Fight Before Christmas," which was previously a separate release. A 44-minute holiday special that sees Princess ruin Christmas for the Girls (and everyone else,) it features one of the most bizarre portrayals of Santa Claus I've ever seen. What it doesn't feature are the two music videos from the separate DVD. While the "Chemical X" video wasn't great, but it would have been nice to have the parody "We Three Girls."
Season Five is the least supplemented of the bunch, with a quartet of promos, three from a Mayor in sitcoms campaign, "Hospitalville," "Future Spaceman Town" and "Transylvania City;" and "Mitch Rocks #3." If this is a blow-out set, and this is #3 of the Mitch Rocks promos, why not include all of them? Fortunately, things improve in Season Six. After a final pair of promos, we get actual new material! First up is the special 10th Anniversary episode, "The Powerpuff Girls Rule!!!" Though it's done in Flash, it looks pretty much like a traditional episode of the show, and it feels more like a classic episode than the majority of the final two seasons of the series, with the manic, action-packed feel you want from the series, as the key to ruling the world comes to Townsville, and everyone wants to get their hands, claws or paws on it, including three cute littl girls. It's an excellent return to form for the series, and if it's the last episode ever, the Powerpuff Girls went out on top.
While a new episode of the show is great and all, the real treasure here is "The Powerpuff Girls: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How...Who Cares?" or "Craig's Documentary." A 34-minute look at the history of the show, it's easily one of the best featurettes I've seen for any television show, as it takes the show's sense of humor and runs with it, using the series' concepts, especially the narration, in a documentary setting, while offering up plenty of interviews with the show's key personnel, as they flesh out the story of the series, from McCracken's background through the origins of the show, to the success and eventual end of the series. If there's an aspect to the show not covered here, you probably wouldn't care about it, and with the way the piece is constructed, it's as entertaining as it is informative, coming off as fun to watch as almost any episode of the series.
The Bottom Line
Considering how little Cartoon Network today represents the channel fans of the Powerpuff Girls knew, having these episodes to enjoy whenever you'd like is fantastic, as it gives you cartoons you'll actually enjoy. The DVDs look and sound very nice (though certainly aged when it comes to the original episodes) and the selection of extras is appreciated (though far from complete,) but the use of double-sided discs is a bummer. What also sucks is the fact that those who supported the show by buying season one now have to decide if they'll repurchase it to get the rest (to say nothing of the fans who have purchased the shorter collections also.) For those who held off though, it would be incredibly hard to not run out and pick this set up.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.