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Powerpuff Girls Movie, The

Warner Bros. // PG // November 5, 2002
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 4, 2002 | E-mail the Author
The city of Townsville...is in serious, serious, serious trouble.

Crime has such a stranglehold on the fair city that Professor Utonium has almost become desensitized to it. Convinced that a ginger addition of sweet little girls to his life would push those clouds of gray away, the Professor trots to the grocery store to grab sugar, spice, and everything nice. An accident in his basement lab spills Chemical X into the concoction, and three young girls instantly emerge, color-coordinated and cute enough to sell untold millions of dollars worth of merchandise. There's something special about these girls -- leader Blossom, infectiously sweet Bubbles, and feisty Buttercup -- aside from their marketability. Each of them possess an array of superpowers, including flight, super-speed, increased strength, laser vision, and heightened senses.

One of the Professor's first decisions as a parent is to send his newly created daughters to Pokey Oaks Elementary, where the girls' first day, despite their superpowers, proves to be rather uneventful. Well, at least until the discovery of Tag, a game the girls find so enthralling that they inadvertently level the city in a matter of minutes, chasing each other. Without really delving into the consequences of what they'd done, the Professor suggests that the girls avoid using their powers in public while tucking them into bed.

After dropping the girls off at school the next day, the Professor finds himself tossed in the clink by the Mayor, who's infuriated more by the destruction of a beloved pickle cart than the near-total decimation of Townsville. As a result, Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup are stranded at school. Although they suspect that the Professor hates them, they abide by his wishes and steer clear of using their powers on the long trip home. Along the way, they stumble onto a deformed monkey who enlists their help in building his Help The Town And Make It A Better Place Machine. Their simian savior is none other than a pre-Mojo Jojo, and the monkey business that ensues after the villain dupes the girls into hatching his nefarious scheme only alienates them further from the people of Townsville. Taking a page from Spider-Man, the girls discover that with great power comes great responsibility, and...well, you can guess what happens next.

The Powerpuff Girls make the most of their move to the big screen. Its overall look remains faithful to the deceptively simple design of the television series, but the animation is often more eye-catching and frequently manipulated on a much grander scale than is feasible for an assembly-line basic cable series. Some of the camera tricks used throughout, as well as a number of 3D effects that are seamlessly integrated, are particularly impressive. This is a testament to the talent and inventiveness of the crew, who didn't have the benefit of a massive budget or an extraordinary amount of time at their fingertips.

The MPAA slapped The Powerpuff Girls Movie with a PG rating, citing "non-stop frenetic animated action". The outmoded organization may miss the mark the vast majority of the time, but their assessment of this movie is about as dead on as it gets. Heck, their warning pretty much serves as a four word review for this frequently funny and always entertaining big-screen adventure.

Video: Cropped! Rumors were flying around that The Powerpuff Girls Movie was animated at 1.37:1 or so, matted for theatrical release, and opened up for this full-frame DVD. The supplements clearly show widescreen storyboards tacked onto office walls, and the framing of the full-frame image does not lend itself to matting in any way, shape, or form. Maddeningly, the deleted scenes and clips of the movie incorporated into the disc's various featurettes are properly letterboxed, and the theatrical trailer is in anamorphic widescreen.

So, the $64,000 question is -- how does lopping off a quarter of the image affect The Powerpuff Girls Movie? Not too severely, though I guess that's to be expected for a flick funded by a cable network that will inevitably air it full-frame as well. There are no instances that I could spot where a speaking character is cropped out of the frame, but a number of shots do seem very cramped.

It's a safe bet in this day of digital ink and paint that the transfer of The Powerpuff Girls Movie for this DVD bypassed any intermediate film stage. The full-frame presentation is gorgeous, and cropping aside, I cannot rattle off so much as a single quibble. The image is crisp and exceptionally well-defined, free of any noise or nasty compression issues a la Beauty and the Beast. Color saturation is flawless, almost undoubtedly improved over the movie's theatrical release judging by some of the statements in the disc's audio commentary. If this DVD had featured the movie in its original aspect ratio, this presentation would have been absolutely perfect in every conceivable way. Oh well.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio sounds every bits as good as the DVD looks. The electro-pop portions of the soundtrack has the subwoofer constantly thumping. A number of effects, particularly a chrome globe and a giant barrel plowing down the streets of Townsville, are also accompanied by a considerable amount of bass. The rear channels are almost always buzzing with activity. Take any single action sequence in the movie, particularly the destructive game of Tag or the battle royale with the Simianese Liberation Army, and you'll find more split-surround effects and panning from channel to channel than most DVDs offer throughout their entire runtime.

The Powerpuff Girls Movie also features French and Spanish dubs, along with subtitles in all three languages.

Supplements: The Powerpuff Girls Movie is about as loaded a special edition as they come. First up is a commentary track with director/creator/you name it Craig McCracken and art director Mike Moon. This is definitely a discussion for animation fans, and those unfamiliar with some of the jargon related to animation are likely to find themselves instantly lost during talk of building depth by trucking different elements at different speeds, overcoming the usual issues associated with "animated BGs", and circumventing the problems Korean in-betweeners experienced with one particularly complex recess sequence. As the handful of examples rattled off would indicate, their discussion is generally very technical in nature. Among numerous other topics, McCracken and Moon tackle an inventive color scheme that didn't translate to celluloid as well as they'd hoped, the integration of 3D animation with 2D characters and backgrounds, character representation through lighting and colors, the direct influence fans had on the movie, and the biggest shot ever composited in the history of U.S. animation. It's not hard for me to love such an excellent commentary for what Warner Bros. marketed as a kiddie movie, especially when its participants reference both Mon Oncle and the Mellotron in the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields".

The four minute "Behind The Scenes" runs through every stage of production, if not entirely in order. The featurette begins with the conception of the story, recording the voices (and seeing these three very normal looking women performing as the girls, similar to the footage on the Meet the Beat-Alls DVD, terrifies me in ways I'll be describing to an army of therapists for decades to come), scoring the movie, and the process of storyboarding and pitching ideas. An early test sequence focuses on a two minute, eleven second siege on Mojo's lair, where the Professor is being held at cartoonishly-oversized-laser-gunpoint. This can be viewed either with its original audio or a semi-coherent commentary with the Mayor.

Blossom, Buttercup, Bubbles, Mojo Jojo, and the Mayor each chat individually with the narrator about each other, tabloid romances, cuteness, labels, and all that fun stuff. Each interview includes brief clips from the movie, and most of them run around a minute and a half a pop. The exception is the four minute selection with the Mayor, which I guess should come as no surprise since Tom Kenny (Mr. Show) lends his talents as both the voice of the Mayor and the series' unseen narrator. Around half of the Mayor's interview focuses on Extra Guy, who beams with pride at being spat on by flying monkeys and subsequently slamming into a wall. The five of 'em also remain in character while providing commentary for selected scenes from the movie elsewhere on the disc.

Despite The Powerpuff Girls Movie's lean 73 minute runtime, a few scenes were trimmed for a variety of reasons. Four extended scenes have been provided in their original form on this DVD. In "Townsville Posse", Sarah Bellum lays down the law, literally, for the Professor. Mojo convinces the girls to keep his...errr...their scheme on the downlow in "Mojo's Secret Surprise". As the Professor fends off phone calls suspecting that the girls are up to mischief in "Building Mojo's Lair", Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup are busy fielding Mojo's expository requests. "Monkey Spit" features the sequence Extra Guy showed off after the Mayor's interview.

The six minute and change Dexter's Laboratory short "Chicken Scratch" takes a gander at the pint-sized genius' run-in with chicken pox. "Cartoon Network Sneak Peeks" is a batch of ads, kicking off with a preview of the upcoming series Codename: Kids Next Door. The inexplicable "Dexter's Laboratory Hip-Hop CD" features a brief snippet of Prince Paul's "Back to the Lab", and there are also promos for video games featuring the Powerpuff Girls and Ed, Edd, 'n Eddy. Finally, there is an anamorphic widescreen theatrical trailer.

The Powerpuff Girls Movie has been split into eight different chapters. The disc's menus are full-frame, with some featuring limited animation and others purely static.

Conclusion: DVD enthusiasts who feel strongly about films being presented in their original aspect ratio will want to steer clear of this DVD release of The Powerpuff Girls Movie. Despite the presence of a healthy smattering of supplemental material on this disc, the rumor mill is abuzz that the Cartoon Network is hard at work on a release of their own that, among other things, will include a widescreen presentation. It's too early to say whether or not there's any basis to those rumors, but many fans of the series may find it worth waiting a short while to find out for sure.

Even disregarding its compromised aspect ratio, a purchase really depends on the viewer's enthusiasm for the series. I wouldn't recommend it to neophytes, but those with an appreciation for the Powerpuff Girls will find this disc to be well-worth at least a rental, if not a purchase. I wuold have happily given The Powerpuff Girls Movie a very strong recommendation if not for its butchered presentation, so I'll have to say Rent It and leave it at that. Here's hoping for a proper release down the road.
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