[Chick Flix Club examines films within the female driven comedy/drama genres (otherwise colloquially referred to as “chick flicks”) in order to understand why we may or may not adore these flicks despite not being in the intended demographic]
What? A cartoon about little supergirls? That’s right. Thanks to the recent explosion of classic Cartoon Network cartoons on Netflix recently, I’ve been inspired to write about The Powerpuff Girls, which played a big role in shaping a lot of my feminist views and arguments. Now does the film version (which is essentially an origin story) share a lot of the same great qualities as the show?
Hey, it was either this or Spice World. You should consider yourself lucky. Although it’s a skew of the original formula (as a male character creates the female rather than becoming an influence in their life), is The Powerpuff Girls Movie just as much of a chick flick as anything else?
How does The Powerpuff Girls pro-equality message translate to the big screen? What is a grown man doing watching cartoons? Does any of this matter? Please read on and find out! Oh and if you haven’t seen The Powerpuff Girls Movie yet, be known there are spoilers ahoy hoy.
The Powerpuff Girls Movie is about three little girls named Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup, who are created by Professor Utonium (a lonely man who does an experiment to create little girls out of “sugar, spice, and everything nice”), but are endowed with superpowers through an accident involving Chemical X. After a raucous, superpower-filled game of tag, the girls destroy The City of Townsville and are shunned into social exile. After meeting Mojo Jojo (Utonium’s pet monkey that got caught in the same Chemical X explosion that created the girls) and getting tricked into overrunning the town with genius monkeys, the girls must make a decision to either keep away from the town that hated them or rescue their father.
PPGM is an average superhero origin story through and through with a personal villain (instead of the usual take over the world fare), intimate levels of characterization as the hero comes to term with their power, and the added selfishly tinged roughness of the first outing. What PPG has always done differently than other superhero stories is use of femininity as a grand theme rather than push it to the sidelines. And that use of feminine power is explored in the film adaptation as well. Part of what makes PPGM‘s origin work is that it completely, and unapologetically revolves around the fact that these girls are girls. The film in no way chooses to ridicule this fact either.
PPGM is oozing with feminine power. In fact there’s so much of it, the City of Townsville is so embellished with that power that femininity ceases to be a thing that should stand out. I should probably explain. The Powerpuff Girls has always been a gender-neutral superhero television show. Most of the episodes involved the girls just saving the town day after day (although a few of the series’ greatest episodes explored how the girls were viewed differently within the rest of the hero world since they were women). The show’s nonshalance with the fact that its main heroes were girls was the show’s biggest draw. It was a sort of “Hey girls are tough too, so why is that a big deal?” sort of thing. When it was necessary, the girls acted liked girls, but their feminine characteristics were always in the background since it was no longer necessary to force acceptance.
Now how is a film version of a show about superhero girls a chick flick? Like always, PPGM fits within the genre’s rules. The film has outsider females (the girls are literally forced out into space at one point), and a male influence that shapes their perception. Where PPGM is truly unique, however, is the forms these males take. First is Professor Utonium, their literal creator. Utonium has a brief characterization as a lonely man who just wants fulfill needs he assumes he can get from fatherhood. While he knows nothing of little girls (as he assumes they are only made of base ingredients), he automatically accepts the girls as they are. From the get go, Utonium isn’t the standard male influence as he and the girls grow as characters together, as a family.
Second, the Mayor of Townsville is the influence that forces the girls to withhold their powers. When the town rallies against the girls for them being different might come off as abusive, the town has a justified reason for doing so. The girls destroyed the town without realizing it and received a consequence fitting the crime. Although the childish nature of the girls keeps the film from truly exploring their femininity, it does the best it can with their characterization as the film decides to focus on the rough edges of youth. That’s where Mojo Jojo (the third male influence) comes in. Mojo manipulates their childish desire to be accepted as they believe they’re helping the town by helping Mojo. And when the girls are betrayed, they handle it as children do (rather than their actions be caused by their femininity) as they run away from it all.
What makes the girls strong throughout the film is not their superpowers, it’s that they always take action for themselves.Their strong, established personalities (leading to their names) took charge of the world around them without room for fear or malice (for example, Blossom introduces herself to Professor Utonium rather than the other way around). When their father is in danger, they spring into action without a second thought. And they fight through their reluctance to save the people who shunned them in order to become true heroes.
The funny thing about The Powerpuff Girls in general is their strength is never called into question. These heroes are strong, nearly-independent, and are most importantly, women. When Bubbles draws crude drawings of her family and cutely cuddles a stuffed octopus, you never once question her fierceness when she’s serious. When Buttercup acts like a tomboy, it isn’t a grasp a masculinity that isn’t present, it’s her tough aura. She’s a tough girl. And when Blossom asserts herself and becomes a leader, she’s still confident enough in her womanhood to show off her bow.
While you can say the idea of creating women sends a bad message, just know that it doesn’t count for Chemical X. That “X” factor that makes these women strong.
Wow, it’s been awhile since the last CFC post! The wait won’t be so long for the next one, I promise! Coming up in May, since I’m inspired by the school season ending and recent graduation of my friends, I’ve got a film that I’ve wanted to talk about for awhile since it’s so totally good.
The CFC will return in May with…Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion
February: The Notebook
January: Pretty Woman