Jan 22, 2014

Channel Surfing: The Powerpuff Girls - "Dance Pantsed"

Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.

The Powerpuff Girls for better or worse was one of the flagship series on Cartoon Network in the 90's. The Craig McCracken created series followed three mutated girls who fought a cast of evil characters to protect Townsville. The animation may have seen primitive, but there was some charm to the simplicity. It was a kid's show full of wit, action, and three enjoyably different leads. The stories may have been simple, but it did pave the way for "Meet the Beat-Alls," which remains the pinnacle of TV shows using puns by riffing entirely on the Beatles mythology. The show was clever and most of all fun.

Yet it fell into a different class in 2014 when Cartoon Network decided to debut a special titled "Dance Pantsed." It isn't necessarily the first popular cartoon from the 90's to have a reboot. One of the more recent examples is Beavis and Butthead, which returned to MTV for a limited run to skewer modern entertainment. It may have felt right in specific ways, but the two idiot icons feel strangely dated and wiser than the subjects they mock. The difference between these two reboots however is that Beavis and Butthead brought along creator Mike Judge and kept the animation similar and the concepts close enough to their continuity. To a lesser extent, The Powerpuff Girls in 2014 is the exact opposite.

For starters, McCracken is absent from the production. The voice actors may be the same, but the scripts that gave the banter its charms was the biggest draw to the show. Add on top of that the complete shift in animation and you get a rather problematic entry coming in. It makes no sense why Cartoon Network would decide to go with a boxier, flat look when it currently features stylistically similar popular shows like Adventure Time and Regular Show that have a primitive, hand drawn quality to them. The style, as displayed in the header photo, is quite a shift that helps it to stand out, but is it in a good way?

There is no explainable reason why they even brought the show back. The only explanation is that it followed in the footsteps of modern marketing logic and abused its success in reruns. Channels like Boomerang have gotten into the habit of playing the vintage episodes of classic cartoons with The Powerpuff Girls being one of the newer shows chronologically. This is the only way to make sense of this reboot and explain why something like "Dance Pantsed" exists at all.
The episode itself feels like an inferior episode of the series. This isn't entirely a bad thing. There are more side jokes that rely on dumb sight gags, but the trio Buttercup (Elizabeth Daily), Bubbles (Tara Strong), and Blossom (Cathy Cavandini) still have some charm. They manage to throw quips at each other with ease and while there are moments that are weak, it does feel like there is sincere effort to keep the characters feeling the same.
The central story focuses around rebooting the characters by creating an origin story for the Professor (Tom Kane), who used to be a dancer for a Soul Train knock-off. It is goofy and maybe a little too over the top, especially for a show with children fighting evil monkeys. The rest of the story revolves around villain Mojo Jojo (Roger Jackson) trying to get the Powerpuff Girls to do his evil through hypnosis involving a Dance Dance Revolution game.The story is rather modern, but it also feels too thin to be either a special or an especially good episode of the series.
There's even a special appearance by Ringo Starr, who has somehow been integral in the show's relaunch by making a bumper that has him playing drums and singing a song called "I Wish I Was a Powerpuff Girl" in an unironic way. It is hard to tell if Starr did it for the money or that he was sincerely a fan, but it seems to feel like the whole show suffers from that. There are moments of fun in the show, but they are hidden around too much additional aspects that feel like an attempt to quicken the show's pacing and appeal to a younger, more impressionable crowd.
With all of this said, the animation style isn't so much the issue. It is the design and coloring of the world. In an era when technology is improving, the appearance of this cartoon is embarrassing. Everyone has a boxy shape to their appearance and their bright coloring is fine until it is applied to the backdrops. The city of Townsville is as primitive looking as ever, but it looks far worse. The skies are bright pink and the buildings almost too faded to even be seen. There is no personality to the look, and when the trio does their infamous flying through the air moment, they almost seem to blur into the background in an unceremonious way.
This whole episode could be an attempt to appeal to a new generation, but why do it the way that they did? With their big shows not being boxy animation, why distinguish a veteran series with an unappealing look? Why even do it at all? The special wasn't as particularly bad as the animation would help you assume, but it does seem to zap a lot of the prospects to what made the show so successful and the Boomerang reruns so enduring. Who knows if this special will lead to an actual pick-up. I hope not, as I cannot see what purpose The Powerpuff Girls would serve to this generation.

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