Film » Screens

Kicking Lasses

The Powerpuff Girls spank monkey butt aplenty.

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In her recent book, Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, Rachel Simmons hits a very topical nail squarely on its very sore head. Coining the term "relational aggression," she employs several case studies to buttress the theory that modern girls are extremely angry, but trained to be unnaturally nice, with the repression leading to largely nonphysical but nonetheless devastating belligerence. With this notion in mind, we can flip open graphic artist Scott McCloud's vital Understanding Comics and comprehend the genesis of a pop-culture phenomenon. "When you enter the world of the cartoon," he writes, "you see yourself." Put these concepts together, and you've got The Powerpuff Girls Movie, a piquant entertainment and zeitgeist reflector designed to embolden little thrashettes (and thrashettes-at-heart) while giving an adult male critic license to spew sociopolitical balderdash.

First off, let's acknowledge that the Powerpuff Girls are the stuff of fantasy. To wit: Joyful Blossom (voiced by Catherine Cavadini), giddy Bubbles (Tara Strong), and crabby Buttercup (E.G. Daily) are born of a scientific experiment conducted by their bewildered, limp-wristed patriarch, Professor Utonium (Tom Kane). The newly hatched creatures quickly discover that they possess potent powers, including flying, shooting laserbeams from their disturbingly oversized eyes, and leveling anything in their path. These iconic "little girls" are total innocents who accidentally wreak havoc upon the world, thereby providing capricious escapism for both hyper tots and their secretly seething older sisters.

Since the girls appreciate the Professor, they need a source of conflict beyond family foibles to keep the movie going. To this end, we get Mojo Jojo (Roger L. Jackson), the Prof's screeching lab monkey turned evil megalomaniac after exposure to Chemical X, the same goop that formed the girls. With his grotesquely swollen brain towering above his creepy monkey body, Mojo Jojo is a good girl's nightmare -- the deceitful primate with wiles to exploit and pervert her (presumed) intrinsic benevolence. It'll be fun to read what old-school feminists make of him.

There's plenty of peculiar psychosexual fodder littered throughout this "children's" movie (rated PG for nonstop frenetic action). Consider the daft midget Mayor (Tom Kenny) and his pickle fetish, and especially his ironically named redheaded assistant, Sara Bellum, whose flowing locks and voluptuous curves fill the frame, but whose actual head and identity as a mature woman are curiously omitted. We could also go to town on the movie's bizarre anal sensibilities, but perhaps some readers are in the middle of lunch.

Clearly, this is the era of the kick-ass chick, and it would appear that Powerpuff Girls -- with its retro-chic production and extremely lucrative branding (to the tune of $1 billion in tie-ins worldwide) -- is simply the easiest gold ring to grab on the merry-go-round of machisma. For what pop psychologists submit to be a culture of young women on the verge of snapping, it may prove just the ticket.

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