My feelings about Cartoon Network’s 2016 reboot of The Powerpuff Girls is summed up nicely by the fact that my favorite episode on the first DVD, Tiara Trouble, is “The Stayover,” a kid-friendly version of The Hangover where two of the title characters wake up after a sugar-induced bender and have to piece together the events of the previous night. No matter how successful the episode is (and it is incredibly funny), it’s really hard to get terribly excited when a remake is most successful by doing another remake. And, in sum, this is the problem with this new Powerpuff Girls series: at its best, it approaches the quirkiness and creativity of the original show, but that just begs the question of why this reboot was necessary at all if the most it’s going to do is imitate the original show.
This new Powerpuff Girls series assumes that you know that Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup are a trio of diminutive superheroes created from sugar, spice, everything nice, and a healthy dose of the mysterious Chemical X. And, just like the original series, these three pint-sized superheroes have to tackle a variety of supervillains and other menaces to their lovely city of Townsville while also navigating the assorted hazards of elementary school. The episodes have been cut down to 11-minutes from the 22 of the original show, but other than that just about everything has been translated to this newer incarnation. Some old favorite characters return: along with the girls’ father figure the Professor, we get the mostly ineffective Mayor and supervillains like Mojo Jojo and (very briefly) Fuzzy Lumpkins and even “Him.” There are also a few new additions, like the villain Man-Boy (powers of a man in the body of a boy wrapped up by a completely toxic masculinity). But for the most part, this is the same show that we saw starting back in 1998. The girls manage to save the day at the end of every episode through a combination of life-lessons learned and a lot of punching and kicking and beating people up.
If there is a real difference between the original series and this new reboot, it’s that this newer series is more polished and less quirky. The original show had a powerful subversive streak to it that kept the sweetness from turning saccharine along with Craig McCracken’s off-beat sense of comic timing that would play out jokes for much longer than they should be, making those gags much funnier as a result. The series also had an interesting approach to the violence inherent to the superhero genre, with the girls often going much further than they should in beating up their opponents, to the point where we’d feel uncomfortable laughing at it sometimes. These were all creative risks that made The Powerpuff Girls distinctive back in the late 90’s, starting the trend of cartoons that adults liked watching too, but unfortunately neither of them seems to be much in evidence in this reboot. The subversive streak seems to be mostly gone from this series, which makes this reboot feel far safer and less daring than the original series ever was. And, as mentioned, even the best episodes on this disc (to my mind, the aforementioned “The Stayover” and the outlandishly weird “Painbow”) only manage to echo past glories in the original show. Cartoon Network could have saved themselves some money by just rebroadcasting the original series.
The Tiara Trouble DVD packages up 12 episodes of the show in anamorphic widescreen. It looks fine, and has chapter stops to let you skip the opening credits or jump straight to the closing credits. There are no bonus features other than the forced trailers that play on disc insertion.
There’s nothing overtly wrong with this new incarnation of The Powerpuff Girls, except that by definition, it invites comparison to the original and finds itself lacking more often than not. Marvel and DC have earned lots and lots of mileage out of trotting out new cartoons based on their iconic superheroes every few years, and I suppose there’s not much point in complaining that Cartoon Network opted to do the same thing with one of their most iconic properties. But in the end, no matter how enjoyable this new Powerpuff Girls series is (and, I should emphasize, it can be quite enjoyable), it’s still just doing an impression of an original that was intent on blazing its own path.