On the Powerpuff Girls Special and Rebooting Childhood Favorites

PPG_TitleRemakes and reboots are an interesting beast. On the one hand, they can breathe new life into a series or bring new fans to it. But on the other hand, it can ruin old fans’ views of the intellectual property. This conflict came up with Teen Titans Go! as it carries a much different tone than the previous cartoon iteration and Hollywood seems addicted to reviving old properties. In the middle of last month, the Powerpuff Girls franchise got a bit of a recharge with the “Dance Pantsed” special. So, did it hold up?

Mild spoilers after the jump!

Short answer: yes, the special did a lot right. It was enjoyable; it did have a few missteps, but nothing that destroyed the overall enjoyability. But the special must be thought of in two ways: both as just another episode, and also as a new concept.

When trying to view it as another episode, the first thing to notice is that this episode is done in a completely different art style than all previous others. Although it takes a bit of getting used to, it’s fairly serviceable. A noticeable drawback with the style is its use of lighting. There is so much light on everything that it sometimes washes out the character models and scenery. This shows most readily with Mojo Jojo, a recurring villain, as his costume has many details that become hard to make out when it’s too bright. The style does have strong points, though: many of the characters look more expressive and have more personality than their more traditionally animated counterparts. The girls themselves look more distinct from each other in the new style in a way that reflects their own personality to emphasize their “beauty, brains, brawn” contrasts.

Besides the large art shift, not much seems to have changed. This is actually a good thing—the show already worked as it was. Everything that would have made someone a fan of the original series is present here: characters with punny names, a mix of arguing and friendship from the girls, humor, and a complicated plan from a villain. But a complicated plan does not equal a complicated plot. The episode starts with a simple introduction of the Powerpuff Girls and the characters-of-the-week. Almost instantly, Mojo Jojo kidnaps these characters, attacks, and gets defeatedthe girls. For a while, the girls don’t do much more than play an expy video game of Dance Dance Revolution, from which the episode somewhat gets its name. This initiates a sequence of joking events that are far too fast-paced and inconsequential. After some time, Mojo Jojo catches wind of the girls’ game and makes a copy, which traps them in robotic suits (it makes sense in context). He uses this to control the girls to re-kidnap the characters-of-the-week from before, but this doesn’t actually lead anywhere. The robot versions of the girls eventually are confronted by the Professor and are stopped by a rather cliché “I know you’re in there somewhere” plea which ultimately feels disappointing. The episode ends with Mojo Jojo explaining that his plan was far more complex than necessary, considering he could have won already. So the plot is rather standard fare, but the amount of action is lacking compared to the number of jokes. In this way, it felt forced, which leads me to my other point.

PPG Bubbles AngelsI have to ask the question: who was this remake for? Powerpuff Girls is markedly a kids’ show. However, the special seemed to be playing the nostalgia card—a practice that I’m not opposed to, but am wary of. The special utilized a “kids’ show tone” that wouldn’t appeal to the older audience that the nostalgia would work well for. Sure, the original episodes were for children, but it never felt pandering. “Dance Pantsed” made a lot of rapid-fire jokes and frequently used “loud bickering” as a source of comedy. This is reflective of recent programming aimed at a younger crowd. The takeaway here is the demographics’ tastes being at odds. I could probably disregard this if it were a cash-in reboot…that would be sad, but understandable. But the special doesn’t seem to be a reboot, as there isn’t an effort to reintroduce any important plot points or lore; it’s just another episode.

Unfortunately, it’s annoying when a reboot/special tries to split the audience. While the special seems to be aimed at a younger audience, there are many references that are either jokes or callbacks that only a longtime fan of the series would understand. This is the same problem that Teen Titans Go! had: as with many other shows with reboots; there are a lot of mythology gags that would be rewarding to older audiences, but the overall humor wouldn’t be suitable to someone of the age that would have seen the older episodes. However, this doesn’t need to be the case; a show doesn’t completely reboot simply by re-introducing all relevant plot points, it should entice a new crowd the same way it brought in the original crowd. Additionally, if the same spirit is involved, it will remind old audiences of what brought them to the series in the first place. Admittedly, this is probably a tough objective, but I believe it can be done. In my opinion, the most recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon succeeds as a reboot. Again, the main difference is the art style. Moreover, the spirit of the show is kept alive without directly remaking previous ideas; many of the same characters show up, but they are done with a different, yet plausible interpretation. It keeps the same kids’ show tone as the original series, but doesn’t go too far trying to maintain this image. Overall, it feels like a show both old fans and new can appreciate. This is what we can hope for from similar endeavors in the future.