The looney-tooniest summer in recent memory proceeds apace with “The Powerpuff Girls,” the third animated feature (after “Lilo & Stitch” and “Hey Arnold! The Movie!”) to hit megaplexes within a fortnight. On the plus side, this bigscreen spinoff from the popular Cartoon Network series enters the crowded marketplace with widespread name recognition and a sizable fan base. Still: How many toons are too many? Early numbers for “Hey Arnold!” indicate that, even during summer months, aud appetite for family fare isn’t exactly insatiable. Given track records of similar low-budget adaptations of TV fare (“Doug’s 1st Movie,” “Recess: School’s Out”) plus lackluster opening B.O., “Girls” isn’t likely to strike gold until the toon reaches homevid.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that pic will be a freakish reprise of the “Pokemon: The First Movie” phenomenon. If lightning does indeed strike twice, chalk it up to the appeal of frenetic (if not frenzied) visuals and near-surreally stylized storytelling. Much of “Powerpuff Girls” — backgrounds, foregrounds, individual characters — recalls the sharp-angled minimalism common to animated TV ads of the ’50s and early ’60s. But the rapid-fire editing and turbo-charged action sequences are (literally) flashy enough to be borderline hypnotic.
The tongue-in-cheek premise pivots on the efforts of a square-jawed scientist, Professor Utonium (voiced by Tom Kane), to create three perfect little girls with a carefully calibrated confluence of sugar, spice and everything nice. But the experiment takes an unforeseen turn when Mojo, the professor’s pet monkey, accidentally knocks a dose of Chemical X into the mix.
One thing leads to another, and the Powerpuff Girls — Blossom (Catherine Cavadini), Bubbles (Tara Strong) and Buttercup (E.G. Daily) — are born. They’re sweet little things of kindergarten age, size and temperament. But they also sport eyes that flash laser beams, superhuman strength, and the ability to run and fly at warp speed. (Mind you, they don’t appear to have any fingers, or even hands, but never mind.)
These girls just want to have fun. But when they try to play tag during an overextended but frequently funny sequence of gleeful anarchy, they demolish much of Townsville and enrage the residents.
Widely despised because they’re “different,” the girls are anxious to redeem themselves. Unfortunately, they naively listen to the promises of Mojo, who has been Chemical X-tended into Mojo Jojo (Roger L. Jackson) and talks the girls into helping him build a Help-the-Town-and-Make-It-a-Better-Place Machine. But when the wily monkey reveals his true evil intention, the heroines must battle an army of chemically enhanced primates.
Even at 74 minutes, “Powerpuff Girls” feels more than a little padded and repetitive. Still, the slam-bang superheroics are kinetic enough to engross even the most antsy youngsters. (The MPAA gave the pic a PG for “nonstop frenetic animated action.”) The overall visual scheme of the TV series created by Craig McCracken — pic’s director, co-writer and executive producer — has been faithfully preserved for the bigscreen. The hand-drawn animation is deliberately skittish and herky-jerky, which clearly is intended as part of the joke.
Like the TV series, “The Powerpuff Girls” is simultaneously pitched at two different auds: Small children who will accept it as rock-’em, sock-’em excitement with a touch of gender-specific empowerment, and hipper teens and grown-ups who can appreciate the whole thing as a semisatirical hoot.