[Screen It]

(2002) (voices of Catherine Cavadini, Tara Strong) (PG)

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Children's Animated Action: Three diminutive superheroes set out to stop a villainous primate who's fooled them into helping him take over their city.
Things have gone bad in the city of Townsville due to crime and general apathy on the part of most every citizen. That is, except for Professor Utonium (voice of TOM KANE), a forward-looking man who thinks back to a sweeter time. Accordingly, he sets out to invent some sweet little girls, but an outside component - Chemical X - accidentally spills into the mix.

The yield results in Blossom (voice of CATHERINE CAVADINI), Bubbles (voice of TARA STRONG) and Buttercup (voice of E.G. DAILY), three diminutive girls with huge heads, enormous eyes - from which they can shoot lasers - and the ability to fly.

The Professor is as giddy as any new father, but concerned a bit about the girl's superhuman powers. Thus, when elementary school teacher Ms. Keane (voice of JENNIFER HALE) tells him that they've been acting normal on their first day of school, he's relieved. Yet, when the girls are taught the game of tag, thinks quickly get out of control as they become overexcited and unintentionally cause a tremendous amount of damage to the city. Even so, the Professor still loves them, but does tell them that they can't use their superpowers anymore outside the house.

The next day, the once popular girls are surprised to discover that they're now unwelcome outcasts, while Townsville's Mayor (voice of TOM KENNY) has the Professor arrested for their behavior. On their way home, the downcast girls meet fellow outsider Jojo (voice of ROGER L. JACKSON), an escaped primate from Utonium's lab, who commiserates with them about being hated for being special and unique.

Soon he has them agreeing to help build a "Help the Town and Make It a Better Place" machine that he promises will win back the city's favor for them. Little do the girls know, however, the Jojo has included them in a dastardly plan of infusing the local zoo's primates with superpowers and then ruling over them, the city and its citizens as Mojo Jojo.

Once they realize the havoc they have wrought, the girls must decide what to do to make things right as well as how they're going to take on the power-hungry primate and his out of control minions and save the city.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Once upon a time, the quality of animated efforts was quite distinct and stratified between the worlds of film and TV. The former usually had higher quality, mainly because of a bigger budget, larger animation staff and more time to do the work. The latter was usually of lower standard due to a smaller budget and staff, not to mention a limited amount of time to crank out each week's episode.

Of course, the rules weren't and aren't set in concrete, or animator's ink, if you will. The lower quality stuff occasionally makes it to the big screen, but for the most part the distinction pretty much holds true. Accordingly, most anyone can easily differentiate the two and pretty accurately state where any certain example of animation originated and/or belongs.

I don't know which animated film was the first to feature lower quality, but I'm one of those who thinks the big screen should be reserved for the higher quality material. That said, I can accept the lower grade offerings, but only if they're done with some sort of unique style, or contain a story that transcends the look and manages to make the viewer forget they're watching a cartoon, regardless of whatever visual quality it might possess (points that high quality animated films should also meet).

For a while, "The Powerpuff Girls Movie" manages to do just that First appearing in a cartoon short on Cartoon Network in 1995 and then debuting on their own show in 1998, the titular characters are drawn in something of an anime offshoot as mixed with a 1950s style of angular minimalism that few will confuse with high art, let alone the latest standards of splendid looking animation whether of the traditional hand-drawn or computer-generated variety.

The characters are visually odd - nearly all head and eyes, with teeny bodies and arms that oddly contain no hands or fingers -- and the TV show is known for its mix of their sassy attitudes along with nearly nonstop monster butt-kicking. Then there's the reportedly often witty form of humor that can either be obvious or rather subtle in form, depending on the episode at hand.

For the first part of this 70-some minute effort, writer/director Craig McCracken (making his feature film debut after working on the TV series) and co-screenwriters Charlie Bean (several animated shorts), Lauren Faust (TV's "The Powerpuff Girls"), Paul Rudish (TV's "Dexter's Laboratory") and Don Shank (an animated short with Bean) actually manage to make the film moderately entertaining for kids and adults alike.

Acting as if the characters didn't previously exist, the filmmakers introduce us to them, their origins and story. The results, while nothing outstanding, are amusing and even somewhat charming, thanks to the storytelling approach and retro feel the film effortlessly exudes. It doesn't hurt that the introduction is also rapidly paced, offers a few laughs and contains some voice-over narration that might not be quite as good as in the old "Rocky and Bullwinkle" cartoons or even the live-action adaptation of "George of the Jungle," but thankfully is present as much or more for comic effect rather than lazy exposition.

The vocal talent from the show - Catherine Cavadini ("Babes in Toyland," "Anastasia"), Tara Strong ("101 Dalmatians," "The Rugrats"), E.G. Daily (the "Rugrats" movies, "Babe: Pig in the City"), and Tom Kane ("Halloween: H20," "Wild Thornberrys") -- reprise their characters for this big screen effort and actually manage to have more fun with their limited roles than I imagined would have been possible considering the setup and basic premise.

Like many other adaptations of old or preexisting TV shows and cartoons, or even new spoof-type films, the picture unfortunately becomes something of a letdown once the introductions are over and the main plot kicks in.

Here, that understandably involves the girls' main nemesis - a power hungry monkey by the name of Mojo Jojo - voiced by Roger L. Jackson (the "Scream" films, "Mars Attacks") - and the story then involves them attempting to stop his diabolical plan to rule the city. While that necessitates and generates the girls' standard butt-kicking behavior, such action, violence and related mayhem quickly grows old, or at least will do so for most adult viewers.

Sensing that and following in the tradition of the TV show, the filmmakers have thrown in various bits of verbal world play as well as cultural movie references to break up the action, but the results are only so-so. Jokes and/or allusions to the likes of "King Kong," "Planet of the Apes" and the like will probably elicit the "I got that" response, but little else. Such efforts clearly pale in comparison to the "Planet of the Apes" spoof moments on TV's "The Simpsons" or even the R-rated comedy, "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back."

While fans of the series will probably enjoy what's offered here - even if its introductory style may come off as confusing or redundant to them - adults in tow will probably find a few moments as amusing, but that's about it. There's certainly nothing as comparably terrific to what's routinely offered in most Pixar films (such as "Toy Story" and "Monsters, Inc.").

Although the film does fill some of the void of having superheroes of the female variety, the eventual fighting and chaos - much as was the case with the "Pokemon" and "Digimon" films - grows old and replaces too much of the witty charm and retro feel that made the opening fun or at least palatable. Better than those aforementioned "rock 'em, sock 'em" efforts, but still nothing great, "The Powerpuff Girls Movie" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 29, 2002 / Posted July 3, 2002

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