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Townsville Revisited

by David Perlmutter about a year ago in superheroes

by David Perlmutter

Author David Perlmutter

Sometimes, I think that my life might have flowed in an entirely different direction had I not been alive to witness The Powerpuff Girls. The brilliant television animation series that aired from 1998 to 2005 (and not, it should be pointed out, the recent and feeble attempt to revive past glory on the part of its network by reviving it) and its marvelous lead characters both.

It is hard to speak out about how much you feel for something you care about, if, in fact, other people dismiss your feelings about it by saying nobody involved in the narratives are truly “alive” or “real”, and therefore, dismiss it out of hand categorically. Writing in as short an amount of time as I am allowed makes it even more of a challenge. But it’s worth it to try. Those involved in that enterprise, on and off screen, deserve no less.

Let it be said, therefore, at the outset, that there are relatively few true masterpieces in television animation. I’ve endured enough of the stuff as a viewer and historian to know this. Genuine artistry in any art form must be recognized for what it is, not ignored, or, worse, simply be regarded as a profit-gathering enterprise alone. It needs to be recognized a work of lasting influence and impact in its artistic category.

The Powerpuff Girls was a masterpiece of its type- of the first order. That it happened to be both profitable and popular as well as artistically well-made was simply an accident. Usually, it’s only one or the other, not both.

From the opening credits on, it was a miraculous fusion of image and sound, fluid and dynamic. As the camera careened around in a desperate attempt to keep up with the protagonists as they fought their enemies- and, occasionally, each other- we were not only witnessing battles of epic proportions worthy of superhero narratives of the past, but a dramatic re-writing of the rules of television animation film-making. There are few television animation filmmakers with any of the kind of panache, energy and humor Craig McCracken brought to his work, especially here, but also since then in his later work. He should be better known and respected by the general public than he is. Especially considering his continuing influence in the neglected genre of television animation.

Its very premise was an attack on the status quo of television animation in particular and the comic book superhero narrative in a broader sense. The number of true heroines in television animation before they arrived was an extremely insignificant one. Once Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup came on the scene, however, all bets were off. Today, there are few television animation programs that don’t have at least one articulate and/or physically powerful female in the roster. Who would likely be eternally grateful to you-know-who for showing the way if you asked them about whom they admired.

There are other things to be mentioned. That rotten-as-they-come rogues gallery, for one. Superheroes’ lives aren’t supposed to be easy; then we wouldn’t give a darn about them at all. The villains make things difficult, especially if it’s hard to beat them. The villains here weren’t the usual paper-thin vaudeville comics most television animation villains, sadly, still are. Most of them, if not halted, might have genuinely taken over the world and ruled like tyrants. Fortunately, they were always halted in style, no matter how long it took.

It also helps a great deal for being a fan of a series if you fell in love with a character, in either a physical or a metaphysical way. In my case, it was Bubbles. Sure, she looked and acted like a dumb blonde sometimes, as the villains were apt to consider her. But that only made her more of a girl- a woman, in my mind- for coming through and dealing with things just as well as the others.

Which brings me to the biggest moral lesson I have taken away from this series. Assuming you know who people are and what they are like simply from their physical appearance is foolishness. It’s what they do, and how they comport themselves, that matter.

Nobody did that better than the Powerpuff Girls. Theirs are examples to follow. And their legend, remake notwithstanding, is all the more secure for that.

David Perlmutter
David Perlmutter
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David Perlmutter

David Perlmutter is a freelance writer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

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