It’s not quite clear why The Powerpuff Girls: Dance Pantsed exists, as the Powerpuff Girls could be Powerpuff Teens by now. Yet, Cartoon Network went to great lengths reassembling a good portion of the crew that made The Powerpuff Girls possible for previous specials—though, notably, creator Craig McCracken and writer Lauren Faust (My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic) aren’t attached to Dance Pantsed. That could be a harbinger of doom—nothing sets off warning bells quite like a network resurrecting a media property that the creator doesn’t want anymore—and certainly, Dance Pantsed looks very different from McCracken’s original creation.
But The Powerpuff Girls: Dance Pantsed is a delight. Once the novelty of the computer-generated animation wears off, it feels like classic Powerpuff Girls. The new special manages to hit the sweet spot between broad gags for kids and sly winks to the adults in the audience. Regular-run episodes of classic Powerpuff Girls often packed two 15-minute stories into the show’s allotted half-hour, to accommodate kids’ shorter attention spans. Dance Pantsed rarely lags, even though the same story runs the full half-hour. Instead, it’s stuffed with story. There are so many intertwining plotlines that the special requires at least one good rewatch to catch them all, from the pickle jar running gag to the multiple references to the Fibonacci sequence.
The story is what it always is—Mojo Jojo has a sinister (if harebrained) plan for Townsville and the Powerpuff Girls are called upon to stop him. Except that this time Mojo Jojo’s plan preys upon Bubbles’ weakness for video game, Dance Pants Revolution. The plot makes sense, as Bubbles always was the cornerstone of the show’s appeal, even though it seems like she was designed to be a more peripheral Powerpuff Girl. Her sweetness almost always trumps force, and, voiced by Tara Strong, she steals the show. Dance Pantsed pre-empts this by putting Bubbles at the center of the story. There’s a full five minutes or so where Bubbles is the only Powerpuff Girl on-screen, and those are the five minutes in which Dance Pantsed finds its rhythm, moving from good to great. Bubbles’ stuffed octopus Octi makes an appearance, as does “Dance Pants R-EVIL-ution 2.” To say anymore is to spoil a few priceless jokes. It’s too bad the other two girls get short shrift—especially Buttercup—but as the show’s trying to hit its best notes, it’s also not surprising.
The visuals are the biggest departure—much effort is put into rendering the original backgrounds and characters into their new and improved CGI skins, but Dance Pantsed is also going for a different feel. The result is inspired a little by the jagged haircuts and action sequences of anime and a little by the cutout animation that distinguishes South Park. And while some computer animation can fall into the uncanny valley, the animation in Dance Pantsed serves mostly to update what is now a rather dated style. CGI lets the animators do a lot more with scenery and lighting—it’s much easier to give surfaces texture, and the range of colors available is much broader. The colors are brighter in the old version, but it’s often to compensate for a lack of options. After about 10 minutes, it’s difficult to remember exactly what the old Powerpuff Girls looked like.
What immediately grounds Dance Pantsed in the canon of The Powerpuff Girls is the snarky-sweet tone. Hearts pop up out of nowhere when Buttercup mentions corgis, but a barreling fist from Bubbles delivers a splashy “SERVED” to her victim. Real tears glimmer in the girls’ eyes when they are wronged, but they’re not above throwing a manipulative tantrum at the drop of a hat.
And the pop culture references haven’t disappeared either. Professor Utonium looks back fondly on his time dancing with the “Soul Hayride”—soul and hoedowns, on the same moving wagon! Townsville’s famous, flamboyant mathematician is named Fibonacci Sequins, and he tends to his garden of square roots with care. (Ringo Starr, who produced a single for the show—“I Wish I Was A Powerpuff Girl”—as a preview for the special episode, is his voice.)
But was there any doubt that a visitation from the Powerpuff Girls would be anything except sugar, spice, and everything nice? It’s so rare to see a new episode of The Powerpuff Girls that it’s hard to be nitpicky. Perhaps, the show could stand to move past its well-worn stable of characters—or to make its plots a little more serialized. And hey, where did that robotic, creepy theme song go?
So far, this special CGI Powerpuff Girls is just a one-off. It might be that Cartoon Network wanted to float the idea of rebooting The Powerpuff Girls for a new generation. It might also be that this is a nostalgia project, to bring together the girls one last time… until the next reunion. Either way, it’s a cruel reminder that there just isn’t enough Powerpuff in our world these days.
Created by: Craig McCracken
Directed by: David Smith
Starring: Elizabeth Daily, Tara Strong, Tom Kenny, Tom Kane, Cathy Cavadini, and Ringo Starr
Airs: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Cartoon Network