Childhood Cartoons Revisited

Cartoons from our youth dissected as a young adult

Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: Ingredients to an Amazing Cartoon

on February 10, 2012

Those that know me well know that “The Powerpuff Girls” is my all-time favorite cartoon. It was when I was a kid and it still is today. I’ve seen the movie, as well as every episode of the series. Although it is considered to be a cartoon show targeted at the female population, one-third of its viewers are male.

The mid-’90s was a period of great growth for Cartoon Network, as 15 new cartoons were produced by Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network Studios over a six-year period from 1996 to 2002. They were known as “Cartoon Cartoons” and “The Powerpuff Girls” was the fifth cartoon to be created. Compared to the other “Cartoon Cartoons,” “The Powerpuff Girls” had the most seasons (six) and had the second-most number of episodes (78). It was the only “Cartoon Cartoon” to receive its own movie deal and appear on the big screen.

“The Powerpuff Girls,” which debuted on Cartoon Network on Nov. 18, 1998, centers around three mutant super heroes created by Professor Utonium in his basement. What gets lost throughout this whole ordeal is why a middle-aged scientist was creating three little girls in the first place. It seems a bit odd if you take the time to think about it. Nonetheless, Utonium combines sugar, spice and everything nice (whatever that means) into a mixing bowl. But, as the opening theme suggests, he accidently adds an extra ingredient to the concauction: Chemical X. While Chemical X is never fully explained to what it contains, it becomes the sole source of the girls’ super powers.

The array of ingredients creates three kindergarten-aged kids that the professor names Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup. Blossom, the self-pronounced leader of the girls, is depicted in pink with orange hair and a red bow. Bubbles, the joy and the laughter, wears blue and wears her golden hair in pigtails. Buttercup, the toughest fighter, wears green and has short black hair. Their big eyes match the color of their respective dresses. One thing most people don’t know is that Craig McCracken, the creator of the show, originally designed Bubbles to wear green and Buttercup to wear blue, but thought that the colors would not match their personalities and therefore decided to flip-flop.

McCracken originally created “The Powerpuff Girls” back in 1992 when he was enrolled at CalArts Academy. He had originally named his cartoon “Whoopass Stew!” but Cartoon Network asked him to change the name to something more PG for its audience. “The Powerpuff Girls” has a ton of hidden references to “The Big Lebowski,” McCracken’s favorite movie. One such occurrence takes place in the episode “Something’s a Ms.” in which the Mayor’s secretary, Ms. Bellum, is kidnapped. When the girls are given their assignment, it is told in a similar fashion as in “The Big Lebowski.”

While the main theme of the cartoon is super heroes saving their city from evil, there are plenty of underlying messages. The girls may be super heroes, but they have to deal with problems that girls their age normally deal with, which makes it easier to relate to the girls. Certain problems include school, sibling rivalries between the girls, eating vegetables, making friends and dealing with the insecurities that come at that age.

Growing up, Blossom was always my favorite because of her ability to take charge and think quick on her feet. As I watch it as a 21-year-old college student, I tend to lean toward Bubbles as my favorite of the three girls because she is the stereotypical five year old. She gets upset when bad things occur, is afraid of the dark and loves anything fluffy and cute. She is quite different than her other sisters, who are constantly in a power struggle. Buttercup has always been my least favorite character, as I don’t find anything appealing about tomboys.

The creativity of the show is evident in the villains that the girls must fight. The most notable is Mojo JoJo, an evil monkey affected by Chemical X. His intellect and actions are comparable to that of a monkey. He constantly creates evil schemes to defeat the girls, but all end in defeat. But, like a typical primate, he enjoys his share of bananas. Other common occurring villains include the Amoeba Boys, Fuzzy Lumpkins, Princess Morbucks, Sedusa, the Gang Green Gang and HIM. HIM was a loose interpretation of the devil, but toned down with colors of light red and pink as to not scare the audience. But to someone my age, HIM clearly represented Lucifer with his abilities to control others and bring life to inanimate objects. HIM’s clearest portrayal of the devil is in “Speed Demon” where the world goes to Hell when the girls unintentionally freeze themselves in time when racing home.

McCracken tried to appeal to a more male-oriented audience when he created the Rowdyruff Boys, a trio of boys that resembled the girls. While the girls were created with sugar, spice and everything nice, the Rowdyruff Boys were created with snips, snails and puppy dog tails. The trio consisted of Brick (Blossom’s opposite), Boomer (Bubbles’ opposite) and Butch (Buttercup’s opposite). Evenly matched, the girls are forced to use their girlish charm to defeat the boys, kissing them on the cheek,  causing them to blow up. The message behind that can go in a variety of ways, but I took it to mean that girls can use their sex appeal to lure boys in and break them down.

Few people know that McCracken also created a trio of evil girls that resembled the Powerpuff Girls, but were polar opposites in terms of personality. Known as the Powerpunk Girls, Berserk (Blossom’s opposite), Brat (Bubbles’ opposite) and Brute (Buttercup’s opposite) set out to destroy the girls in their quest for world domination. The Powerpunk Girls never made it in an episode, but did appear in comic strips.

“The Powerpuff Girls” went on to be nominated for six Emmy’s, nine Annie’s, and a Kids’ Choice Award over the course of its airing. It ended up winning two Emmy’s and two Annie’s. “The Powerpuff Girls” became a nation-wide hit, as the series branched off into video games, comic books, CDs and a Japanese spin-off known as “Powerpuff Girls Z.”


5 responses to “Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: Ingredients to an Amazing Cartoon

  1. Donna Steiner says:

    Good post, Mike.

  2. Mike,

    I thought this post was great. I remember watching the Powerpuff Girls and it brought back a lot of memories reading this post. You did a really nice job giving a lot of background information on the show because it gives the post a balance between research and your own opinion on the show. I would have liked to see more of the differences you notice as a 20 year old that you never noticed as an adolescent because the ones that you did have in your post were really interesting. I found myself wanting more of those differences and I would suggest making that more of a theme throughout your posts. Also, the ending felt a little abrupt so I would suggest bringing it back to your opinion of the show and how it has influenced your life as a kid at the end of the post. You did a really nice job setting up the premise and characters of the show and it’s easy to see that you’re a talented writer.

    -Molly

  3. deanna says:

    I loved all the different facts about the cartoon you putt in here. I used to watch the powerpuff girls all the time when I was little but after reading this I realize I really didn’t know much about it other than the basic story line of how the girls were created and that they fought evil. This was a bit long and I thought that you might try shortening the description of what the show was about. Just get a basic description in there without all the detail because you already are giving a lot of detail when talking about different aspects of the show. I really enjoyed this.
    -Deanna

  4. Mike-
    This was a really great post, very in depth and clearly involved a lot of research on your part. The post sounded very professional, but still reflected that you were interested in the subject matter when you talked about your favorite character and such. I would have liked to have seen a little less material all in one post, only because it’s easy to get bogged down in the details when you have this much information. It was excellent writing and interesting details, but just see if you can cut anything out of break up the sections more effectively.
    -Laura

  5. bissell89 says:

    Nice, in-depth post! I liked all the research that clearly went into writing this, you definitely took some time. However, I do have a suggestion, I think there were quite a few places where you went a little too in depth in describing the show to the reader, and I think you could scale that back to help keep interest. Just hitting the main points of the show, the background, and comments on your reaction to seeing it again would be enough. The places where this post is most successful are the ones where you throw your own observations in there.
    -Alex Bissell

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