Childhood Cartoons Revisited

Cartoons from our youth dissected as a young adult

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

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.”

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As Told By Ginger: A fairly accurate portrayal of junior high

OK so this cartoon may have not occurred in the 1990s, but I’m going to let it slide because I believe that this cartoon is one of the more accurate depictions of the themes that it is trying to relate to. I’m talking about Nickelodeon’s “As Told By Ginger,” which debuted on Oct. 25, 2000 and ran until Nov. 21, 2009, although the show was in hiatus for long stretches of time toward the end.

Created by Emily Kapnek, directed by Mark Risley and produced by Klasky-Csupo, “As Told By Ginger” is the story of a girl named Ginger Foutley (voiced by Melissa Disney), who has to deal with the far-too-real experiences that every junior high schooler can expect to endure. There are the popular kids, the jocks and the nerds that rank among a traditional school hierarchy, with the popular kids and jocks near the top and the nerds at the bottom. “As Told by Ginger” is about a girl who finds herself somewhere in the middle; she wants to be popular, but at the same time doesn’t want to abandon her way of life, which more or less resembles that of a nerd.

By Ginger’s side is her friends Dodie Bishop (voiced by Aspen Miller), a gossip-seeking girl that tries, and fails, to be one of the popular kids at school, and Macie Lightfoot (voiced by Jackie Harris), an intelligent, yet nerdy, asthma-plagued girl. On the other end of the spectrum is Courtney Gripling (voiced by Liz Georges), a popular, attention-attracting blonde, and Miranda Killgallen, a cold, heartless sidekick to Gripling.

When this show first debuted on Nickelodeon, I was only ten years old and was not yet in middle school. While I did enjoy watching the show, I did not appreciate just how accurate of a depiction “As Told By Ginger” was to the world of junior high. It consisted of love triangles, population demand, betrayal, etc. The show spent the majority of air time visualizing the social aspect of what it’s like to be a junior high student in a low-income household instead of focusing on the academic portion of school. Ginger’s character can be related to a majority of kids, as she has a devious younger brother, Carl (voiced by Jeannie Elias), and lives with her mother, Lois (voiced by Laraine Newman), who is a divorced single mother. Ginger’s father is rarely mentioned.

As the show progresses, Ginger is hit with challenge after challenge that typical junior high girls go through at some point in their lives. As Courtney begins to befriend Ginger, she is left with the painful decision to choose friendships based solely on popularity or remain loyal to the true friendships she’s already created. In one of the first few episodes where she is invited to Courtney’s birthday party, she is willing to steal a welcome sign because Miranda tells her Courtney has always wanted one for her bedroom. She ends up getting caught and arrested as a result.

Love begins to play a crucial part as season two and three begin. As a camp counselor at Camp Caprice, Ginger develops feelings for a boy named Sasha (voiced by J. Evan Bonifant), only to later discover that he has a girlfriend. Romance becomes a central issue in the first movie, “Far From Home,” where Ginger is offered to spend a semester at a prestigious art school. It is then that her long-time neighbor, Darren Patterson (voiced by Kenny Blank), realizes his feelings for Ginger and embarks on a journey to find her and tell her the truth. A relationship ensues, which is noteworthy because Darren is African American and Ginger is white. It’s rare to see an interracial couple in cartoons.

The underlying theme of the TV show is relationships and how one deals with them. Throughout the show’s air time, Ginger’s relationship with her mother, friends and Carl are tested. There is plenty of drama that one would expect from a junior high schooler. Her mother eventually begins dating again and in season two’s “Ms. Foutley’s Boys,” Ginger finds herself in a miserable situation having to deal with her mom’s love interest, Buzz, and his wild three kids. But she keeps quiet because she wants her mom to be happy and is willing to sacrifice her own happiness to achieve that.

“As Told By Ginger” is a cartoon that every junior high student should watch because of how spot on it really is at depicting what life is like at that age. Social hierarchy, friendships, relationships, family issues are all stressed in this cartoon. Unfortunately, Nickelodeon put “As Told By Ginger” on hiatus several times during the third and final season. It debuted Aug. 9, 2003, and ran through Jan. 20, 2004, before being put on hiatus for the first time. It  returned on Nov. 14, 2006, for one episode before being put back on hiatus. This on- again-off-again scheduling continued until the season finale movie, “The Wedding Frame,” which aired on Nov. 21, 2009.

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