The Legacy of Powerpuff Girls 20 Years Later

“Here they come just in time, the Powerpuff Girls! Fighting crime, trying to save the world! Here they come just in time, the Powerpuff Girls! Powerpuff!”

Two decades ago, Professor Utonium added Chemical X to a mix of sugar, spice, and all things nice to create three hyper-strength girls.  Cartoon Network‘s  Powerpuff Girls became a cultural phenomenon, and has since become one of the most enduring of the channel’s creations. In 2018, the three super sisters’ indelible influence on animation and the wider pop culture landscape feels more relevant than ever.Created by Craig McCracken, the series debuted on the What A Cartoon! animation showcase in 1995, and its official pilot debuted on November 18th 1998. The show’s action, humor, and young subjects set it apart from its peers and predecessors. Though action-focused female led shows like Jem and She-Ra had made their impact, those characters fit a very specific model–they were sexy adults, all fashionable and stylish. Yet the Powerpuff Girls were kids, kindergarten-aged superheroes that were more in the mold of Dexter’s Lab: kids behaving as kids, but put in incredible situations and forced to save the day.

Powerpuff Girls was a success emblematic of the now-prevalent, experimental cable animation system, the road to which Nicktoons paved earlier in the decade. Powerpuff Girls itself started as a unique anthology series, which network animation never would’ve attempted at the time. What A Cartoon! and the success of Powerpuff Girls was a precursor to the current landscape of women-led comics–the vibrantly colorful style of Babs Tarr, Brendan Fletcher, and Cameron Stewart’s Batgirl; the attitude and authenticity of G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s Ms Marvel; the science-focused super powered antics of Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare, and Natacha Bustos’ Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. This format and success also foreshadowed the YouTube shorts that precede almost every full season order or feature film launch of a kids cartoon. The spirit of the Powerpuff Girls lives on in shows like DC Super Hero Girls, Ever After High, and Marvel Rising.Buttercup, Bubbles, and Blossom share something else with their animated descendants: massive merchandising possibility. The three sisters with their vibrant colors and minimalist designs were begging to be turned into toys, plushies, and plastered on t-shirts, and they were. In fact, within two years there were video games, a feature length film, lunchboxes, and even Powerpuff branded dishware. The shows merchandising revenue stream proved it was just as beloved and popular as any cartoon, affirming its staying power.

It has been 13 years since the original show ended, but the progressive technicolor avenue that three powerful young forged with their fists is a viable path today. Thanks to their stories, we got shows like Adventure Time, which celebrated friendship, gender fluidity, and kindness. Steven Universe is a gorgeous and truly inclusive story which avoids (most of) the mistakes that Powerpuff Girls made, with a sprawling narrative and diverse cast, that’s gained a fanbase just as rabid as those who originally fell in love with Blossom, Buttercup, and Bubbles.Without the experimental era of animation in the ’90s and the massive success of the Powerpuff Girls, it’s unlikely the landscape would be in the shape it’s in today. Of course there is still work left to do, and Bubbles, Buttercup, and Blossom are there fighting tooth and nail right along side of us.

Images: Cartoon Network

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