The CW- the broadcasting network behind adolescent angst based series’s such as Riverdale– recently announced that they were going to be reworking the pilot episode of their live action adaptation of the 90’s Cartoon Network animated show The Powerpuff Girls. This followed a leak of the script- written by Diablo Cody and Heather Regnier- which was poorly received. Honestly, that is putting it lightly. Even the CEO and chairman of The CW- Mark Pedowitz- came out to call the initial pilot a “miss”. The script will be undergoing revisions and the pilot will be reshot but this is the Internet after all so once something has been leaked, it is here forever.
I took the liberty of actually reading all sixty pages of the leaked Powerpuff script for a few reasons. The first was that I wanted to actually give it a try before I judged it. We are all too often very quick to judge before we know all of the facts and figures so I thought that the least Cody and Regnier deserved as writers was for their work to be read in its entirety first. The second reason I chose to do this is because I was the biggest Powerpuff Girls fan imaginable when I was little. I had tons of merchandise but it meant so much to me as I don’t come from a wealthy background and so whatever toys I could get would always be a huge treat to me. I used up so many birthday wishes when I was blowing out my cake candles wishing to be a Powerpuff Girl so I could have superpowers and save the world too. My love of the show led to my love of all things superheroes- a trend that the world also engaged in when I was a teenager and is still going strong now, with adaptations of comic book heroes sweeping the globe in a way that once seemed impossible. I could see myself in the characters- as I too was a little girl at the time- and I remember feeling amazed that it was the girls in the show who were kicking butt and saving the day. They didn’t need anyone to help them, in fact they were clearly the most capable people in their whole town (I still remember the episode when they have to explain to the townspeople why it is a bad idea to put a toaster in the bathtub). The show also didn’t speak down to its young audience and it didn’t hold back on the violence either. If the girls needed to beat up a bad guy until he was bleeding and spitting out teeth, they would show it. They were superheroes after all. Even if they were kids, they had to do the dirty work. But they were still children despite all that and the show would often show their childlike side, such as the episode where they have to stay inside on a rainy day and play make believe or the child like arguments that they would have. The show was revolutionary and a huge influence to many kids all over the world, myself included.
With all that being said, I truly wanted to give the live action Powerpuff Girls series a chance. Unfortunately, the script really was as bad as it was being made out to be. Not only is it trying so hard to be “edgy” and “cool”, it feels like it has been written by someone who either didn’t bother watching more than one episode of the original show or someone who decided it was best to forgo the original series and instead try to appeal to the TikTok generation. I don’t know which is worse honestly. The story is not only ridiculous (not in the way that the story lines of the cartoon were ridiculous. The cartoon had a joyous insanity to it but the narrative of this script reads as a lazy attempt to be “quirky”) but the characters are what really bugged me whilst reading it. They too feel like they have been catered to a certain audience rather than feeling like genuine adaptations of how these characters may actually be in the real world. Not only that, but there was so much potential for this series. I feel like it could have been a great parody of the Marvel and DC movies, but alas it wasn’t to be. The cast were well chosen too- with Chloe Bennet playing Blossom, Dove Cameron as Bubbles and Yana Perrault as Buttercup. The potential is severly wasted with this first script attempt. I want to go through the four main characters of the show- Blossom, Bubbles, Buttercup and Professor Utonium- their father- and discuss what this pilot did with the characters and how they differ from their cartoon counterparts.
Blossom is probably the most redeemable character in the pilot script, though she is far from a perfect adaptation. Blossom accidentally kills the bad guy (who that bad guy actually is though is way too convoluted and I genuinely do not have the energy to explain it. Go read the script if you want to know more) when the girls are teenagers. But Blossom is the leader right? She is always so meticulous. So how does this happen? Well, Bubbles and Buttercup are hungover and so Bubbles is struggling to hold back a monster that the bad guy unleashed whilst Buttercup is engaged in an argument with “anti Powerpuff” protestors at the time. Blossom is trying to hold up a piece of debris and- with her sisters otherwise engaged/ too fricking drunk to help- she ends up kicking a particularly large rubble piece into the bad guy, killing him violently. This whole situation is infuriating. It is poor writing- plain and simple- with an incredibly weak and unbelievable string of events leading to a climatic event that leads to the breakup of The Powerpuff Girls. What really annoyed me here is that Blossom is the only one who is made to feel the guilt and PTSD from this event, despite the fact that both Bubbles and Buttercup were clearly at fault as well. They even go as far as to make Bubbles tell Buttercup that Blossom should just “move on”. In fact, she says it in such an excruciatingly cringe worthy way that it just makes it so much worse, “I mean, moveon.org”. That is not how young people speak, writers. Just saying.
Blossom struggles with her role in this death. She suffers from panic attacks and sees a therapist who tells her to envision what her inner child would do, leading to her constantly seeing a younger version of herself who will give her pep talks occasionally. It’s such an over the top representation of mental health issues, though it clearly is trying to be a clever take on PTSD. Blossom’s narrative in the scrapped pilot revolves around her trying to become the leader that she once was- which doesn’t sound too obscure for her character as there were a few episodes in the cartoon where she lost her confidence and made mistakes. However, the incredibly hammy way of portraying it- via this “inner child” thing- feels so false. I also hate a certain line by Blossom’s boyfriend- Clive- when discussing her fear of having a panic attack when she returns to Townsville, “That’s what Xanax is for. That, and recreational use by guys with cool face tats.” Are the writers seriously advocating the recreational use of anxiety medication? How did this even make it into the first draft of this mess of a script, let alone the version that was submitted to the execs? Blossom is the best of a bad situation in the script but the ham-fisted way in which her mental health struggles are managed by the writers (she is called a “loser” by Bubbles at one point for not getting over her issues) make her read as a running joke rather than a relatable character. Oh and for some reason her unique ice breath power is given to Bubbles. I feel like the writers considered Blossom as the “boring” sister and so didn’t really put much thought into her. That being said, she definitely came out looking the best in this train wreck of a pilot.
I am furious about what has been done to Bubbles in this script. In the show, she is the sugar element of the sugar, spice and everything nice concoction that makes up The Powerpuff Girls. She is the sweet, sensitive, caring member of the trio who loves animals, speaks Spanish as well as squirrel and she can be very babyish but she can also be hard-core and she loves her sisters and father to death. However, this live action adaption of her is reduced to nothing more than a fame hungry Hollywood wannabe with only tiny hits of her true character that don’t come off as genuine anyway. The script starts off with a flashback where the girls are kids and even in this part, Bubbles is looking for cameras and acting in the way that is reputable for their “brand”. She says to her sisters “don’t forget to smile! Daddy says our image is as important as our efficacy”. It is seriously painful reading for anyone, let alone a Powerpuff Girls fan. Bubbles had so many episodes in the cartoon where she would prove herself to be strong and capable as she was often considered the weakest member due to the saccharinely sweet nature. She would always prove that she could easily hold her own against her sisters and whilst this live action Bubbles doesn’t come across as weak, she does come across as vapid and shallow even though the writers clearly try to squeeze in some sweeter moments for her. It just isn’t believable though, as the script is trying so hard to be edgy and relatable to teenagers that Bubbles is relegated to the position of walking stereotype. Buttercup keeps slut shaming her too, referencing a time when she threatened to leak her nudes and also making a crude jab at a documentary Bubbles is making called “Bubbles is Back” by saying, “Not to be confused with your other film, “Bubbles on her Back.””
Bubbles herself is also pretty unpleasant at times, mocking Blossom’s PTSD, not listening to her sisters when they try to talk about how they handled being kicked out of Townsville, getting her producer to keep filming their emotional outbursts (although in fairness I kind of like her response when they tell her to stop, “your dysfunction is all I have!”), shamelessly hocking her own merchandise on the streets of Hollywood and selling her story of a child star turned drug addict making a comeback to make some cash. The narrator mentions her various rehab stints and she makes playful references to it, saying “its relapse time” when she gets upset. There’s even a moment where she is reunited with Butch- a member of the male version of the girls from the cartoon called The RowdyRuff Boys- who she was engaged to. He is upset with her as she left him without a word, but not before pawning her engagement ring for drug money. Her only response to this is “Was that you?” Bubbles is the victim of writers who are too focused on creating a gritty, grown up script (which in reality doesn’t read as the least bit edgy or gritty anywhere). Who needs proper character development and a believable adaptation of a beloved character when we have jokes about drugs, nudes and being a fame whore? She also gets a horrible cringe worthy line that stood out to me as one of the worst in the whole script. When Buttercup starts getting angry, Bubbles says to her “Throttle down, boo, your Chem X is showing”. Please, make it stop.
Much like her sisters, Buttercup is also the victim of the writers’ attempts to be edgy. She is gay in the live action script which fits in well with a modern, older iteration of her character but it is the way that writers go about showing it that bugged me whilst reading. Did they really need a scene of Blossom walking in on Buttercup sleeping with a girl that she picked up from a bar? It feels unnecessary and an attempt to shove just how badass and adult this live action series is in the faces of the viewers. I would say the same if it had been Blossom or Bubbles with a boyfriend too. Why do we need to see this? This is a gripe I have with most shows showing younger characters that are now older. Unless it has a purpose in the narrative, we don’t need the overtly sexual content just to prove that this character is all grown up now. It does nothing for the plot or the characters as we already know about Buttercup’s sexuality. It adds nothing and is clearly there to make us remember that The Powerpuff Girls are adults now. So you know, let’s thrust that in your face a little rather than make an interesting narrative with complex characters. Buttercup also gets some painfully cringe worthy lines like Bubbles does, including (but not limited to): “Life is one big hate boner”, “I’m here to pick up bi-curious townies”, “I’ve got a hard on for mayhem”, “I’m not wearing that dress anymore. It’s compulsory heterosexuality.” That last one is ludicrous. I mean, you know that you’re suggesting that only heterosexual people wear dresses with that comment right? There is also the whole slut shaming thing that she does with Bubbles several times- and Blossom too- as mentioned above. It comes across as mean spirited rather than playful jesting. Buttercup was my favourite Powerpuff when I was little so to see her reduced to the angry, super edgy sister who- let’s face it- is being used by the writers as “the gay character” trope is kind of upsetting.
She actually did have an interesting backstory after the Powerpuff Girls broke up though, becoming a firefighter so that she could be a more everyday hero. That’s a cool concept but of course it is literally used once and then never spoken of again. I also had a bit of hope when I read her first line, which is of her mocking Blossom’s leader like manner. That is so in character as the two of them were always butting heads in the cartoon with Bubbles being the mediator. There is also an interesting conversation between Blossom and Buttercup too where Buttercup reveals that she was the one who was designed to be in charge of the trio but Blossom’s natural born leadership led her to take on the role. There was potential here, but it gets tossed away thanks to the agonizingly try hard script.
This is by the far the worst offender when it comes to the destruction of a once enjoyable character. In the cartoon, the professor is a kind- though somewhat eccentric- father to the girls who encourages their superhero work but also makes sure that they still have the chance to be little girls. In this pilot script, he is abusive. Straight up abusive. There is literally no excuse and no explanation for his behaviour. He pimps out his kids- telling them to behave a certain way whilst in front of the cameras and whilst fighting crime. He even has a “character bible” that he forces them to abide by. At the beginning of the script- when the girls are teenagers- he tells Bubbles that she should be wearing her pigtails and sticking to this bible. That is literal child abuse right there. The girls also mention that he was constantly releasing various creatures out into Townsville for the girls to fight so that they could profit from it. It feels like the writers were trying their absolute best to make him as unlikeable as possible but this clearly isn’t the case as there are pitiful attempts to redeem him throughout. For instance, when discussing how he staged attacks on the town, he says “That was ONE time! We were in a ratings hole!” I have no words.
Not only does he force his kids into these roles for clout, money and fame but the whole reason that the girls return to Townsville is to collect the money from their trust which was being built up from all of that aforementioned merchandising. When the girls finally go to collect it, it turns out that the professor had used up most of their money with poor investment choices. So we can add theft to that growing list of abusive behaviours. Of course, they all forgive him in the end- even though it is suggested that he is planning on creating more villainous creatures in his laboratory in an attempt to keep the girls in the town – and it feels gross. So gross. He is a terrible human being. He is manipulative, abusive, money motivated and disregards his own children’s happiness and their chance to have their own lives for his own selfish gains. What is wrong with having a father figure on television that isn’t a complete disaster and doesn’t cause his kids emotional pain?? As someone who had a god-awful father, I hate these forced tropes. Not all fathers are like that. It is hard enough when you have experienced abuse in reality without the media forcing it down your throat too. I have no issue with abusive parents being shown in film or television. If it integrates naturally into the overall narrative and is well done then that is absolutely fine as long as they are portrayed with care, diligence and given the treatment that they deserve but here, it seems that no matter how angry the girls get with the Professor, he is always forgiven and given another chance. I weep for the previous incarnation of the Professor from the cartoon. He did not play the role of doting father to be reduced to a money grubbing, disgusting excuse of a human being. I would often look at the Professor and wish I’d had a father figure like that growing up. No one is going to be thinking that if they maintain the Professor’s character in the revised pilot.
As you can probably tell, I was none too fond of this script. I couldn’t read it all on one sitting. It was too much. I spread it over a few days as every time I didn’t think it could get worse, it managed it. One of the biggest middle fingers that the show offers is how they suggest that the original cartoon was merely a “whitewashing” propaganda show that was created when the Professor sold their likeness .That is an insult to the original show, the fans and the creator of The Powerpuff Girls, Craig McCracken. The cartoon was a series that made me feel like I could take on the world- being a little girl who admired and looked up to the three cartoon heroines- but I can’t see any kids, teenagers or young adults being inspired by these languid, cringe worthy attempts at characters who talk in the way a middle aged man might think adolescents speak. The Powerpuff Girls brought a whole new meaning to girl power back in the 90’s but now they are merely the victims of another money hungry studio exec trying to cash in on our childhoods. Like I said earlier, the script is being revised and the pilot is being reshot but it is going to take a god honest miracle to salvage this train wreck. My advice? Go watch the cartoon. It’s the only version of The Powerpuff Girls worth your time.