Somewhat new territory for The Powepuff Girls’ fourth outing, as I mentioned in my thoughts on season 3 – where before, other than a few special double-length episodes, Powerpuff Girls episodes were roughly 9 minutes, so that two could air in a typically American ad-laden half-hour of television, here all but one episode is full-length. Only one episode goes into each half-hour slot (though of course, there are still the eleven billion commercial breaks Americans have to suffer through every couple of minutes), meaning each plotline has a lot more room to breathe, and there are rather fewer abrupt endings in the Python mould (which Adventure Time has since taken to new heights in kids’ animation).
Unfortunately, these episodes exhibit the same flaws that some of the thinner full-length episodes contained in the previous series – that is, not having quite enough meat to fill the full running time so filling the minutes with fluff. We get extended musical sequences with very little going on, repetition and some scenes where a point is made of mundane things being prolonged, which puts on the mask of being amusingly absurd and redundant, but is very easily seen for what it is – time-wasting. And not the amusing bathos of an episode like ‘Him Diddle Riddle’, where the waste of time is the whole point, but one that shows a lack of ideas.
And there’s evidence for that lack of ideas elsewhere in this season – the episode where Mojo goes back in time to prevent the Professor setting out on the path of science is, as its final joke references, something of a rehash of a previous episode where he tried to prevent the girls’ creation (though the 50s jokes and the chance to see the young Utonium were worth it!), and there are echoes of the Bunny episode ‘Twisted Sister’ in both ‘Stray Bullet’ and ‘Knock it Off’. For the second time, there is a Powerpuff spin on a very generic cartoon concept – in Season 2, we had the typical ‘character’s life is saved, so they pledge loyalty to the main characters, only to be so terrible as a servant that it becomes necessary to get rid of them’ with ‘Slave the Day’, and this time we get the ‘Kids try to set up two adults, and then despite the fact that they don’t care much for each other, something happens to make them fall in love, only for it to be so exaggerated that it causes the kids huge problems’ angle with half-episode ‘Keen on Keane’. Though both are very generic and by the time the episodes in question came about she was not the one coming up with the core stories, it’s worth mentioning that this season’s ‘Keen on Keane’ was the first episode to credit Lauren Faust as a director, and these typical cartoon ideas are both redone in episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
Faust also now frequently appears as a supervising director and on the writing committee, alongside several other future Pony collaborators – Amy Keating Rogers, Cindy Morrow and Chris Savino.
Oddly, the ‘season’, which may have been fairly arbitrarily demarcated later, aired over a period of very nearly two years, often with months between new episodes, and The Powerpuff Girls Movie was actually released in the middle of that, a mark of the series’ success. For all its success and consistently enjoyable writing, though, it certainly does feel like a series that’s been overstretched a little and is reaching the end of its conceptual strength. What trump cards were kept in reserve get used up, and are revealed generally to not have much thought behind them anyway – Buttercup at last has her unique talent (beyond being the toughest fighter) revealed, and it’s another example of the show’s simplistic bathos, and though I feel a little sorry for her (I liked Bubbles when I was small, but Buttercup’s been my favourite for years), her sheer exuberance and sense of triumph at the discovery won me over a little. The roster of villains remains largely fixed, with the only memorable new face the one-trick Whimsical Willy essentially occupying the same sort of role as Harold Smith as the unexpected and underwhelming villain, and another monster shown to be not so bad after all – and it’s undeniably hilarious to have Blossom’s ice powers and Bubbles’ linguistic gift illustrated by having a giant flaming gerbil that speaks Spanish.
I think we’re reaching a territory where the episodes are all-new to me. I’d only seen a handful of these before, and none of the episode titles for seasons 5 and 6 look familiar. We’ll see. Perhaps something will be unexpected and innovative, but I really feel like it’s time for The Powerpuff Girls to come to a dignified end. Two seasons more seems just about right.