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Your Mother Should Know the Powderpuff Girls

They go snap, crackle, boomer with a breakfast cereal, feature film, and a Beatles homage sure to please the ‘rents

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Though it may reek of blasphemy to liken The Powerpuff Girls to the Beatles, consider this: Like the most successful pop group of all time, the Cartoon Network’s animated supertots have hit the top of the pops (their alt-rock-driven Heroes and Villains was Billboard‘s No. 1 album on the children’s music chart for six weeks last summer). And though they’ve yet to make any ”more popular than Jesus” claims, the Girls, like Britain’s Fab Four (currently reconquering America with the hits compilation 1), are enjoying a banner new millennium, reigning as one of their network’s highest-rated original shows and selling enough merchandise in the past year ($350 million) to rank them among the toy industry’s biggest performers.

Extending the Liverpudlian metaphor, one might also say that, creatively speaking, series creator Craig McCracken and Co. are entering a Rubber Soul/Revolver-worthy golden age. Having just wrapped production on the show’s fourth season, McCracken says Powerpuff Girls (which expanded last year from cartoon shorts to series-size 22-minute episodes) is aspiring to even greater dramatic heights. ”We’ve gotten a lot more in depth with the characters’ emotions,” he says. ”The superhero element is part of who they are, but their character is really what drives the heroics.”

Certainly the episodes have become increasingly high-concept: Planned installments include a Powerpuff-based rock opera and a Roger & Me-style mockumentary. And ”art-direction-wise, it’s gotten a lot more subtle. The filmmaking aspect is more prominent,” observes director John McIntyre. Good thing, too, since production is under way on a $25 million Powerpuff feature, slated for summer 2002 (and yes, despite recent reports of disharmony at the negotiating table, all of Powerpuff‘s voice actors will be on board for the big-screen project). If that isn’t enough to certify the Girls’ Beatles-esque dominaton of their genre, April will see the unveiling of their very own Kellogg’s-manufactured breakfast cereal.

All of which makes PPG‘s Feb. 9 ”Meet the Beat Alls” episode so, well, fab. McCracken, who prominently displays two sets of Beatles action figures in his Burbank office, says, ”It’s our non-Powerpuff show, essentially an homage to something that we really, really love.”

The cheeky valentine — which premieres on the anniversary of the Fab Four’s 1964 Ed Sullivan Show debut — follows a year that also marked the 30th anniversary of the band’s dissolution and the 20th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder. In it, a quartet of the tots’ most reviled archenemies — led by evil chimp genius Mojo Jojo — form an invincible ”supervillain conglomerate” (a.k.a. the Bad Four and the Brutish Invasion) with plans to destroy the 5-year-old heroines and terrorize their beloved city of Townsville. ”It just seemed like an obvious transition — if [the villains] get famous, they should become as famous as the Beatles,” says McCracken.

It’s a natural fit in more ways than one. Powerpuff Girls typically oozes trippy ’60s whimsy in its space-age animation and zippy soundtrack, and ”Beat Alls” makes for a potent cross-generational sweeps event. ”McCracken and his writers have done what both audiences need,” says music director Jim Venable (who realized the Girls had become a phenom when he saw them pop up as the subject of a question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire). ”For kids, they’ve made it full of action, but then they’ve given it this subtle humor that’s really funny for those more sophisticated than a 7-year-old.” Ironically, it was the episode’s score that proved the most challenging. ”Powerpuff has its own sound,” says Venable, ”[so] this show was definitely a departure because I had to put all that aside and go, Well, we have a fight scene here — how would George Martin score that?”