Let’s face it: ”The Powerpuff Girls Movie” isn’t likely to match ”Spider-Man”’s nearly $400 million box office take. But if anyone cares to rank summer superhero movies by sheer cuteness, there’s no doubt that ”Powerpuff” stars Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup can beat Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst combined.
Those who don’t watch the Girls’ three-year-old Cartoon Network series should know that the Powerpuff Girls were created by the kindly Professor Utonium. No, a Mrs. Utonium wasn’t involved. Instead, the good professor made up a vat of (literally) sugar, spice, and everything nice, which was then accidentally contaminated by the mysterious Chemical X.
The result: three giggly, crudely animated preschoolers (the aforementioned Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup, natch) who can fly, shoot lasers from their eyes, and punch hard enough to level a city block. ”We’re superheroes!” they proclaim at every opportunity. The three have more or less distinct personalities: Bubbles is the cheery blonde, Blossom is the levelheaded red-haired leader, and Buttercup is the easily annoyed brunette.
As Peter Parker does in ”Spider-Man,” the Powerpuff Girls learn in their film debut that it takes more than superhuman abilities to be heroes, and that ”with great power comes great responsibility.” But instead of dealing with a murdered uncle and a Green Goblin, the Powerpuffs learn their lesson courtesy of a game of tag gone horribly wrong and a very bad monkey.
Shortly after their creation, the girls attend their first day of preschool, where they inspire awe in their thumb-sucking classmates by playing tag at super speed. But soon, oblivious to their strength, they tear up the playground and destroy their school. Then they inadvertently turn their peaceful cartoon metropolis of Townsville into something like a war zone — though no one actually gets hurt (still, the relatively intense sequence may help account for the movie’s PG rating).
As a result, the girls are feared and hated. The Townsville newspaper runs the headline ”Freaky Bug-Eyed Girls Destroy Everything,” and poor Professor Utonium gets arrested. The dejected Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup then meet their future archenemy, the giant-brained monkey Mojo Jojo (he’s Professor Utonium’s former lab monkey, corrupted in the Chemical X accident). Mojo Jojo successfully manipulates the Girls into causing more havoc (let’s just say that many, many monkeys are involved).
In the end, of course, the Powerpuff Girls learn that they’re supposed to use their powers to fight evil. And the people of Townsville realize that they’re both adorable and helpful. A special emergency phone is placed in their preschool, in case they need to take a break from learning the alphabet and start battling crime.
Along the way, the movie nods to adults in the audience with over-the-kids’-heads jokes like the long-haired character who speaks only in Van Halen song titles (”There was an eruption — they didn’t even give us a fair warning,” he says). Admit it — nothing in ”Spider-Man” is as clever as that.