ANIMATION AND THE POWERPUFF GIRLS
Okay, it’s time for me to talk. I know, right? My stupid ass just got BACK from a trip and the first thing I do is go and TALK more? What a dweebo.
But there is something I would like to discuss from an animation perspective. And that is, essentially, what the Powerpuff Girls reboot lacks visually. And one of the major complaints people have had, aside from the writing, HAS been regarding the numerous animation mistakes that the show has. Like the reboot or not, it has been noted for having several extremely sloppy errors per episode that would have been considered unacceptable even in a beginner’s class.
But I don’t want to focus on the reboot or the way it chooses to animate things. Rather, I’d like to focus on the original show and how it choose to animate things. I opened up this with a clip from the Powerpuff Girls movie made in 2002. Now I know what you’re thinking, its unfair to compare television animation to movie animation, but we’ll get to the television animation in a bit. Let’s take a look at this clip for a minute first.
First thing you’ll notice is that compared to modern animation, or even other cartoons of that age outside of Tartavosky and McCracken cartoons, the animation is surprisingly minimal when you really inspect it. There’s a lot of repeating loops, frames where only a single part of the character moves, freeze frames, and even shots where the character limbs aren’t even moving. Now its easy to consider this lazy until you really look at how the animation utilizes it. Picture a slingshot, pulling back as far as it can, until it finally fires in a sudden snap. That is how a lot of the animation in this is. It takes advantage of those freeze frames and minimal animations by using them as the SNAP of the slingshot, having the other more vibrant and extreme actions of the animation act as the pullback–thus, said freeze frames and minimal actions allow the scene to have more weight. They make the scene feel important.
For example, when Jojo pushes Professor Utonium so he hits the Chemical X, the animation jolts to a stop. Everything focuses on that one frame of Utonium and Jojo, hovering by the broken Chemical X with Utonium staring at it in shock. Add to this the music escalating and the animation quickly shifting back and forth between Utonium stirring and Jojo running before this frame happens. Once all put together, this puts so much emphasis on that one moment that it conveys its message to the viewer: something important and major just happened. Even if you don’t know the show at ALL, you know that some serious shit is about to go down because of what just happened. It is big. There is no denying it. And the animators honestly did not have to do much to achieve it. It is made up of two loops (Jojo running and Utonium stirring), a short motion, and a single frame of animation. But because of the way the animators FRAMED it, this minimal way of approaching the scene made it have a massive amount of weight and buildup.
Which leads to the second thing you might notice: colors. Something I’ve always noticed and admired about McCracken and Tartavosky’s work is that they both have a great grasp on color and how to use it. Let’s backtrack to the scene with Jojo and Utonium breaking the Chemical X. The entirety of the opening, while very aggressive in its mannerisms, keeps to the standard color scheme of the characters and backgrounds–UNTIL that freeze frame of Jojo and Utonium.
Immediately on that frame, the color scheme shifts to a red palette. And as simple as it seems to use red to indicate danger, the use of this color change puts even MORE emphasis on how very important that scene is supposed to be. You feel more weight in this scene in this red tone than you would in the standard palette, because red is a color that indicates danger. Stop signs are red for a reason–it is a color that can incite rage and fear. If this was being viewed by someone who was not familiar with the property of the Powerpuffs, they would be on the edge of their seat wondering what horrifying creation this man had made. Interestingly enough, this is also the first scene we see Jojo with red eyes–an subtle indicator of what’s to come and that this lab monkey may be more than meets the eye.
And consider: this was all carefully constructed with motion and colors. A person standing to the side saying “We might want to worry about that guy, he might be a problem later” is not needed. We as viewers can gather that all from the animation and subtle queues given throughout a piece entirely fueled by its intense soundtrack…until it comes to a jarring stop, visuals disappearing and music stopping to emphasize the laughter of little girls. Well, what does THAT mean? The un-introduced viewer will not know. But the intensity presented in the scene will prompt them to continue on instead of leaving the theater or falling asleep.
“Yes, but this is all the movie. Movies have bigger budgets. What about the show?”
You have a point. So I’m gonna look at one of the earlier episodes of the show regarding this. Specifically, the classic introduction to one of the classic Powerpuff villains (despite not showing up much), Sedusa…or Ima Goodlady, if you will. Specifically, I’d like to focus on the use of colors–both black and red. One of the first scenes is when Ima, or Sedusa if you will, slams the door on the girls when they’re going to sleep (contrasting an early scene, but that’s more writing related so we won’t discuss that). The viewer is greeted with complete darkness, which one could easily argue is not too difficult to animate. However it ends up looking VERY good, because the dark screen is contrasted with the flashing ring from their phone. The darkness is given a reason to exist, and is utilized.
This is utilized again twice more in the show: when they sneak back home, and when they finally catch Sedusa. It involves an almost film-noir esque setup with the accuser sitting in complete darkness and turning on a lamp when they catch the accusee, all shaded in a red palette against a solid black (along with a later scene including light blue). You get almost an art deco-ish feel from the layout, but more importantly, the weight of the scene is back. The viewer feel like something big and threatening is going to happen when the girls are caught by Ima, and similarly the viewer feels like something big and revealing is going to happen when Sedusa is caught by the girls. It builds up expectation of the following scene, thus leading the animation to assist the writing in its execution.
One can tell that the people working in creating the episode genuinely knew not only about animation, but art as a whole. You feel the strength of the choices they made in movement, but you also feel the strength in the choices they made in color theory. Some of it is undeniably minimalist but the final result is that despite having perhaps not a stunning budget to work with at first, they did in fact manage to make something that looks very nice despite that. They had the knowledge to create something that had impact even without a massive amount of money not via cutting corners, but via directing the animation in a more experimental way that allowed more of the budget to go towards specific parts of the animation while still making the prior scenes look good.
Ultimately what I am trying to say is that budget is not an excuse. Both the movie and one of the earliest episodes for the original look great, even when Mommy Fearest probably didn’t have the same budget as the whole movie. People have made masterpieces on minimal budgets, hell, people make masterpieces on zero budget. It is a result of how much the creator and the team actually care, not how much money went into it. And in thus, budget should most definitely not be an excuse for this:
if the creators and team members truly believe and want others to believe that they care about the quality of their product. And to make this clear I mean this not just about the Powerpuff Girl reboot but about ALL cartoons regardless of when they were made, who they were made by, and the audience they are targeting.
Yes, all cartoons have problems. Yes, the original had errors. But you can feel a heart, soul, and effort that went into making the animation for the original that more often than not makes up for those errors. I don’t feel that in the 2016 animation. I more get the feel that it was rushed out, as quickly as they could with no thought whatsoever in an effort to make themselves look good and to put some cash in Cartoon Network’s pocket. And that’s just sad.