Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Sexist and Ageist Beginnings of the Powerpuff Girls Reboot

I haven't written anything substantial on this blog since 2012, and figured now it would be high time to post about something important to me that's been eating at me for at least two years now.

If you ask anyone who knows me really well, I can't get enough of the original show. I've been a fan since What a Cartoon!, when the girls were judging meat jam contests and shutting babies up while they showed crooks how to rob banks. The style of the Powerpuff Girls was something that, for its time, was wildly new and incredibly strange, which instantly drew me in. It had blood in the opening title, and three little girls only a few years younger than me pummeling villains into a pulp. It was fast. It was witty. It was hilarious. It was hardcore. It was my first introduction to the basic concept of feminism, something for which I hold the show in the highest regard for. The Powerpuff Girls Movie is in my top ten list of favorite animated films for how it expertly balances cartoon silliness and comic book hero origin story darkness (about three kindergarteners, no less!). I have a Blossom charm next to a keychain of Rosie the Riveter on my car keys. I respect all of the voice actors and voice actresses who've worked on the show, and highly revere them all. After all, they were the ones that also inspired me to start a voice acting career myself. Most of all, though, it made me an instant fan of Craig McCracken, who's career I've followed to this day and who, alongside Bob Clampett and Tex Avery and a wealth of other animators, is someone who's knack for combining humor and heart I yearn to emulate in my own work.

When Cartoon Network hinted in 2013 that they were in the process of creating a reboot, I was a mix of incredibly excited and incredibly wary. The history of the network and the show, and how differently the network and the creator have viewed the show has always been something of a struggle. Craig McCracken saw the show as it was: art. Cartoon Network saw the show for what it became: a huge moneymaker. Throughout the history of the show, the network pushed for all sorts of creative changes to be made to it. They pushed for new actresses to be cast in the movie. They pushed marketing endeavors that targeted the show exclusively to girls, eschewing the bold color palette of the show for toned-down pinks and purples in all of the show's merchandising (even creating a whole new brand for preteens during the show's later years, focused on fashion and makeup... hardly the sort of thing the Powerpuff Girls have ever been interested in). Craig and his team pushed back every step of the way, asserting that, while their show was meant for 8-12 year old children, they were focused on creating a show that entertained themselves.

Now without Craig at the network, how would the show be treated? The January 2014 special (entitled Dance Pantsed) the network ran to test the waters of the popularity of the show was by no means perfect, and by no means did it even feel like a genuine episode of the Powerpuff Girls, save for the name in the title. But it was a certainly an interesting, and still entertaining, attempt. The fact that the original cast were all together and pulled off stellar performances was one of its more positive aspects.

During production, the three main actresses were told that, should Cartoon Network decide to revitalize the show, they would definitely be asked to reprise their roles for it. When February 2015 rolled around and it was announced that, yes, eventually there would be a reboot but without the original cast, the women were heartbroken. After all, they'd been promised that they would return. They'd been hyped by the network that had hired them. However, this was under the assumption that the entire original cast would not be returning. It's not unusual for a cast to be fully replaced when a cartoon returns in a new incarnation, but the network hadn't specified just who would be missing from the lineup.

Yet in June 2015, Cartoon Network was part of a licensing expo in Las Vegas. It was there they officially released the names and photographs of the three new voice actresses they had chosen as the new voices of the Powerpuff Girls. Videos were simultaneously uploaded to Vine with each new cast member saying who they'd be voicing, but not actually performing. Another cast member was mentioned, but neither photographed nor recorded: Tom Kenny was announced to be returning to reprise his roles as the Narrator and the Mayor.


The original voice actresses, as well as a majority of the animation world, were shocked by this decision, especially since an original cast member (and a prominent voice actor for the network, no less) had made the cut. Despite knowing that they wouldn't be involved for the reboot, Cartoon Network had failed to mention that not everyone would be excluded from reprising their roles, and failed to specify that it was only the three female leads. When asked on what basis they made their decision to recast, the network replied that it was "creative."

What constitutes a creative decision? A creative decision changes a part of a production in a way that benefits the storytelling of a show. As further sneak peaks have come out and more people who've been involved in the behind-the-scenes have revealed, however, it seems that these three new actresses are merely imitating the previous actresses.

Imitation, in this scenario, is not a legitimate creative decision.

Furthermore, as it turns out, none of the other major characters of the show have been recast. Tom Kane is set to reprise his role as Professor Utonium. Roger L. Jackson is reprising his role as Mojo Jojo. Jim Cummings is returning as Fuzzy Lumpkins. Interestingly enough, Jennifer Hale is reprising her role as Ms Keane, but is being replaced with a new actress (Haley Mancini, a writer on the show and an impressionist) for her role as Princess Morbucks. If one was to assume that this was just another "creative" decision by the network, one would assume that it was to cast younger actors to provide more youthful sounding voices to the characters. But even this seems strange when you consider that Hale isn't much older than Mancini. They both have a nearly identical vocal age range.

And one question sticks out in my own mind: why would new actresses be announced at a licensing expo, of all places? Why not somewhere that lent itself more to the entertainment side of the entertainment industry, like a convention, or even just in a press release on their website? And traditionally, the identity of voice actors for shows is something that isn't publicized by a company, unless the actors/actresses hired to work on a show are well-known celebrities. Yet even then, their photos aren't used in marketing, because only their voice will be appearing in the final product. So why would it be important for potential marketing partners to know who the new actresses are, especially if they're more or less brand new to the entertainment industry.

The answer is the same reason why young women are used in advertising all of the time: to sell the product. Hiring photogenic young actresses (as opposed to keeping your older– still photogenic, I might add!– actresses) to serve as marketing ambassadors for your product is a smart move if you want to sell a show. It's a slimy move when the show you're trying to sell is one where the overall message of it is that "females can do anything!"

I suppose the network believes grown women can't.

What's even worse is that Peter Yoder, VP of consumer products for Cartoon Network, stated in an interview for that the show was not only a great opportunity to cash in on the female superhero trend currently popular in the entertainment industry, but that it would be a way for... mothers and daughters to bond?

“With the original fans now young adults, we think it’s the perfect time to introduce a new generation to the girls and give moms of young daughters an opportunity to share their love for Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup,” Yoder says of the young Townsville, USA crime-fighting trio. “We believe there’s a big market for girls brands that offer an alternative to the traditional ones that have long been mainstays in the industry. And with its mix of action and comedy, The Powerpuff Girls fits that bill.”

Doesn't Yoder have knowledge of the countless numbers of male fans of the show? Is he attempting to rewrite the history of the show to imply that the show wasn't popular with young boys, adults both male and female, alternative music scenes, college students, and so many others? To put it more bluntly, does Cartoon Network forget that the show was popular... with everyone?

And isn't it ironic that a show where the main characters don't even have a mother would be viewed as the quintessential show for mothers to bond with their daughters over? It also strikes me as odd that he comments about traditional girl brands when the Powerpuff Girls is neither traditional nor a television show that has ever been specifically designed for girls.

One of my first thoughts was that Cartoon Network is trying to pull off a marketing campaign in the hopes that the show's popularity will transcend the target gender like it did for the new My Little Pony cartoon. This I find doubtful. The reason why a large adult male audience flocked to the show was because Lauren Faust was in charge of the project. Her reputation stemmed from the fact that she was a key crew member on another show that made it cool for boys to watch a show about girls: The Powerpuff Girls. As of now, there is no one working on the reboot to draw in that kind of crowd.

In an age where people cry out over gendered Legos and demand that toy stores take off gendered labels on their aisles, the statement by Yoder and Cartoon Network's marketing plans in comparison seems blatantly sexist. The Powerpuff Girls was never exclusively for women: it was made to entertain a wide audience of diverse people, of all ages and genders. Yet if you decide that you'll change who the show will be targeted at, why would you throw all of your prominent female voice actresses, the same actresses that worked to give the original characters life, under the bus? Does that send a positive message to women? That if you work hard in your career, you'll eventually be replaced by younger women who can replicate your voice while your male coworkers fully retain their positions?

I'm still waiting with bated breath for the reboot to air, and so far the only date that's been announced is "sometime in 2016." The above information, coupled with a brand new animation style favoring the popular single-width line style of modern cartoons and a characterless new logo, doesn't give me confidence about the quality of the show. In fact I'm actually also worried, given the fractured state of today's feminism, that the show will attempt to introduce elements of false "girl power," the kind that Femme Fatale would revel giddily in. It doesn't sit well with me that the decision to reboot a series with prominent female leads was done because of its ability to be financially beneficial rather than as a conscious, honest decision to reintroduce a female-led cartoon. It also seems way too coincidental that Bubbles and Buttercup now sport hair accessories, and that each girl has their own personalized light trail and backpack for school, along with many other toyetic quirks.

Something, my friends, is rotten in the city of Townsville.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Bookmarks Bar : Day Three

Sorry that I didn't post this weekend. I got distracted with homework and this horrible, horrible website. Although despite the fact that it's horrible, it's gotten me thinking about doing storyboarding dissections with video and/or streaming animation and pulling apart some of the acting/timing, but we'll see what happens. I'm fairly certain that Twitch doesn't allow you to stream anything other than games, but it's definitely gotten me thinking about how I can use that kind of format to my advantage. Apparently there's an audience for people watching other people mindlessly playing video games (...hey, sorry, but it's true!), but it'll be a hard sell to get people to discuss story and composition and animation. We can only try and find out.

Anyway, let's make this installment of my bookmarks bar short and sweet.

Hark! A Vagrant!

No doubt that if you've been on the internet for a while, you've come across some of Kate Beaton's historical comics. There's really not much to say about it otherwise except that she's a fantastic illustrator with a sharp sense of humor.


I keep forgetting that I want to submit stuff to Veer. It's been tough to juggle doing graphic design and illustration (I'm doing more graphic design even though animation and illustration is what I studied and what I'd rather be doing, oy), but I think I'm going to go ahead and submit some stuff later for their site. You can get all sorts of illustrations for projects on this website, and it serves as a great source of artistic inspiration as well.


I clearly haven't been on Digg in the longest time, because I had to double check that I was on the right website when I clicked the link in my bar. Their layout's changed drastically, but they're still a great source for finding what's popular on the internet.

Well, that's three links for now! Three more are on the way for tomorrow. Still have to do the Cinema Paradiso stuff, actually. I'll probably be uploading that later tonight if I'm not distracted by games and/or sleep and/or animation. Speaking of which, my second AM class ends this week, so I'll be posting my progress reel very, very soon to my other blog.

Also! If you're one of the two people who read this blog (or if you're on Facebook and see this link and read this) why not tell more people about Reinventing The Wheel? At least, please spread the word if you've enjoyed this or let me know what you'd like to see in terms of discussing animation or narrative.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Art Game Master List

There'll definitely be some discrepancy between what is an art game and what isn't.  I've chosen games that have had interesting and different game mechanics, stories, and that haven't necessarily been created by a large game developer (some have, though). You could, in theory, say that almost all games could be elevated to the status of art. However, these are mostly games that urge a player to think cognitively, and that don't necessarily require the strength of excellent hand-eye coordination to complete (in summary, mostly narrative based or experimental in gaming mechanics).

If you have suggestions of games to add, please list them in the comments. Thanks, and happy art gaming!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Bookmarks Bar : Day Two

Let's see... today there are a lot of unnecessary links that I don't use anymore. My laundry webpage, CTA trip planner (so I could figure out which buses I needed to take), the take-out service I used to get food from when I was working long nights in the studio, Pandora for when I needed new music to listen to while in the studio, American Airlines so I could schedule plans to fly home (maybe while I was in the studio)... and, of course:

CG Textures

Everyone pretty much knows about this website. I think it's one of the first things that pops up when you actually google for textures to use on projects. It's not so bad, though, although nowadays I have a huge depository of textures from billions of other websites at my disposal. Nevertheless, it's a good starting point.


I think this is just a post talking about SymbolAssist, but it's a bookmark that I still use when I want to use a cute little symbol in my writing. 


Following up from posting about Widen Your World yesterday, here's MouseBits. While I said I like Disney World park history, there are hundreds of other people out there who really love Disney World/Land park history, and this whole website collects torrents of things from the park. Songs, videos, photos, 3D mock-ups of rides, narrations, you name it. Whatever you want, you can download here. I'm sure some of it shouldn't actually be downloaded, but there are a lot of nifty documentaries people have created about old attractions, plus lots of other rare Disney things that you could never find anywhere else.

Tomorrow: day three of my bookmarks bar. Plus! More storyboarding/framing dissections! This time I'm gonna be using Cinema Paradiso and talking about the themes in the movie. After that, I may take the time to post my work from Animation Mentor and do a little bit of studying on that as well.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Bookmarks Bar : Day One

So I'm been lazy. And complacent. And I haven't been writing about anything that has to do with animation or design or anything. Woe is me. Lackadaisical am I. It's been a mixture of a lack of sleep and a full plate of school projects and work things that have kept me from writing on a regular basis... something that I desperately have to do. I really do have to do it. I have to. Argh.

I figured something that might be interesting for me to do in the meantime to kind of get me off to a running start with writing more often would be to take the time to write about the things that seem important to me. In terms of what I do on the Internet, most of the things that are important to me are stowed away in a special, dare I say revered and holy place, on the bookmarks bar of my browser. least I THINK they're important to me. A quick look to see whether or not they are is probably going to help me figure out just what it is I should focus on, and in the process probably enable the three people who actually ever read this stuff to find some cool new things to bookmark for themselves.

Let's start off at the bottom of my list today.

The first five or so bookmarks are for this blog, LJ, and DA, along with my old school e-mails, which... actually, shouldn't be there anymore. I used to write every single day on LJ, and DA I actually barely ever use, so I think those are going to get deleted once I finish writing this. My old school e-mail login page? Seriously? Why do I even have that on there? I had the link memorized. I haven't used it for years. This just goes to show how many things I actually have on the bar, and at least at ONE time, they were important enough to have on there. Anyway, I digress. Gotta find three things I can actually share.

Widen Your World


This website is great. I don't know about the people who read my stuff, but I for one am a huge fan of Disney World history. This is a great website about the old attractions that used to be at Disney World. I've written about how I like futurism before, and some of these old rides had good examples of the style, especially stuff like Horizons. Look at me, using this technical jargon. "Stuff." I'm incredible.


I'm gonna cry. The only reason I had this up here was because I wanted to go to a conference, and look where I am now: cold, alone, and SIGGRAPHless. We'll have to change this, clearly because this was obviously a very important thing that I wanted to do.


I actually use Pixlr at work for getting screencaps (since I don't want to keep hitting Print Screen all of the time). It used to just be Photoshop for your browser, but now they've changed it up and added some new features and things (along with a lot of terrible Instagram-y photo filters).

That's three for today. If I'm good, you'll be seeing at least three more links tomorrow. If I'm not, see you in 2015!

Friday, June 8, 2012

"I'm gonna wreck it!" More video games as art talk.

...can I just say how incredibly excited I am for this movie?

I just saw the trailer for it about two days ago and suddenly I've been launched into Wreck-It Ralph frenzy. What's really exciting for me is not only the nostalgia factor (seeing Chun-Li and Bowser in a Disney movie of all places was slightly mystifying) but also the animation. One of these days I would LOVE to see a whole movie done in an 8-bit style. I know that all of Wreck-It Ralph won't be that way, and I love how the other video game characters are rendered in 3D, but oh man. The animation looks like it's going to be fantastic all throughout. And the other great thing about this is the fact that perhaps Roger Ebert will rescind his comment on how video games aren't art after this is released. I know that it's not a video game in of itself: this is very clearly a movie about video games, but video games are already based on story and plot and structure, as simple as they sometimes are (in the case of old arcade games). They just have an added level of interactivity. And look at how gorgeous the film looks! The designs are basically lifted from popular video games (Hero's Duty looks almost exactly like Mass Effect or Halo, and Sugar Rush is just Mario Kart with a dessert dumped on top of it) so you can't deny that video games themselves have the same high level of visual mastery and magnificence as a feature film, which is already considered art.

And I know it's not a completely novel story idea. The "what happens in the world of ______" trope has been rehashed to death. But I don't care. Not in the case of Wreck-It Ralph. Anything that combines my two favorite things in the entire world is enough to get me excited.

Problems With Portal 2

This is something I wrote a couple of months ago but never got around to posting. Admittedly it's not the most structured thing in the world, but I figure I'll go ahead and post it anyway since it does have a couple of interesting things in it.

I was thinking about it last night, and I realized what it was that was bothering me about Portal 2.

Like I've said before, Portal is my all time favorite video game. I can go back to it and it still feels just as fresh to me as it did the first time I played. It's got an interesting plot, it's got an incredible soundtrack (some people say it's forgettable, but since it reminds me of things like this, I love it: it adds to the creepy ambiance of the game), and it's got one unforgettable character in GLaDOS, not to mention an interesting choice of a woman as the player's avatar. And that's what I realized about what separates it from Portal 2.

There are no new female characters.

You could make the argument that (spoiler alert!) Caroline, Cave Johnson's assistant, is a new character. But she was created only to replace Cave's male assistant (if you listen to the commentary track inside of the game/play the brand new Testing Initiative DLC), is never actively seen (save for one static image), and is essentially GLaDOS. I started thinking about how awesome it would have been if, instead of Nolan North, Valve had hired a female voice actor to voice the various personality cores and defunct turrets.

Then again, maybe what you could take from it, as this person noted, is the oppression of a female in video games. I know I'm being pretentious and trying to conceptualize it, but when I played Portal, I felt like it was creepy. I felt an overwhelming feeling of being in an environment I was clearly not allowed to be in. And I loved that the lead of the game was a strong woman that I could sympathize (even though she was always trying to kill me). I didn't sympathize at all with anyone (except maybe Cave Johnson, at the end of his lemons speech- his persistence even in the face of failure and Black Mesa for science tugged at my heartstrings). And maybe it's just my GLaDOS-like nature, but I especially did not sympathize with Wheatley. The moment he got crushed in the beginning of the game, I immediately thought, "Oh, thank GOD, I don't have to listen to him anymore." And as funny as they were, in retrospect I didn't like the fat jokes. I didn't like anything that called Chell ugly. In the first game, GLaDOS called the player ugly and stupid not because it would bruise her ego as a woman, but just as a general human being. The game didn't call to attention Chell's femininity, which is what I loved about the first game. The fact that GLaDOS and Chell could fight each other, be passive aggressive without having to mention "you're fat, oh wow, fashion designers call you ugly" was great, and was what made the game even more enjoyable for me, not having to hear the same kinds of taunts that, as a girl, I already have to deal with.

I love that Portal 2 is a different story entirely, but Portal will always come out on top because it didn't rely on spoken narrative to push it along. In the first game, you relied on instinct. You didn't have your Navi-esque Wheatley following you around going, "You have to shut down the neurotoxin generators! You have to think of a way to get past the turret defenses! Ooh! Also! Don't forget to wash your hands! Also, breath in and out, you'll stay alive longer that way! Hi! Hello? Are you listening to me?"

Valve is the one studio that's always creative about the way that it goes about it's games. But from the DOTA 2 previews, the lack of any new female characters in Portal 2 (not to mention Chell getting that glossy photo finish makeover), and now hearing that there's going to be a Portal 3... my stomach is kind of in knots.