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McCracken originally developed the show in 1992 as a cartoon short entitled Whoopass Stew! while in his second year at CalArts. Following a name change, Cartoon Network featured the first Powerpuff Girls pilots in its animation showcase program World Premiere Toons in 1995 and 1996. The series made its official debut as a Cartoon Cartoon on November 18, 1998, with the final episode airing on March 25, 2005. A total of 78 episodes were aired in addition to two shorts, a Christmas special, a feature film, and a tenth anniversary special. Additionally, the series has been nominated for 6 Emmy Awards, 9 Annie Awards, and a Kids' Choice Award during its run. Spin-off media include an anime, three CD soundtracks, a home video collection, and a series of video games, as well as various licensed merchandise.
The Powerpuff Girls revolves around the adventures of Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup. Each of the girls has a color: Blossom is pink, Bubbles is blue, and Buttercup is green. The plot of a typical episode is some humorous variation of standard superhero and tokusatsu fare, with the girls using their powers to defend their town from villains and giant monsters. In addition, the girls have to deal with normal issues young children face, such as sibling rivalries, loose teeth, personal hygiene, going to school, bed wetting, or dependence on a security blanket. Episodes often contain more or less hidden references to older pop culture (especially noticeable in the episode "Meet the Beat Alls").
The setting of the show is mainly the city of Townsville, USA. Townsville is depicted as a major American city, with a cityscape consisting of several major skyscrapers. In his review of The Powerpuff Girls Movie, movie critic Bob Longino of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said that, "the intricate drawings emanate 1950s futuristic pizazz like a David Hockney scenescape," and that the show is "one of the few American creations that is both gleeful pop culture and exquisite high art."
James L. Venable composed the opening theme of the series, and Scottish band Bis performed the ending theme song, as played during the credits. The opening theme is based on the Clyde Stubblefield-performed Funky drummer drum break sample.
In 1991 Craig McCracken, then a student in the character animation program of CalArts, created "The Whoopass Girls" as a drawing of three girls on a small sheet of orange construction paper. The following year he included them as the main characters of his short film Whoopass Stew! The Whoopass Girls in: A Sticky Situation. This short, along with a few of McCracken's No Neck Joe shorts, was selected to be shown at Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation in 1994. While working on Dexter's Laboratory, McCracken submitted his work to Hanna-Barbera's innovative What a Cartoon! Show shorts program, which was eventually produced for Cartoon Network as "The Powerpuff Girls in: Meat Fuzzy Lumpkins" as part of World Premiere Toons. "Meat Fuzzy Lumpkins" first aired in 1995, and was followed by a second short, "Crime 101", a year later. Announcer Ernie Anderson, the narrator of the pilot episodes, died of cancer in 1997 before the show premiered, and he was replaced by Tom Kenny for the remainder of the series. The show's animation director was McCracken's former classmate Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter's Laboratory, Samurai Jack), who also directed many episodes himself. All of the original episodes (except the WAC shorts with the first one being animated at Animal House in Japan and the Second being animated at Fil Cartoons in the Philippines) were hand-drawn and produced at Rough Draft Studios in South Korea.
The Powerpuff Girls series debut on November 18, 1998 was the highest rated premiere in Cartoon Network's history at the time. The series consistently scored the highest rating each week for the network across a wide range of demographics—from young children to adults. In October 2000, Cartoon Network credited The Powerpuff Girls for its Friday night prime time ratings win among cable networks. By the end of 2000, merchandising based on The Powerpuff Girls encompassed a whole variety of products, including T-shirts, toys, video games, lunchboxes, and dishware. Concerning The Powerpuff Girls success, Craig McCracken has stated, "I thought it would get on Cartoon Network and college kids would watch it and there would be a few random T-shirts out there in the rave scene or in record shops. But I had no idea that it would take off to this extent." The show's last original run episode was on March 25, 2005, in all six seasons were made.
In August 2008, McCracken revealed on his DeviantArt account, as had been announced in that year's Comic Con, that he was working with Cartoon Network on a new half-hour Powerpuff Girls special to celebrate the series' tenth anniversary. The special, titled "The Powerpuff Girls Rule!!!", aired on the Pan-Euro Cartoon Network on November 29, 2008, on the Powerpuff Girls Birthday Marathon, and in the United States on January 19, 2009, as part of its 10th anniversary marathon. Unlike previous episodes in the series, the anniversary special was animated using Adobe Flash at Cartoon Network Studios. As of March 30, 2012, this series has returned to Cartoon Network in re-runs on the revived block, Cartoon Planet.
As depicted in the opening sequence of each episode, the Powerpuff Girls were created by Professor Utonium in an attempt "to create the perfect little girl" using a mixture of "sugar... spice... and everything nice" (shown in respective fields of baby blue, light green, and pink). However, he accidentally spilled a mysterious substance called "Chemical X" into the mixture, creating, instead of the "perfect little girl", three girls (each possessing one of the above elements dominating her personality), and granting all three superpowers including flight, super strength, super speed, near invulnerability, x-ray vision, super senses, heat vision, and energy projection. In the original plot, the accidental substance was a can of "Whoop Ass", which was replaced by "Chemical X" in the aired version.
The three girls all have oval-shaped heads, abnormally large eyes (inspired by Margaret Keane's art), stubby arms and legs, and lack noses, ears, fingers, necks, and flat feet with toes (McCracken preferred them to look more symbolic of actual girls rather than going for a realistic look, meaning fewer details were added.). They wear dresses with black stripes that match the colors of their eyes, as well as white stockings and black Mary Janes. The closing theme to the cartoon offers a nutshell description of the three Powerpuff Girls' personalities: Blossom, commander and the leader. Bubbles, she is the joy and the laughter. Buttercup, she is the toughest fighter.
Bubbles (voiced by Tara Strong in the series and by Kath Soucie in the What-a-Cartoon! episodes) is the cute and sensitive one. Her personality ingredient is sugar, her signature color is blue, and she has short blonde hair in two pigtails. Bubbles is seen as kind and very sweet but she is also capable of extreme rage and can fight monsters just as well as her sisters can. Her best friend is a stuffed octopus doll she calls "Octi", and she also loves animals. She exhibits the ability to both understand foreign languages (Spanish, Japanese) and communicate with various animals (squirrels, cats, monsters), and her unique power is emitting supersonic waves with her voice.
Buttercup (voiced by E.G. Daily) is the toughest of the three. Her personality ingredient is spice, her signature color is light green, and she has short black hair in a bob. She is a tomboy, who loves to get dirty, fights hard, and plays rough, she does not plan and is all action. Buttercup is the only Powerpuff Girl without a unique super power (aside from being able to curl her tongue as shown in the episode Nuthin' Special).
The Powerpuff Girls has been met with generally positive response from critics and fans. In a 2000 Entertainment Weekly review, Marc Bernadin complimented the show on its "spot-on pop-culture acumen" and "unparalleled sense of fun", giving it a warm welcome from earlier "lame" superhero cartoons that he grew up with. Peter Marks of The New York Times noted the show's use of adult humor and pop culture references, declaring it "the sort of playful satire that can appeal as much to a viewer of 37 as 7." Joly Herman of Commonsense media describes the show as a "cute, highly stylized series thrills the senses with its strange characters, funny situations, and lots of lowbrow humor" she goes on to say however, that the show does go from innocent to violent in no time and that there is not much protecting young viewers against the violent undertones. Robert Lloyd of the LA Times said that the series might be "transgressive" based on the violence but "also cute". TV Guide chose The Powerpuff Girls as #17 in a list of the 50 Greatest cartoon characters of all time. The series has won two Primetime Emmys, two Annie Awards, and including those four wins, has been nominated a total of sixteen times for various awards.