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POWER PLAY CABLE NETWORK'S HOT CARTOON TRIO GOT START 6 YEARS AGO WITH CALARTS STUDENT PROJECT.

Byline: Fred Shuster Staff Writer

It started as a Sherman Oaks animation student's class project. Now ``The Powerpuff Girls,'' a cartoon series about three superheroes with a twist, has become a pop-culture phenomenon.

The program, the second-most-watched show on the Cartoon Network, features sugarcoated dynamic divas who keep their city of Townsville safe from a vast array of comically evil forces.

The twist, however, is that our superheroes first must ask to be excused from kindergarten for the day before they fly into action to save the world.

Episodes of the Emmy-nominated ``Powerpuff Girls'' are broadcast four days a week on the cable channel, which is currently seen in 60.8 million homes. The witty series, which has the look of Japan's distinctive animation style known as anime and often verges on surrealism, is popular with male and female viewers of all ages.

``The girls are basically a combination of cuteness and toughness,'' says Craig McCracken, 28, creator, writer and director of the Powerpuffs. ``It's got elements that appeal to boys and girls, and the relationship between the girls is lifelike: They're best friends, but they can also be rivals - just like real sisters.''

McCracken's inspiration for ``The Powerpuff Girls'' stems from ``The Whoopass Girls,'' a student film he created six years ago while studying character animation at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Valencia. His unusual superhero film was selected for the 1994 Festival of Animation.

The following year, the film evolved into two seven-minute ``Powerpuff Girls'' episodes for Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network's ``World Premiere Toons'' project, where the kindergarten heroines quickly became viewer favorites.

``The Powerpuff Girls'' debuted in fall 1998 as a separate weekly series.

As for merchandising, the colorful Powerpuff logo can be spotted on T-shirts, backpacks, dolls and clocks, while stores including Aahs and Target have special Powerpuff displays.

``The show looks different from other cartoons, and I think that's because the creators are young enough to have been influenced by anime, the humor of Monty Python and things like Pokemon,'' says Mike Lazzo, senior vice president of programming and production at the Cartoon Network. ``There isn't that heavy Disney influence you see in previous generations. Powerpuff has a modern sense of humor that's not so based on one-liners, so it can be conceptual in nature.''

According to the story line, the girls - Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup - were developed by genetic engineer Professor Utonium, who set his sights on creating the world's most ``perfect'' girls. While preparing a concoction of ``sugar and spice and everything nice,'' he accidentally adds a mysterious fourth ingredient, Chemical X.

This fateful addition leads to the creation of three toddlers whose mission in life alternates between fighting crime and winning at hopscotch.

``It's witty and girly and cute,'' says Powerpuff fan Nicole Montgomery, 30, of Sherman Oaks. ``There's nothing else quite like it. It's the first cartoon that features cute girls who kick ass. There's tongue-in-cheek humor for adults, but kids can like it, too. It's got appeal for all ages. And there's an added bonus: People always tell me I look like Buttercup.''

The series is produced by the same Sherman Oaks-based animation team - McCracken and Genndy Tartakovsky - behind the four-time Emmy-nominated series, ``Dexter's Laboratory.''

With the success of ``The Simpsons,'' ``King of the Hill'' and ``South Park,'' animation has never been more mainstream on TV. NBC, for example, debuted its new cartoon series, ``God, the Devil and Bob,'' last Thursday while ABC will soon unveil the animated ``Clerks.''

Each ``Powerpuff Girls'' show is made up of two 11-minute episodes. On Valentine's Day weekend, the network broadcast an eight-hour ``Powerpuff'' marathon.

One of the best elements of the program is the lineup of villains, an array of evil that includes the Gangrene Gang, Mommy Fearest, the Amoeba Boys, Fuzzy Lumpkins, Roach Coach and Mojo Jojo. The last is a super-intelligent monkey who hates the human race because he's low on the evolutionary ladder even though he's a criminal genius.

The show also sometimes spoofs pop culture, such as in a recent episode where the girls had to destroy a disco ball in space that resembled the Death Star.

``If something fits in a natural way, we'll bring it in,'' McCracken said. ``It's not like the Powerpuff Girls are going to turn up in 'Titanic.' But if you're gonna destroy a giant disco ball in space, it's got to be the Death Star.''

McCracken said the influence of Japanese animation on ``Powerpuff'' is not pronounced.

``Some of the best design was done in the '50s, and some of the best people who do action today are in anime,'' he explained. ``It's not a direct homage, but that element sticks out. I, myself, really haven't seen that much anime.''

The Atlanta-based Cartoon Network views ``Powerpuff'' as a valuable brand in terms of merchandising, said Tim Hall, executive vice president of the network.

``It's a real breakout show in terms of licensing,'' he said. ``It appeals to such a broad range of ages that there are lots of opportunities. The trick is to manage it for the long term. We have to be careful not to overexpose it and retain the cool flavor.''

The ``Powerpuff'' line also includes a new book published by Scholastic and a pair of home videos due May 30. The videos, ``Monkey See, Doggie Do'' and ``Bubblevicious,'' each feature five episodes.

The tapes will include a 16-page mini-magazine filled with games, stickers, interviews and bios of the Powerpuff Girls and their enemies.

The facts

--The show: ``The Powerpuff Girls.''

--What: Sugarcoated dynamic divas Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup fight crime in this witty animated series for all ages.

--Where: Cartoon Network.

--When: 8 and 11 tonight; 9:30 p.m. Fridays; 10:30 a.m. Saturdays; and 11:30 p.m. Sundays.

CAPTION(S):

2 cartoon illustrations, photo

Cartoon illustration:

(1 -- cover -- color) SHERMAN OAKS ANIMATORS MIX SUGAR, SPICE AND SUPERPOWERS FOR CARTOON NETWORK'S THE POWERPUFF GIRLS

(

3) Superhero sisters, Bubbles, left, Blossom and Buttercup are frequently excused from kindergarten so they can venture forth to save the world from evil and mayhem.

Photo: Craig McCracken/``Powerpuff Girls'' creator
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 15, 2000
Words:1021
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