Happy Holidays, everyone!
Usually during the month of December, I give myself a short break from reviews. Many of the old Christmas specials aired on television range from good and charming to downright goofy, but people can still be just a little bit touchy about them. Even the worst, most nonsensical stories seem to get a pass.
Well, screw that! Let’s tear apart one of my old childhood favorites!
The Powerpuff Girls: T’was the Fight Before Christmas aired in December 2003 on Cartoon Network. The original show ran from 1998 to 2005, and began to dip down in quality towards the end, something that is often referred to as “seasonal rot.” Long-running shows tend to have the hardest time maintaining quality, as production members come and go and the creativity well dries up. Different priorities begin to clash, and meanwhile studios demand more episodes, more relevance to drive the interest in merchandise.
As you might guess, this Christmas special is but one example of the writers scrambling for ideas and a quick cash grab.
The plot is this: Princess Morbucks (a somewhat unique Powerpuff Girls villain due to lack of superpowers and age proximity to the heroes) doesn’t like Christmas. Due to her father’s downright obscene wealth, she apparently didn’t question why Santa Claus never brought her any presents up to this point. She even somehow rationalized the massive stacks of coal piled outside her door every year as being “from Daddy’s coal mines.”
After this angry epiphany, brought on by the Powerpuff Girls’ pointless shaming at school earlier that day, Princess ventures all the way to the North Pole to switch out the naughty and nice lists, tricking Santa into giving her what she’s always wanted: superpowers.
Now I liked this special when I was a kid, but that was mostly because it has nice Christmas colors and decorations everywhere, and characters that I liked were in it. I’ll admit that I never understood, even in the regular tv show, why Princess specifically wanted to be a Powerpuff Girl. I’m sure she wants to be the best of the best at everything, but then she could just take those powers and go off to do her own thing. Why did she want to be a part of a group of girls she didn’t like, share interests, or any common values with?
Probably because she’s a kid. Evil and bratty though she may be, Princess lacks in logic. She just wants to be popular, even with the people she holds contempt for. Fair enough.
But setting that aside, nothing about the setup of this special makes any sense whatsoever. Not in the context of a “Santa is real” story, and certainly not in the context of the in-story universe itself.
First of all, Princess attempts her sabotage plan on Christmas Eve itself, and before her scheme was even conceived, she already received a delivery of coal. That implies that Santa was already out doing deliveries at that time, so by the time she gets to his workshop, the lists should either be with him in his sleigh or scrapped to make room for next year’s lists.
For one throw away joke, Princess should be too late.
Secondly, supposing that Princess wasn’t attempting this so late in the game, is Santa really that stupid? Hasn’t he been looking at these lists for months, prepping toys for specific children? This wouldn’t bother me so much if, as some other weird joke on the writers’ parts, the naughty list wasn’t literally a sticky note with one name on it. The nice list is huge, so even if Princess was a master at forging handwriting, Santa is an idiot for thinking that his naughty list magically grew 100,000,000 times bigger in the…what, 10 minute bathroom break he probably took to leave alone in the first place?
“But that’s the joke!” you say. “He didn’t check his list twice!”
…Um, that’s more than “not checking it twice,” guys. Think about it: Santa and all of his elves must have Dory-level short-term memory loss for not one of them to notice the list sizes changing at the last minute. It’s not like it’s that hard to remember the one person you’ve marked off as naughty, year after year, but wouldn’t he have a giant bag of coal marked “Princess,” for his weird, sadistic hobby of trying to burry bad children alive? Wouldn’t he see the names on the presents and wonder why his now unusually-tiny nice list wasn’t matching up?
He has only one other “naughty” list, the permanent plaque for those truly irredeemable kids, but the writers clearly only included that as a little in-joke for themselves. We can see that they have what appear to be their relatives’ names carved into there.
And as a fan of the show, I do wonder why the fem-devil villain character, Him, isn’t evil enough to get on any of these naughty lists. Considering that he’s brainwashed the entire city of Townsville with hate and took over the future, enslaving and zombifying everyone, Santa seems to have some seriously screwed-up priorities.
As you can see, while the concept for the story isn’t that bad, the execution is very poorly thought-out. It is a cartoon, sure, which means that it can get away with a lot, but not all cartoons operate on, say, Wile E. Coyote physics. Charlie Brown is a cartoon character, but he would still probably die if a piano fell on his head.
Even for a silly, made-for-kids show, the plot is flimsy beyond the suspension of disbelief.
But it’s not just the story that sours this special for me. I always found Bubbles pretty annoying at the worst of times, second only to Blossom and her know-it-all arrogance, so let’s combine one girl’s worst traits with another girl’s worst traits for even more annoyance! Bubbles is not only baby-ish and high-pitched; now, she goes around being smug to her sisters about how good she is and how thoroughly she prepared for Santa.
Although, to be fair, yes, Buttercup is an idiot for waiting until the day of Christmas Eve to send out her wish list. I know she’s not the designated “smart one” of the group, but unless she plans to copy Johnny Bravo and hand-deliver it to Santa herself, she should mentally and emotionally prepare herself to get some toys that…*gasp* aren’t on her wish list!
…Yeah, that’s another thing. I know that these are all kids and kids are pretty selfish, especially around a time of year that supplies them with tons of presents seemingly out of nowhere, but I can only excuse so much at that in a character I’m supposed to enjoy watching. Especially when it comes from already-annoying characters.
And then Bubbles, pretty clearly motivated by the existential horror of potentially not being as good as she thinks she is, checks her family’s and every other family in the neighborhood’s stockings and trees to make sure that she wasn’t the only one shafted. It’s apparently excused, though, because she only used x-ray vision. It’s not like she broke into each house individually and started rooting through stockings and such…
Except she might as well have done that.
Okay, so maybe she and her sisters do occasionally express concern for the other kids out there who will wake up shocked and disappointed, but up until Princess shows up to taunt them with her newly-acquired powers, the Powerpuff Girls seem mostly like they just want to go ask Santa what gives with their stockings. And just because Bubbles’ motive changes doesn’t mean that it makes her actions alright. It’s okay to snoop through other people’s things if they might have got something you didn’t?
But besides Princess. Bubbles is the character that gets the most attention, so supposedly she’s the one in the right here…so huzzah…
The last thing I’ll bring up is that Santa, even excusing all of his other clear negligence and stupidity, is kind of a jerk. I’m sure the writers thought it’d be funny to do a parody of the traditional jolly old Saint Nick, but this guy is just unpleasant to watch. For one thing, he’s got an ugly design, even in a show full of bug-eyed little girls.
He clashes with the rest of the special’s overly-happy aesthetic, like the boys and teenagers skipping around with dopey smiles and the narrator calling train sets “choo-choos” to force a rhyme to work. He calls all the children of the world names when he’s annoyed at them, he shouts menacingly at Princess and the Powerpuff Girls to answer a question he asked them, and he stomps around almost like a giant monster that they should be defeating. Santa also keeps saying “Check it!” in this weird, faux-cool-kid voice, and things like “I don’t need no stinking list!” (which pretty obviously, he does). That is extremely stupid and out of place, and definitely makes him seem like he’s in the wrong line of work.
You know who did a beleaguered Santa well? Rankin Bass.
This incarnation stayed in character, but understandably got a bit burned out with his job.
The Powerpuff Girls: T’was the Fight Before Christmas may still charm some, and it’s relatively harmless, so I can’t tell you not to watch it. I still catch it on tv from time to time, despite the fact that, under any kind of scrutiny, it falls apart like a bad gingerbread house. It’s silly and colorful, and as I said, the visuals are just right for the holiday it’s representing. The scene where the girls race Princess to Santa’s workshop is pretty entertaining, and hearing them rib each other for being occasionally outwitted and pummeled by her is funny in that mean-spirited Simpsons kind of way.
Lastly, in line with that whole permanent naughty plaque thing I mentioned above, I find it hilarious that the special shows a scene of Mojo Jojo preparing for Christmas, like he actually expects Santa to leave him presents. That’s right, kiddies: a spoiled child is the absolute worst, but being an evil genius who repeatedly tries to destroy and take over the city, that’s A-Okay!
It’s laughably stupid, in that sense.
What I’m trying to say is that the special is not completely irredeemable, especially if your kids are fans of either of the shows (Powerpuff Girls 2016 can go die, roasted on an open fire). But it won’t hold up for any adults who didn’t grow up with it. Some pretty colors and a throw away reference to A Christmas Story can’t save something this flawed.
Plenty of people still seem to enjoy it, but it’s a lot lazier than they give it credit for.
*All images belong to Cartoon Network.