Why Is ‘Powerpuff’ Infantilising Its Grown-up Heroes?
Last week, the first set photos of CW’s live-action Powerpuff Girlsadaptation were revealed. Starring Chloe Bennet, Dove Cameron, and Yana Perrault, the series, titled Powerpuff, will focus on the titular characters as young adults coming to terms with their unusual childhood. Despite being all grown up, the set photos reveal Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup wearing their signature crime-fighting outfits, in the same exact style that they wore as children. The idea of a live-action, adult Powerpuff Girls was strange, to begin with, but the photos left a bad taste in my mouth. If the reboot is meant to explore the heroes coming of age and finding themselves, why are they being infantilised?
Since the reveal, The CW has commented that the outfits will only be seen in flashbacks to their teenage years. However, this is no less problematic. Their pastel coloured dresses, combined with knee-high socks, and hairstyles involving pigtails and ribbons, are more fit to be worn by children than by teens (or actors in their 20s). It just doesn’t do justice to the cast or their characters.
While this is Perrault’s first acting credit, Cameron and Bennet have both proven their skills as action heroines in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D – Bennet in a lead role, and Cameron joining the cast for its fifth season. They are both experienced in portraying empowered young women who go on journeys of self-discovery, and in theory, Powerpuff should be no different. But it seems insulting to dress them as children when they are capable of such badassery.
The choice to replicate the outfits from the cartoons is a curious one, most likely born of a will to draw a strong visual link between the live-action show and the animated series. The unintended effect of this is the dumbing-down of the characters. By infantilising Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup, there is less of a chance of them, or the show, being taken seriously. The reactions on social media to the set photos prove that this is already the case, with many criticising the outfits as looking cheap. More importantly, it makes the lead characters look less formidable and undermines them as tough, adult women – which sounds like the very opposite of what the reboot is trying to achieve.
In the cartoons the lead trio is described as “kindergarten age,” so why would the CW decide to dress them the same way so many years later? As previously mentioned, a visual link likely has something to do with it, but there might be more to it than that. In the minds of the audience, the Powerpuff Girls have always been innocent little girls, and the jump the adaptation will make to them being adults is large and sudden. It cannot be simple planning the costumes for characters who have always previously been seen as children, and the set photos alongside the new, official images suggest that they have made an effort not to sexualise them.
In these images, the three women wear plain tops and smart jackets in their signature colours. While this is more grown-up, it is also bland, even for a casual, dressed-down interpretation of the characters. It almost made me wish that they would abandon the colour scheme altogether (if I was a child superhero, I’d certainly rebel against being made to wear the same colour every day). Not only does it seem like a cliché, but it is also keeping the characters bound to their childhood selves in a show where they are supposed to be processing their trauma and going through a period of self-discovery.
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