The city of Townsville will not be saved any time soon as The CW’s live-action of The Powerpuff Girls has been officially canceled before it’s even been released. Simply titled Powerpuff, the canned series joins the contentious Batgirl as yet another female-led superhero story to be canceled by Warner Bros. Discovery, despite being deep in production. So deep in production, in fact, that Powerpuff already had a completed pilot episode, but that proved to be an unexpected hurdle that the show was never quite able to overcome.
It’s not every day that a high-profile series like this get scrapped after a significant amount of money and resources have already been allotted to it. So what exactly happened? Well, things were a downward spiral for the series pretty much from the start. The reasoning for Powerpuff‘s cancelation can mainly be attributed to criticism from the cartoon’s fanbase, the initial pilot episode being scrapped, that pilot episode’s contentious screenplay being released online, the departure of a major cast member, and an entire year of complete silence.
Fans of ‘The Powerpuff Girls’ Were Not Onboard With a Live-Action Adaptation
Ever since its first episode premiered in 1998, The Powerpuff Girls has amassed a dedicated following. That’s partly because it’s yet another animated marvel from industry legend Genddy Tartakovsky, whose incredible resume includes Samurai Jack, Dexter’s Laboratory, Primal, Star Wars: Clone Wars 2003, the Hotel Transylvania films, and more. The groundbreaking Cartoon Network series effortlessly combined comic book iconography with anime-style animation, made even better by its unique visual style, wholly unique sense of humor, and wealth of extremely memorable and lovable characters.
It’s unsurprising that Warner Bros. Discovery would be interested in rebooting the beloved series. Not only is there a current renaissance for superhero content, but there’s also been plenty of interest in bringing recognizable cartoons to live-action. Disney knows this full well with their many live-action remakes, and even Dreamworks is jumping on the bandwagon with a planned live-action reimagining of How To Train Your Dragon.
This is a development much to the chagrin of animation fans, who think that the vast majority of original cartoons have no reason to be brought to live-action. It’s not an unfounded sentiment, as even with the most expensive special effects, sometimes live-action just can’t replicate the unique tone and style of animation projects. Not to mention, anime fans have felt the full force of bad adaptations over the years, with examples including Dragonball Evolution, Death Note, and Cowboy Bebop. To put it simply, fans of The Powerpuff Girls, who predictably were a core target audience for Powerpuff, were skeptical of The CW’s reboot.
‘Powerpuff’ Had Its Completed Pilot Episode Thrown Out
Production on Powerpuff initially appeared to be progressing smoothly. It became clear right away that the series would be a more mature take on The Powerpuff Girls, both literally and figuratively. That’s evident by the much older but still rock-solid trio cast to play the titular heroes. They included Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. star Chloe Bennett as the responsible Blossom, Descendants franchise star Dove Cameron as the naive Bubbles, and newcomer Yana Perrault as the tough-as-nails Buttercup. Also attached to the cast was Scrubs star Donald Faison as the girl’s surrogate father, Professor Utonium, as well as The Karate Kid Part III star Robyn Lively as the Townsville Mayor’s secretary, Sara Bellum, who is the girls’ mother figure and Utonium’s ex-girlfriend in this iteration. The most perplexing casting of all was Hello Tomorrow!‘s Nicholas Podany as Joseph ‘Jojo’ Mondel Jr. — a seemingly human version of the franchise’s iconic big bad, the green monkey Mojo Jojo, but we’ll expand more on him later. Lastly, veteran voice actor Tom Kenny was reportedly set to reprise his role as the show’s narrator.
Once filming on the pilot started, set photos began making their way online. Based on those pictures alone, it looked like the cast was in good spirits, smiling at the cameras that got an early look at the new series. However, all may not have been what it seemed, as only a few months after production wrapped, it was announced that the entire filmed pilot was being scrapped and its script rewritten. It’s a move that’s rarely seen in the industry, but is only slightly more common in the superhero genre, such as with the canceled NBC Wonder Woman reboot and Freeform’s Secret Warriors project. The reason for this cancellation wasn’t made clear, but a later online leak would shed a bit more light on why the pilot was scrapped.
The Leaked ‘Powerpuff’ Pilot Script Cast Even More Doubt on the Series
Following the announcement that the pilot for Powerpuff was being built from the ground up, an alleged script released online mere days later. As with any leaked screenplay, there was skepticism as to whether the document was legitimate. The screenplay was seemingly confirmed to be real when Dove Cameron confirmed the script had leaked online about a month later. The script in question can still be found online via archive sites, but the real question is this: Is the script any good?
Well … it certainly has spice, but not so much sugar and everything nice. The pilot script essentially tries to do the same thing that The CW did with the Archie IP with Riverdale, taking these established light-hearted characters and making them far darker. While we’re not talking Velma levels of nihilism, the pilot was filled with dark social commentary that feels unbecoming of The Powerpuff Girls. To give a brief summary of what these characters are doing all grown-up, Blossom is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Bubbles is an alcoholic, and Buttercup is an unfaithful sex-addict. These are complex issues that the pilot, frankly, does not address with a lot of class or meaningful commentary. Though even worse is the mistreatment of Professor Utonium, who has gone from a naive but good-hearted man who just wanted a family into a selfish, irredeemable, fame-obsessed egoist who has gone as far to manufacture tragedies to procure monetary gain.
Even more bizarre is the script’s direction of Mojo Jojo. See, the series almost seems to imply that it’s a continuation of the animated cartoon, but that gets thrown out the window when Mojo is introduced. Instead, the iconic green primate evil genius is split into two human characters, Dr. Joseph “Mojo” Mondel and his son, Dr. Joseph “Mojo” Mondel Jr. The latter is who the show primarily follows, with the main antagonist seeking revenge on the Powerpuff Girls for allegedly killing his father, the violent death of which being the reason for Blossom’s PTSD. The script ends with the twist that Mojo Sr. isn’t dead but just got turned into a monkey, potentially setting up a more accurate depiction. Still … just … why?
Sara Bellum is the only character who comes off as anything like an improvement on the original. Instead of being a literal talking body in the show, she’s given much more to do as the girls’ mother figure. She’s really the only vestige of kindness in the show’s mean-spirited depiction. That all being said, it’s admittedly unfair to judge an entire series on a pilot episode, given that it’s only the first chapter of an eight to 20-part series. The context of what else was planned is certainly essential, but the pilot is called a pilot because it guides the show’s direction, so a series can live or die based on how a first impression goes. According to The CW higher-ups and those who read the leaked script, this was not the first impression they hoped for.
The cancellation of the pilot and that said pilot’s script leaking were already critical blows to the prospective series. Unfortunately, the show hit a hat trick of problems when the show’s main star, Chloe Bennett, dropped out of the series. According to a Variety report, Bennett’s departure was allegedly due to schedule conflicts, being unable to commit to filming an entirely new conflict. That may very well be the case, but this was bound to stir more controversy around the already controversial upcoming series.
Almost Two Years of Silence Sealed ‘Powerpuff’s Fate
A full year of bad press was followed by a year of something much worse for Powerpuff — no press. No updates, no filming details, not even an announcement for Chloe Bennett’s replacement. It’s the most obvious warning sign for a project entering development hell and an eventual cancelation. That indeed proved to be the case for Powerpuff.
Even with a contentious concept, production problems, a seemingly faulty script, casting woes, and a year of silence, it’s truly impossible to know whether Powerpuff would have been a hit or not. Maybe the context of the series would be fundamentally different or just better executed on film. Unfortunately, that uncertainty will remain that way for the foreseeable future, with the famed heroes staying in the animated world where they originated from.
In case you want to watch the original The Powerpuff Girls series to compensate for the reboot’s cancellation, the full show is available to stream on Max.