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Conducted ~6/2002

mccrackenHis name may not be well-known, but Craig McCracken is the creator of the massively successful Cartoon Network hits The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends.

It’s been 10 years since Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup first began their non-stop struggle to keep the fine citizens of Townsville safe from villains various and sundry, and even Foster’s Home has just come to an end.

I originally spoke with Craig in the run up to the big screen release of Powerpuff Girls: The Movie. We chatted at a time when the writing was on the wall that Warner Bros. had no idea how to market the film, and Craig’s fears about the campaign were realized with a poor box office showing.

Here’s my interview with Craig… Hope you enjoy…

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KEN PLUME: What were the difficulties in bringing the show to the big screen - especially since, I’m assuming, it wasn’t a Disney-sized animation budget…

CRAIG McCRACKEN: No, it wasn’t. Basically, it was just keeping the tone and the feel of the show. The shows are either 11 or 22 minutes and they move pretty quickly, and that’s part of the charm of them - so it was just trying to keep that in mind and keep the energy of the story moving, even though we were dealing with a longer format. It was a challenge to not make it feel like a totally different animal. It feels like this still is Powerpuff - just longer.

PLUME: How long did it take to arrive at a story that would sustain a feature?

McCRACKEN: We came up with two stories. It took us a couple of months… we came up with two different ideas - one that was purely an action show, and then on that was more of a subtle character piece. The network liked both of them , so basically what we did is created a hybrid of the two ideas - and thus we have the movie that we just finished.

PLUME: And it’s essentially a prequel…

McCRACKEN: Yes, it’s a prequel. It tells the story about how the girls were born with superpowers, but they weren’t necessarily heroes at the beginning of this movie, so the movie is about the events that happen in their life to make them decide to be heroes.

PLUME: I’m assuming Mojo Jojo was a given as the villain…

McCRACKEN: Yeah… Yeah… For me, definitely. He’s like the catch-all villain - he can be really silly if he needs to and evil if he needs to. He works on a lot of levels.

PLUME: I was reading the Animation Blast website the other day, and I found Amid’s take on the poster interesting, seeing as how the writers listed are artists and not screenwriters - as has been the recent way of doing things in the animated feature realm…

McCRACKEN: Yeah, definitely…

PLUME: How hands-off in the process has Cartoon Network been? They seem to exist in this little bubble of creativity in a raging storm of something less than that throughout Hollywood…

McCRACKEN: Yeah! We didn’t have any screenwriters. I don’t believe in scripts - if you’re going to write, then you also have to draw, if you want to work on Powerpuff. That’s what we did with the movie - all the guys who wrote it are the same guys who storyboarded it and visualized it, figured out all the shots, and basically made the movie. So it was being written and boarded at the same time - basically like they used to make animated movies.

PLUME: Before they forgot…

McCRACKEN: Before they forgot, yeah…

PLUME: How would you say that method enhances the end product?

McCRACKEN: There’s a lot you can do without words. You can say a lot with pictures. It’s a visual medium - and especially with animation, you can do a lot that you can’t do in live action. Because it’s drawings, you can kind of go anywhere and create anything you want. It really just gives you a sense of when you need to have dialogue and when you don’t, and if your pictures are telling the story, you don’t need to have all this talking. A show like Samurai Jack - that Genndy is doing - is a testament to that, where there’s hardly any dialogue in the whole show, but you can totally follow it because the visuals are selling that. I think a lot of times, in my experience, scriptwriters fall in love with their words and feel that they need to describe everything. There’s a lot to be said for a visual way of telling stories.

PLUME: How would you describe the atmosphere at Cartoon Network? Why are these kinds of projects allowed to flourish there and not at, say, Nickelodeon?

McCRACKEN: Well, for one thing, the executives in charge at Cartoon Network are cartoon fans. I mean, these are people who grew up loving animation and loving cartoons, and the only difference between them and me is they don’t know how to draw. They’re just kind-of frustrated artists who wish they could draw cartoons, but they don’t - so they go to a network where they can say “yes or no” to good ones getting made. They trust us as creators and give us a lot of freedom to do what we do, and they basically say, “Look… We don’t know how to make cartoons. You definitely do, so you go ahead and do that and we’ll put them on the air”. They love animation.

PLUME: Is there a definite sense amongst you all of operating in a bubble?

McCRACKEN: Yeah, pretty much so. We’ve been working this way for a number of years, so we’re pretty happy with the system we’ve got here and the way things work. I’ve even had my agent saying, “Well let’s try to shop you around and do this…” And I’m like, “Well, I’ve got freedom here. I can make the cartoons that I want to - why would I want to go somewhere else? Where every decision has to be made by committee?” That doesn’t appeal to me.

PLUME: Was there any hint of that committee approach while you were working on the movie?

McCRACKEN: Not at the beginning. Near the end, as we were finishing it up, there was a little more involvement - just because this is such a big investment from the network’s point of view, that they were like, “We want to make sure that everybody’s on board with this movie and there’s nothing in it that could be problematic.” There were a few edits that had to be made from Warner Bros standpoint, but nothing so disastrous that it affected the final film.

PLUME: Content editing?

McCRACKEN: Not so much content - moreso pacing. The movie is really fast and it moves along really quickly, and I think there were just some parts where Warners wanted to keep it going a little. They felt like it maybe got a little slow in certain parts. There were a few content things, but nothing major.

PLUME: So where’s the advertising for the movie?

McCRACKEN: Good question!

PLUME: Every time I turn around, there’s another Hey Arnold! ad, but no Powerpuff

McCRACKEN: You know, I’ve been wondering the same thing myself. I don’t see any posters, I don’t see any billboards, the only commercials I’ve seen are the one’s Cartoon Network’s been airing. In theory, Warner Bros is putting $20 million into promoting this movie. The movie comes out in 15 days - hopefully I’ll start seeing it.

PLUME: I was speaking with someone earlier about the film, and they said, “When is that coming out?”…

McCRACKEN: Yeah, exactly. I’m hoping that word-of-mouth on the film - people seeing it and liking it - that that will drive more people to the theaters, because I haven’t seen the billboards or the posters or anything.

PLUME: Do you worry about it opening opposite Men In Black II?

McCRACKEN: A little bit, yeah… I mean, there’s been lots of billboards and posters and ads for that movie for a number of months! I think everybody knows that’s coming out. It’s somewhat of a different audience, though, then the Men In Black audience.

PLUME: Do you have any fears - quite valid, with Warners’ history - of this being another Iron Giant?

McCRACKEN: I hope not… I hope not… That was some of my initial fears when we originally got involved with Warners, was that they haven’t had a lot of success with their animated films. Hopefully they’ll see the potential with this one. The one thing we have going for us is that we’re already a proven property, and so hopefully that will help us at the box office - that people know what Powerpuff Girls is, whereas Iron Giant was a new thing.

PLUME: Of course, here’s hoping that there’s some advertising to remind people when it comes out…

McCRACKEN: Yes! I would… I’m waiting for it… Maybe July 2 we’ll start seeing everything… The day before it comes out…

PLUME: Hopefully it’s not July 10…

McCRACKEN: Exactly! Post-promotion…

PLUME: “By the way, did you know this movie opened last week?”…

McCRACKEN: Exactly!

Continued below…

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