Sugar, spice, and everything nice. These were the ingredients chosen to create the perfect little girls, but Professor Utonium accidentally added something extra to the concoction — Chemical X — thus creating one of the greatest series of our childhoods. The Powerpuff Girls turned 20 on Nov. 18, marking two decades since Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup adorably wormed their way into fans' hearts and kicked butt along the way, and to celebrate this major milestone, I spoke with the original voice cast: Tara Strong (Bubbles), Cathy Cavadini (Blossom), E.G. Daily (Buttercup), Tom Kenny (the Narrator and the Mayor), and Tom Kane (Professor Utonium and Him).
The show wasn't just a fan-favorite; in addition to other awards recognition, Powerpuff Girls scored six Emmy nominations during its time on the air. And although of course, many things have changed for each person involved with the series over the years, a few things remain crystal clear: Powerpuff's stars all have nothing but fond memories of recording the show, and 20 years after its premiere, the Cartoon Network series is as relevant as ever. Many Powerpuff episodes stand the test of time — whether they're a history lesson about Susan B. Anthony, or an ever-present reminder to never underestimate little girls. And here's how it all happened.
The Very Beginning
The series was based on a student film McCracken made during college called Whoopass Stew!, and before becoming The Powerpuff Girls, the kids' series almost had a bolder name.
Strong: "When [series creator Craig McCracken] went to pilot, it was called The Whoopass Girls. I'm assuming the network didn't want the word 'ass' in it... But the essence of the show and what he originally envisioned really was one and the same."
Cavadini: "They couldn't use the word 'ass.' I think they tried to do 'Powderpuff Girls,' but then they thought that was too much like a '50s kind of thing. It wasn't showing empowerment, so I think that's why they changed it to the Powerpuff Girls."
McCracken earned four Emmy noms for Powerpuff Girls, and the cast's comments make clear the credit was well-deserved.
Kenny: "You could tell he cared very deeply and thought very deeply about this world and these characters... He grew up in a female-heavy environment. He wasn't afraid of estrogen is what I'm saying... He's very empathetic... I attribute it to the fact that he was raised by strong women."
What It Was Really Like Making A Female-Led Show
Recording the show was a memorable experience for all of the stars, especially those who were new parents.
Strong: "Studios are very new mom-friendly. We all had kids in the studios and we'd bring a babysitter who would run around with the kids while we worked. A few times, E.G. nursed while we were recording."
Cavadini: "I would wait 'til the breaks [to nurse]. E.G. actually would feed her baby in the recording booth with us, and sometimes you'd hear suckling noises during your line. And we're like, 'OK, I gotta record that one again.' We literally did raise our children together."
Oh, and Daily had another milestone while recording.
Daily: "I was in labor during a Rugrats session... I'm literally doing Tommy Pickles saying, 'A baby’s gotta do what — hold, please!' Then I go into a contraction and that night I had my baby. So it's like, life was in session while we were in session."
Bringing In A-List Guest Stars
Did you know that a certain Star Wars alum played Kitty on the show? Or that an iconic comedian made an appearance?
Daily: "We had Phyllis Diller come in and do a session with us, which I thought was so classic."
Cavadini: "Mark Hamill came in to do a guest spot, we had Phyllis Diller, we had all these people that we got to work with that were amazing. Not to mention the regular, amazing voices, like Kevin Michael Richardson, Rob Paulsen, Jeff Bennett."
And Goofing Off BTS
According to the cast, there were plenty of X-rated outtakes from filming that have (thankfully) not yet been made public.
Daily: "This guy Robert, who recorded us, has the most hilarious outtakes that you could probably wish for. A lot of it was us being goofballs behind the scenes."
Cavadini: "Tara and E.G. have an amazing chemistry together... They would do all these characters from The Jerry Springer Show. We have some probably X-rated, not for children things we would improv [that] supposedly that the engineer is saving, but probably will destroy all of our careers."
Kane: "There were countless times where we'd be saying things that were extremely inappropriate... The engineer Robert kept the tape running, so he's got hundreds of hours of stuff somewhere hidden away that I'm sure everybody would love to hear, but I doubt will ever see the light of day."
Making A Musical
The series featured several memorable music moments from its talented cast.
Kane: "There were so many moments where the girls would, for no reason whatsoever, break into a song and they had this uncanny ability to instantly harmonize perfectly. It would be someone's birthday, and all of a sudden, E.G. would start going, 'happy birth—' in Buttercup, and in two seconds, the other two would be in perfect three-part harmony as the Powerpuff Girls... I would come out of those sessions going, 'Man, I feel like I should've paid them.'"
Daily: "The actual singing together was really fun. The specials were really fun, 'cause they were like episodes, but just embellished and a little more magical."
Kenny: "There was The Beatles episode, which was a rock-opera episode with all these amazing songs... All three of those girls are really gifted musically as well, so watching them bring that to life was incredible."
Creating A Supervillain
Let's not forget about the enigmatic Him, voiced by Kane. The villain had feminine features, demonic qualities, and *quite* a wardrobe.
Kane: "He's Satan, which first of all is pretty radical for any cartoon, much less a kids' cartoon. He's got a Santa Claus suit on from the waist up, lobster claws for hands, and he's got stripper boots on and high heels... “I don’t remember if it was fact or if they were just joking, but the one thing that Cartoon Network did [supposedly] reject on Him is [in] the original design, he looked pretty much the way he does now, except that instead of the black stripper boots, they were actually fishnets and high heels.”
Daily: "I loved the character Him. He was like this sort of strange, girly man villain. I just loved where they went with different characters. They kind of crossed genders with that character, which I loved."
Kane: "That was a ball to be able to play something that was completely out-there. Honestly, I'm kind of amazed that even happened. Like I'm shocked that Cartoon Network, even in the Wild West days of cable, they let [them] go with that."
About That Reboot
Strong: "We got asked originally to do a special... We were really happy to be back in the booth together and it was magical and so fun, and they told us if it did well that they'd probably bring it back."
Daily: "We actually did the pilot. We were all excited that we were going to get to do the show again.
Instead, that's not quite what happened next.
Strong: "After [the pilot] did well, they contacted my agent and said they were going to audition new voices. And my agent was pretty flabbergasted and said, 'Why?' They said, 'we just want to try something new.' If a voice actor tells you that doesn't hurt, they're lying. Because you are so much a part of the process of creating this character that then goes ahead and lives in your brain and comes down to play when it's their turn, and we cherish these roles very much."
Daily: "It was quite surprising, to be honest, and quite disheartening. We were all like, 'What? There's a casting for Buttercup and Bubbles and Blossom?'"
Cavadini blames the decision partly on Hollywood ageism and sexism, especially since the show's main male actors were all asked to return.
Cavadini: "What I heard is they really wanted to do a lot of appearances in-person, so they wanted the girls represented to be younger, but the funny thing is, we're all at the top of our careers... and we can still do the voices. But that's just the business, and part of the business is learning how to deal with those disappointments and moving on."
While Kenny and Kane returned to the series, they had mixed feelings.
Kane: "Of course, at the beginning, I couldn't help but be disappointed to some degree, because they're friends. These are three women I spent a decade of my life with every week... It was tough, because I was very happy that I got to participate, but I also felt bad for the three originals, because I know that they would have liked to have done it."
Kenny: "I don't pretend to understand why corporate decisions are made the way they are... It's kind of bittersweet, because I'm like, 'Why are there three new Powerpuff Girls again? I don't get it.'"
Still, Kenny mentions the new cast — Amanda Leighton (Blossom), Natalie Palamides (Buttercup), and Kristen Li (Bubbles) —"took the legacy seriously."
Kenny: "In the recording studio and personally, I saw them bonding and it really reminded me of the three original girls, in terms of watching them get tight with each other."
No Bad Blood
The trio emphasized there's no ill will. Cavadini says she's even Facebook friends with the new Blossom.
Strong: "There's never any animosity toward the actors who get to play those parts, because it's not up to them either. It's a network creative decision... I would never say this was a stupid move or a bad move. Was it a hurtful move? Of course, because we feel very connected to these characters."
Cavadini: "We have a lot of fans that are still upset, who contact us like, 'Why can't you get back on the show?' I'm like, 'it's definitely not my call. I know that you love the show, but let's not hate the other show. You have enough love in your heart to love both.'"
Where They Are Now
The cast developed a sisterhood off-screen that's lasted for years, especially Strong and Daily, who also voiced another set of well-known cartoon siblings — Rugrats' Dil and Tommy Pickles.
Strong: "We text each other and we keep in touch... Any time we see each other, we're happy. You don't get that same sort of catty nonsense that you get with on-camera, because it really is about your talent and how you can bring these characters to life with your voices."
Daily: "We got to watch each other become mothers, get married. It's a beautiful thing to have friends that you can be friends with for so many decades."
Cavadini: "I wish I could see them even more... The last time when I flew home, Tom Kane and I had this really long talk about our families and it was like no time had passed."
Daily: "We crack each other up non-stop... We're little brothers, we're little sisters, we're good friends. Not only that, we have a similar look, a lot of people confuse us with each other."
A Massive Legacy
Kenny recalls meeting one of the reboot's animators — a recent college grad — who had a picture at her desk of the Powerpuff Girls, which he assumed a younger relative must've drawn. Instead, it was her own childhood sketch.
Kenny: "She's got the drawing that she drew when she was a little kid hanging in her cubicle at Cartoon Network, where she's working on Powerpuff Girls. That almost made me cry."
The show's impact has been bigger than any of those initially involved predicted, especially since the pilot was shot years before the rest of the series.
Strong: "I knew that [the series] was going to be successful and I was really excited to book it. I don't think I anticipated it was going to be quite the cult classic that it became... Some of the scripts, I'm like, 'Wait, we're being chased by broccoli? Are they going to like this?'"
Cavadini: "It kind of slowly evolved until one day I drove through the street on Victory Blvd. and I saw a Powerpuff Girls piñata and I was like, 'Oh my god, people know about us.'"
Strong: "It transcended all ages, genders, countries of origin. It was one of those things that spoke to everyone on inclusivity, on girl power. It had enough adult humor that you could watch with your kids. It was clean enough that the kids could watch. It was just, as far as I'm concerned, a perfect show."
Kenny: "It was ahead of the curve with female empowerment... At its most basic level, they were these incredibly cute little preschoolers, but when they need to, they kick ass."
Cavadini: "I had my daughter during the series... And I was noticing that girls were different in [her] classes. I don't know if the Powerpuff Girls had anything to do with it, but girls were a little bit stronger and able to speak their truth, and I think it's escalating even now... I think it's great, and if we were any part of it, I'm certainly thrilled."
Recently, Daily and Strong teamed up to record a Christina Aguilera-inspired parody song called "Impeachable," encouraging their followers to vote.
Daily: "Looking back today, we are like the Powerpuff Girls because we do believe in good causes and using our voices to speak up and using our power to make a difference in the world."
Strong: "When you meet people at cons and they say, 'Bubbles got me through my parent's divorce,' or 'Raven [her Teen Titans Go! character] got me through depression,' you feel the levity of these characters and recognize what they mean to people in the real world and it's extremely rewarding."
Kane: "People will come up and look at all the character pictures I have on the table in front of me, and they'll be like, 'oh my god, you're my entire childhood.' It's a very nice compliment, for sure, but I don't know if I exactly earned that, but it's still nice to hear."
Daily: "When you feel really beautiful on the inside is when you radiate the most on the outside... Beauty is how you treat others, beauty is how you fight for people that can't fight for themselves, beauty is using yourself for good."
Similarly, Cavadini is inspiring the next generation — in a classroom setting.
Cavadini: "I definitely love all the newer roles I'm playing... I'm glad I'm working. I'm also teaching now. I love mentoring voice actors."
As the show's legacy proves, Powerpuff is so much more than a blip in our pop-culture consciousness. It's a powerful juggernaut that paved the way for generations to come.