The original Cartoon Network Powerpuff Girls series follows three superpowered 1st-graders who (almost) always save the day. However, just because it’s aimed at kids doesn’t mean the show can’t pack a serious punch.
Turn-of-the-century children’s cartoons often carried a weirdly sinister vibe—Courage the Cowardly Dog, anyone?—and it’s time to examine some classic episodes of the Powerpuff Girls that had us questioning our sanity.
10 Mommy Fearest
Hundreds of stories use the “evil stepmom” trope, and Powerpuff Girls is no exception. It plays on real fear kids have when things change, fears that the norm will be disrupted and that an interloper will make their parental figure treat them differently.
Of course, in this case, Ima Goodelady—get it?—really is the evil Sedusa, but Professor Utonium initially dismisses the girls’ alarm and enforces Sedusa’s strict rules, allowing her and other criminals in Townsville to run rampant. Professor Utonium’s rose-colored glasses damaged the Girls’ trust and put Townsville at risk.
9 Pet Feud
In a Gremlins-inspired plot, the Professor creates a new pet for the Powerpuff Girls, named Beebo. He’s cute, tiny, made mostly of fluff, and only needs to be fed once, ever. When the Girls accidentally feed him once each, chaos ensues. Beebo gets bigger and bigger every time he eats, and he will eat anything, including buildings, trains, even citizens of Townsville… and the Powerpuff Girls!
Fortunately, they bust out of his oversized stomach, which not only stops the giant Beebo and returns everything he ate, but turns him into hundreds of tiny Beebos that people can keep—so long as they remember the feeding rule. This episode is scary not only because of the harsh reminder about practicing safe care and feeding of pets, but because no one likes the thought of their favorite furry friend going wild and hurting people. The Girls still loved Beebo even after everything, and, luckily for them, hundreds of tiny Beebos lived to see the light of day.
8 Monkey See, Doggy Do
On the subjects of pets gone wild, Mojo Jojo invokes the ancient Egyptian god Anubis to turn everyone in Townsville into a dog, including the Powerpuff Girls. Animal transformations are scary enough, especially because the Girls can’t fly or talk. In spite of his control over dogs everywhere, they do manage to break the case holding the head of Anubis and fight off Mojo’s guard dogs.
Buttercup saves the day by chomping on Mojo’s behind and shattering the statue, which reverses the curse for everyone… except for Mojo, who gets the ironic justice of being turned into a dog himself and taken home by the Girls, who want to keep him as a pet.
Bubbles is tired of being treated like a baby by everyone in town, especially because she and her sisters were all born at the same time, making them all exactly the same age. To prove she’s not just a crybaby, Bubbles starts acting out in dangerous ways, including beating up on her sisters.
It’s scary to think how counting someone out can cause real harm, and it’s important to remember that, just because someone cries or cares about things, they’re not less than those around them.
6 Dream Scheme
When the Sandman puts the entire world to sleep—including himself—the Girls have to fight him in his own dreamscape. They chase the Sandman through every kind of dreamy scenario imaginable, making excellent use of dream logic throughout; inverted colors, dreams-within-dreams, giant animals, and hallways that never end.
They freak him out so badly that he wakes up, reverses the eternal sleep he cast on the world, and agrees to do his proper job so long as the Girls stay out of his dreams forever.
5 City of Frownsville
The Powerpuff Girls know laughter is the best medicine. While it can’t get too deep into the subject, this episode toes the line around the heavy feelings kids might experience like being intensely sad or unhappy all the time. The “villain” of the episode is Lou Gubrious, who becomes Hal Larious when he takes all of his own sadness, complete with a literal dark cloud hanging over him, and disperses it to the citizens of Townsville.
The town nearly literally drowns in its sorrows, but, when Bubbles unintentionally makes Hal fall for the classic slip-on-a-banana-peel gag, the spell is broken. The people laugh and are well again, while Lou becomes miserable. To add insult to injury, he serves his prison sentence at the carnival, where his tears fuel the log plume ride. Happiness is stronger than sadness, and people can make each other happy even when they themselves are sad, but it’s not a great message for those struggling with depression or other mental illnesses.
This time, the Girls are on the receiving end of dangerous dreams. Nightmares naturally come from deep-seated fears, and the ones HIM infects the girls with are no different: failure, spiders, the darkness. The girls work together to fight off their fears and wake up, but, aside from the genuinely horrifying visuals and twisted dream logic of this episode, the real-world basis for the episode makes things all the more terrifying.
Everything the Girls dream about are their real fears, and they have to really overcome that part of themselves to move on, especially Buttercup, who was denying ever being afraid of anything.
3 Get Back Jojo
Powerpuff Girls explore paradoxes and unchangeable events when Mojo Jojo goes back in time to try and stop the Powerpuff Girls from ever being created, only to find that it was him, going back in time, who helped create the Powerpuff Girls in the first place. This means that the Powerpuff Girls owe their existence to their greatest nemesis; if Mojo hadn’t tried to go back in time to stop the Professor from being inspired to become a scientist, the Girls never would’ve had to save him from Mojo, which was what lead him to be inspired to begin with.
It also means that this has already happened, since the Professor did create the Girls when they saved him as a child, and Mojo has succeeded in creating a new, possibly-identical timeline where the Powerpuff Girls exist once more.
2 Speed Demon
When the Girls accidentally race to the future, Townsville is destroyed, and all the adults are ancient and insane. HIM, looking truly demonic now, took over, and his maniacal laughter isn’t the scariest part; it’s the remaining citizens, such as they are, forming a circle of blame around the girls.
The Girls can’t save future-Townsville in that time, but they run back to their own time and decide they’re never leaving Townsville in order to keep that future from happening. It’s terrifying to be reminded that even one small decision like racing home from school can have catastrophic consequences.
1 Mime for a Change
On a broader scale, this episode maybe isn’t as obviously frightening as “Speed Demon” or “Power-Noia,” and it’s not about the scariest clown ever, but it’s chilling on a different level.
When Rainbow the Clown gets bleached, he becomes Mr. Mime. Mr. Mime bathes the world in black and white, accompanied by an all-encompassing silence. Mr. Mime even hits Blossom and Buttercup, leaving Bubbles to save everyone by coloring with her crayons—blue for the sky, green for grass, getting more and more desperate as she goes. Finally, she and her sisters break the spell with a song that brings color and sound back into the world, but the entire episode builds suspense in the silent, other-worldly nature of a show that’s usually bright and colorful.