Is Josie and the Pussycats An Ironic Masterpiece?

Now here’s an unsung but still noteworthy artifact of the 2000s. Archie Comics has rebranded itself as a hip and ironic version of its former self, with the hugely popular series Riverdale and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. But the experiment didn’t begin there. Way back in 2001, an adaptation of Josie and the Pussycats was released in theaters. The film was intended to be a satire of the music industry, and a subversive PG-13 parody of the original comics and Hanna Barbera cartoon. The 2002 Scooby Doo movie was also intended to be a more adult parody but was quickly edited down to PG after Pussycats flopped. And despite mixed reviews and a disappointing theatrical run, the film has since been positively reevaluated and is now considered a cult favorite. So today, let’s examine the film for ourselves and decide if it’s worthy of the newfound reputation.
In order to understand Josie and the Pussycats, one must go in with a specific mindset. Because this whole movie is one big joke. Much like Freddy Got Fingered and Bee Movie, this was purposely made to be the worst movie possible. The story is beyond cliché, there’s product placement in most of the shots, the characters never appear human, the original pop songs are abysmal, and the overall aesthetic reeks of early-2000s MTV. This is terrible. This is embarrassing. This is perfect. If Freddy Got Fingered is a brilliant response to Adam Sandler and the Farrelly Brothers, Josie and the Pussycats is every god-awful music biopic done right. If anyone’s ever suffered through Spice World, Glitter, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Jem and the Holograms, or even Bohemian Rhapsody, then Josie should offer some refreshing catharsis.
So why exactly does this movie work? What separates it from becoming as lame and tacky as what it’s satirizing? The main difference is in just how well Josie knows its way around a joke. This is an absurdly goofy movie, with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek throughout. There is never a moment where it takes itself seriously. Right from the beginning, we have Alan Cumming (because of course, he’s in this) as a sneering record executive, killing off a boyband by staging a plane crash. In any other movie, he would just be an obnoxious blowhard, but Josie goes the extra mile and makes him a James Bond villain. Other great moments include a shower plastered with McDonald’s logos, cameos from Eugene Levy and Carson Daly, and a title card flashing “JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS IS THE BEST MOVIE EVER!” Even the film’s message, which suggests that pop music is a tool for capitalist brainwashing. This could have easily been a safe and disposable product for ten-year-old girls, but they actually tried to do something clever with this property. That alone places this film over most Hollywood schlock. But of course, the movie also has the simple pleasure of seeing Rachael Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson and Tara Reid together. They’re sooo cute you guys, like gosh, yaaas.
So yes, Josie and the Pussycats is actually a pretty good movie. But did it change Archie Comics forever? Is this film responsible for the current self-aware success the brand has? Well, I don’t want to assume, but it all checks out. Riverdale isn’t an outright satire like Josie, but it’s similar in how it deconstructs our expectations and delivers a more edgy and modern interpretation. The same can be said for the new Sabrina. The comics these days are even stranger, with Afterlife With Archie being one of the most popular horror comics of the decade. Irony has worked wonders for Archie, and the brand is more popular now than it’s been in a long time. So the next time we see Riverdale gloriously jump the shark, and think to ourselves “Wow, how did we get here?”, we can thank a goofy little film from the 2000s for doing it first.

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