Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Escape From the 90's: "Bebe's Kids" (1992)

As I have said many many times before in this marathon (at this point, more like a sprint that turned into a marathon that is now a leisurely stroll) of unusual and diverse animated feature films from random and/or unlikely studios in the 1990's, several interesting films that I wanted to revisit were not yet available through either Netflix, On-Demand, or Other Easily Accessible Means.  And looking at the films that were in the "Saved" queue about a week ago, I would have said with some confidence that there's not a chance that any of these films would ever appear in My List or in my DVD queue.

Well, one of the movies that I never expected to be available just became so very recently.  So there is some infinitesimally small hope for the others.  In the meantime, we have here 1992's "Bebe's Kids" to watch and review.  And believe me, of all the random 90's animated films I have seen during this project, I can say without a moment's hesitation that from the opening credits to the very end, this one is by far the most 90's.

One could make a really good argument that it is the also most random.  I wasn't able to find much information about this movie online, so I do not have the complete story that I desperately wish I had of how it came to be.  But the story I could piece together goes a little something like this: "Bebe's Kids" is based on the titular story on a comedy album by the comedian Robin Harris, who had developed a cult following in the early 90's.  He became good friends with the Hudlin brothers who wrote the "House Party" movies (he had a scene-stealing role in the first movie), and Reginald Hudlin wanted to make a live-action film adaptation of the "Bebe's Kids" story starring Harris.  Tragically, Robin Harris died very suddenly before this plan could come to fruition.  Reginald decided to make the film anyway.  But he decided, for reasons that are unclear, to make it as an animated feature with Hyperion Studios.  Yes, the folks who produced another incredibly unlikely animated feature film, "The Brave Little Toaster".  (They are also evidently responsible for another spectacularly unlikely film based on the work of a comedian whose stories did not quite translate well to animation, but we will get to that one when and if the opportunity ever presents itself; consider this a teaser for now.)

The resulting film, seen today, is a very strange thing indeed.  It is, as I said up top, the most 90's.  I mean that.  That's not entirely a bad thing, though; the movie has a very fun hip-hop/R&B soundtrack.  While the animation isn't as polished as it was in "Brave Little Toaster" (a lot of it was farmed out to other studios), the character designs, while not always appealing, are at least unique.  I especially loved the design of the Robin Harris character (here voiced wonderfully by Faizon Love).  While this may have been completely by accident, it's refreshing that the characters' expressions are allowed to be really exaggerated and extreme; there were moments that reminded me of the current and wonderful "Steven Universe" series.  Overall, this movie feels a lot like a very early episode of "The Simpsons", back when it was a lot stranger and more visually unusual.

And I mean this for good and for ill because this was also back when "The Simpsons" was a great deal more random and hadn't really found it's groove yet.  "Bebe's Kids" started out as a long story and the film still has that feel.  It isn't so much a coherent movie as it is a recount of bunch of events that happened.

It is also, and this was my biggest problem with the movie, trapped in an uncomfortable spot where nobody working on the movie seemed to know whether they were making a movie for kids or adults.  It's kind of fascinating to see, because nearly every mainstream animated feature made today is directed at a target audience of "everyone", like the entire family.  Sometimes, this means genuinely good writing and engaging characters and visuals, sometimes it means fart jokes for the kids and references to old movies for the parents.  Here, we basically have two completely different movies awkwardly mashed together.  One of them is for adults and centers on adult characters and concerns, in this case making a huge personal sacrifice in order to impress somebody you really like.  Watching as an adult, I was more engaged with this subplot.

The other movie is very definitely for the kids and involves the kid characters running amok in an amusement park and fighting adult authority-types, because as you may recall, "kids vs. adults" was a Thing back in the 1990's.  They are specifically fighting amusement park security.  And robots for... some... reason?  That entire sequence honestly is a much bigger Big-Lipped Alligator Moment than even the trope namer, since there is absolutely nothing done to set up a world where robots would put a kid on trial and, worse, the kids learn jack squat from the incident and continue to act as a force of destruction.  The whole thing is exhausting, to the point where the scene near the end where, after we have seen the kids reduce the amusement park to a smoldering crater for the past fifty minutes, we're asked to feel sorry for them feels... unearned to say the least.  If you really do not like bratty child characters, you are not going to last very long during this movie.

Other than that, I can't say I have a strong opinion one way or the other about "Bebe's Kids".  It's different, at least.  It's also important in being the first significant work from director Bruce W. Smith, and supposedly his series "The Proud Family" (a show I probably should have paid more attention to than I did when it was running, since during my research it turns out to have been much stranger and more interesting than the bland Disney Channel promotions suggested) ties into this film.

For more in this series, click this link or the "Random 90's Animation Month" tag below.

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Sketch of the Day! I say this every other year or so, but the new "Pokemon" game is SOOOOO good.

10.31.13 - Meet Pikablu and Glamdring!

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