Bebe says Judge Mitchell Hattaway is the one, but the kid is not his son.
We don't die, we multiply!
Inspired by the standup comedy of the late Robin Harris, Bebe's Kids chronicles a day from hell in the life of a poor sap named (surprise, surprise) Robin Harris. Robin invites Jamika, his girlfriend, and Leon, her young son, to Fun World, a popular amusement park. When Robin arrives to pick them up, he finds an unwelcome surprise in the form of Bebe's kids, three little brats with a penchant for mischief and destruction.
Released in 1992, Bebe's Kids was the first animated film aimed primarily at an African American audience. (Well, I guess Ralph Bakshi's Coonskin was the first, but who remembers that?) As noble as that may be, it's too bad the creators didn't bother to come up with a decent script. Robin Harris died (much too young) in 1990, around the time of the release of House Party; Harris played Kid's father in that film, and he pretty much stole the show. Given that, it's hard to gauge how much input he had in this film. He created the characters of Bebe's kids in his standup routine, and his riffs on the exploits of LaShawn, Kahlil, and Pee-Wee were hilarious. What works in standup doesn't necessarily work in a narrative film, though. (Remember Chris Rock's cell phone rant in Lethal Weapon 4?) Bebe's Kids is entertaining when it sticks to what are obviously Harris's words, such as when Robin recommends Leon see Dolemite, but the "plot" is inane and boring. (It also doesn't help to open the film with footage of Harris's standup; seeing this made me realize how much I'd rather hear him talk for an hour.) Reginald Hudlin's script (Hudlin and his brother Warrington were responsible for House Party) leaves plenty of room for some interminable musical interludes featuring incredibly bland songs. (This thing runs an hour and change and still needed to be padded.) This music would have been have been forgettable back in 1992, and now it's borderline embarrassing. Hudlin also tries to shoehorn some social commentary into the story. We're supposed to feel sorry for Bebe's kids due to their plight (bad neighborhood, no parental supervision), but it doesn't work. Society receives a bad rap for not giving these children a chance, but Bebe (who is never seen) and her actions go unchecked. There's also a scene in which the robot denizens of Fun World put Kahlil on trial; a robotic Richard Nixon is the prosecutor, while Abraham Lincoln's mechanical counterpart acts as the boy's defense attorney. (Subtle it's not.) During the trial Leon stands up and performs a stupid rap about how Kahlil has been unfairly treated his entire life and could actually make something of himself if given the opportunity. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense considering Leon spends most of the movie being slapped around by Kahlil and his siblings. Ah, another muddled message.
Another problem is the animation itself. The framing sequence, during which we see Robin in a bar recounting his day, looks pretty good (and reminiscent of Bakshi's work in the '70s), but the rest of the footage is inconsistent. (Check out how many times Robin's car changes color over the course of the film.) Some of it resembles an old Looney Tunes short, while some of it looks like the work of third graders. There are quite a few moments when characters are speaking but their lips don't move. The credits list several animation studios, so I'm guessing some of the sequences were farmed out. A lot of this stuff would barely cut it on television; it's definitely not up to par for a feature film.
This release is also a technical disappointment. The transfer appears to have been made from a dupe print. There is quite a bit of print damage, including scratches, specks, and fading. The audio fares better. There is a nice spread across the front soundstage, and some nice effects in the surrounds, such as ringing security alarms and cannonball shots. You won't find much bass in the mix, even in the insipid songs. The only extra here is The Itsy Bitsy Spider, an animated short shown in theaters during Bebe's Kids's theatrical run. It features the voice of Jim Carrey, and that's really its only notable feature (if that even qualifies as being notable).
Do yourself a favor and skip Bebe's Kids. Hunt down some of Robin Harris's standup instead. You'll be glad you did.
Both Paramount and the producers of Bebe's Kids are guilty of shoddy workmanship. This release is sure to please no one, even fans of the film. The guilty parties are hereby sentenced to repeated viewing of MC Hammer's cartoon series. Court is adjourned.
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• Itsy Bitsy Spider Cartoon Short
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