So once again we have survived.

Bebe’s Kids (plus two documentaries about Robin Harris)

tn_bebeskidskidnplayThe best thing about HOUSE PARTY was missing from HOUSE PARTY 2, that was Robin Harris. Of course they probly would’ve worked him in somehow if he was available, but he died of a heart attack in his sleep shortly after the release of the first one.

Harris seemed like he was on the verge of much bigger fame, at least according to two DVDs about him: ROBIN HARRIS LIVE FROM THE COMEDY ACT THEATER and WE DON’T DIE, WE MULTIPLY: THE ROBIN HARRIS STORY.

IMDB says Reginald Hudlin directed the one about the Comedy Act Theater, but I don’t think that’s what the credits said. If so I’m surprised he would make something so amateurish and cheesy. It seems like one of those deals made by people who think having a suit, a hat and a production company logo is more important than hiring somebody who knows how to edit or make professional looking credits. But I was still glad I watched the movie because it’s an interesting story.

The Comedy Act Theater, it turns out, was a pioneering L.A. comedy club that was black-owned and featured black comedians. The owner (also producer of the documentary, of course) says that he went to places like the Improv and watched all the white comedians and would wait all night for a black comedian and then they wouldn’t be very funny anyway. He decided to start his own place, which turned out to be very successful, largely because of the legendary hosting abilities of Robin Harris.

In between interviews about Harris and the history of the theater we see alot of grainy but often really funny footage of Harris, who was known for his insults of people in the crowd. They talk alot about what a mistake it was to get up to go to the bathroom or something when he was on stage, because he would single you out. Comedians talk about incidents where people tried to heckle him and were comedically cut to bits and eaten by dogs. Harris also does skits with other comedians, often in drag, but they’re not nearly as funny as what comes off the top of his head when he’s looking at people in the crowd.

They make a strong case for the importance of this club. The casting agent Jacki Reed cast all kinds of comedians in movies after seeing them there. Hudlin and Spike Lee found out about Harris by seeing him there. Russell Simmons found out about various comedians there, the Def Comedy Jam apparently was inspired by that place and was meant to be hosted by Harris.

THE ROBIN HARRIS STORY could also use some better editing (do we really need montages of traffic, cheesy music and titles for each chapter?) but seems more thorough and polished than the other one. They talk to his relatives, bring his widow and sons to what used to be the Comedy Act Theater, they interview comedians like Bernie Mac, D.L. Hughley, Martin Lawrence and Cedric the Entertainer. Of course it’s extra sad to hear the late Bernie Mac talking about Harris dying too young, but he’s probly the best interview. He seems very sincere and insightful about what made Harris great and seeing him talk about it you notice obvious parallels between their styles of comedy.

They mention his work in movies (I’M GONNA GIT YOU SUCKA, DO THE RIGHT THING and HOUSE PARTY) and how you couldn’t really script him, you just had to put him in a situation and let him go. Knowing that makes me understand the magic of DO THE RIGHT THING a little bit more. No wonder he’s so good as Sweet Dick Willy. “What you oughta do is boycott that god damn barber that fucked up your head!”

This one has a ton of great clips from throughout his career. One of my favorites is when he cracks on a guy in the audience with jheri curls. Considering the place and time that he performed I’m sure in his head he had to have had an Encyclopedia Brittanica’s worth of jheri curl insults. You could argue it’s a cheap subject, but that doesn’t make the jokes not funny. At one point he apologizes and shakes the guy’s hand, but then complains that his hand is slippery and goes right back into it.

This one also includes the “Bebe’s Kids” routine, his story about being roped into taking somebody else’s little asshole kids to Disneyland. It’s a hilarious story that somehow ended up being adapted into a not very funny PG-13 rated, theatrically released cartoon in 1992.

Kid ‘n Play do not appear in this cartoon, they were busy in one of their own:

but I don’t think BEBE’S KIDS could’ve existed without the success of HOUSE PARTY, so I’m including it in the retrospective. From what I understand, HOUSE PARTY director Reginald Hudlin had planned a live action BEBE’S KIDS starring Harris, which was a pretty good idea I think. It would’ve had to’ve been a better movie for Harris than THE TOY was for Richard Pryor. And of course with him starring he would’ve brought all kinds of funny shit that was not in Hudlin’s script.

mp_bebeskidsUnfortunately, that couldn’t happen, but they made the project as a cartoon with Faizon Love (Big Worm from FRIDAY) doing the voice of Robin. It’s PG-13 because it starts with Robin in a bar, and I think he uses the N-word once, but mostly it looks and feels like some mediocre TV cartoon for kids.

The movie does work in alot of Harris’s jokes. He meets his date (the friend of Bebe) at a funeral for a dude he hates, and he talks shit about him. There are lots of your mama jokes worked in. (“Your mama’s so dumb they told her it was chilly outside, she went and got a bowl.”) Like in HOUSE PARTY he recommends for kids to watch DOLEMITE (says it teaches them to appreciate poetry) and then goes into a rendition of “Signifyin’ Monkey.” And he says “ya test tube baby!” which is kind of like his version of Don Rickles saying “you hockey puck!” And lots of lines like “I feel sorry for trouble if it runs into them kids.”

There’s a pretty good one where he’s trying to hit on her, and as she walks by a bus stop he asks her if she needs a ride home, she says “No, I have a car” and he says, “Oh, could I get one then?”

Love does a pretty good Harris impression, and they do try to animate his bulging eyes and everything, but of course it’s just not the same. The medium and the execution and everything about it just takes away all the edge. He seems like Robin Harris, but not quite as mean. The girl is drawn as a pretty, thin, light-skinned lady like Jamie Foxx or somebody would date in a romantic comedy – honestly, she’s a drawing but she seems too hot to date this dude she met at a funeral and too smart be tricked into taking care of these kids all the time. There’s something true to life about the story when you picture it in your head, but in these cartoon drawings it’s got nothing to do with true life.

The diaper-shitting baby is called Pee-Wee (just like one of the bullies in HOUSE PARTY) and voiced by Tone Loc. That’s a semi-funny idea to give a baby that gravelly voice, but then he doesn’t do that good a job with Harris’s original joke about talking while shitting. Mostly they just draw swarms of flies around his ass.

One big problem with the movie, obviously they can’t draw it at Disneyland, so they make up a “Fun World” and it has no basis in reality, just every lazy cartoon idea of what a theme park is like. Instead of creepy animatronic dummies of the presidents there are actual sentient metal robots of them. And they capture the kids and put them on trial and the nice kid who does not belong to Bebe saves them by performing a rap song called “Freedom,” complete with an impassioned Gospel type chorus singing “Freedoooom! Fredoooooom!” So it’s a cartoonist’s idea of a kid’s idea of a rapper’s idea of the concept of freedom, being explained to a court presided over by robotic Lincoln and Nixon.

That’s another way it’s like HOUSE PARTY, it is a rap musical. One is performed in character by Love, the others by kids (and Tone Loc). Weirdly, some of them are produced by Bill Stephney (and Eric Sadler?) of The Bomb Squad. But you’re not gonna want to put these songs on your iPod, unless you’re one of those guys who collects novelties like WWF albums, the Ninja Turtle Rap and the Super Bowl Shuffle. And it’s not even bad enough to be funny like those, it’s just not good.

But more importantly, they seem to miss the whole point of the joke by making the kids not really that much of a terror. They’re not nearly as bad as described by Harris – they don’t go around slapping white people, for example. Before Bebe’s kids have really had a chance to live up to their reputation they’re already getting harassed by white Men In Black type security guards. So the movie wants you to side with the kids, which I don’t think was Harris’s point. I do like at the end though when he goes to their shitty, parentless apartment and feels bad for them.

I mean, there are probly some positive things I can say about the movie, and I’m a positive individual, so I’ll give it a shot. It’s kind of cool seeing Jet Magazine in a cartoon, and it’s nice that the woman criticizes Robin for pointing his finger only at Bebe and not the father who abandoned the kids. Which reminds me, I used to know a dude who loved this movie because he said the kids all had different skin tones, meaning they all had different fathers, and he thought that was hilarious. But it looks to me like two of them are the same shade. And there’s only 3 of them by the way, not 4 like in the joke.

I laughed when Robin threw a bunch of insults at his ex-wife and her friend says sincerely, “You know what that was all about, right? He still loves you.”

It’s kind of weird, but there’s a phenomenon of cartoons based on comedians. This one is kind of like FAT ALBERT, it comes out of the characters and stories from Harris’s standup, like FAT ALBERT was based on Bill Cosby’s. I wonder why they haven’t done one from Dolemite’s routines?

Anyway in this case don’t bother with the cartoon, just watch the routine:

. . .

. . .

. . .

appendix: KID ‘N PLAY/HOUSE PARTY CROSSOVER:

written by Reginald Hudlin (writer/director, HOUSE PARTY)
John Witherspoon (“Mr. Strickland,” HOUSE PARTY) plays “Card Player #1”
Chino “Fats” Williams (“Fats,” HOUSE PARTY) plays “Card Player #2”
Reynaldo Rey (“Veda’s Dad,” HOUSE PARTY 3) plays “Lush”
Bebe Drake-Massey (“Mrs. Strickland,” HOUSE PARTY) plays “Barfly”
Immature (HOUSE PARTY 3-4) perform the song “Tear It Up (On Our Worst Behavior)” for the soundtrack

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 15th, 2010 at 3:34 am and is filed under Cartoons and Shit, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

30 Responses to “Bebe’s Kids (plus two documentaries about Robin Harris)”

  1. They also made a BEBE’S KIDS Super Nintendo game, based on the movie. From what I’ve heard, it sucked.

  2. Paramount really wanted to push the idea of the PG-13 rated animated film that summer, what with this and COOL WORLD. Nice try Paramount, but I guess we just weren’t ready. Or the films weren’t very good. Whatever

    [I should point out, or maybe I shouldn’t but I will, that I actually fucking love COOL WORLD, but it’s definitely a pretty bad movie]

  3. Signifyin’ Monkey by Jonny/Shuggi Otis? I love that tune.

  4. Saw BEBE’S KIDS maybe 15 years ago on cable, and I guess Nostalgia Critic ripping it a new asshole doesn’t count as another viewing, but one thing still sticks in my mind more than anything else:

    How cheap and poor-looking the animation was. Acceptable if it was a saturday morning cartoon, produced by Dic or Hanna-Barbera or whoever. But it was a major Hollywood release and….yeah.

  5. I can’t believe they stole “Signifyin’ Monkey” from the KNIGHTRIDERS soundtrack like that.

  6. Yeah, what RRA & PacmanFever said.

  7. PacmanFever – How can anyone love something so bad? Are you related to it or something?

    Both are poor movies, but at best you can call BEBE’S KIDS an unremarkable, very skippable family movie. The best I can say for COOL WORLD?

    Well umm…ehh….huh….Brad Pitt looked good in his suit?

  8. To be perfectly fair, I might add that COOL WORLD you could blame that mess on how Ralph Bakshi was totally manhandled by Paramount. If IMDB is correct, the movie was supposed to be about the evils of toon/human fucking (as Vern warned in his ENCHANTED review) which conceive a half-toon, half-human which…well, not good things happen.

    Ebert’s review, the circumstances of which he saw the movie, is funny and depressing at the same time.

  9. I love the animation style and the set design. Also the soundtrack. And some of it is pretty funny I think; I particularly like Nails, the spider-cop who eats his desk and Byrne’s character turning into a superhero at the end. I think there’s a lot of imagination and interesting ideas in the movie, and if they’d worked on the movie harder it would have actually been good. It’s a botch job of something that could have actually been a good movie, but it’s something reflects a lot of my personal interests (classic cartoons, surrealism, acid house/rave), so I like it anyway.

    The SNES game was pretty good too IMO, but that’s just by the by.

  10. The legendary German video game magazine VIDEO GAMES* gave the BEBE’S KIDS in issue 8/94 game a rating of 11%. And I trust them (No offense.)

    *It’s not legendary because of its name.

  11. I was talking about the COOL WORLD SNES game there. Never played BEBE’S KIDS, looked pretty terrible.

  12. Oh, okay, sorry.
    (They gave the Game Boy version of the COOL WORLD game 38% though.)

  13. No need to apologise, and to be fair I’m probably in a significant minority on the SNES COOL WORLD game anyway, although I suspect the Game Boy game is probably based on the NES COOL WORLD game which is an entirely different (and supposedly much worse) game (man this talkback is exploring some obscure crevices of early-90s popular culture!)

  14. PacmanFever – Sounds more typical of dialogue found in a VENTURE BROS. episode.

  15. Apparently the trailer for BEBE’S KIDS gained some cult status on the web* for its trailer, which ends with the narrator saying “It’s animation”, before he gets cut off mid sentence.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmqphjqWyd4

    *Which we all know is sooooooooooo difficult. Just ask Pedobear and that bad drawing that says “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck”.

  16. To be honest I imagine that trailer was just cut off badly on whatever video that was taken from, and when it played in theatres it probably said “it’s animation-with attitude!” or whatever. Still funny though

  17. I’m not sure. I mean, after he said “It’s animation” you still hear the sound fx and the background music.

  18. Hmm, maybe. Perhaps Paramount thought whatever was going to be paired with “it’s animation” would scare audiences off, and so decided to censor it at the last minute?

  19. Call me crazy, but the animation looks pretty good to me in the dvd quality scenes on youtube. Simple, yes, but more stylized than sloppy and very fluid. This is a 24 frame a second piece, not a shitty 12 frame a second piece like you’d see on a saturday morning cartoon…or perhaps even 8 frames a second in that Kid N’ Play series. Plus, there are no mouth loops with immobilized bodies. I really have no idea what you guys claiming this animation sucks are talking about. Doubly so since this was clearly always a niche project what with the pg-13 rating, rap songs, and…well…black cast.

  20. Hunter D.> I’m calling you crazy.

  21. I agree the animation isn’t bad, but the design is generic, it looked like pretty much the same as most Turner/Hannah-Barbera TV cartoons of the era

  22. I always liked that song “IM NOT YO DADDY BUT I AINT HAVING IT”. It reminded me of an uncle of mine.

  23. man, never would I have imagined Vern would review Bebe’s Kids of all things

    any other fans of the Nostalgia Critic?

    IT’S ANIMATION!

  24. I don’t even know who the Nostalgia Critic is, and to be honest, I think I better stay away from him, in case he is anything like the Angry Video Game Nerd, Mr Plinkett or all the others I-hate-everything-and-make-lame-jokes-about-it critics on the web.

  25. how could you hate the Angry Video Game Nerd? :(

    I can understand the Plinkett hate though, that guy is what’s wrong with movie geeks these days, over analyzing every little fucking detail and taking the fun out of watching movies, unless he’s supposed to be a satire of that, but I really doubt it

    if you want an excellent internet critic check out The Cinema Snob, trust me, that guy is second only the Vern as the coolest mother fucker in the movie geek room, plus his wife has big boobs

  26. I quite like Nostalgia Critic…but his reviews have been way off for some time now. Just not very funny anymore. I like Plinkett though. I think his analysis of Star Wars is fairly spot on. I have no idea why you’d wanna do something that detailed, but he’s not really making stuff up, all of his points are well supported within the text. I dislike Cinema Snob and Angry Video Game Nerd, however.

  27. Hunter D. – Weekly grind got to him. Anyway I like AVGN, whenever he does bother to publish videos anymore.

    Of course unlike him, I actually beat NINJA GAIDEN.

    Mother fucker.

  28. IT’S ANIMATION…

  29. Just want to say your article is as surprising. The clearness in your post is just great and
    i can assume you’re an expert on this subject. Fine with your permission let me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post.
    Thanks a million and please continue the rewarding work.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>