Saturday, February 19, 2022

Beavis and Butt-Head Do America

From 1993 to 1997, MTV aired the animated series Beavis and Butt-Head, a series by Mike Judge that followed the title characters in their comical misadventures while subtly providing social commentary. Despite my young age when the series originally aired, I was aware of the series growing up, as well as the theatrical film Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996), due to multiple off-hand references to various phrases and the duo’s signature laughter. Though I never had an interest in watching the actual show, my curiosity grew when I learned that Do America actually received positive reception from critics, including none other than Roger Ebert. Although it took me several years to actually capitalize on that interest, I finally found the time to watch the film through Paramount+, which marked my first significant exposure to Beavis and Butt-Head as a whole and put me in a unique position to judge Do America entirely on its own merits. As it turns out, the film not only held up, but doubled as a learning experience for my own sense of humor.

One day, Beavis (Mike Judge) and Butt-Head (Mike Judge) discover that their TV was stolen. In their desperation to watch TV, they eventually come across a motel that offers one in every room. There, they meet Muddy Grimes (Bruce Willis), who mistakes them for two hitmen he hired and offers $10,000 to “do” his wife, Dallas (Demi Moore), in Las Vegas. The boys mistakenly believe that they’re going to score and head off to Las Vegas, where they unknowingly get involved in a scheme involving a stolen prototype bioweapon and are chased across the country by the ATF and the FBI, who classify them as wanted fugitives.

While the inciting incident sounds mundane, having their TV stolen, it acts as the perfect catalyst for Beavis and Butt-Head, as they clearly can’t live without it and will do anything to stay glued to the screen. The boys are definitely juvenile and self-absorbed with a single-minded focus on either watching TV or potentially getting laid, but these qualities actually work for the story. While a serious and engaging story threads everything together, the boys are completely oblivious to the destruction they cause on their cross-country trip and the fact that multiple government entities want to capture and arrest them for their involvement in a scheme they don’t even know exists. Sure, the plot could have easily ended early if the boys had any amount of sense, but the fact that they’re legitimately too stupid to pick up on anything at all helps keep it going while staying in-character.

The contrast between the two storylines provides excellent material for a lot of the film’s humor and I found myself laughing out loud several times. Even some of the more juvenile humor, like laughing at anything vaguely suggestive, actually landed. I thought I had outgrown that sense of humor, though it helped that the boys never got excessively raunchy for the sake of it, as it easily could have. There’s also a funny running gag about how different people have very different views of the duo, like how a recurring old woman thinks they’re nice young men due to communication issues.

Beavis (Mike Judge, left) and Butt-Head (Mike Judge, right) have
many strange encounters on their cross-country trip.

That said, not all of the jokes completely land, like Agent Flemming’s (Robert Stack) obsession with cavity searching absolutely anyone and everyone the ATF come across or the occasional mooning. Depending on the viewer’s sensibilities, they may not find Beavis and Butt-Head’s general shtick particularly funny or find their absolute obliviousness tiring. There’s also a minor issue where the plot stops cold so that an animated White Zombie music video plays, though it thankfully doesn’t last that long. Certain plot elements may also seem unrealistic, like the boys messing with the Hoover Dam or the response given for a DEFCON 4 alert, though the fact that it’s animated can help the viewer question it less.

From what I can tell, the animation looks cleaned up compared to the original show and the art style, with stylized designs grounded in a largely realistic world, still holds up surprisingly well. Beavis and Butt-Head themselves look crude compared to everyone else, but this design choice cleverly highlights just how much they don't fit in with the world around them. Animating the film also allows for some very well-timed visual gags, like Beavis and Butt-Head receiving divine punishment after unknowingly messing with a confessional booth. Alongside the great animation, Do America has great voice acting from some big names, but also from Mike Judge, who voices not only the title characters, but also shows off his vocal range with Tom Anderson, a character who could easily be viewed as a prototype Hank Hill (from Judge's next series, King of the Hill). Likely due to the film’s status as an MTV production, the film has a good number of licensed songs, all of which fits the tone of the film pretty well.

If you can get past the main duo’s juvenile sensibilities, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America remains surprisingly funny and engaging with a lot of solid writing. It may be on the short side, around 81 minutes, but it feels focused and helps it not overstay its welcome.

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