Based on a comedy routine by the late Robin Harris about his encounter with some “bad-ass kids” from the inner city, Paramount’s “Bebe’s Kids” is a sassy, good-looking animated pic aimed effectively at the black family audience. Blended with broad sight gags is a pointed message about the resentment of latchkey kids who, echoing Aretha Franklin, proclaim that they don’t get any “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
Harris’ nightclub and record routine was being developed as a live-action pic by the Hudlin brothers before Harris’ untimely death in 1990. Filmed bits of the routine under the credits lead into a Reginald Hudlin-scripted cartoon version of the roly-poly Harris, a smooth-talking, endearing character whose cynical exterior conceals a genuine affection for children.
Influenced by Kenyan art and the paintings of Harlem Renaissance artists, director Bruce Smith’s pic for Hudlin/Hyperion evocatively captures the subdued, menacing urban landscapes and the flamboyant shapes of the amusement park visited by Harris with his saucy lady friend Jamika and four kids, three of whom belong to her absent friend Bebe.
Though Bebe’s kids are terrors, cutting a destructive swathe through the park , the viewer gradually comes to recognize the reasons they have such massive chips on their shoulders. Their rebellion against the regimentation of the Disneyland-like amusement park and the menacing white security force also engenders growing sympathy, mixed with exasperation, in both Harris and the audience.
Playing with “Bebe’s Kids” is director Matthew O’Callaghan’s Hyperion short “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” a frenetic example of cartoon overkill about an exterminator’s calamitous attempts to do away with a pesky household arachnid.