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‘Bebe’s Kids’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 01, 1992


Bruce Smith
profanity and 'toon violence

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With their animated feature "Bebe's Kids," the Hudlin Brothers have stopped Mickey Mousing around. They've integrated the genre with this Toonz N the Hood, a 70-minute musical comedy based on a routine by the late comedian Robin Harris, reprised here by his cherubic likeness (voice of Faizon Love), who tells his troubles to a friendly bartender at a populous neighborhood watering hole.

Robin recalls a day of misfortunes -- kiddie nausea, traffic jams and killer robots -- at the antiseptic theme park Fun World, whose fascistic white employees don't exactly make black folks feel welcome. He went only to impress a lovely young mother, Jamika (the voice of Vanessa Bell Calloway), who agrees to a date only if they include her well-mannered son, Leon (Wayne Collins Jr.). Unhappily for Robin, the thoughtful and generous Jamika also brings along Bebe's kids -- LaShawn (Jonell Green), Kahlil (Marques Houston) and Pee Wee (rapper Tone Loc) -- the rambunctious offspring of a neighbor who is clearly never around. They are destructive monsters, but before the day is through, we understand their fear and frustration.

Of course, that doesn't mean destroying Disneyland is doing the right thing. In fact, many parents won't want their children to make Bebe's kids their role models any more than they want their children to ape Bart Simpson. But Leon, a perfectly adorable little fellow, is another story. And that's the real beauty of the movie, its diversity.

It may not be remarkably drawn or brilliantly conceived, but it does portray the black community as richly varied, a universe where people come in more shades with more attitudes than Baskin-Robbins has flavors. It happily celebrates African Americans -- their bodies, their music, their humor.

Whites are presented as moronic, fascistic, greedy and boneheaded, except for the Abraham Lincoln robot at the park, who rallies behind Bebe's Kids when they're kidnapped by other Fun World critters -- a dubious twist in Reginald Hudlin's screenplay. It bleeds some of the sarcasm out of Harris's original material and tends to overdo the axioms on spending quality time with the kids. But Hudlin and his producer brother, Warrington, have spoken from the heart, and animator Bruce Smith has captured a lot of that sweetness in his direction.

"Bebe's Kids" is at its most enjoyable when focused on Robin, a good-natured soul who is torn between understanding Bebe's brats and pushing them out of the roller coaster. A thoughtful but sharp-tongued Everyman, he is apt to step in something if something's around. And the humor tends to be low -- the flies forever dive-bombing Pee Wee's diaper, for example. The best moments, though, are aimed at adults, as when Robin gets into a shouting match with his predatory ex-wife: "Your mama so fat she on both sides of the family. She so dumb she heard it was chilly outside, she went and got a bowl."

Dennis the Menace was never like this.

"Bebe's Kids" is rated PG-13 for profanity and 'toon violence.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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