1990s Guilty Pleasure
Back in late 1993, I remember my sister telling me about a new cartoon series on MTV called “Beavis and Butthead” (1993-1998), which chronicled the misadventures of two aimless, idiotic teenage boys who created all kinds of chaos in between mocking music videos. Before then, I vaguely remembered hearing of Beavis and Butthead’s debut cartoon short, “Frog Baseball” (at the famed “Spike & Mike Animated Film Festival”) which I used to attend when it toured my city, but I never caught that particular cartoon. I didn’t think I’d missed much, either; the prospect of seeing two teenage kids mindlessly splattering frogs with baseball bats didn’t sound like my idea of a great time in those days…
A TV series of “Beavis and Butthead” sounded like everything I wouldn’t like, so I resisted. Then one day, at my sister’s place, she finally got me to watch. Of course, I was instantly hooked. I had no idea how wicked and subversively funny this series was; slyly commenting on everything from TV censorship to televangelists. Series’ creator Mike Judge (“Office Space” “Idiocracy”), who also voices both characters, created these new heirs of “Cheech and Chong,” and I immediately understood what my sister saw in the show. Soon, I was buying blank VHS tapes and filling them with new episodes whenever they aired. “Beavis and Butthead” was officially a guilty pleasure of mine.
“Beavis and Butthead Do America” (1996)
Two years later, I remember taking my sister to see “Beavis and Butthead Do America” theatrically in 1996, and we laughed ourselves into tears. To this day, it remains perhaps the single funniest animated film I’ve ever seen. The movie opens with the theft of the boys’ beloved TV set, which prompts the duo to go off in search of it… or any other TV to watch. Along the way, they find themselves unwittingly involved with a drunken, white-trash arms dealer (Bruce Willis) who thinks Beavis and Butthead are assassins he hired to kill his wife (Demi Moore), who possesses a stolen chemical weapon he wants to sell. Through their own stupidity, the boys somehow think they’re being sent to “score” with the man’s wife, not kill her. They also unwittingly acquire the dangerous weapon for themselves, which is sewn into Beavis’s shorts.
With both the feds and the husband/wife arms dealers hot on their trail, the utterly oblivious Beavis and Butthead go on an “Easy Rider”-like tour of the United States, before ending up in Washington DC, where they harmlessly hand the dangerous device over to the authorities, and are hailed as heroes. The movie takes advantage of the big screen to tell this ‘epic’ story, and the TV series’ almost rudimentary animation is kicked up a few notches, though Beavis and Butthead themselves remain nearly as crudely drawn as they were on the original show, with their large heads and freakishly small bodies in stark contrast to the more realistically drawn adult characters.
A year later I bought the movie on laser videodisc, and I remember watching it with my future-wife during one of our earliest dates together. I took it as a good sign that she seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. In fact, we’re still together, 25 years later. It sounds bizarre, but “Beavis and Butthead” actually holds many good, and even romantic memories for me…
“Beavis and Butthead Do the Universe” (2022)
Now, as a fifty-something pair of married folks, my wife and I looked forward to the Paramount+ debut of the second “Beavis and Butthead” feature film, “Beavis and Butthead Do the Universe,” written by Mike Judge, Lewis Morton, Guy Maxton-Graham and directed by Albert Calleros and John Rice. For this occasion, we decided to break out our HD digital projector and 7 ft. collapsible movie screen to give it the best possible home presentation that we could. Not that it really mattered for this kind of movie, of course, but it helped to give it a theatrical feel.
After an opening Star Wars-style opening credits sequence, we see Beavis and Butthead (both voiced by Mike Judge) stumbling through their school’s 1998 Science Fair. The boys then ‘borrow’ a robotic kicking machine, and somehow end up burning down the school’s gymnasium.
At their juvenile court sentencing, a lenient judge (Chi McBride) believes that Beavis and Butthead have unfulfilled potential, so he sentences them to a week at the Johnson Space Center “Space Camp” (huhuh…’Johnson’) in Houston, which would’ve been the grand prize of the Science Fair, had they not burned it down.
Note: As we’ve seen many times in the TV series and first movie, Beavis and Butthead are once again ‘saved’ by a clueless adult who erroneously believes the boys suffer from unfulfilled potential. This will happen repeatedly throughout this movie as well, providing the duo with an all-too convenient ‘Get Out of Jail’ card–literally, in some cases.
At Space Camp, Beavis and Butthead are introduced to Commander Serena Ryan (Andrea Savage) and her crew, including her lieutenant, Jim Hartson (Nat Faxon). During training, Beavis and Butthead learn to use various components of a mockup space shuttle, including a docking ‘probe’ that they use to repeatedly ‘practice’ docking and undocking–you see where this is going?
Note: Many talented actors are included among the voice cast, including Gary Cole (“The Brady Bunch Movie,” “Office Space”), Phil LaMarr (“Pulp Fiction,” “Free Enterprise”), Tig Notaro (“Star Trek: Discovery”) and Stephen Root (“Office Space,” “Get Out”).
Mistaking their ceaseless phallic obsession with the device for dedication, Serena makes the huge mistake (once again) of putting the boys on the next space shuttle flight–a critical mission to dock with the Russian Mir space station, which will use the Hubble telescope to observe a black hole that is visible during a once-every-trillion year window. As we saw in “Beavis & Butthead Do America,” the boys mistake Serena’s words to them as romantic overtures, and they believe they’re going to space to ‘score’ with Commander Ryan.
Note: To the curious; if you’re ever in SoCal, you can see the real-life space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. It’s quite a sight. Fortunately, Beavis and Butthead never got their grubby, tiny hands on it, so it’s in great shape.
Beavis and Butthead are launched in orbit aboard the Endeavour, and after temporarily blinding themselves by peering directly into the sun through a telescope, the boys attempt to sightlessly dock the shuttle Endeavour with the Mir space station. This, of course, ends in absolute disaster; wrecking the Mir space station (killing a few cosmonauts), and crippling the Endeavour orbiter. None of this would normally be fodder for laughs, until you remember that this is a Beavis and Butthead movie, where all sacred cows are immediately grilled into Burger World patties.
Note: The disastrous docking, complete with a halo of orbiting debris around the damaged shuttle, is a wicked sendup of the 2013 Alfonso Cuaron film, “Gravity,” which saw Sandra Bullock and George Clooney on a similarly unlucky shuttle flight, after a cloud of high-speed orbital debris destroys their ride home.
Inside the damaged shuttle, Ryan and Hartson try to decide the crew’s next course of action following the boys’ catastrophic clusterf**k. Realizing the decision to take the boys into space was her call, Ryan bravely volunteers to sacrifice herself so that the others might hold out for rescue. Ryan then realizes Beavis & Butthead have already donned their spacesuits and left the ship! Seeing the spacewalking boys outside a window, Ryan makes the, ahem, ‘hard’ choice to leave the two enamored imbeciles behind, in order to cover her own command incompetence.
Note: I can’t help but wonder how two kids as fantastically stupid as Beavis and Butthead managed to put on their spacesuits without aid, but then again, this is “Beavis and Butthead,” not Star Trek.
Soon, the black hole they were scheduled to observe passes within view, and the stranded Beavis & Butthead find themselves inexorably drawn into it. Butthead, of course, believes they’re flying toward a giant rectum, and they’re unable to escape its gravitational pull…
Note: The black hole depicted in the film is based on our revised view of black holes, as seen in both the 2014 movie “Interstellar” and recent Hubble Space Telescope observations. Ironic (and hilariously on-point) that this quasi-accurate view of a black hole is used for a movie which proudly thumbs its snot-nostrilled nose at scientific accuracy…
Somehow surviving the intense spacetime distortion of the singularity (don’t ask), the spacesuited Beavis & Butthead wash ashore on the beaches of Galveston Bay, Texas, in the year 2022 … 24 years after their calamitous space mission. Of course, no one on the shoreline seems to take notice of two teenage boys in spacesuits with freakishly oversized heads and tiny bodies…
Note: The scene of the spacesuited boys washing ashore in a strange time is an apparent visual homage to the “Planet of the Apes” movies of the late 1960s and 1970s. It’s reminiscent of Taylor (Charlton Heston) and his crew washing ashore on the ‘beaches’ of post-apocalypse New York City in the first “Apes” movie, and when spacesuited chimpanzee astronauts Zira (Kim Hunter), Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), and Milo (Sal Mineo) drifted ashore on the ‘present-day’ California coastline of 1972 in “Escape from the Planet of the Apes.” A similar image was also used to great effect in the 2011 “Doctor Who” episode, “The Wedding of River Song.”
Throwing their life-saving spacesuits in a nearby garbage can, the boys find themselves near Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier. Trying to get their bearings, they see a political ad for the 2022 reelection of “Serena Ryan for Texas Governor.” Despite this obvious and convenient bit of orientation aid, the duo still have no idea where they are, but Beavis remembers they have a date to ‘score’ with Ryan, and they mistakenly assumes the billboard is her subtle way of reminding them…
Note: As we saw with the 1996 movie and the brief 2011 revival, the 2D animation is quite good, save for the deliberately minimalist look of Beavis and Butthead themselves, whose comical proportions make them deliberately stand out. Mike Judge’s voices for the two characters sound exactly as they did back in the 1990s, which makes me wonder if he took advantage of digital de-aging software to make older actors’ voices sound younger; a technology recently used to de-age the voice of actor Mark Hamill’s “Luke Skywalker” in “The Mandalorian.”
At the pier, Beavis and Butthead are met by a familiar-looking pair from an alternate reality; these oddly-dressed, hairless, huge-headed doppelgängers speak in formal English with complete sentences. The strangers identity as Smart-Beavis and Smart-Butthead, from another universe. The mysterious duo warn Beavis and Butthead that their arrival in 2022 has upset a critical balance in spacetime, and that the only way to repair it is to step through a portal atop Mt. Everest in the next two days, or else reality itself will be destroyed. After delivering their dire-yet-cryptic warning, the strangers disappear. Beavis wonders who were those guys, to which Butthead answers, “I think they’re British.”
Later, a German tourist and his family try to get Butthead to take a photo of them with their smartphone, which the boys mistake for a compact TV. Straining to to pose for the photo on the edge of the pier, the German family accidentally falls into the ocean, and Butthead nonchalantly pockets the tourist’s smartphone, which he learns can be used to “pay for stuff.” This prompts a “Pretty Woman”-style spending spree for the boys…
The boys also stop by a booth of volunteers who are trying to recruit voters to reelect Texas governor Serena Ryan, who has parlayed her ‘heroic’ 1998 spaceflight into a political career, along with her eternally-abused lieutenant governor, Hartson. Serena and Hartson are the only ones who know the truth of Serena’s spaceflight coverup. The booth staffers take a series of would-be voter photos to share with the governor, who recognizes Beavis and Butthead in one of the photos. Worried about whether or not these two survivors from her spaceflight might be out to destroy her political career, Serena mobilizes her state agencies to catch the boys and bring them to her. Similarly, Beavis and Butthead also appear on the FBI’s radar, and, in a 1990s “X-Files” twist, the oddly-shaped boys are mistaken for space aliens. A race to apprehend the time-traveling fugitives is on.
Note: Yes, the story for this movie is more or less a parallel for the dual pursuits we saw in “Beavis and Butthead,” where, both the feds and private interests conspired at every turn to find the boys. This retread fugitive story does feel a bit thin by the middle act, but with the movie’s total running time of only 85 minutes, it’s hardly an attention span breaker.
As the boys relax in a luxe suite with plentiful nachos, Beavis accidentally triggers their stolen iPhone’s Siri interface, which they mistake for the voice of Serena, guiding them to their lovers’ rendezvous. Beavis begins having private conversations with Siri, and falls in love, or at least some bizarre approximation of love. They leave their suite to continue their quest for Serena, when Beavis excuses himself to talk with Siri privately in an outdoor chem toilet. Butthead barges into the stall, angry that Beavis is having solo chats with ‘their’ woman, and, of course, the iPhone falls right into the chem toilet. As Beavis is forced by Butthead to plunge head-first into the toilet to find the device, the entire stall is loaded onto a truck, along with several others, and transported across the city to a nearby university…
The stall is delivered, and Beavis and Butthead are deposited into the ‘strange new world’ of a college campus. They are soon met by Smart-Beavis and Smart-Butthead, who tell them the reality-saving portal is now located at the campus (instead of Mt. Everest), right behind the Humanities building, so that they may enter it, and save reality. Ignoring their alternate universe counterparts, Beavis and Butthead barge into a lecture hall where a professor (Tig Notaro) is discussing white privilege, which she accuses her two intruders of possessing. Believing white privilege to be a shield of legal immunity, the boys then steal a police car and attempt to drive away. After creating the usual chaos, they are quickly apprehended by police and taken to county jail…
Note: Once again, none of these situations are even remotely funny, but that’s the genius of Mike Judge; he makes the most uncomfortable and even tragic situations absolutely hilarious.
At county, Beavis is forced to hide a bigger prisoner’s pills during a flash narcotics inspection. So naturally, Beavis swallows the pills, which spark his transformation into his alter-ego, “Cornholio”, who pulls his shirt over his scalp, and demands “TP for my bunghole!” Cornholio sparks a riot among the inmates, and they join Cornholio in his demand for “more TP!” Once again, a soft authority figure, in this case, the warden (David Herman), mistakenly believes Cornholio to be some sort of divine figure (?), and he releases Beavis and Butthead on the next bus out of the jail, completely and inexplicably choosing to erase their time at the jail from the books.
Note: The prison sequence is easily the weakest part of the movie, and the warden’s change of heart, even risking his career to expunge the boys’ presence from the records, is too much, even for a cartoon. I get the joke; the warden and the judge from the first act both saw the same episode of “Touched by an Angel.” However, I would’ve preferred that the boys escaped using their own ‘accidental cleverness,’ rather than another softie authority figure. This is supposed to be Texas, not California.
As the bus takes the boys home to Highland, a napping Beavis and Butthead each have fantasies; a lovestruck Beavis envisions Serena as both lover and guardian, as she wipes out Beavis’ bullies (including Todd) in her chainmail bikini, before whisking the two of them off on her white Pegasus. Butthead’s fantasy is a bit more earthy, seeing himself as a disco-era pimp. Soon, the bus drops them off at their old house on Woodson Street…
Note: Butthead’s pimp fantasy reminded me of the 1970s-style opening credits of “Beavis and Butthead Do America”, which envisioned the pair as “Starsky and Hutch”-like detectives, including music by no less than Isaac Hayes (“Shaft”)! That retro credits sequence was absolutely inspired, and easily one of the funniest moments in a movie filled with them.
The old house is now tastefully redecorated, and a realtor assumes Beavis and Butthead are a prospective couple looking to buy. Giving them the tour of their own house (or rather, Beavis’ mother’s house), Beavis and Butthead play with the disposal in the kitchen sink, creating just enough noise to drown out the realtor’s explanation for what become of Beavis’ mother, who lost her ‘astronaut son’ back in 1998. The boys are soon fighting as Butthead becomes tired of hearing lovesick Beavis whine about Serena, and the realtor asks the brawling teens if they’d “think it over” outside…
Once outdoors, the feuding friends decide to go their separate ways. Immediately missing each other’s company during their brief separation, Beavis and Butthead are then quickly captured. Beavis is taken by Ryan’s state authorities, while Butthead is captured by the feds, who still believe he’s some kind of bizarre extraterrestrial. A meeting between state and federal authorities is arranged, so that the two captured ‘beings’ can be observed together. Naturally, the handcuffed duo assumes their cuffs are just something kinky that Serena has arranged for them…
Yet again, another conveniently soft-headed–er, soft-hearted authority figure, in this case, Lt. Governor Hartson, removes the boys’ handcuffs and leaves them the keys to his car outside. Misinterpreting Hartson’s act of misplaced compassion as honing in on “their woman,” the boys nevertheless take the car, which they somehow manage to drive in reverse all the way back to their house, before crashing it into the living room. Once there, Beavis and Butthead are met by their alternate universe Smart-selves, who inform them that time is rapidly running out for them to enter the portal and save the multiverse. Soon, the federal and state authorities arrive at the house as well, where a defiant Harston angrily confronts his boss, Serena, just before he is pulled into the portal’s energy vortex—and it closes.
Note: The vortex/portal to other universes/times/realities is another staple of science fiction and fantasy, as seen in C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia,” Star Trek’s “City on the Edge of Forever”, and, of course, the long-running “Stargate” franchise.
Smart-Beavis and Smart-Butthead are surprised to discover that the presence of anyone or any thing could’ve closed the portal at any time. “Even a common brick would’ve worked,” muses Smart-Butthead. The Smart-duo explain that while they’re geniuses in our reality, they’re still considered idiots within the greater multiverse. They also point out that in all realities, no version of Beavis or Butthead has ever scored. As Beavis prepares to tell Serena how he feels, Smart-Beavis jumps right in and tells her, “I love you.” Smart-Beavis then offers to take Serena back to his universe, where the former astronaut can experience an entire universe of delights. She accepts his offer, causing Beavis a bit of heartbreak. With Serena gone, the crisis over, and reality saved, Beavis and Butthead are freed.
Note: Poor Beavis … supplanted by himself.
We then cut to the present, with narrators Beavis and Butthead concluding their tale, explaining that, in order to ensure their silence, the Men in Black bought their old house for them and restored it exactly as it was, in order to keep them quiet–an agreement they’re violating by narrating it to us, of course.
Note: Having seen the first few episodes of the new “Beavis and Butthead” Paramount+ series, which debuted at the time of this writing (Aug. 4th, 2022), I can say that there is no immediate followup to their time-traveling from this movie. Beavis and Butthead’s first genuine foray into full-blown science fiction will probably remain an isolated case, at least for now.
A coda features Smart-Beavis and Smart-Beavis being honored at a ceremony held by Emperor-Butthead and Empress-Beavis in a grand arena, filled with the Beavises and Buttheads from all over the multiverse. Smart-Beavis is the only version of them all who’s ever scored.
Summing It Up.
In addition to its many political/social targets, “Beavis and Butthead Do the Universe” also satirizes those increasingly silly sequels where main characters suddenly go off into space (“Moonraker,” “Jason X”), as well as mainstream sci-fi movies such as “Space Camp,” “Armageddon,” “Gravity” and “Interstellar.” Overall, “Beavis and Butthead Do the Universe” is less feature film and more of a testbed for new Beavis & Butthead episodes. This notion fits within the current streaming mindset, as the once distinct barrier between feature films and television shows is now permanently breached.
“Beavis and Butthead Do the Universe” may not be as solid as “Beavis and Butthead Do America”, but it certainly gets the job done. The movie effortlessly slips viewers into a 1990s-nostalgic groove, while simultaneously dragging its two braindead characters kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Arriving in our time, these permanent ‘lost boys’ are now free to skewer smartphones, social media, white privilege, and other fresh fodder for their unique brand of so-dumb-its-brilliant satire. I’m guessing franchise reboots might also be on their list.
Can’t wait to see what’s next.
Where To Watch.
“Beavis and Butthead Do the Universe”, along with older episodes of the series, including 1996’s feature film, “Beavis and Butthead Do America”, can be seen on Paramount+. All-new episodes of “Beavis and Butthead” are now available to stream on Paramount+ as well. So like, watch ’em and stuff… huhuhuh.