Let's put it this way: "Bebe's Kids" won't make you forget "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." It might even make you consider "Cool World" cool.
The animated feature, "inspired" by the works of the late comedian Robin Harris, follows as an animated pudge approximating the shape of Harris finds himself exasperatingly locked into a trip to Funland, a big and very corporate amusement park, with some children who are not his, and not even his new girlfriend's and not very nice, to boot. This does not make him happy.
The piece is calculated to extract the most from the Harris comic persona: it contrives to leave him at the raggedy edge of grumpiness, spitting out the kind of highly charged and hilarious insult humor that was his main thing. "Your momma," he tells someone, "was so dumb that when she heard it was chilly outside, she went and got her bowl."
The Harris persona, in fact, is the most convincing illusion in the film. And it is an illusion, because the comedian died tragically at 37 before he could take part in this project, which was initially envisioned as a live action film to be produced by Warrington and Reginald Hudlin, of "House Party" and "Boomerang" fame. Thus Faizon Love reads lines that have been crafted to an extrapolation of Harris' grouchy personality as devised by Reginald Hudlin, who wrote the film.
In other respects the movie is less than convincing. Technically, the animation is crude. Harris is represented by a series of jiggling globes that are embarrassingly close to racial stereotyping. The other figures are strictly conventional, and all are set to move awkwardly against the crudest of backgrounds. Nor are the colors exceptionally bright.
The story is somewhat fragmented and when Harris ceases to be the focal point, the movie veers dangerously close to being unwatchable.
The symbolic underlay of the piece is earnest, but not particularly well dramatized. Bebe's kids, more or less abandoned by their mother, are the unloved of the black community, always in trouble, playing self-destructive and deeply irritating games of aggression. Taking them to Funland -- white America, to a T -- brings out their hostilities and Robin is tempted to abandon them: but the point of the film is that such children must be loved and nurtured by the community and brought back into it.
Too bad this positive message couldn't have been expressed more eloquently.
Directed by Bruce Smith.
Released by Paramount.