The Pitch: So like, in the 1990s there was this cartoon show Beavis and Butt-Head, and then they made like, a long version? Like, a movie or something? And this is like, another movie?
It’s as much of a no-brainer as that sounds; what’s even dumber is how long it took to mount (insert guttural Butt-Head laugh) a sequel to 1996’s epic Beavis and Butt-Head Do America. That movie was once the highest-grossing non-family-oriented animated movie ever in the U.S., and it’s still pretty far up there, give or take a Simpsons Movie.
Talk of a Beavis and Butt-Head Do Europe floated around for years, and the show was briefly revived on TV in 2011. But it’s taken an upcoming second revival (and the streaming-nostalgia-content rush) to jumpstart another movie, and the grandiosely titled Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe is both bigger and hilariously modest in scope — befitting a full-length feature film that’s nonetheless bypassing actual movie theaters.
Like The Simpsons in its fifth season, it does indeed send its dull-witted protagonists into space — and, unlike The Simpsons (as far as I know; I’m not current on the last few seasons), it also gives them multi-versal doppelgangers, smarter versions of the boys who urge them to do their part to save the universe.
In between the sci-fi embellishments, the movie has set pieces in such exotic, far-flung locales as a porta-potty and a motel room. Like a lot of the classic Beavis shorts, it’s all predicated on a misunderstanding — a steadfast and mistaken belief that these two eternally snickering, muttering, horny teenage boys must be concealing hidden depths.
The movie picks up in 1998, shortly after their show’s 1997 end: When Beavis and Butt-Head (both voiced, as ever, by creator Mike Judge) are sent to space camp in an attempt to rehabilitate their general delinquency, they are improbably recruited for a real mission. Eventually, this leads to them getting sucked into a black hole, and popping out in 2022. As in the first movie, they’re on a quest to lose their virginities (or, in the parlance of their times, to “score”), which, as before, various government officials mistake for something far more nefarious.
Are You Threatening Me?: Beavis and Butt-Head were designed to satirize good old-fashioned American teenage stupidity. Though their destructive, callous, sexist behavior isn’t exactly celebrated by their TV show or movies, Mike Judge and company do seem to understand that beneath the characters’ satirical edge is a baser sensibility capable of getting its own laughs (at least from a certain type of adolescent-boy-at-heart; guilty as charged).
In other words, we’re laughing at them and with them; if the show was too piously instructive about Beavis and Butt-Head being in the wrong, it might be insufferable. Better to just show them getting kicked in the nads as an inevitable comeuppance.
Still, the B&B style of humor presents some challenges in 2022, which Universe sometimes embraces and sometimes ignores. The movie thankfully avoids going through a laundry list of technological differences with which to flummox the displaced ’90s teens; mostly it focuses on their sort-of discovery of smartphones. (True to form, they remain largely unaware of its potential because that would involve learning something new. Besides, if they became aware of how easy it is to access pornography in the year 2022, there would be no way to move the plot forward.)
In terms of cultural differences, there’s a segment on a college campus where the boys are introduced to the concept of white privilege, which they take not as an indictment but a permission slip to act even more immediately on their instincts. It’s a sly way for Judge — whose sensibility skews conservative — to needle campus-discussion propriety without taking smug cheap shots.
Elsewhere, though, it’s clear that no one wants to completely rewrite the Beavis and Butt-Head playbook. A fair amount of the movie involves them bumming around Texas, dimly attempting to meet up with astronaut-turned-governor Serena (Andrea Savage), who they’ve mistaken for a potential sexual conquest.
In this back half, the movie is actually like a smaller-scale follow-up to Do America, and some of its vignettes could have worked just fine back in ’96. (The emergence of Beavis’s alter ego Cornholio, in particular, feels like it could be an alternate take from the earlier film.) The animation retains its sketchbook charm, and though it doesn’t squash, stretch, or zip in the style of old theatrical shorts, Judge’s style is deceptively attuned to slapstick timing.
Settle Down, Beavis: Not all of Universe depends on repeating dynamics from the first movie, as this may be the first Beavis and Butt-Head project to hint at some small, strange manner of growth for the characters — specifically Beavis. The yellow-haired, higher-voiced, more excitable of the duo has always had just the slightest, barely detectable smidge of innocence about him, and here Judge and company allow that to just-barely blossom into a form of sensitivity.
Yes, Beavis develops something he can’t quite articulate as romantic feelings (his attempt: describing how thinking of his crush gives him a good feeling even when it’s not accompanied by an erection). How and why Beavis catches feelings probably shouldn’t be spoiled, but the way Universe adds a slightly poignant shading to an extremely familiar, predictable character — without sacrificing laughs — may give this new movie a slight edge over its hilarious predecessor. The movie doesn’t exactly turn the Beavis/Butt-Head relationship into a cutesy bromance, but it does lend their companionship a sort of cosmic grace.
The Verdict: Paramount+ should have thrown this movie a theatrical run; it may more or less amount to an 86-minute pilot episode for the new series that’s coming soon, but it’s also one of the funniest movies of the year.
Where’s It Playing: Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe is streaming on Paramount+ on June 23rd.