Animated shows and comics have suffered though an uneven history when it comes to big-screen transitions, whether we're dealing with the excellent South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, the awful live-action Garfield and Scooby-Doo films or the uneven but underrated Peanuts theatrical features. Whether it's a case of bad timing, story padding or the decision to go live-action---an especially awkward move, in most cases---they usually just don't work. Surprisingly, one of the few animated films to please its fanbase was Mike Judge's Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1997), a road trip adventure starring everyone's favorite socially challenged misfits. Go figure.
The reason it proved successful (at least to its target audience, of course) was the same reason for the show's success: it used a simple formula for comedy and, yes, even wore its heart on its sleeve. We couldn't help but love these morons despite their lack of social graces, laughing at (and with) their antics, in spite of ourselves. Though the animated adventures rarely ventured beyond the 6-minute mark, Judge created a off-center world that fans couldn't help but enjoy. You wouldn't think such a show could make the transition to a feature-length adventure, but the free-wheeling Do America pulls it off. With more locations, more off-color references and more voice talent, this 80-minute road trip holds its own from start to finish.
Here's how it all begins: Beavis and Butt-Head are pretty darn upset when their TV gets stolen. After unsuccessfully trying to take a replacement from school, they hit up a seedy motel to grab one instead. While they're at the motel, they meet Muddy Grimes (Bruce Willis), who's been waiting for two hired killers to "do" his wife, Dallas (Demi Moore). Grimes sends our heroes off to Las Vegas with a photo of Dallas---and while he thinks the hit will be taken care of, they just think they're gonna score. That's just for starters, of course: along the way, Beavis and Butt-Head travel across several states, cause trouble at The White House, hallucinate in the desert and basically destroy the Hoover Dam. It's all in a day's work…but at least they get their TV back, more or less.
Peppered with plenty of colorful visuals, Do America is obviously a much different beast than the original animated series. To its credit, the film handles this larger palette quite nicely; at worst, it feels too episodic…but that's not exactly a new problem in any comedy film, is it? The visual style also gets a nice upgrade: it's hardly anything jaw-dropping, but it's nice to see a few artistic flairs along the way (especially the wild desert animation sequence by Rob Zombie). Even so, the main reason why Do America holds up is for exactly the opposite reason: despite all the new bells and whistles, it stays true to the original adventures. A lot gets done over the course of 80 minutes…and by the same token, a lot doesn't get done. A few jokes have fallen flat over the last nine years, but the large majority of Do America is still worth plenty of laughs. It's not high art, but it should be enough for anyone with fond memories of Mike Judge's lovable numbskulls.
Originally released as a barebones disc by Paramount some six years ago, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America has finally been given a modest upgrade on DVD. The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer seems to be slightly better than the previous release (if memory serves me correctly), but the real draw here is a collection of brand-new bonus features. All things considered, it's a formidable one-disc package that does the film justice. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen displays, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America looks solid from start to finish. Colors are generally bold and bright, while the overall transfer looks very clean. Thankfully, digital problems (such as pixellation and digital combing) were nowhere to be found, and only the slightest amount of grain was visible during certain scenes.
The audio is also surprisingly good, available in your choice of English 5.1 Surround or 2.0 Stereo mixes. Surround use is notable during many scenes, whether it's from the clear dialogue or the numerous musical cues. Optional English captions have been provided for the main feature, but not for the bonus material. Overall, this is a strong technical effort that fans should really enjoy.
On a similar note is "The Big Picture" (22:42, below left), a behind-the-scenes featurette in the same vein as those found in the Beavis and Butt-Head "Mike Judge Collections". Combining crew interviews with plenty of animation clips, it's an interesting piece that only overlaps mildly with the commentary track. Also of note is footage from the voice acting sessions, plus glimpses of "what might have been" if Do America would've been a live action film, as originally planned.
Next up is "We're Gonna Score!" (10:55), a thoughtful featurette about the scoring of the film. Believe it or not, a lot of time and effort went into the scoring of the film; thankfully, this piece does it justice. Also included is "The Smackdown" (2:32), a brief but enjoyable montage of smack, slaps, punches and other acts of violence from the film. Winding down the extras is a collection of MTV News Celebrity Interviews (3 clips, 3:24 total) featuring Jennifer Tilly, Snoop Dogg and Steve Buscemi (below right), as well as an extensive collection of Trailers and TV Spots (14 clips total!). Overall, it's a light but thorough mix of extras that fans will enjoy digging through.
For fans of the couch-dwelling duo, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America is a fine big-screen finale that offers a considerable amount of comedy. Some may argue that the material hasn't aged well---but if you enjoyed the recent "Mike Judge Collections" of the original series, there's no reason that you won't dig this disc. Paramount offers a solid DVD presentation---especially for a one-disc release---and combines an excellent technical presentation with an assortment of enjoyable bonus features. This double-dip seems to offer a mild visual improvement from the original release, but it's the extras that should attract both first and second-time buyers. Either way, this "Special Collector's Edition" is a well-rounded release that's certainly worth looking into. Firmly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, mocking passers-by and writing things in third person.