Directed by Bruce W. Smith (USA 1992; 72 mins. in English)
In the spirit of the summertime carnival, we offer you another memorable take on amusement parks with Bébé Kids. Although it’s only a few decades old, Bruce W. Smith’s directorial debut, produced by the Hudlin brothers for Paramount, is considered the first mainstream animated feature actually created for African American audiences.
Based on the great stand-up comedian Robin Harris’ frequent “Bébé’s Kids” routine and visually inspired by Kenyan art and Harlem Renaissance painters, the animated tale recounts a date-from-hell involving Harris’ alter ego, the lovely Jamika and a team of unruly inner city youths in their charge. The backdrop is the Coney Island-inspired “Fun World.” Since Harris suddenly died two years before the film was released, the cartoon version of Robin was voiced by the indelible Faizon Love (Friday, B*A*P*S, The Replacements, Black-ish).
The film has immense staying power and, though somewhat camouflaged with gorgeous and playful animation, carries lessons about racial injustice that ring true even today. “Though Bebe’s kids are terrors, cutting a destructive swathe through the park, the viewer gradually comes to recognize the reasons they have such massive chips on their shoulders. Their rebellion against the regimentation of the Disneyland-like amusement park and the menacing white security force also engenders growing sympathy, mixed with exasperation, in both Harris and the audience,” said Variety’s Joseph McBride’s original 1992 review. The film was coincidently released just months after the Los Angeles riots over Rodney King.
Bébé’s Kids manages within its 74 minute timeframe to skewer such topics as Hip-Hop music, urban riots, and whitebread theme parks. Further proof that this is not a Disney flick was provided by the folks from the Motion Picture Production Code office, who bestowed a PG-13 rating upon the film.
The film is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime.