Being the godfather of animated bad boys Beavis and Butt-head isn’t all fun and games. In a move eerily reminiscent of the stupid antics of America’s favorite teenage cartoon dorks, a man recently sued Beavis and Butt-head creator Mike Judge claiming Judge stole Beavis and Butt-head - the concept - from him. The only trouble was Beavis and Butt-head have been animated fixtures on MTV since 1993. And the man in question didn’t register his cartoon characters until 1995. In other words, he didn’t have much of a case, and the suit was thrown out of court.
“That happens a lot,” says Judge, 34, with a weary smile. “There are a lot of people who seem utterly convinced that I stole Beavis and Butt-head from them - but they’re from towns I’ve never even been to.” As to why he has to face such claims, Judge says, “I don’t know. Maybe people think, ‘Hey, there’s an idea I could have had.’ “
Indeed, Beavis and Butt-head, now starring in their first feature film, “Beavis and Butt-head Do America,” seem to be pretty basic, even primitive creations. They’re obnoxious, barely literate and obsessed with bodily functions. They love heavy-metal music and chicks, with whom they’re forever trying - and failing - to “score” as they stumble and fumble their way through life.
In terms of animation technique, Judge uses a kind of crude minimalism that’s arty but not very complicated. This is not the fluid, magical animation of Walt Disney. Judge, who does the voices of both Beavis and Butt-head, hasn’t exactly outfitted his antiheroes with the gift of gab.
The teenage creeps sound basically like they’ve banged their heads up against too many concrete basement walls while listening to their favorite “death rock” tunes. Yet Beavis and Butt-head have a legion of fans, from the predictable cadre of pre-adolescents who catch them on MTV to sophisticated critics who champion Judge’s subversive take on American pop culture. The recent Hollywood premiere of their film was attend by the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Roseanne, and members of the terminally cool band Red Hot Chili Peppers. They’re controversial: Beavis and Butt-head have been denounced as a bad influence on American youth. They’re hip: On the current Rolling Stone magazine cover you can see them sitting on Pamela Anderson Lee’s lap, staring unabashedly at her breasts. As to why they continue to intrigue, amaze and just plain rile folks up, Judge says, “They’re very real characters who are funny. I remember thinking when I created them, I’m just gonna cut loose and do some comedy from my gut. I think that’s what still works about it. But I try not to analyze it too much.”
Beavis and Butt-head have often been called a couple of fellows you either love or hate. You either get Judge’s postmodern humor or you don’t. Many haven’t.
“The very first review of the show I ever read,” Judge says, “was by this guy who completely missed the point. He thought I was trying to write extremely clever, intelligent dialogue and this was the best I could do! To think that someone could be that stupid - and still figure out how to make an animated film. He should have known that something wasn’t adding up. He completely missed the parody. He basically said, ‘This is the worst TV show ever.’ I think that actually attracted a lot of viewers.”
Judge admits to having had plenty of misgivings when he created Beavis and Butt-head. “When I did the first short (film), it was six or eight weeks of really intensive work,” he recalls. “I remember waking up the morning I was going to the film lab to put the sound on with just this sick feeling in my stomach. I thought, ‘Oh God, what have I done?’ Whatever I had once thought was funny about them was completely gone. Then I saw the film, and people (in the film lab) were laughing just at the pictures. Then they heard the sound, and people were cracking up just at the way Butt-head laughed. When I put sound and picture together, something just clicked.”
That something went on to spawn an entire mini-industry of Beavis and Butt-head-related items, which, along with the animation itself, Judge says has been very lucrative.
In the pantheon of American animation, Beavis and Butt-head are somewhere between The Simpsons and The Furry Freak Brothers; they’re lewder and less prime-time than the former, but not nearly as explicitly adult as the latter.
The plot of “Beavis and Butt-head Do America” is typically outlandish. Our boys become - completely unbeknownst to them, of course - pawns for some unscrupulous arms dealers who’ve gotten their hands on a dangerous biological weapon. It’s all really just an excuse for Beavis and Butt-head to make utter asses of themselves in such locales as Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.
Judge says he’s happy with his boys’ first big-screen foray, but acknowledges that, blown-up to the size of the silver screen, their behavior struck him for the first time as being, well, less than tasteful.
“It didn’t occur to me how raunchy it was until I saw it in front of 500 people at a preview screening,” he says. “Suddenly I was just painfully aware of how many masturbation references and things were in it and I’m going, ‘Well, maybe this is a little too raunchy.”’
However low and coarse his creations may be, Judge is hardly their peer. A quiet, contemplative young man with thinning hair and an affable smile, Judge graduated from the University of California at San Diego with a bachelor’s degree in physics. He worked for a government contracting company on the F-18 jet fighter’s electronic test systems before following his muse into animation.
How can such an intelligent man spend so much time giving voice to such morons? “It’s basically tapping into the inner dumb guy,” Judge says, “and using the outer smart guy to carry it through. Animation is a very complex, difficult thing. But yeah, I probably take Beavis and Butt-head too seriously when I’m talking about them.”
That’s understandable. Judge’s creations have been blamed for having an insidious impact on impressionable kids who aren’t able to appreciate the parody. And Judge has felt compelled to respond seriously. In one notorious incident, a mother blamed the characters for inciting her young son to start a deadly fire.
“First of all, I don’t agree with any of that (kind of criticism) and I don’t take any responsibility for any of it at all,” Judge says somberly. “The fire was obviously a very horrible, sad tragedy. But it had nothing to do with Beavis and Butthead. They didn’t get cable (in the trailer park where the fire occurred). No one mentioned that when the story was getting inflated.”
Judge notes contemplatively that he might like to take a break from Beavis and Butt-head someday soon. “I never expected it to last this long,” he says, “or get this big.
” I figured we’d do 35 episodes (of the show on MTV) and then I’d go back to Texas and get on with my life.”
What keeps him going, says Judge, is the fact that he’s created a juggernaut that’s bigger than he is.
“If I quit, they’d probably get someone else to do the voices,” he says. “I’d hate to see the show done the wrong way, which I’m sure it would be. If I let it go for a second, it would probably get less funny and more mean-spirited. I find myself policing that tendency more than anything else.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: BIG HIT MTV’s animated morons Beavis and Butt-head set a record for the largest December opening ever, taking in $20.5 million in ticket sales last weekend with the movie “Beavis and Butt-head Do America.”
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Joshua Mooney Entertainment News Wire
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Joshua Mooney Entertainment News Wire
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