Since Beavis and Butt-Head premiered on MTV back in the 1990s, we’ve gotten all kinds of irreverent animated shows over all kinds of networks. Some are better than others, but all of them owe a debt in some way to these two Highland Texas teenagers just wanting to score, and who both scale the world with a “sucks”/”rules” dichotomy. Over the years, critics and others have tried to attribute all sorts of morality to the show, claiming it as a bad influence or so subversive as to approach Proustian wit.
For almost 30 years, these two have come and gone from the Zeitgeist, but it all breaks down to one thing – Mike Judge finds 14-year-old boys hilarious. It really isn’t more complicated than that. Whether they’re laughing at two seagulls having sex on a beach, or playing “frog baseball,” or sitting around watching television and eating nachos, Beavis and Butt-Head have come to represent the simple joys and foibles of being a horny kid in an overstimulating world. It’s universal.
And so that brings us to Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe, where our two heroes enter space, time travel, alternate universes, all in search of finally scoring. Your mileage of enjoyment will vary – after years of subversive animated humor from other sources, Beavis and Butt-Head are almost quaint by comparison, and while a show like Rick and Morty wears its intelligence and love of science fiction on its sleeve, Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe doesn’t have nearly as lofty an ambition.
It spends almost five minutes on a ”docking procedure” joke, for Pete’s sake. This is not a film interested in shifting the paradigm in any meaningful way. This is a movie about spending time with old friends, and while it’s steeped in nostalgia, Mike Judge knows not to overextend these characters past their breaking point, or change what we’ve found so endearing about them.
Beavis and Butt-Head (both voiced by Mike Judge), through some misadventures, are charged by a judge to attend NASA space camp. Eventually, they wind up on the space shuttle in 1998, and much like the 1980s movie SpaceCamp or The Simpsons’ episode “Homer in Space,” things come to a crisis and Beavis and Butt-Head are eventually thrown into outer space.
They get sucked into a black hole — heh heh — and wind up in modern day America where they are sought after by nefarious people who want to see them destroyed. But entities from the far future — let’s call them Smart Beavis and Smart Butt-Head — need the two boys to return to a portal that will take them back to their own time or the universe will collapse on itself.
And that’s pretty much it. The miscommunications and double entendres — and is it a double entendre if it comes from these two? It’s barely a single entendre – from the show are all there, and it depends on your enjoyment of these characters on whether it works for you or not. I found most of the jokes funny, and oddly comforting in their way, that nostalgic way where I remember watching the show with friends, laughing at the stupid humor, and enjoying its simple pleasures.
Mike Judge isn’t interested in advancing these characters into the modern day, and in an odd way that makes them almost more subversive than before. I imagine Judge may have found pressure in making Beavis and Butt-Head more modern in scope, but that would go against what the show was about in the first place. Not everything is complicated, and the wants and needs of 14-year-old boys seems fairly universal to me.
There are some ill-advised forays into modern culture commentary — at one point Beavis and Butt-Head go onto a college campus, and into a feminism class — but Judge wisely doesn’t stay there for long. Beavis and Butt-Head the television show has always commented on changing societal norms and the movie is no different, but at least it does point out that the characters that seem to have all these cultural forces rally around them are idiots and not symbols.
We unfortunately don’t get to see much of the Beavis and Butt-Head supporting cast — although we do get a brief shot of Daria! — and it might have been fun to see what happened to those supporting characters in the timeline, but the movie stays focused on Beavis and Butt-Head and their inexorable need to score.
The pleasures of Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe are purely nostalgic. If you didn’t enjoy the show, this will do nothing to change your mind. If you did, you’ll likely find something to laugh at here. The animation is crude, the jokes basic, and the characters puddle-deep, just how we liked it back in the 1990s.
Paramount+, in adding this film to their library, have also added many of the original episodes — with videos! — so if you are unfamiliar with the show, this is a perfect opportunity to dive in. Whether you think Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe is worth your time, at least Mike Judge stays true to the characters he created, and that, my friends, rules.
BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD DO THE UNIVERSE REVIEW SCORE: 7 OUT OF 10
From MTV Entertainment Group, Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe is now streaming on Paramount+. The film features the voices of Mike Judge, Gary Cole, Chris Diamantopoulos, Nat Faxon, Brian Huskey, Chi McBride, Tig Notaro, Stephen Root, Andrea Savage, Martin Starr and Jimmy O. Yang.