When Mike Judge’s animated creations Beavis and Butt-Head came to the big screen in 1996’s Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, it was a cinematic event. The movie expanded on the popular MTV series, adding a wider scope to the story, with new characters, higher stakes, more sophisticated animation, celebrity voice actors, and more elaborate jokes. The title of Judge’s return to the characters, Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe, may promise a similar expansion, but it instead delivers a rushed-looking, uneven movie that mostly plays like an overgrown TV episode.
A lot has changed since 1996, of course, and Do the Universe is streaming on Paramount+, while Do America was a wide theatrical release. If Beavis and Butt-Head fans downgrade their expectations accordingly, there’s still plenty to enjoy about Do the Universe, which brings back the series’ signature smart-stupid humor and finds the moronic title characters essentially unchanged by the passage of time.
The passage of time is a major theme in Do the Universe, which opens with the title characters addressing the audience directly, speculating on what they’ve been up to since we last saw them. The story begins in 1998, with Beavis and Butt-Head (both voiced by Judge) attending their high school science fair, at which they cause predictable havoc. A judge sentences them to an educational program at NASA, but of course the horny teens are as single-minded as ever, focused only on “scoring.” Like Do America, Do the Universe is driven by the duo’s misunderstanding of the possibility of having sex with a woman, in this case astronaut Serena Ryan (Andrea Savage).
Thanks to their propensity for operating a very phallic piece of equipment, Beavis and Butt-Head find themselves on an actual space mission, which of course they inadvertently sabotage in spectacular fashion. They’re hurtled into a black hole that sends them forward in time to 2022, into a world just as dumb as the one they left behind. Serena is there, too, now the governor of Texas and determined to eliminate the teens who ruined her mission. The U.S. government mistakes Beavis and Butt-Head for aliens, sending agents after them, and their super-intelligent alternate-universe doubles keep bothering them about finding a portal that would save the universe from destruction.
Those sound like high stakes, but Do the Universe is mostly a series of episodic comedy bits, putting Beavis and Butt-Head in jail, on a college campus, and back in their dead-end hometown. There might be a superficial resemblance to something like Rick and Morty, but Judge and his co-writers aren’t actually interested in mind-bending sci-fi ideas. Like Beavis and Butt-Head, they’re still fixated on goofy sexual innuendo. Those basic puns almost never fail to produce laughs, though, and the writers are able to pull out unexpected takes on the same simple formula surprisingly often.
Although Judge isn’t the director this time around, the voice cast features plenty of veterans of his past projects, including Office Space stars Gary Cole and Stephen Root and Silicon Valley stars Martin Starr, Jimmy O. Yang, and Chris Diamantopoulos. Most of those supporting actors play the whole thing straight, putting the spotlight on Judge and his remarkably consistent voice performances as Beavis and Butt-Head, whose vocal mannerisms remain amusing after all this time.
Both Do America and the original Beavis and Butt-Head series were sharp satires of American cultural idiocy, but Do the Universe is less incisive, settling for easy laughs from the duo’s greatest hits. There are some oddly poignant moments for Beavis, who comes close to feeling emotions other than horniness and frustration, but of course there can’t be any actual character development, and the humor comes from his futile efforts to broaden his emotional horizons.
The animation remains fairly crude, which is consistent with the series’ overall tone, although it makes the movie feel less cinematic. Do the Universe ends with an obvious set-up for future stories, which may be incorporated into the forthcoming Paramount+ revival series. That, too, gives the movie the sense of being less eventful, just another piece of content in the never-ending exploitation of intellectual property. Of course, that’s something that Judge and his collaborators are likely to make fun of in the future, and Do the Universe proves that they’ll find a clever and funny approach to whatever’s next for these unexpectedly enduring characters.