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A Movie Nerd With Kids Reviews "Beat Bugs" (2016)

The Plot at a Glance

Beat Bugs is a show about a colorful cast of 3D-animated anthropomorphic bugs who sing and dance to Beatles covers in a garden and go on miscellaneous adventures together.

In theory, they each have a unique personality.  In practice, those personalities work out to "has a lisp" or "rides a skateboard."  They fill in the otherwise missing depth of character with cliches, tired jokes, and an exhausting supply of miscalculated energy.  It's like a cast of Poochies.

I'd love to tell you that there's more involved in the story, but the truth is, the majority of the show is pretense to force the characters to sing a Beatles song.  So, let's commence my bitching about exactly that.

My Thoughts

I've got something of a love/hate relationship with the Beatles.  I generally like their music and I grew up listening to them almost exclusively from ages 8 to 12.  They were as much a part of my formative years as I'm sure they were for many Boomers.

But I hate the whole "kiss the ring" mentality that has stuck with them in the last fifty-odd years. It's not enough to just say, "Yeah, the Beatles were among the best bands ever" - you have to speak about them with such reverence that it's sacrilegious to suggest you might be indifferent or even - gasp - not a fan.

So understand that when I say that I hate this show's principal gimmick, I'm saying so from the perspective of both a huge fan of the Beatles and as somebody who doesn't listen to them much anymore.  If you like their music, you'll find this show a butchery of classics; if you hate their music, you'll find this show a gratuitous display of undeserved idolatry.

(Fittingly, when the Beatles themselves did covers, they were among the worst ever.  Anybody else get disappointed when you hear the opening chords to "Money (That's What I Want)" on the radio and then John Lennon starts to sing?  Yuck.  1960s white boy soul is the worst. Even the Flying Lizards did it better.)

The problem isn't just that the music is a subpar version of the Beatles. It's that the music is the only reason the shows exists, and yet there is so little effort put into the reasons or context for Beatles songs to be sung.  Sometimes the songs come up seemingly at random.  Sometimes there's a good setup, but the song itself is just lazy, or the show makes arbitrary leaps to shoe-horn in the lyrics. Or worse: they don't make leaps with the lyrics, and it just ends up being tangentially related to what's happening around them.

Case in point: one episode features "I Am the Walrus." (Each episode is titled after the cover, so you know ahead of time what you're going to get.) Now, I'll be the first to admit that this particular song is a challenge - especially when you're talking about a kids' show and you have to find a way to nerf the lyric about a dead dog's pus-filled eye. But if your premise has any worth at all and if you're up to the task, then "I Am the Walrus" is a perfect test of your mettle.  You turn "I Am the Walrus" into a clever kids' show and I'll be 100% onboard with you.

So what do they do with it?  Well... there's a slug who's name is "Walter Walrus."  And he's feeling self-conscious about meeting the other bugs for the first time, so he looks at a mirror and reminds himself that he is "a" Walrus.  And then he sings that he is "the" Walrus while putting an eggshell on his head and adding that he is also "the egg man."  And then they just cut out like 80% of the rest of the song because they gave up on it.

Hell, even the part where he sings "goo goo g'joob" is lazy - he just says it out of nowhere.  I mean, look, it's not particularly clever, but couldn't they have shown the other characters playing with egg shells on their heads, and then he could have sang "good good good job" while giving a thumbs up?  That's at least something, right?

Or consider another example - in one episode they sing "Sun King," which has a few verses in Spanish.  That's another opportunity to take on a challenge and turn it into a clever premise.  How do you organically switch from English to Spanish?  Maybe you could make the episode about some English-speaking bug who has a crush on a Spanish-speaking bug, and they try to woo him/her over by singing in their native tongue.  Or maybe one of your characters could be a Mexican-American surrogate, which, admittedly, could become racist if you're not handling it right, but why not have a bilingual Mexican-American bug that hangs out with all the other white kids bugs?  And that character can switch between English and Spanish with no problem because that's just what they do?

So, how does Beat Bugs set it up?  Simple.  Some asshole in the background suddenly jumps in front of the camera and says, "Gee, I feel like singing in Spanish!  Here I go!"

If this is the level of effort you're going to put into your show based on Beatles covers, then why even bother?  You can't make a show that exists purely for one thing and then not do that thing well.  It's the most aggravating kind of lazy.

"Hey, we need to come up with a story for Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds."
"Uh... hmm... oh, God, this is tough.  Ummmmmmmm - maybe one of them's named Lucy?"
"Done!  Let's take a fiver, huh?"


My Score: 1 / 5

This is the kind of cartoon that, if I saw it when I was five, I'd be rewatching now and going, "Wow, I sure watched a lot of terrible shit when I was a kid."  There's so many better shows out there for kids that either make up for the annoying stuff with good educational content or - even better - fun.

How Did Lulabelle (2 years old) React?

Tragically, she was super invested.  At least for the musical numbers.  She wandered a lot during the narrative parts, so if anybody has a supercut of just the Beatles covers, please send me a link.

How Did Sonja (9 months old) React?

About the same as Lulabelle.  When there was music to listen to, she would sit still and pay attention.  Otherwise she was more interested in exploring what's under our couch.

How Did Stephanie (My Wife) React?

This should say it all: any time she scrolls through options on Netflix asking Lulabelle what show she wants to watch, she pretends she can't see the Beat Bugs poster or hear Lulabelle saying, "Bugs! Bugs!"

Any Useful Ethical, Educational, or Thematic Content?

....maybe?  There's glimmers here and there, like an episode where the stick bug learns to "be himself" or another episode where the bugs learn to work as a team to build a playhouse.  But I feel like a lot of that stuff is offset by the lessons being shoe-horned in or paired with less-than-stellar subtext.  For example: in the stick bug episode, the stick is trying to impress a lady butterfly, and the whole thing feels like a creepy "nice guy stalker" situation. The lesson shouldn't simply be, "be yourself," it should be, "be yourself and talk to girls like equals, you fucking creep."

Trigger Warnings / Egregious Offenses?

Bad Beatles covers.  Hamfisted morals. Squeaky voices. And the creepiest friggin' sun character this side of Teletubbies.

How Likely Are You to Be Annoyed?

If you're like me?  100%.  Guaranteed.  But let's say you're on the other end of the spectrum - if you're more patient with lazy characters and you just loooooove yourself some Beatles, regardless of the circumstances?  I think we're still talking at least 50%.  Even leaving aside the bad covers, there's still enough sigh-worthy content in here that I give even odds it'll set you off.  Like when the slug wobbles his stomach and goes, "Bellylicious!"  Eat it, Beat Bugs.

How Likely Are You to Cry In Front of Your Kids?

Since I can't speak in extremes, I'll have to go with 10%.

Final Weighted Score: 2.5 / 5

The music held Lulabelle's attention, and she likes the show enough because of that that she wants to revisit it.  So, begrudgingly, I have to bump the score up.  But y'know what?  She really doesn't care about it for the 85% of the time that there isn't a musical number ongoing, so it's not like she actually enjoys the show.

Listen, if you want to listen to bad covers of Beatles songs and look at bright colors, there's better ways to do it.  Give the kids to grandma for the weekend, buy a copy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band from the DVD dollar bin at Wal-Mart, and kick back with all the pot you can afford.  I'm not saying that'll keep your kids entertained, but at least you'll have some fun, goddammit.