"The Mighty B! We Got the Bee" is More Admired than Loved
The Mighty B! is a show that I find I admire more than I truly love. There is prodigious talent behind it and its wonderfully energetic, boisterous comedy. It’s clearly trying very, very hard to be entertaining and largely succeeds. However, despite doing all of its component parts well, The Mighty B! generates more smiles and snickers than big belly laughs. I find it more entertaining than Disney’s Phineas & Ferb, but judging by the eight episodes on The Mighty B! We Got the Bee DVD, it is another show that seems to add up to less than the sum of its parts.
The show can certainly claim a quality pedigree, being co-created by Saturday Night Live‘s Amy Poehler, The Fairly Odd Parents‘ Cynthia True, and Disney and SpongeBob animator Erik Wiese. Poehler provides the voice for Bessie Higgenbottom, a young girl living in San Francisco who is a member of Honeybee Troop 113, a thinly disguised analog to the Girl Scouts. The bespectacled, lisping Bessie happily lives in her own version of reality, wearing her Honeybee uniform 24/7 and eagerly seeking a complete set of Honeybee merit badges in the firm belief that getting all of them will give her the powers of the Mighty Bee, a hyper-muscular comic-book superhero. Many episodes of the show center on obtaining some obscure merit badge, with much mayhem ensuing. She is assisted by her faithful dog, Happy, and she gets more help than she would probably admit from her admiring little brother Ben (voiced by Andy Richter). Often opposing her is the mean girl Portia (a wonderfully haughty Grey DeLisle) and her sidekick, Gwen, with the loyalties of the thick but well-meaning Penny swinging between Bessie and Portia depending on which allegiance will generate more laughs.
The episodes on We Got the Bee seem to come in production order, which ends up putting the real pilot episode (“So Happy Together”) second on the disc. It’s not like the show depends very heavily on continuity, but it does mean newcomers to the show will be thrown headlong into a regular episode of the show, only to see it followed by an “origin story” that introduces Bessie and her world and tells the story of how she adopts Happy. This is a minor quibble, though, since the show isn’t really all that hard to get. Bessie is an endearingly manic, hyperactive character, and the rest of the cast neatly fit character archetypes that we’ve all grown up (or are growing up) with. The show also seems a bit more willing to seek its laughs in some slightly unusual places, as when Bessie and Penny become serial Bat Mitzvah crashers late on this disc. The show also manages to tease out bigger laughs in the later episodes, with one gross-out moment in the last episode “Super Secret Weakness” drawing a guffaw for being so wildly over-the-top. Unfortunately, these real big laugh moments are relatively few and far between on this disc. There are lots of smiles and chuckles to be found in the disc’s 88-minute run time, but it’s hard not to shake the feeling that people this talented should have been able to make a funnier show.
However, The Mighty B! joins shows like Chowder in reviving beautifully hand-drawn animated comedy. Flash animation has its place and has produced its share of fun, entertaining shows, but there is a spirit to the rubbery, freewheeling line in The Mighty B! that Flash and CGI haven’t quite managed to capture yet. “So Happy Together” opens with some gloriously manic animation as Bessie dashes through her cartoon San Francisco. “Sweet Sixteenth” also gets many of its more amusing sight gags from rubbery, hand-drawn animation, such as when Bessie’s calisthenics send her own head up and down her arms or when she gets stretched out on a taffy-pulling machine. If nothing else, The Mighty B! provides plenty of textbook examples of how to send a character wildly off-model for a laugh or to make a story point.
We Got the Bee makes some marginal improvements over previous Nickelodeon DVDs. This is the first Nickelodeon DVD that uses something like the “marathon play” feature on FUNimation’s Dragon Ball DVDs, running all its episodes continuously with only one screening of the opening credits at the start and all the end credits at the very end. Each episode also gets its own chapter stop, forestalling my usual gripe that there are no chapter stops within an episode on a DVD. We Got the Bee presents the episodes in a full-frame presentation; if the show is broadcast in widescreen on the high-definition Nickelodeon channel, it will be the latest of many animated TV shows that are broadcast in widescreen but are squished down or cropped to full-frame for the DVD release (compare the PR screenshot here to what’s on the DVD here). Sound is a perfectly functional flat stereo, and extra features are limited to a brief but reasonably informative “making of” video, the animatic for “Bat Mitzvah Crashers,” and a karaoke music video for “Running with the Rainbow Unicorn” (complete with Bessie’s smiling face substituting for the bouncing ball). It’s not the greatest set of extras, but it is actually more than usual for Nickelodeon DVDs and enjoyable enough.
I almost feel bad for not liking The Mighty B! more than I do, and I’m still not sure why I don’t enjoy it more. The misadventures of Bessie Higgenbottom are certainly pleasant enough, and The Mighty B! is worth a look on its technical merits alone. It’s also worth pointing out that some of the more recent episodes of the show seem more assured and funnier. We Got the Bee can make you smile pretty easily, but for the really big laughs, you’ll either have to wait or look elsewhere.