There have been lots of really stupid ideas for cartoons. Rambo got one, RoboCop got one, there was one where Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson and Wayne Gretzky solved crimes or something. At a certain point, you just got over the fact that not every cartoon came from an inspired place.
And that’s okay. Even smart kids are pretty stupid. The gamble that they’d watch any colorful nonsense isn’t too far off from reality, especially in a world where you only have a few channels to choose from. Okay, exclusively in that world, but once upon a time that WAS the situation for kids. And also, RoboCop may have been a bloody, R-rated satirical take on the Reagan era, but he was a cool-looking robot cop. Packaging him or Rambo or whoever else for children isn’t that big a leap.
BRUNO THE KID, on the other hand, was never an understandable idea. Made for syndication in 1996 and only lasting one (very long) season, BRUNO THE KID sold the idea of Bruce Willis - not John McClane or the baby from LOOK WHO’S TALKING, but Bruce Willis the harmonica player and occasional actor - for kid consumption.
The premise involves a genius kid who doesn’t look like Bruce Willis at all, though he is mostly bald, who weasles his way into being a secret agent by creating an adult avatar of himself that looks like Bruce Willis in a mid-‘90s CG way:
Each episode finds him on a mission against one villain or another, sometimes while also maintaining his secret identity with his parents or school. This is a simple cartoon, so there’s not much in the way of continuity or long-form storytelling, nor should there be.
So let’s say I’m a child instead of a deeply mature adult who reads Camus in front of my friends. I like DIE HARD. I hear Bruce Willis made a cartoon. I would be very excited about that. Then I see Bruce Willis’ character:
Well, okay. I suppose it needs to be about a kid to appeal to other kids. And it’s not like you can put a five o’clock shadow on a sixth grader. But then I hear his voice. There’s a good news/bad news situation here. Bruce Willis voices Bruno different than how he actually speaks. That’s good news because Bruce Willis really performs and tries to play a character. It’s bad news because it doesn’t sound like Bruce Willis, the primary reason anyone would watch this.
So, really, the Bruce Willis of it all only manifests in a few ways. Number one, he sometimes plays harmonica. Number two, this theme song, which Willis sings and co-wrote:
And number three, occasional meta jokes about Bruce Willis and other action stars.
This leads to the bigger problem of the show’s humor. More often than not, it’s a bunch of kid jokes that barely sound like jokes at all, and fall down go boom cartoon physical comedy. The jokes where writers actually tried would go over the target audience’s head. Here’s one that might make a kid smile:
Sticking it to Sly! Who would never ever ever watch this to hear it.
On the other hand, I kind of like this one:
And here’s one that represents a writer flat out saying “fuck them kids” and getting weird with it:
Pretty wild, but it also speaks to the show’s odd place of not really being for kids OR grownups.
BRUNO THE KID has a heck of a voice cast. In addition to Bruce Willis, Mark Hamill frequently appears as Bruno’s Q, a weirdo named Harris. The villains are stacked: Tim Curry, Matt Frewer, René Auberjonois, Bronson Pinchot, Ben Stein and two Eds: Asner and McMahon.
If you want to take advantage of this minor popular culture detour, now is the time. The whole thing is available on Tubi, so long as you don’t mind a couple commercials. There are thirty-six episodes, amounting to about twelve hours in all. I admit, I only watched six. I would have watched more but I have an important date to watch FANNY & ALEXANDER later tonight so