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With ‘Mighty B!’ the eyes (and the lisp) have it

Times Staff Writer

Watching the pilot of Nickelodeon’s “The Mighty B!” I couldn’t help but think, strangely enough, of “Sunset Boulevard.” Or at least the famous quote: “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces.”

“The Mighty B!” follows the exploits of young Bessie Higgenbottom, a not-quite-10-year-old Honeybee scout so dedicated she imagines herself, at times, as the first badge-collecting superhero. There is, not to worry, plenty of dialogue -- of the loud, hyper, neon-hued but occasionally very funny variety that is standard Nick. Indeed much has been made of Bessie’s voice, or at least of Amy Poehler, the gal behind her voice.

Between now famously impersonating Hillary Clinton on “Saturday Night Live” and starring next to Tina Fey in the movie “Baby Mama,” Poehler is riding one of those career tsunamis that could leave her on top of the world or amid the rubble and wreckage. Either way, she gives Bessie a nice lisp and an amusingly realistic tendency to yell and badger and obsess. Not that I would recognize these characteristics among any children of my acquaintance.

But it’s not Bessie Higgenbottom’s voice that’s going to make her a star, it’s her eyes. Bessie may have the best eyes seen on camera since, well, since Gloria Swanson. When not in their default Coke-bottle-lens goggle setting, her eyes leap, fill, freeze, shift left, shift right, go vertical or velvet-painting googly and generally steal the show. They’re wacky, they’re nutty and through them animators Cynthia True (“The Fairly OddParents”) and Erik Wiese (“SpongeBob SquarePants”) capture perfectly all that a strange and obsessive girl of almost 10 might think, feel and be unable to express.

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Although Bessie expresses plenty. She’s got a younger brother (voiced by Andy Richter) to act as constant irritant and a bunch of snotty fellow Honeybees who look like they stepped right out of “Gossip Girl.” But her mom seems nice, and not quite as dimwitted as most cartoon parents, and, as an added bonus, the Higgenbottoms live in San Francisco. Which, with its Krazy Kat hills, trolleys and Victorians, not to mention the ambient hippies and such, really is the perfect setting for any cartoon.

Of course, I am not the audience for this show; I am the voice screaming at the audience to turn that dang TV down “or better yet off because it is a beautiful day out there.” So for reviewing purposes, I also enlisted the aid of professionals -- my kids -- and they liked it. Boy and girl, 10 and 8, they grinned and laughed and repeated bits of dialogue and action mere moments after they occurred. They even paid it the ultimate compliment: “Mom, can we Tivo that when it starts?” my daughter asked as she headed off to bed. So, “Mighty B!” it looks like you’re in.

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mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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‘The Mighty B!’

Where: Nickelodeon

When: 10:30 to 11 a.m., Saturday

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Rating: TV-Y7 (directed to older children)


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