The opening scenes of Sausage Party establish a tone and look unlike any computer animated feature released this year. As the Shopwell supermarket opens and all the food sings in exaltation, two things are immediately noticeable: the animation is very good and the language is explicitly profane. By now, most know the hard-R rated, filthy and sometimes funny Sausage Party is not for children.
Seth Rogen plays an amorous hot dog named Frank and Kristin Wiig is his girlfriend, a hot dog bun named Brenda. They are saving their virginity for each other and awaiting the day when a human selects them to The Great Beyond. Once the food and non-perishable items discover that humans actually eat the food they purchase, an uprising at Shopwell begins. Yes, that is the plot of Sausage Party.
To be fair, I laughed a lot but there are also long segments where I grew as quiet as the audience. An explosion of in-theater laughter would be followed by another bit that doesn’t land.
To my astonishment, the screenplay was written by five writers, including Rogen, frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg and co-star Jonah Hill. Like Rogen’s “Paul,” this is as an obvious, heavy-handed plea for atheism. The jabs at organized religion would have been more effective if they were funnier. The bit from Toy Story involving “The Claw” (“I have been chosen… goodbye my friends!”) actually has more to say about a religious mindset, but it was also subtle and hilarious.
The “logic” of the world depicted is so flimsy, the satire doesn’t entirely register. Unlike the clear cut “rules” of Toy Story, the food characters can move in broad daylight but are only seen and heard by humans who are inebriated… I think. We see hot dogs and can goods good rolling but how could a taco walk around? Could an uprising of food against humans actually work? Why am I thinking so hard about a movie where Bill Hader provides the voice of El Guaco?
While Sausage Party has been designed to push buttons and offend every possible audience demographic, there’s nothing here that hasn’t already been done in South Park. In fact, the look of some of the characters, taboo subject matter and relentless vulgarity on hand all but mirrors specific characters and episodes of the ongoing and still potent Trey Parker/Matt Stone TV series.
The best jokes are throwaway bits, like Paul Rudd’s hilarious turn as the store’s unruly manager. Gags about mind-altering bath salts are stale. Likewise, the endless parade of ethnic stereotypes, gay jokes and sex puns seem like leftovers from another era and overstay their welcome.
Fans of Rogen (myself included) will note how, once again, he seemingly plays himself with the ease of a movie star stoner. Wiig is as bland here as she was in Ghostbusters. Undoubtedly, the character who audiences will walk away remembering with any fondness is the talking douche. Voiced by Nick Kroll as a jocular loudmouth (who ends most sentences with “bro”), The Douche is kind of hilarious and all too easy to hate as a villain… because he’s a douche. For real, bro.
I should mention the food orgy sequence. No, this is not a spoiler. Believe me, there’s a world of difference between reading the words “food orgy” and watching an actual food orgy. Oddly enough, it’s cut in a brisk manner, as though the MPAA ratings board objected to the graphic footage.
There’s also a character named “Barry,” voiced by Michael Cera, who is a hot dog with a dented head. Great. I had to go a whole summer with Dinner For Schmucks featuring Steve Carrell’s idiot named “Barry” and now, it’s the name of a wimpy, deformed wiener. Next year’s Justice League features Ezra Miller playing The Flash, whose actual name is Barry Allen. Nice to finally have a cool character with my name. Until then, enjoy Barry the Misshapen Hot Dog.