As a teenager, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut scratched a very specific itch, providing the trifecta of cartoon characters swearing, flagrant blasphemy, and something approaching a message that felt revelatory at the time. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, so I can’t say if it holds up or not, but it clearly had a time and a place that have long since passed. Sausage Party has a very similar feel to that movie, and while I’m sure it will fill a very similar niche to the fifteen-year-olds who download it or sneak into the cinema, to me it feels very much like watching something you loved as a teen and realizing maybe its not such a revelation after all. It’s realizing that crassness is cheap, and movies that spell out their morals are cloying. It’s realizing that using funny accents to sell your parody can come off a bit gaudy. It’s realizing that just because its not meant for kids doesn’t mean that it’s meant for people much older, either.
Sausage Party falls into all these traps and more, but its best moments make up for its valleys, and it sticks the landing particularly well. As advertised, this is a movie where one of the main plot threads is that a sausage (Seth Rogen) named Frank (naturally) really wants to have sex with a bun, Brenda (Kristen Wiig). Just to make it clear that they are aware that this is not a particularly sly dick joke, the opening number outright states that the two are going to fuck. To further clarify that this is not for kids, the first half-hour seems to consist entirely of food items going through the laundry list of curse words. The first bit is amusing, thanks mostly to its song-and-dance elements, but the joke of a hot dog calling someone a cunt gets old astonishingly fast. This is not at all helped by Nick Kroll’s character, a douche who is literally a douche, who proves that Nick Kroll can be absolutely insufferable even when distilled to voice form.
The bun/hot dog boinking is not really where the movie’s heart is though, and its focus lands squarely on how religion shapes our society, how it affects how we view ourselves, and how to deal with its logical lapses. The metaphor is never played for subtlety, and while some of the jokes are funny enough to trump their obviousness (crackers really are the worst), a lot fall flat under the weight of their incessant winking and nudging (none moreso than its take on Israel-Palestine relations via a talking bagel and lavash). The movie often comes across as posing as much more enlightened than it actually is, where its not dumb but not saying anything particularly insightful either. This is where the teenager factor sets in: this kind of movie would pander exactly to my wheelhouse when I was younger, but comes across as a trite stoner conversation now.
Thankfully, the movie is more than its message, and when it ignores its tendency to try to describe the world via hummus metaphors, it reaches absurd, debauched, delightfully madcap heights. In particular, its final twenty minutes are absolutely hilarious, with two ridiculous setpieces played back-to-back that make up for any failings in the previous hour. The subplot involving Michael Cera’s deformed hot dog Barry, who goes into the world to meet the Gods face-to-face (spoiler: we do bad things to anthropomorphized food), is consistently the best part of the movie, partially because it keeps things simple and is closer to a straight-up parody of Toy Story than the world-politicking of the main action. Tellingly, it’s when the plot lines meet up again that the movie kicks into high gear.
The animation on display is not particularly fantastic; although is completely passable as professional work, its clearly not aiming for anything remotely passable as art in itself. Everything seems to be made of plastic, and the food-character design isn’t particularly distinguished (outside of the buns, who are a molded to be as off-puttingly shapely as possible). And the voice work contains a slightly uncomfortable amount of vocal whitewashing, despite the tongue being placed firmly in the cheek. But when its funny, its very funny in a very original way. If only all potential teenage obsessions could say that.
Sausage Party (2016)
Dir. Greg Tiernan & Conrad Vernon
Starring Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Nick Kroll, and Michael Cera
Rotten Tomatoes (82%)