Remember when I praised The Secret Life of Pets for its song-and-dance routine set in a hot dog factory? At the time, I was overjoyed with the sheer novelty of dropping such an odd sequence in the middle of a children’s film. I should’ve been more careful what I wished for, even knowing full well Sausage Party was coming down the pike. Rather than simply fulfilling my request for more cartoon weirdness, Sausage Party wrapped ninety minutes of nonstop food puns around the most facile, drug-addled stand against organized religion imaginable, crammed the whole thing down my throat, held my mouth shut and then dared me not to vomit it all back up. It was a rough experience.
This is a broad satire of animated children’s films; the kind that traffic in fairy tale versions of our world, where animals, toys and cars have inner lives and sing songs about their hopes and dreams. In the case of Sausage Party, it’s the day before “Red White and Blue Day”, and the hotdog aisle of Shopwell’s is all aflutter. Hotdog Frank (Seth Rogen) and hotdog bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) only have eyes for each other, and with the 4th of July coming, the two can’t wait to consummate their relationship as they join the Gods in the Great Beyond. “Gods” here meaning people, and the “Great Beyond” meaning a dinner plate. But they don’t know that yet.
Shopwell’s groceries start their day by singing a song about the promise of eternity, squealing with delight as they’re carted out the store. (Think of the aliens from Toy Story. “Nirvana is coming! The mystic portal awaits!”) This opening number, written by Alan Menken, is the film’s first salvo against its intended target. The food cheerily sing about appearing as clean and fresh as possible to appease the Gods, in the hopes that they’ll be chosen next. Sausage Party doesn’t play coy with this metaphor at all. In fact, it takes the most obvious approach in skewering religion by having Frank learn, in no uncertain terms, that God is evil and that the food is being lied to for their own well-being. Whereas a film like Happy Feet takes its time building its case against indoctrination, Sausage Party just blurts it out at the first opportunity. Subtlety is not Seth Rogen’s strong suit.
The actual plot of the film kicks off when two shopping carts collide, sending groceries spilling onto the floor in a Saving Private Ryan-esque scene of utter carnage. Frank and Brenda go overboard, along with a pair of squabbling ethnic breads named Lavash (David Krumholtz) and Sammy Bagel Jr. (Edward Norton). As the four journey back to their aisle in the hopes of possibly getting purchased, they’re hunted by a vengeful douche (Nick Kroll) seeking revenge on Frank for ruining his chance at bathroom glory. Yes, the main antagonist of this film is an anthropomorphic douche.
There is far more story here than one would expect from such a one-joke premise. It’s actually kind of amazing that co-writers Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill mine so much out of so seemingly little. Most of the main characters have a backstory, with their own subplots and motivations to boot. Michael Cera plays a deformed wiener who has an oddly empowering encounter with a junkie voiced by James Franco. Salma Hayek plays a taco struggling to contain her attraction to Brenda. Danny McBride plays a jar of honey mustard who has a crisis of faith when he’s returned to the store in exchange for a jar of regular mustard. I could go on.
As you can imagine, roughly 90% of the film’s humor revolves around food gags and swear words, many of which repeat ad nauseum. The film’s favorite joke involves one character using a turn of phrase that references food (“We’re in a real pickle here!”); that food item pops into frame, only for the first character to shout “Not you!” This wears thin almost immediately, and yet the film persists.
Eventually, Frank and his friends are presented with a choice: They can either live out their days in blissful ignorance until they are chosen, or they can band together and destroy the Gods once and for all. The film is canny enough to acknowledge multiple approaches to this religious quandary as valid, and Frank is careful not to stomp on any of the other foods’ beliefs. That’s actually about the best I can say for Sausage Party. While it becomes an extended missive on the dangers of religious doctrine, this movie starring talking food knows when not to get preachy.
Then again, you are paying ten dollars to watch an R-rated movie about talking food, and watching food fight back is far more entertaining than watching food agree to be eaten. To that end, the third act finale is a double whammy of absolute batshit insanity. From an action sequence that bears a striking resemblance to the worst animated film ever made, to a scene of literal food porn, the details of which I’d frankly rather not repeat, Sausage Party goes completely for broke at the end. It’s ridiculous, it’s uncomfortable, and only some of it is genuinely hilarious.
The whole joke of Sausage Party is how ridiculous its own premise is, but then it teases out that premise all the way to its logical conclusion. It’s hard to tell where its sense of humor ends and the anti-humor of the film even existing begins. I can’t exactly recommend this one unless you’re already in the tank for Seth Rogen’s brand of comedy. It’s about as subtle as a thousand tack-hammers. When it works, it’s a riot. When it doesn’t, it’s genuinely kind of embarrassing.
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