Sausage Party presents an interesting concept: take every Pixar/Dreamworks feature from the past 20 years and make a hard adult comedy.
By now we’ve seen countless CGI movies where everyday inanimate objects, animals, sea creatures, and machines, take on human personas with their cutesy big-eyed faces and witty cultural commentary. Some of us may have thought, “They’re precious and their humor is safe enough for the kids, but I wonder what would happen if the cute anthropomorphic objects had sex or smoked weed?”
Well, here you go.
In Toy Story, toys based their value and self-worth on how much children played with them. In The Secret Life of Pets, animals relied on their masters in order to feel wanted. Now comes Sausage Party, where grocery store products exist to be eaten or used by humans. The twist is they are unaware of their ultimate fate. Upon discovering the truth, they must convince the rest of the store to rebel against the all-consuming human menace.
Adapting this formula to grocery products is twisted by itself. God forbid you lived in the pharmacy aisle. It also raises some questions. If we don’t eat the food, we’ll starve. If the food keeps running it eventually spoils and rots. What’s worse, being chewed to death and having your remains digested, or dealing with mold destroying your body? Why is only the end result sentient? What about the animals or crops that produced it?
The products spend their ‘lives’ adhering to stringent religious dogma, conditioned to believe that worshiping the gods (humans) increases the likelihood of purchase. Outside the store lies ‘The Great Beyond,’ a mythical paradise.
The Great Beyond is also where the Sausages, personified as horny 20-something virgins, “get up in” the Buns, females who talk out of vagina-shaped mouths. Frank (Seth Rogen) and Brenda (Kristen Wiig) can’t wait to get out of their sealed packaging and consummate their relationship. Shrink wrap, by the way, is a purity metaphor.
It’s the eve of the July 4th weekend sale, which the store’s inventory considers their Rapture. Frank and his fellow sausages Barry (Michael Cera) and Carl (Jonah Hill) are ‘chosen’ along with Brenda for the Great Beyond. But as it is with grocery mishaps, Frank and Brenda fall out of the cart, but not before a returned Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) warns that the Great Beyond is a heinous lie.
Now out of his package and free to roam the store after closing, Frank seeks the truth from the three Non-Perishables, Firewater (Bill Hader) Mr. Grits (Craig Robinson) and Twink (Scott Underwood). The Non-Perishables made up the Great Beyond legend to prevent panic. Frank must reveal the truth to ensure survival. Meanwhile, Barry and Carl make it to a kitchen counter and discover the horrible reality for themselves, in a scene that should be what you’d expect by now.
Aside from being digested, the other threat is Douche (Nick Kroll) who is literally and characteristically, yes, a douche. Douche grows stronger by cannibalizing containers for their precious bodily fluids, bulking up until he is a monstrous version of his former, douchey self.
This sounds promising on the outset, both as an aversion of CGI kiddie fare and as a juvenile antidepressant. However, I was struck with a feeling I couldn’t place immediately after the fade-in. It started when the grocery store broke into a musical number peppered with swears. I hear swearing all the time. I swear all the time. But the food was swearing a lot, like their constant vulgarities were a punchline.
Shortly after is the scene where the products spill into the aisle. The damaged goods crawl around a filthy floor, rasping for their final breaths; a devastated peanut butter husband tries reassembling his jelly wife’s guts. It’s grim and mean-spirited, misplaced in what was ostensibly a comedy two minutes ago.
A Bagel (Edward Norton) and a Lavash (David Krumholtz) must travel together, accompanied by plenty of jokes about one being Jewish and the other Palestinian; Norton employs a Woody Allen-type voice. Other food products act according to ethnic origins, such as an Irish potato (Greg Tiernan), an Italian pizza (Scott Underwood), a Mexican tequila bottle (Bill Hader), and a lesbian taco (Salma Hayek).
Okay. Crass. Still, what was this underlying issue?
It hit me when a used condom lamented his horrible ordeal. “These guys are trying way, way too hard,” I realized. I’m picturing a room with writers throwing as much as they can against a wall but dumping everything into the screenplay regardless of what sticks.
Sausage Party is the first CGI animated movie to receive an R rating, and everyone involved has earned it with a vengeance. This isn’t sneaking dick jokes into Shrek or Grendel’s hot, naked mom in Beowulf. Faced with the task of turning children’s entertainment into an adult movie, they pushed the envelope so far past the threshold that anyone attempting this in the future will have plenty to prove. I get it. This is for adults,
There are things about Sausage Party that I appreciated. The animation looks nice, smooth and fluid instead of a choppy budget job. Every frame has so many visual gags that it almost warrants a second viewing to catch them all. I liked the idea of the liquor aisle being a never-ending block party, and how humans hear the anthropomorphic food talk by using bath salts. Overall, it feels like a lot of love was put into this. It’s the kind of movie that was wrought after long planning sessions and skilled computer artistry.
However, constant attempts at being edgy, followed by outedging previous attempts at edginess, bury the movie’s potential. The story comes to us courtesy of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who have penned some of my favorite comedies over the years. They’re great at twisting and punching up established genres. I still love Superbad, and Pineapple Express successfully paired a stoner comedy with a violent ’80s action parody.
The Sausage Party team missed the mark here. If I’ve sounded offended at any point during this review, I’m not, just disappointed. Adult animated features don’t see much production in the United States anymore, not with the same frequency as in the 70s and 80s. When I heard Rogen, Goldberg and friends were releasing a raunchy CGI movie as opposed to traditional or flash animation, it grabbed my attention. I wanted to love this. I really did. In the end, this entree was too spicy.
Also, Douche is an undeveloped villain.
FINAL GRADE: C-