Over the years, writing/producing partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have consistently served up a hearty blend of raunch, thoughtfulness and wild ambition that has taken them far and birthed genuine comedy classics such as Superbad, Pineapple Express and This is the End. This successful formula has cemented them as a leading force in Hollywood comedy, and their influence is obvious because there’s no way a major studio like Sony would have greenlit a project as insane as Sausage Party if they weren’t some of the most trusted funnymen in the business. The good news is the film continues their streak of rediculous yet accessible comedy, at its best when providing surprisingly sophisticated social commentary. But this time there’s bad news, as its typical overdose of loud, juvenile comedy appears as a crutch far more apparently than it has in the past.
Sausage Party‘s cavalcade of swearing, sex-obsessed foodstuffs are voiced by the usual who’s who of Rogen, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Paul Rudd and more. The gang’s all here, aided by show stealing turns from David Krumholtz and Edward Norton. The concept takes its obvious cues from Pixar’s Toy Story, but with a horrifyingly brilliant spin that could only come with an R-rating, and only from the stoned minds of Rogen and co. Of course, nobody would give even these knuckleheads the budget of an actual Pixar/Dreamworks project, so we have to settle for visual quality that matches what the big companies were doing roughly a decade ago. It’s an eyesore compared to its family-friendly animated contemporaries, but expressive facial animations and tons of witty food-based sight gags at least help distract from its dated appearance.
The most surprising thing about Sausage Party is that the writers didn’t simply settle for making a superficial Pixar spoof, and decided to faithfully emulate Pixar’s pedigree for grafting deceptively deep human themes onto non-human subjects. However, in keeping with its R-rated trappings, the movie trades in common cartoon messages of friendship and staying true to one’s self for a provocative and articulate exploration (or more accurately, a takedown) of religion. It’s a full-bodied one too, delving into ideas of sexual repression and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s sure to offend many different kinds of people, but nobody can argue that the movie doesn’t go as far as it could down a rabbit hole down which most films actively avoid… and in a movie about talking hot dogs, no less. As reductive as its takeaway may be, the filmmakers are saying something bold in a bold way, and that’s a relative rarity in mainstream comedies these days.
Unfortunately, that audacity is only about fifty percent of the what the film has to offer, the other fifty being the familiar brand of blunt, puerile humor that characterizes all of Rogen/Goldberg’s projects. Sausage Party certainly has its moments of surreal, over the top hilarity (not to mention all the food puns you’d expect), but an over-reliance on constant, repetitive dick jokes and curse words assures that the humor wears thin despite the film’s scant 89 minute run time. Much of the problem derives from filmmaker’s apparent belief that putting foul-mouthed cartoon characters into ridiculous violent and/or sexual situations is a novel experience, but in the decades since Matt Stone & Trey Parker created South Park, that’s simply no longer the case. Though it’s true that this is the first fully CGI film to match that kind of sensibility, that’s splitting hairs.
Like this movie, 1999’s South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut was another ambitious, deranged spoof of kid-friendly Disney films, but it’s vulgarity had a purpose within the plot. To be fair, there are a few scenes where the outrageous material actually does fit into the story that’s being told. This includes the horrific death sequences that the trailer pretty much showed all of, a scene involving drugs that ingeniously explains a more baffling aspect of Toy Story’s internal logic, and a sex scene towards the end that will go down as this movie’s legacy. In most other cases, Sausage Party‘s incessant obscenities feel tired and extraneous, a holdover from the filmmaker’s other projects. For example, the main villain in this movie is a literal and figurative douche played by Nick Kroll, and if that sounds like a throwaway gag ripe for being stretched way beyond its means, you’d be right.
It’s a style that Rogen and Goldberg would probably be growing out of if it didn’t net them so much cash. Middle schoolers are going to love every single joke, but I found my patience tested when the film kept taking detours away from the clever food puns and religious subtext for another couple reminders that hot dogs are shaped like penises. This just steals time away from the actual plot where, as a friend pointed out after the movie, not much actually happens when you step back and think about it. It sets out to provide a shrunken-down adventure like many Pixar tales, but can’t quite juggle that element alongside everything else it’s taken on. That’s fine, as the movie does more than enough with its premise as is, just don’t expect the scale or depth of a true Pixar world.
Though the film’s crassness and intelligence never intermingle quite as well as in Rogen & Goldberg’s past projects or the work of Stone & Parker, the sharp satirical elements and more daring, unhinged moments are worth the price of admission alone. Destined to be more of a quick and dirty novelty and less a timeless feat of either comedy or animation, Sausage Party is a deeply flawed and somewhat disappointing cartoon, largely redeemed by an abundance of charm and a surprising amount of brains. Come to think of it, that’s kind of what Pixar has been like lately, too.
Score: 3 out of 5