Sausage Party (2016)

Directed by Conrad Vernon & Greg Tiernan
Written by Kyle Hunter & Ariel Shaffir & Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

In 1995, a small animation studio called Pixar changed the course of animation history by releasing the first feature length computer animated film, Toy StoryToy Story succeeded in the medium by not just being cutting edge with its use of technology, but also by crafting a genuine and entertaining narrative. By simply asking the question, “what if toys came to life when we weren’t watching?”, Pixar launched into an incredible run of successful films. Over twenty years later, another animated film asks a similar question, “what if the food at the grocery store was alive?” In doing so, I don’t expect Sausage Party will rewrite the history of the art form, but it veers in a completely different, and very very vulgar direction than Pixar, becoming an R-rated (that’s a very hard R) animated film with more jokes than it knows what to do with, but also with surprisingly relevant analyses of religion, faith and stereotypes.

As the film opens, we are introduced to Frank (Seth Rogen) and his buddies, a package of hot dogs, getting ready for the supermarket to open, which presents the opportunity for the many grocery store products a chance to be chosen and taken into the “Great Beyond” by their gods. Frank is hoping to be chosen along with his girlfriend, Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a member of a package of buns nearby. But after being chosen, Frank meets Honey Mustard, who warns him of terrible things in the Great Beyond after being returned by one of the gods, which leads to a “clean-up” situation in the aisle. Left behind by the god who chose them, Frank and Brenda struggle to return to their aisle for the chance to be chosen again, all the while Frank deals with the possibility that Honey Mustard’s stories are true, and a rogue Douche (Nick Kroll), whose chance of being chosen was ruined by the accident, sets out for payback against Frank.

When I said “that’s a very hard R” by the way, I meant it, and I think there is nowhere else to start but there, especially since the film itself starts out with a curse word. If you were expecting just a slightly racy, raunchy, and otherwise foul-mouthed animated effort from Rogen and Goldberg, strap in because there are curse words a plenty, F-bombs aplenty, suggestive situations aplenty, and even some situations where no suggestion is required. The innuendo knows no bounds, even culminating in a veritable food orgy near the end that seems only barely acceptable due to the fact these are animated foods. The filmmakers are pushing the boundaries with what they show and say on screen, which results in a film I would strongly caution people on, but also one which is bound to find many a fan who relishes in the dirty humor on display here because, as a matter of fact, the film is also extremely funny at times.

It’s greatest strength is its ability, like Toy Story before it, to place these foods into “realistic” scenarios and get laughs that way. How would food in a grocery store anticipate being selected? How would they react to be boiled, peeled, eaten, or otherwise maimed? Even to the point that the filmmakers raise both existential and faith based inquires in a deep, thought-provoking way, resulting in a film way more involved than just sausages trying to get into buns. It’d be easy to discard this deeper exploration atop the gaudy, vulgar comedic premise, but it is too central to ignore, and surprisingly well done within the context of the chaos on screen. Many will likely be in the seats for the vulgarity, and few will subscribe their enjoyment of the film to these deeper questions, but the fact Rogen, Goldberg, et al. decided to put them in at all says something, I’m just not sure what.

Sausage Party has its issues for me. The orgy scene takes it a little too far for my tastes, though the shock factor it provides is exactly what I think is intended. There is great voice acting throughout from the well-known cast, and even if the animation is lacking, the comedy comes fast and furious throughout, utilizing great food related humor and gags to land many of the jokes attempted. I didn’t wholly know what to expect heading into the theater before the screening, but I certainly didn’t think the finished product I saw is what it would be. The film pushes the envelope in many of the right ways while providing a lot of laughs and exploring relevant, real-world issues and questions of faith. It’s hard to categorize such a film, since I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like it, except perhaps since Rogen, Goldberg and company’s This is the End.

*** – Very Good

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