This review will contain spoilers:
Kung-Fu Panda 3. The Secret Life of Pets. Finding Dory. 2016 has been a decent year for animated films, providing younger children a bastion of laughs and thrills amidst the hectic tentpole releases of superhero action films. And next in the line of succession, Sausage Party, a family-friendly adventure in the vein of Toy Story about a hot dog that comes to life.
Just kidding. This movie is anything but family friendly. I can only imagine the utter chagrin which some parents must have felt after having mistakenly bought tickets for the family (though one would hope that most parents are smart enough to catch on to the “R” rating).
The film’s first trailer, being a red band, did not shy away from its extremely vulgar nature. There were a plethora of f-bombs and other obscenities used during the trailer, and we got to see in extreme detail the process of human consumption from the food’s perspective. And it wasn’t pretty. Upon first viewing the trailer, I was actually a little queasy. Baby Carrots, actual babies from the food’s point of view, being crushed by human teeth, their little Disney-fied arms and legs flapping limply about as they died was…interesting. Sickening, but interesting. I got more used to it in later viewings, but my overall undecidedness was always there. Friends to whom I showed the trailer always did what was expected of them when they saw the baby carrots die: They laughed. I mean, fair enough, it was funny in an absurd, out-of-left-field way. But I couldn’t help but think that maybe others would enjoy the final product more than I would.
Later, I learned that the film’s script had leaked (thanks, Wikileaks), and I immediately investigated. I read summaries, and they did nothing to instill confidence in me about the movie. I entertained the idea that the script was fake, that they had taken inspiration from the first trailer and written out an entire script from that. It wasn’t a very well written script after all. Shock-value dialogue, haphazardly-created dynamics of what sentient food would actually be like, and bad puns all lent credence to the notion that it was fake. I’ve taken a screenwriting class, and for a supposedly professionally produced script, this had nothing of the stringent standards of composition I was upheld to in class. But as more and more news about the movie emerged, and a second trailer dropped where I recognized every scene from the script, I knew it was a genuine draft. I felt a bit betrayed, but I decided to give the film a shot.
It actually wasn’t too bad. A lot was changed from the draft of the script that I read, but most of the changes were superficial. Some scenes were switched around, some of the dialogue had a word or two replaced, but it was essentially the equivalent of leaving home for work and coming back to find that your spouse had rearranged the furniture a little bit. And I was surprised to find that a lot of what I found distasteful or unentertaining actually worked once it was on the screen. Delivery matters a lot. I shouldn’t really be surprised; I’ve seen it happen before, just not with an animated comedy.
The plot is…simple. Y’know, I’ve said that quite a bit this summer. But it’s true. I feel like very few of the films I’ve gone to have had decently complicated plots. The script for Sausage Party was a bit more complex: more characters, bad guys, and a “chosen one” narrative. One of the bad guys in the script (El Guaco, and an evil jar of guacamole) is reduced to a background character, but he’s there. The chosen one narrative is left behind. The simplification works, however. I feel that much of the complexity of the script relied too much on cliche. The film’s message is a bit on-the-nose. To the food, humans are “gods,” who take them to the Great Beyond, where in reality a horrible death awaits them. In its message, the film tries to warn against the dangers of being complacent in whatever belief system you choose. While advocating open-mindedness, Frank, the lead character, and atheist surrogate, is admonished for trying to change the beliefs of others by calling anyone not sharing his point of view “a bunch of idiots.” So while it’s obvious that the film is arguing for the atheist standpoint, its message is tempered with balance and restraint. If you’re atheist, that’s dandy, but don’t be a jackass about it, is the final takeaway.
The film’s main source of comedy is the outlandish situation of living grocery store products. Most of the brutality we see is already in the trailers. The deaths in the kitchen were by far the most brutal and protracted. I do admit to feeling an odd sense of disappointment at this; I was looking forward to a sense of morbid fascination while watching sentient food being prepared for the dinner table. But the film showcases the existence of other sentient products as well, and their traumatic experiences of being “used” (toilet paper and condoms, for example, are probably the worst-off).
Aside from zaniness, the film revels in audacity. Each food product is stereotypical of its culture of origin. Tacos, tequila, and Guacamole are all Hispanic. There’s a Jewish bagel who is at odds with an Arabic lavash (making light of the situation with Israel and Palestinians). There’s Mr. Gritz, a stereotypical “black man” food product (which was tamed down from the script version, which had Uncle Ben’s Rice cracking humanity with a whip in the climax and shouting “Who da massa now!?” if I’m remembering it correctly). And the relationship between Frank, our lead, and Brenda, his girlfriend and a bun, is never portrayed as anything other than completely and overtly sexual. There’s also a lot of swearing. A lot.
At the end, we are treated with a dash of extreme meta-humor as the film acknowledges the existence of the film’s own creators and voice actors. It’s a bit sudden since it’s the only example of meta-humor in the film. Aside from that, we aren’t really given any long-form jokes that take minutes to set up or are the results of events earlier in the film. Internal logic is at an all-time low, and the film doesn’t always follow its own rules. We have one example of a running joke of our main antagonist, a Douchebag (because of course), accidentally making puns and having other food products be very confused.
Douche: “How do you like dem apples?”
Actual apples: “Who, us?
Douche: “No, not you!”
I didn’t laugh nearly as much as my fellow audience members did, but comedy is highly subjective, and I probably could have maximized my experience had I brought a friend along to laugh with me. While I wasn’t rolling on the floor at any point, the film never failed to be amusing at any point during its runtime, which is an accomplishment in its own way.
Final rating: 7/10.