By James Hancock August 12th, 2016
For reasons that will take somebody smarter than myself to explain, irreverent animation with an adult sensibility has been thriving for decades on television but not in the world of feature films. Clearly people who like watching shows like South Park and Archer also go to the movies and would likely be very open to seeing an R-rated animated film, but the great majority of animated feature films tend to be safe, wholesome stories designed for the widest possible audience. This is not to say that I don’t love movies like The Incredibles or How to Train Your Dragon. These kind of movies are beloved with good reason, but I would like it if every once in a while we had the option of seeing something truly outrageous in the world of animated feature films. When I first heard that Seth Rogen was teaming up with an army of comedic talent to deliver an R-rated movie of this kind I was cautiously optimistic. I’m not always completely on board with his style of comedy but I applauded him for at least making the effort. Having now seen Sausage Party, it gives me no pleasure to admit that my admiration does not extend much beyond the fact that the movie got made it all. Rogen and his team fought the good fight and they get a huge high five from me for making the attempt, but I am not likely to sit through Sausage Party again anytime soon, if ever.
The trailer above does a solid job of setting up the premise. Sausage Party has a lot of common ground with Toy Story, but with the toys swapped out for food in a grocery store. They’ve all been fed a lie that if they follow the rules and wait patiently to be picked by customers, then they will enter eternity upon leaving the building. When Seth Rogen’s character Frank discovers the truth about the grisly death that awaits them all, he leads a rebellion to save the lives of his friends. Painted in broad strokes the film sounds suspiciously like incredibly conventional, formulaic mainstream entertainment and that is what made the movie so boring for me to watch. Just because the characters talk about fucking the entire movie, that doesn’t make it edgy, just juvenile. I laughed periodically and enjoyed a few individual scenes but for the most part, I was bored senseless by an endless series of incredibly obvious lectures about how everybody needs to learn to get along and work together, basically the exact same kind of preachy messages I would expect from any other predictable animated film made by a major studio. Granted the climax of a movie like Frozen tends not to involve a massive bisexual orgy (I might have liked Frozen more if it had), but on the whole, the story of Sausage Party is way too busy with its sanctimonious political sermonizing to succeed as a comedy.
Just to be clear, I have no problem whatsoever with mixing comedy with politics, in fact, that is usually the only way I can tolerate the subject of politics at all. With South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been consistently delivering the best political and social satire on television for the last twenty years. My problem with Sausage Party is that the movie does not take one creative risk throughout the entire movie. When telling a safe, harmless story like this, there’s no reason whatsoever for this movie to be R-rated. With a few minor tweaks and revisions, the movie could easily have been G-rated and likely much more commercially viable. But as much I personally did not get into the movie, I’m still crossing my fingers that it will be a monster hit. If the movie fails, Sausage Party will become yet another cautionary tale about why Americans don’t go to see animation made for adults. I hope this movie makes a $1 billion and opens the floodgates for an entire wave of R-rated animated films. But I have a feeling that is not going to happen. Apart from the novelty of watching a literal food orgy, this movie has nothing to offer apart from its incredible cast which includes Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, James Franco, Salma Hayek, Jonah Hill, Nick Kroll, Danny McBride, Edward Norton, Craig Robinson, and Paul Rudd. I should say, however, that comedy is an incredibly subjective genre that is relatively critic-proof. Maybe I was having an off night and perhaps most audience members will have a blast. Seth Rogen always seems like a genuinely good guy in interviews and I wish him nothing but success with his projects. But judging this film exclusively on its own merits, I must confess that I would be more inclined to see Ghostbusters again before returning for second helpings of Sausage Party.