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It's What's for Dinner

Seth Rogen
Seth Rogen
Columbia Pictures
 89 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by:  Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon
Starring: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader
Sausage Party

The key to a successful animated film in recent years has been to sprinkle the story with enough in-jokes and references aimed at adults to keep them entertained, while providing the usual litany of slapstick pratfalls and broad comedy that youngsters enjoy. Leave it to the ever-inventive minds of Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg to stand that formula on its ears in Sausage Party. It’s an animated movie that adults, or at least those adults not offended by the usual Rogen/Goldberg sense of humor, will find hilarious on occasions, but it’s definitely not a film for children, as its R-rating accurately indicates.


Sausage Party is not, as some have claimed, the first R-rated animated film. That honor instead goes to Ralph Bakshi’s The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat, the motion picture version of his counterculture feline. But, thanks to Rogen and Goldberg’s considerable box office clout, Sausage Party is the first R-rated animated film to get a wide release. And, animation or not, it has all the trademarks of typical Rogen/Goldberg comedy, down to the usual ensemble of buddies that Rogen brings along to provide the voices. Naturally, the lead role is played by Rogen himself, but among his coterie of co-stars are Jonah Hill (who also co-wrote the film), James Franco, Paul Rudd, Michael Cera, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride. Not necessarily in Rogen’s usual ensemble but also much in demand as vocal talents are Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader.


Sausage Party is somewhat of a parody of Disney’s Pixar films that featured anthropomorphic non-human characters, most notably Toy Story and its sequels. However, instead of action figures or aquatic life, as in Finding Nemo, Sausage Party is based on the premise that various items of food walk and talk and, more important for a Rogen film, obsess about having sex. As they sit patiently in the various aisles, they fantasize about the day on which they will be selected to go into the Great Beyond, the paradise that awaits them outside the walls of the supermarket.


The foodstuffs’ vision of heaven is rattled when a returned jar of mustard (Danny McBride) tells them what really awaits them in the real world. They reject the warnings and are happy to be chosen, although due to a mishap in the shopping cart, one hot dog, Frank (Rogen), and his bun girlfriend Brenda (Wiig) wind up getting left behind. Lucky them, as the others find out what really happens at a cookout. Only one item survives the massacre, a scrawny, deformed hot dog named Barry (Cera), who tries to make his way back to the store to warn the others. Barry actually manages to get picked up by a drugged out stoner (James Franco), who witnesses his food begin to talk when he gets high.


Back at the store, Frank gradually learns the truth about the great beyond from Firewater (Hader), a bottle of liquor, who tells Frank the truth about food and then confesses that he invented the story of the great beyond to make it easier for the others to accept their fates. Frank and Brenda try to warn their friends, with the help of an unlikely set of traveling companions, Sammy Bagel Jr. (Edward Norton, channeling the young Woody Allen), and Kareem Abdul Lavash (David Krumholtz). Needless to say, those two soon recreate the entire Middle Eastern conflict.


Sausage Party had seven credited screenwriters, but it’s easy to see the influence of Rogen, Goldberg, and Hill here. The primary difference between this movie and Rogen’s usual antics is the fact that the animated format gives the writers and cast far more leeway in portraying off-color material than they would have in a live action film. Of course, there are four-letter words and f-bombs galore, but there are also some depictions of various sexual activities, both homosexual and heterosexual, that would have garnered a live action film an almost automatic NC-17 rating, but which become rather humorous when the participants are items of food.


Despite all the crude humor, Sausage Party does make some valid social points as well. Of course, the stereotyped ethnic characters (including a jar of sauerkraut that bears a startling resemblance to a former ruler of Germany) score some easy points, and there are quite a number of drug jokes as well. The most incisive social commentary, however, is about religion, as the writers invite comparison between the myth of the Great Beyond and attempts of the world’s various religions to create pleasant versions of the afterlife. The film never gets too bogged down in its symbolism, but a few jokes, such as a comment by Lavash about meeting 77 bottles of virgin olive oil in the Great Beyond are quite clever.


The script, like most of Rogen’s work, has a largely improvised feel to it, although, as an animated film, the actors had to finish recording their lines before the animated characters were drawn in order to match up the voices and facial movements. And, as such, Sausage Party gets progressively weirder (as if a movie about talking food wasn’t weird enough to begin with) as it goes along. Unfortunately, weird doesn’t necessarily equate to funny, and a lot of the jokes late in the movie fall flat. The humor also gets repetitive as it goes along as well (there’s only so many double entendres about hot dogs and buns having sex that you can make before they grow, well, stale) and the big finale, about (what else) a food orgy, loses its appeal after about 30 seconds.


The biggest difference between Sausage Party and the Pixar movies it parodies is not, as you might think, the sexual innuendo and R-rated language. Instead, it’s the tightness of script and plot. The best Pixar films are tightly scripted and well thought out. True, they have their share of sight gages and inside jokes, but they always seem worked out well in advance. Sausage Party, on the other hand, is typical Rogenesque humor. It’s often wild, zany, and hilarious, and you can tell the actors had lots of fun recording their lines. But it falls back on repetitive gags and curse words a bit too often to be truly hilarious. At its best, some of the dishes in Sausage Party are gourmet delights, but a few of them should have been sent back to the kitchen.

In this scene, stoner James Franco realizes that food products can actually walk and talk. (CAUTION: R-rated language)

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Sausage Party (2016) on IMDb