Why haven't there been more R-rated animated movies?
It's a question that keeps ringing through my head after seeing Sausage Party, one of the boldest and most outrageous American comedies in years. Films like South Park: Bigger, Long, and Uncut, Team America: World Police, and Anomalisa have proven in the past that funny, incisive work can be done in this genre, so it's almost amazing that it took so long to get around to this point. Sausage Party is a bit of a novelty because it's the first R-rated CGI animated film, which essentially makes it the Toy Story of food porn. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg spent years trying to put it on the big screen, and with a microbudget and the support of Annapurna Pictures and Sony, their gloriously raunchy animated food comedy has arrived. And boy, it's really something.
Sausage Party is brilliant. At this point, you're probably wondering- is that really the best word to describe an R-rated comedy with jokes about food sex? The answer is an unequivocal "yes." A breathtakingly anarchic and gutsy take on the kind of film that has made Pixar so popular over the years, Sausage Party is a thoughtful meditation on religion and stereotypes in our current society that also happens to feature a scene that gives a whole new definition to the term "food porn." After This is the End and The Interview revealed the more creative, innovative aspects of Rogen and Goldberg's filmmaking, their first foray into animation solidifies that they're among the best comedic minds in the business. An instant classic in just about every way, Sausage Party is a jaw-dropping journey that is unlike anything you've ever seen before.
It's morning again at Shopwell's, your average suburban grocery store. "Red, white, and blue day" is coming up, and all of the food is very excited to get the chance to go to "The Great Beyond." Frank (Seth Rogen), a hot dog, and Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a bun, are especially hopeful that one of the gods will pick their packages together. The great mission of a hot dog's life is to get inside of a bun, and well, you get the innuendo there. As the store prepares to close, Frank and Brenda are chosen together, along with Carl (Jonah Hill) and Barry (Michael Cera), Frank's other hot dog friends. But when they're in the cart, something strange happens- Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) begins acting very weird. He begins babbling on and on about how the gods are evil, the Great Beyond is a lie, and that Firewater has all the answers. Frank is enamored by him, but before he can answer any more questions, Honey Mustard jumps off the shopping cart to his death, creating a cart disaster that particularly resembles the Omaha beach scene in Saving Private Ryan.
Frank and Brenda are thrown out of the cart, along with Sammy Bagel Jr. (Edward Norton, doing a spot-on Woody Allen impression), Lavash (David Krumholtz), and Douche (Nick Kroll). The Douche was really looking forward to......well, doing his thing, and his mission throughout the film is to take revenge on Frank. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew must take a deep dive into the world of Shopwell's to find the answers to the burning questions that they've wondered all along. Are the gods malevolent? Is their reality simply an illusion? Are they all doomed to a fate that isn't in their hands? With the help of a possibly bisexual taco (Salma Hayek), this lost group of food will travel a multi-cultural world in the pursuit of finding the answers to these existential questions that could threaten their lives.
Very few mainstream movies these days could be classified as outrageous. Hollywood doesn't seem to be quite as intent on pushing boundaries these days as they did back in the 1970's or even as recently as the 90's. Scrolling through the list of films that I've seen this year, only three really stand out to me as truly button-pushing or outrageous- Deadpool, The Neon Demon, and Swiss Army Man. Two of those are arthouse movies that only hit between 600-800 theaters, and the other is an R-rated superhero movie that still felt like it was pulling its punches at times. Sausage Party is genuinely the most outrageous film to hit American theaters in a long time, one that will send your jaw straight to the floor. Everything lands with a knockout punch of "Oh, s**t, I can't believe they just did that." With the medium of animation, Rogen and Goldberg have made their most no-holds barred film yet- raunchy, profound, and shockingly distasteful, all in equal measure.
But after all, should anybody really be surprised by how utterly insane Sausage Party is? Rogen and his friends have made some pretty crazy movies before, including one that damn near started World War III. They made the most meta film to ever come out of Hollywood, the wildest frat comedy since Animal House, and an instant R-rated Christmas classic. These guys are comedic geniuses, and part of the reason that they do so well is that they're keenly aware of the genre that they're working within. They're reverent to the history of the movies that came before, and then they totally flip it around with their signature brand of filthy humor. It would have been easy for Rogen and Goldberg to do an awful animated movie, thrown in some pot and some dick jokes, and call it a day. But they didn't. They hired Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, two experienced directors in the genre, to create the sense that this was a real animated film. Sausage Party has a retro animated quality to it, and the progression of the narrative feels very similar to a Pixar movie. These might seem like small things, but as the story builds, this adds up to enhance the overall experience.
Sausage Party is a riff on Toy Story, but in all honesty, every animated movie since 1995 centered around "talking ___" has been a take on John Lasseter's classic. What makes this one different (beyond the obvious R-rating) is the film's devotion to an existential point, one that is both gut-bustingly funny and deeply thought-provoking. If you would have told me a few months ago that Sausage Party would end up being the best comedic take on religion since The Book of Mormon, I simply would not have believed you. Well, it's the truth. When the buzz surrounding Sausage Party began to shift to the religious themes, I was curious to know whether you had to look deep for them or if they were right in your face. The answer is the latter, as the first scene clearly makes the point that the failure and corruption of organized religion is not only quite obvious, but it's pretty much the entire basis of the movie.
Rogen and his crew clearly have a lot to say about this topic, and it permeates throughout every facet of the movie. I've listened to Alan Menken's opening song "The Great Beyond" more in the past couple of days and it's amazing how packed it is with brilliant religious subtext and cultural humor. In a world where the gods are malevolent and murderous, why can't we all just get along? That's the basic question proposed here, which brings me to cultural stereotypes, the other main topic of discussion in Sausage Party. Every single character that is based around ethnicity is a clear stereotype. Teresa the Taco prays to Saint Chimichanga, Sammy Bagel Jr. is neurotic and worrisome, and Lavash is insistent on receiving his 77 bottles of extra virgin olive oil in the Great Beyond. Yeah, this thing is far from politically correct. And while some may find these things offensive, in the context of what Rogen and Goldberg build to, it makes sense. Sausage Party's creation of a grocery store Zootopia leads to an end point of disturbingly epic proportions and it's quite fascinating how Rogen plays with racial humor, while ultimately promoting a message of unity in the goal of overlooking our stereotypical differences.
Beyond the bonkers subtext that only enhances the hilarity of the Sausage Party experience, this is just a hysterical movie made by some of the funniest men and women in Hollywood right now. Seth Rogen and Kristen Wiig are excellent as our leads, but they're outshined by the stellar supporting players. I loved Michael Cera as Barry, the deformed weiner who becomes an unlikely hero over the course of his journey. David Krumholtz and Edward Norton play off each other well in their animated demonstration of the Israel/Palestine conflict, with Norton particularly standing out in his role. Nick Kroll crushes it as Douche, the appropriately douche-y villain of the story. Throw in a spectacularly raunchy cameo by Danny McBride (what is it with him and "jerking off" monologues in Rogen movies), a goofy turn from James Franco, Jonah Hill's sausage sidekick, Salma Hayek's bi-curious taco, and great work from Bill Hader and Craig Robinson, and you've got a cast that knocks it out of the park.
Sausage Party is one of the boldest comedies that Hollywood has delivered in a long time, and because of that, I think that plenty of audiences won't know how to respond. After the film's show-stopping setpiece near the end of the film, half of my audience was dying of laughter, and the other half seemed to be sitting in complete disbelief. I guess I can understand why, considering the subject matter. But for me, the entire film hit me right in the funny bone, and I was literally in tears from laughing so hard. Sausage Party is the funniest movie of the year, one of the better animated movies in a long time, and a dynamite satire of racial politics and organized religion. It's unlike anything I've seen before, and it joins the ranks of South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, and Team America: World Police as an innovative and inappropriate comedic opus.
I hope that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg never do a "safe" movie. They're far better when they're pushing every boundary known to mankind, which is exactly what they do in one of the best movies of 2016 so far that also doubles as their most bizarrely terrific film yet.
THE FINAL GRADE: A (9.5/10)
Images courtesy of Sony Pictures