Watching Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s last few films, particularly the Neighbors movies and now Sausage Party, one could assume that they’re settling quite nicely into new lives as dads. Neighbors depicts characters dealing with early parenthood, while Sausage Party has an abundance of “dad jokes.” Sadly, a quick google search tells me that neither has entered fatherhood yet, so I guess they just really like bad puns.
Sausage Party has been in development for about six years, over which Rogen and Goldberg have been very vocal about their excitement for the project. The concept is certainly a strong one: an R-rated animated comedy for adults that does for food what Toy Story did for toys. Unfortunately, it’s not as raunchy or subversive as promised and most of the humour relies heavily on food puns, cultural stereotypes and the novelty of watching a movie that looks like it was made for kids and sounds like it was made for slightly older kids.
Set in a large grocery store where the food all longs to be picked up by shoppers and taken to ‘the great beyond’, the characters are blissfully ignorant of what really happens in the kitchen until Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) witnesses the horrifying truth before being returned to the store for regular mustard. Rogen voices Frank, a hot dog who wants nothing more than to be united in the great beyond with his girlfriend, a hot dog bun voiced by Kristin Wiig. After getting separated from each other in a nasty shopping cart spill (played out in a hilarious Saving Private Ryan Normandy spoof), the two try to reunite while avoiding the villainous Douche (Nick Kroll, channelling his Bobby Bottleservice character from The Kroll Show) who had his douche nozzle damaged in the same cart mishap.
The problem is that the movie lacks the quality and quantity of laugh-out-loud moments that Rogen and Goldberg have delivered with their better efforts like Superbad and This Is The End, nor does it offer any kind of social commentary like similar works from South Park‘s Matt Stone and Trey Parker have. It’s still pretty entertaining, helped along by its lighthearted concept and a all-star voice cast that includes regulars like Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, James Franco, Salma Hayek (‘tastefully’ cast as the taco), and Edward Norton, who does a Woody Allen impression as Sammy the bagel. It’s a fun cast of characters in a typical ‘find our way back’ adventure, but with more swearing and overt attempts to be offensive. The credits roll just as the novelty has completely run its course, but not before the food orgy.
There also seems to be have been a conscious effort to avoid pop culture references (the aforementioned Private Ryan reference being the only exception I can think of), which is often where some of the best Rogen/Goldberg lines come from. You can probably chalk this up to the longer production time, a Team Coco joke wouldn’t really land today the same way it might have in 2010.
You could also see the lack of pop culture references as part of several weird attempts to explain this reality where the lady food wears makeup and people don’t seem to notice their food walks and talks to each other. The one exception being Franco’s druggie character, who can understand the food when he’s high on bath salts, but unlike the toys in Toy Story, the food makes no attempts to conceal its free will. The time put into the half-assed explanation of this Foodtopia would have been better spent on writing some stronger jokes.
As you’d imagine, Sausage Party was a tough project to get greenlit, so Rogen and Goldberg had to shop it around for a while before getting the go ahead from Annapurna Pictures. Since the returns expected on the movie are nowhere near those for Finding Dory, it was made on a fraction of the budget of a Pixar film. As a result, the animation is almost as crude as the humour. Conrad Vernon (Shrek 2, Monsters vs Aliens, Madagascar 3) and Greg Tiernan (Thomas and Friends) share directing credits and did an admirable job within the limits and managed to create a few standout sequences. To the average viewer the animation will look fine, but it certainly won’t dazzle anyone.
Sausage Party basically boils down to a 90 minute version of that joke your uncle does at every BBQ where he takes a wiener off the grill and pretends it’s his wang. Good for a chuckle but there’s only so much mileage you can get out of the schtick.