Monday, August 22, 2016
Not Quite a Hot Dog: A 'Sausage Party' Review
So, I finally checked out the sausages...
Does the adults-only, mainstream computer animated film add up?
Massive spoilers ahead, obviously
Divisive Sausage Party is, the responses range from "this is a very smart, revolutionary animated movie" to "this is a cheap, offensive, tasteless, juvenile film". Revolutionary it is not, for it is yet another raunchfest, and we've seen those in animation before. Smart is not a word I'd use to define Sausage Party either, but it is - at times - very, very clever...
Though Pixar didn't invent the "what if" storytelling that dominates a chunk of modern feature animation, that concept is pretty much glued to them in ways. Sausage Party aims to send that up more so than anything, along with some classic Disney and some DreamWorks elements, which is timely. Using food, Rogen and Goldberg already have so much to work off of. It's funny because as a kid, with Toy Story on my mind, I kind of thought to myself... "What would it be like if food was alive?" But then I imagined the end and left the idea to rot. Yes, 11-year-old me thought this up.
11-year-old me, and me now, is not Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Sausage Party milks the ever-living heck out of its premise, and goes down some twisted, dark, and gleefully messed up paths. The food characters all live in a supermarket, thinking that being bought by consumers is their ultimate goal... The path to the awesomeness of the gods. Beyond the supermarket entrance is the holy land! All emphasized by showing you little when you're seeing it from the food's point of view. Basically, they're as deluded as the Pizza Planet aliens.
The main story focuses on the Rogen-voiced hot dog Frank. He wants to live beyond the supermarket himself, with the girl of his dreams: a hot dog bun named Brenda (voiced by Kristen Wiig). The food items get an idea of what's actually beyond the parking lot when a customer returns a jar of honey mustard, who recounts what he has witnessed... But no one believes him. Then a day comes where Frank and Brenda are bought by a shopper, along with a few items who become the story's main characters. Something happens and a good chunk of them fall out of the shopping cart in a very brutal Saving Private Ryan homage, and now a douche (voiced by Nick Kroll) wants revenge on Frank, thinking he broke his nozzle and kept him from being bought.
Yeah, you pretty much get the picture. You know exactly what's in store for the next 80 or so minutes. One thing I'll give it credit for, it's pretty damn brisk. Very rarely is there a slow moment.
The film is indeed not - unsurprisingly - mature by any stretch, nor is its message that some critics are calling "thought-provoking". Sausage Party is only thought-provoking if you happen to be a very ignorant person, because one of the themes (if you can call it that) of this movie is religion. I don't even think the film was even trying to be "smart" or "profound" with the theme, I think it knew full well that it was very stupid and just added that in to give the food world some kind of layer. An amusing plot device, per se. I think you can certainly tackle real-world issues with some dumb, middle school-level humor, but Sausage Party isn't what I would call brilliant satire. It points out several things several comedies and animated shows have already pointed out before, it rarely does anything new with the subject matter. There are bigoted foods in the store (including Nazi sauerkraut bottles that want to kill juice products, because "Get it?!"), and it's all a result of their interpretations of the belief all the eats share and blah blah blah.
Now I didn't find any of that to be profound or brilliant or game-changing, but I did think that it was a fun layer to the story. Nothing more than that. What really works is the film's lack of hesitation to go wild, and it went down some roads that I couldn't even imagine. Not dissimilar to Rogen and Goldberg's own This is the End, a film that I went into with no expectations whatsoever that had me howling throughout. Sausage Party is no This is the End, for that film was more controlled and landed almost all of its jokes. Sausage Party does not. There are too many stereotypes for one thing, which makes the script feel safe. The pokes at real-world issues don't reinvent the wheel. Its funnier moments actually come from incredibly absurd ideas and situations, including a sequence where the food items escape from the house and encounter a druggie who takes bath salts... and sees the food as living creatures!
The film plays with the fact that the food items are living creatures. Most of which comes from the subplot, where the other food items (including the hot dogs in the 8-pack Frank comes from) make it to their buyer's home... What ensues plays everything straight. The tone really shifts here, making the absolute slaughter the foods go through both horrifying and hilarious. If that alone turns you off, this is not the movie for you. I guess I have something of a sick sense of humor, mostly because of my Adult Swim diet growing up. The aforementioned Saving Private Ryan-like scene with the spilled flour is really grisly too... Without any gore or blood! When food gets crunched, eaten, sliced, peeled, boiled, etc... It's kind of like a horror/slasher movie! But I think the climax where the food fights back against the people - and it's as violent and sadistic as you'd expect - doesn't work at all.
Does the sexual stuff work? Yes and no, some moments are been there-done that, some of the profane jokes stick the landing while others don't ("Shit" is the first word you hear in the movie), and the after-battle orgy... Oh goodness. I found myself laughing, because that whole sequence was one "Oh my god! Did they really just do that?!" after another. They go all out with this sequence, really pushing that R certificate. The MPAA is quite lenient with food getting it on, in such detail no less. Very few little things actually got cut in order to not get the film the NC-17. Shock value mostly kind of sucks to me, but when a part in a movie really surprises me or catches me off guard, I can't help but say "Well played".
So the humor, for me, mostly comes from the premise itself and not so much the religion angle. Sausage Party aims to be offensive, no matter what hits you or what doesn't. I can't quite say I was offended by any of the jokes, though the arguably ableist Stephen Hawking-esque chewed up gum-wad comes pretty close, but I felt that too was kind of safe more so than hurtful. Shows like Family Guy have already made fun of Stephen Hawking, so it's nothing really new. The character in question gets some funny lines, but that's about it. The film's more irreverent moments also work, especially the unexpected twist ending where all the eats realize that they were created, and are in a scripted and written animated movie, made by... Some guy named Seth Rogen! Also a very unsubtle sequel hook.
Basically, you have to know your stomach before giving this movie a watch. Some parts, I couldn't even stomach, and that says a lot. I wouldn't see it in theaters due to Nitrogen's poor treatment of their staff (I was invited to go so that's how I saw it on the big screen, I was hesitant to spend a penny on this - I'm going to pay for Kubo and the Two Strings instead), but it's your call. If you can handle it and that humor is your cup of tea, it's recommended... But again, know the Nitrogen situation and do research first.
As for the quality... Well, it's decent. Some stuff surprises, there's some cool stuff here and there, lot of jokes produce laughs, a good few don't.