The hard-R animated comedy has a storied history (see: Fritz the Cat, Southpark, and Heavy Traffic), but is not a particularly populous genre, and it is easy to see why. Animation is both expensive and time-consuming, so it is extra challenging for an R-rated animated film to recoup its investment when compared to the more family-friendly fare of studios like Pixar or Dreamworks. But, none of that seems to matter to the creative forces behind Sausage Party, a coarse animated comedy from the minds of Seth Rogen and his crew, and which was directed by the team of Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon. Though the movie leans heavily on foul language, offensive stereotypes, and blatant sexual innuendo, there is also a surprising intellect behind the plot elements and thematic statements. The end product is a wonderful mixture of crass sex jokes, pop culture reference, and foul language – all of which serves a story that brings far more to the table than the standard hard-R comedy.
The elevator pitch for Sausage Party invokes Pixar distorted by a funhouse mirror: What if our food was “alive”. Suffice to say, that would be pretty fucked up for the food. Given that basic Kernel, Rogen and Co. craft an entire world. The foods (and products) all share a mythology about what exists in “The Great Beyond” when they are finally chosen by the “Gods” to leave the supermarket. There’s even a Disney-esque opening song number to ram the absurdity home, complete with casual yet filthy swears (and at least one reference to Hitler). Three minutes into Sausage Party we understand the basic idea, but there is much more for us to learn.
It’s 4th of July weekend, “Red-White-And-Blue Day” to the foodstuffs, and they know that this is the time for hot dogs and buns to reach the great beyond. Frank (Seth Rogen) is one of the hot dogs, and his package (heh) sits right next to Brenda’s (Kristen Wiig), a surprisingly labial bun. The two are destined to meet in the great beyond and complete each other, and there’s plenty of overt sexuality in their relationship. But, for that to happen they need to be chosen together. Though they are, a returned jar of honey mustard has learned the truth, and when he tries to escape the shopping cart, the noble Frank does his best to save the mustard. As a result, Frank and Brenda leave their packages and fall on the ground, and a certain Douche gets his nozzle bent, fixating on revenge against Frank for rocking the boat. From here, Frank undergoes a spiritual journey to understand if Honey Mustard’s ravings were justified.
From the standpoint of the animation style, the creators make some remarkable choices. The animation is a little wonky and rough – not like the super-polished aesthetic of Disney, Pixar, or Dreamworks. Subconsciously, this contributes to the more crass and subversive nature of the film. Furthermore, there are nice stylistic choices when portraying the Food World and the Human World that the film wisely takes advantage of, and some spectacular cheats as well (mostly involving drugs; this is still a Seth Rogen film, afterall). Lastly, there are a couple of musical numbers in the movie, but this is certainly not a true musical a la the South Park movie.
The comedic sensibilities are incredibly vulgar, as one would predict, but there are also a great deal of real-world references in the film that intend to lampoon or satirize and are not dependent on filthiness to get a laugh across. That being said, there is plenty room for abject raunchiness, and while the sexuality of the film is apparent almost from the opening scene, it is all built up over the course of the narrative, reaching a climax in one of the most out-there and bizarre sequences in existence, where disparate foodstuffs enjoy a deity-defying orgy to rival the worst scenes from Caligula.
Most interestingly, the film doubles-down on its vulgarity with a healthy helping of heresy, and this seriously informs the thematic bent of the film. The major theme of Sausage Party (which is an absurd sentence to type) is the role that blind belief and faith can play in controlling the masses, especially in light of a bleak, cruel world. But, it isn’t just an anti-religion circle-jerk; there are ancillary themes which further explore crises in faith and how best to handle them, as well as the proper way to challenge the beliefs of others (pro tip: don’t just call everyone’s beliefs “bullshit”; that doesn’t go over well). Overall, it is a well-considered and fleshed out plot-theme, and is better than most animated films. For example, there is certainly more thematic gumption to Sausage Party than there was to Finding Dory. Furthermore, this film puts most R-Rated grossout comedies to absolute shame from both a comedic and a thematic angle, as those film generally lack themes more complex than “friendship is good” and lean far too hard on shit / dick jokes to carry the day. Not to say that Sausage Party doesn’t liberally dip into that same well – but there is a little extra behind it.
Ultimately, this is a wonderfully complex film that also makes multiple sex jokes, says the word “cunt” with impunity, and allows Edward Norton to do a blatant Woody Allen impression as an animated bagel. The animation and comedy style are perfectly in sync, many of the characters are well-developed, and there is a fantastic plot and theme that interact very well with the chosen subject matter. This photo-negative of a Pixar family film will definitely entertain those who are in to the hard-R comedy genre, and I think there is enough gained from the animated aspect to justify spending millions of dollars rendering a hot dog bun in the shape of a vulva. Don’t be surprised if Sausage Party sits right next to offerings from Disney, Pixar, and Illumination in the “Best Animated Feature” category come Oscar season.