Sans a surplus of musical numbers (although it has one terrific tune), Sausage Party is Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s Book of Mormon moment. This animated marvel is an ecumenically equal-opportunity offender with deep reserves of hope, heart, humor, heroism and heft — a bawdy bounce through Baudrillard, a hard-R view on Hobbes, a dissertation on Darwinism with dick jokes.
Taken from a Pixar plot perspective, this movie about self-aware food in a supermarket mashes the existential queries of Toy Story with the stand-your-ground pride of A Bug’s Life. But if you’re foolish enough to bring kids, you deserve to endure the awkward efforts to explain … well, all that transpires.
This goes beyond adult humor and into thematic complexity rivaling Inside Out. Rogen and company crank the absurdity of their narrative and its frightening real-world analogs — related to anxieties and neuroses we cling to long past sell-by dates. Sounds like a harsh on the expected mellow, but Sausage Party’s commentary is as stoned immaculate as its comedy, and your body will hurt from laughing.
Unbeknownst to its employees or patrons, products on the shelves of Shopwell’s Supermarket greet each day with a song. They literally sing praise in hopes they will go to “the great beyond” (a beatifically beautiful white light beyond those automatic doors) to serve their gods (human shoppers).
Legendary composer Alan Menken’s sweet music is a perfect rope-a-dope to lyrically bestial adaptations some of the foods have taken upon themselves to serve their own needs. If neither the tune (nor the film) are respectively Oscar-nominated for 2016’s Best Original Song or Best Animated Feature Film, consider both categories a sham next season.
These foodstuffs are, of course, blissfully ignorant of what really happens to them beyond the blue horizon until a disgruntled jar of honey mustard (voiced by Danny McBride) unexpectedly returns to Shopwell’s shelves. The mustard’s PTSD panic triggers an unraveling of the crew’s carefully curated delusions … but also the hope for a future less fraught with fretting over fate versus freewill.
The main players are Frank (Rogen), a wily wiener, and Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a buxom bun to whom he’s betrothed. Their love story transcends the obviously anatomical to achieve legitimate sweetness.
Joining them are Barry (Michael Cera), a misshapen sausage on an epic journey outside his package; Teresa (Salma Hayek), a hard-shell taco whose soft spot for one character helps the film unleash a flood of pansexual positivity; Sammy Bagel Jr., expertly voiced by an actor whose involvement I wouldn’t dare spoil; and Vash, a Middle Eastern flap of lavash who becomes Sammy’s begrudging fellow traveler and whose ideological tension is given deliciously devilish voice by Jewish comedian David Krumholtz.
Usual suspects from Rogen’s reportorial rogue’s gallery turn up, like Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Craig Robinson and Paul Rudd. The MVPs, though, are Nick Kroll, as the summer’s best villain, and Scott Underwood, a storyboard artist whose work on a pivotal third-act character will make you immediately crave a desk toy to chuckle at for eternity. (Seriously, whatever company jumps on the tie-ins for these can shut up and take my money.)
Sausage Party’s animation also rises to its level of naughty sophistication. Shopwell’s is as visually vibrant a microcosm of the real world as the kid-friendlier Zootopia, and the frame’s farthest edges are filled with blink-and-miss-it gags (like per-serving calorie counts or product names nigh indiscernible from culturally insensitive monikers in a real-world market). Kudos to co-directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, the latter of whom co-directed Shrek 2 and the underrated Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and is the voice of Shrek’s Gingerbread Man.
Their attention to detail helps convey Sausage Party’s central idea of food’s inherent hope as a cross-cultural equalizer writ large. Couple that with parity of the grocery store, in which many nations reside under the same roof so to speak … and how that ecosystem starts to fall apart.
So many of Sausage Party’s characters are certain that the perils befalling them are playing out as a punitive edict from a wrathful god — Job-like misery for succumbing to even the slightest temptation or deviation from the norm. So they compensate, like us, with growing, xenophobic animosity toward whatever food they perceive as “the other.” When Frank quips “It seems like a pretty big aisle,” it lands as a punchline and a poignant lament. A scene when all of Sausage Party’s ethnically disparate grains set aside their differences to solve a problem together is far more powerful than you might expect.
Sausage Party’s resolution is far less sunny than Mormon but equally delightful — the foods militarizing a search for meaning in mightily funny ways. They’re out less to reestablish the status quo than to undertake the messier task of creating a new world order — perfectly springboarding to the idea that the only way to truly save some sacred texts is to simply tear them up. Sausage Party leans into such philosophical anarchy with aplomb, continually topping itself in an action-packed third act until it reaches a natural endgame … and a scene that brings new meaning to the idea of a cleanup on aisle five.
Alongside 2013’s This is the End and their TV adaptation of Preacher for AMC, Sausage Party secures Rogen and Goldberg’s place as preeminent sweet-sour satirists of spirituality — served up here with a side-dish smorgasbord of identity, sexual and international politics. Whenever Sausage Party threatens to turn saccharine, it simply trots out another sacred cow to gleefully, and vividly, disembowel for your delight. Attention, shoppers: Here is one of 2016’s very best films.