Sausage Party has an inherently funny premise. As the kind of herbal-fueled daydream that comes with too much medicinal medication during a Toy Story marathon, the movie asks a simple question: what if our food was alive… and how hellish would that be when every carrot, potato, and even naïve sausage is put on the chopping block?
It is as darkly hilarious as you might imagine. And for a few moments, Sausage Party achieves its brutally amusing promise. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the movie is just brutal. Working from an idea by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who along with Jonah Hill share story credit, directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon attempt to create the kind of foulmouthed and R-rated animated comedy that likely would have been shocking in the 1990s. But South Park treaded that ground 20 years ago with their earliest seasons before evolving into a brilliantly nihilist form of satire. They even skewered animated musicals two decades ago with South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.
By comparison, Sausage Party’s unapologetically sophomoric reliance on mining its laughs from racial stereotypes and sexual gags appears hopelessly dated, an experience that is as underachieving as the onscreen druggie that’s seen disemboweling a bag of potato chips. Don’t worry Mr. Potato Chip, you’re not the only thing here that’s lacking in guts.
Set like many a Pixar movie in a heavenly paradise—this time a shiny supermarket, as opposed to a child’s bedroom—Sausage Party begins strong when Alan Menken of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin fame is recruited to write the music for a song about the aspirations of food. Apparently, all edible items, from healthy cabbages and ears of corn to questionable juice boxes, are alive and dream that this will be the day they are selected by the “gods.” These supreme beings come with their shopping carts to take food through the doors to the “Great Beyond” where a beautiful afterlife awaits.
Among those waiting to be chosen are a group of hotdogs (referred to as sausages for the benefit of the movie’s title) voiced by a collection of comedy actors. There is Jonah Hill as Carl, a wise guy piece of meat, as well as the misshapen and smaller Barry (Michael Cera), whose lack of confidence is only made up by his benefit of girth. Then there is their leader Frank (Seth Rogen), who longs for nothing but to slip more than just his tip into the hot dog bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig). Alas, she insists that they must wait until the gods select them to consummate their carnal and carnivore desires.
Yet, when the big day comes, a shell-shocked can of Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) is on hand to warn of the horrors he’s seen. As a product returned by its god, he knows what awaits them, and elects suicide over being slowly eaten alive.
He creates anarchy as a result of spilling across the floor, and Frank and Brenda must find a way back to their aisle, as well as perhaps the truth about the gods. During this journey, they must also escape the villainous Douche (Nick Kroll), a Long Island-sounding literal douchebag that is angry that he lost his chance to be selected for service. They’re also joined by Sammy Bagel Jr. (Edward Norton), a neurotic bread doing a half-decent Woody Allen impression, and Vash (David Krumholtz), a flatbread lavash that despises Sammy Bagel Jr. for taking over space in his aisle. Vash also desperately wants to get out of the store so he can earn his 70 virgin olive oil sprays down his flaps. Get it?
You better get it, because that is more or less the main joke when the food items aren’t running for their lives from the jaws of humans.
There is a definite audience for Sausage Party, not least of which because there are some clever ideas at work throughout the film. A clear example of a movie where mileage will vary, there are plenty of giggles to be had as a potato is skinned alive or baby carrots are butchered to the freakish horror of all other products. Unfortunately, this is the best stuff and all of it is in the trailer.
The movie also makes an awkward stab at an underlining message about atheism and the need to live in the present, as opposed to following dishonest scripture made up to console us about the emptiness of oblivion that awaits. Nevertheless, the poking of religion is not as sophisticated or wry as one suspects the screenwriters believe. Rather, the subtext is about as entertaining, and as self-righteously noisy, as a high school stoner’s rant on why God is dead, man.
Otherwise, Rogen and Goldberg’s humor, which always deals in equal measures of vulgarity and bromance sentimentality, strangely fails to walk the line between sweet and crude like many of their live-action screenplays have in the past, including Superbad, This is the End, and The Night Before. Instead, it is the same redundant joke about how Mexican Tequila is drunk and shifty, Native American firewater is wise but smoking too much peyote, and Canadian beer is always saying “sorry.” Oh, and of course sausages just want to stuff as many buns as they can.
Exploiting stereotypes to make insightful and often hilarious observations about life is the tool of the trade for most great comedians. But they can also be used as crutches for movies and sketches too lazy to stand on their own. And as it stands, those who are fine with the joke ultimately coming down to watching ethnic foods get it on will have an uproarious time with Sausage Party, but even with all the four-letter words, this still feels like immature kids’ stuff.