Hey. Do you guys remember puppet comedian Jeff Dunham, whose downtrodden Mexican “on a steeeek” character José Jalapeño delighted many a middle-class white American in the '90s? Well, imagine he blazed up a joint with Bill Maher, wrote a manifesto on atheism and then made a multimillion-dollar animated feature film about the inner lives of grocery-store food with the admirable goal of offending as many people as possible. Then imagine that the characters and dialogue were as dull as unsalted saltines and things got real preachy. That’s Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s new Sausage Party.
Unbeknownst to humans, food is alive — alive, with a multitude of feelings (and extremely stereotypical accents). Frank (Rogen), a hot dog, and his girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a bun, await that moment when a god (a human) will choose them for the Great Beyond (a customer's kitchen). Finally, they’ll be able to come out of their packages, and meat will slip into bread — though even in their refrigerator case they’ve secretly been touching tips, and Brenda’s freaked out that this means she’s not fresh and the gods will punish her. And across the ecosystem of their grocery store, other foods are embroiled in feuds and parties and battles for territory. (I’m still surprised there were no Gaza bacon strip puns.)
The premise is an easy allegory for religion and the world’s problems; stop waiting for a higher authority to tell you what to do and just fucking do what you want. In fact, that's a perfect vehicle for comedy, which makes it such a shame that so many of the jokes are so on the nose. Okay, fine, make the bagel Jewish, but why the hell has the default for a Jewish guy become a slipshod impression of Woody Allen (voiced by Edward Norton, no less)? You’d think after a while, people would want to give a different face to Jewish caricatures that isn’t an accused pedophile, but whatever. The Sauerkraut (co-director Conrad Vernon) is a Nazi, and the Lavash (David Krumholtz) is a Jihadist, so mostly everyone’s terrible, except for Frank, whose only fault is being “insensitive” in the manner of most Seth Rogen characters.
A raucous musical number praises the gods and the religious order of the store, but there’s trouble brewing when Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) is returned with some Post-Kitchen Stress Disorder, because shit is not okay on the other side — he brings the news that, one purchased, they’re all gonna get MURDERED. Frank and Brenda are finally “chosen,” but then, in a disastrous cart accident, the couple — along with Lavash, Sammy Bagel and Douche (Nick Kroll) — get stranded in the grocery store. Douche is fucking livid he didn’t get to get all up in a lady’s crotch with his nozzle all jacked up from the crash, and Lavash and Sammy hate each other, because that’s what Arabs and Jews do. And so they begin their journey to return to their packaging, but Frank worries over Honey Mustard’s warning — it’s a hot dog having an existential crisis.
Yes, all of this is raunchy, but by the end of the film, the raunch feels like a placeholder for when none of the five writers of this script could think of anything actually funny to say — Lavash lazes around post-coitus, talking about how his asshole will never recover from the pounding he took from Sammy Bagel. The movie's just whimsical-looking characters saying “bad” things. Those aren’t jokes, and, seriously, even Ski School had jokes! Yet Rogen et al. report that they've worked on this for 10 years.
However, every person on this animation and editing team needs a raise. They've crafted three intensely memorable and hilarious scenes: a musical number about how “nothing bad will ever happen” in the Great Beyond, which swoops through the entire grocery store to reveal hundreds of oddball characters; a kaleidoscopic food orgy that transcends space and time; and an unbelievably gory disaster-aftermath scene in which sobbing peanut butter clutches the limp hand of a shattered and leaking jelly jar and an Oreo with one wafer blown off absently picks up his severed body part, wandering through the carnage like he’s a survivor in Saving Private Ryan. Whoa. Those set pieces are psychedelic parody at its best, and they also have the least dialogue.
But take away the sophisticated CGI, the Pixar-adorable character design and those three scenes, and what’s left is one toke away from being a Dunham special you left on to fall asleep to the sound.