I think that the work of producer/writer/director duo, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, is due for a critical reevaluation. Though being generally praised, there’s a sort of disposable attitude that is given to their work despite delivering fairly consistently for well over a decade. I’ve always felt their unique blend of vulgarity and character driven storytelling has a level of intelligence and thought that is evident whenever you see a poor imitation, which will often lack their razor sharp focus on theme/character. This brings us to their latest film, directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, Sausage Party, where they share a writing credit with Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir. It’s a film being sold pretty much solely on the fact that it’s an R-rated computer animated film, and appropriately enough given that, while it certainly isn’t the first R-rated animated film, it is the first of it’s kind to ever get a wide release.
Obviously, with every Rogen/Goldberg joint, you know pretty much what you’re going to get, at least in terms of the sense of humor. It’s a movie about talking food in a grocery store made by famous stoners, after all. What you won’t expect is the film being a surprisingly comprehensive exploration of organized religion, its practices, its consequences, and how our actions in the name of it reflect back on us. Yeah. This movie goes there, and it’s not even trying to be subtle about it. Metaphors for atheism, radicalism, intolerance, and even the Israel/Palestine conflict (amongst many others) are littered throughout and they add another dimension to the movie that one wouldn’t have seen coming.
Aside from the commentary, the movie is drop dead funny even on a purely surface level. In fact, the energy and style of humor is the closest to what Mel Brooks would have been able to pull off in his prime, but you know, a million times raunchier. It revels in the gratuitous use of puns and stereotypes, but the use of stereotypes off as a sincere attempt at a joke and it never feels like the filmmakers are being lazy or punching down. The film directly engages with the stereotypes, and what they mean, why they happen and what they say about a society that relies on it. The humor is deliberately offensive, no doubt, but it is not mean-spirited. It is also absolutely relentless and the jokes are delivered like a machine gun. Even if one gag doesn’t work, there’s eight more just around the corner. And it is so committed to the sheer ridiculousness and shock factor that it becomes hard to not get swept up in all the lunacy.
The humor also works because it is an honest to God pitch perfect spoof of the Pixar formula. And this goes beyond the basic “what if ___ had feelings” setup. It takes the familiar beats of a Pixar film that you will see, while even taking the deeper ambitions that Pixar takes with their films to its logical extreme. It’s such a structurally sound spoof because each of those story beats doesn’t necessarily rely on being a reference, it simply uses the beat with a straight face while pointing out what makes some of those aspects so ridiculous when you put a deeper thought on them. It’s the heart of most of the gags in the film, where the odd logical stuff in most family films that you just have to ignore is brought to the forefront and is taken to a hilarious extreme. Hell, the film even begins with a musical number, and get this – Alan Menken did the music for this movie, I repeat Alan “I made the music of your childhood with Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame” Menken did the music for Sausage Party, and he wasn’t phoning it in, I can tell you that. There really hasn’t been anything like it since the days of films like Blazing Saddles or the Naked Gun.
Then there’s the climax.
Where the final act of this film goes is just a work of perverse and gloriously insane brilliance. It’s might even be the funniest part (though there sure are lots of laughs to be found here), the sheer audacity of it is what makes it. It’s so refreshing to see something not only animated film, but a mainstream American release, go into such a shamelessly bonkers territory. I can’t in good conscious ruin it for anyone who doesn’t already know about it. But I’ll say that after seeing so many blockbusters have such uninspired, limp finales, it’s cool to see a story really build itself up and end on a bang.
Sausage Party is a film that only gets better the more I think about it. It is easily one of the better American comedies in the past decade. Not only does it work as a gleefully vulgar comedy, it is a deceptively clever satire on the Pixar formula and also a layered commentary on organized religion. While there are certainly a lot of wonderful, creative and brilliant artists involved, it is undoubtedly a brainchild of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and this might be what really pushes them into being filmmakers worth taking seriously as a creative force to be reckoned with. There is some odd pacing at point and a few jokes that fall flat and go nowhere, but there’s not a lot else that goes wrong here, it remains tight and consistent for a vast majority of the movie. It is weirdly inspiring in terms of its total punk rock creativity and boundary pushing attitude without ever feeling smug or self-satisfied. I’m hesitant to call it perfect right now, but then again, there is a montage that plays a Meat Loaf song that is literally sung by a packaged meat loaf, so maybe it’s a masterpiece, I don’t know. 90/100