The latest from writing duo Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg is another raunchy stoner comedy with one unique conceit: this one is animated. Certainly not the first R-rated cartoon, Sausage Party is perhaps the first to set its sights on the universally beloved Pixar Studios.
Set in the idyllic grocery paradise called Shopwell, the film opens with a song, an incomprehensible number that attempts to explain, in a vomitous cocktail of color and sound, that the products in Shopwell want nothing more than to be personally chosen by the Gods (humans) and taken to The Great Beyond. Some products, like Frank the hot dog (Rogen) and Brenda the bun (Wiig) have other desires as well, but when the two of them get knocked out of the cart, their journey back to their aisle sets them on an adventure through the perilous sections of Shopwell.
Of course they’re cursing up a storm along the way. The film announces its hard R-rating from the get, but the cognitive dissonance that is meant to carry the film dissipates quickly from overuse, like the first time Cartman said “sh*t” on TV . . . 162 times. South Park knows that vulgarity for vulgarity’s sake only goes so far (even Cartman’s potty-mouth was a commentary on censorship) and Sausage Party tries to inject some allegorical content but stops short of skewering anyone or anything beyond surface level. Sammy Bagel Jr. (Ed Norton) is basically Woody Allen, and his constant bickering with the Middle Eastern bread Lavash (David Krumholtz) is more clever than funny. That can be said about most of the film: there’s a glut of clever ideas, but a dearth of good jokes. The best parts come in the form of visual gags, like the “brutal” shopping cart spill that echoes the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan.
The true talent of Pixar is to pluck at our heartstrings no matter how reluctant we are to have them plucked. Resistance is futile, and the best way for Sausage Party to succeed would have been to assimilate, to pull a Pixar, and put some undeniable pathos in an unsuspecting package. Like the many half-hearted social and religious metaphors in the picture, Rogen and Goldberg seem either unwilling, uninterested or afraid to go any deeper with the emotional arc between Frank and Brenda. Instead, they stick to their comfort zone, i.e. dick jokes and dorm room epiphanies, a realm in which they usually excel. But working in a genre that generally has a message (see Zootopia, WALL-E), or a strong emotional story (see Up, Toy Story 3), Sausage Party’s lack of either is glaringly apparent, resulting in what amounts to an extended episode of Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction (a hilarious podcast for the non-squeamish) that somehow feels both overthought and half-baked.