Monday, August 22, 2016

Party Time

Animation for adults is hardly an uncommon thing, but it's still apparently rare enough in America (even with South Park and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim around) that each new example gets a lot of attention. So people were shocked all over again a week ago when the movie Sausage Party arrived in theaters.

In a grocery store where all the food hopes to be purchased by one of the Gods and taken to The Great Beyond outside the store doors, a hot dog named Frank is hoping to be paired with a bun named Brenda. But when calamity forces them out of their packages and separates them from their friends, their adventures across the store reveal a terrible truth. "The Great Beyond" is a fiction, concocted to mask the horrific slaughter that awaits at the hands -- and mouths -- of the Gods.

I mentioned South Park deliberately in the intro, as this movie embraces the same spirit of delirious profanity as Trey Parker and Matt Stone. In particular, Sausage Party has a lot in common with Team America: World Police (in just how far it's willing to go) and The Book of Mormon (for it's barely coded message).

When the movie is in "funny" mode, it's hard-to-catch-your-breath funny. The Disney-style opening number (with music by Alan Menken, no less!) sets the stage for an opening act of hilarious jokes that run the gamut from gross-out humor, playing with stereotypes, parody, and everything in between. And the final 15 minutes are even better, and often even more shocking than funny.

In the "message" mode, Sausage Party actually has something to say -- and it goes about it more cleverly than most people would expect a "stoner film" to manage. The middle act is a not-at-all-subtle dig at organized religion, with a nice joke or two at the expense of overly smug atheists too.

The flaw of Sausage Party is that these two modes of the movie rarely work together at the same time. Half the movie (the bookends) is laugh out loud hysterical. The other half is just plain smart, and seems all the more so for coming when you don't necessarily expect it. But invert your point of view on that, and you could also say that half the movie isn't nearly as funny as it should be, and the other half is just a procession of stupid jokes. I don't mean to undersell the whole package, which is good overall, but I felt like it could have been even better, given the separate hints of greatness.

The cast here is largely made of the usual suspects -- Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Nick Kroll, Paul Rudd, and David Krumholtz. But there are also some new voices for this gang -- Kritsen Wiig, Bill Hader, Salma Hayek, and (incongruously and unrecognizably) Edward Norton. It's a solid ensemble that definitely elevates the funny.

I'd say Sausage Party merits a B+. I'd wager that's more than high enough for most people's hopes of it, though I'd have to say after seeing it that I might have hoped for even higher.

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