There are few things that I love more than a dumb comedy that’s actually rather smart. Whenever Seth Rogen has been in charge of a movie along with his co-writer, co-producer, and occasionally co-director Evan Goldberg, the duo tend to deliver just that. They specialize in the filthiest of mainstream comedies (Superbad, This Is The End, etc.) that tend to also carry an unexpected emotional depth, or sneaky satire, or meta-movie commentary beneath all the sex, drugs, farts, and swears. Their latest flick Sausage Party starts out as a hilarious pisstake on anthropomorphized CGI family comedies that was made filthy for fun. As the movie wears on and all the cheap laughs pile up, it gradually grows into something far more ambitious, clever, and in its own dumb way kind of profound. That’s a tricky balancing act to pull off and while Rogen and Goldberg don’t quite nail their silly/smart satirical intent quite as perfectly as Trey Parker or Matt Stone, they at least deliver the funniest Hollywood film of the summer that’s also deceptively the smartest.
The whole silly tale of Sausage Party takes place in a supermarket. The characters in this film are sentient groceries that open every morning with a song describing how desperately they hope to be selected by the gods (humans) and taken to the paradise of The Great Beyond (outside the store). Of course, they’re all destined to be used and destroyed, but they don’t know that so they are all giddy and happy. Rogen stars as the voice of a hot dog that can’t wait to be chosen so that he can finally slide inside the sexy bun (Kristen Wiig) he’s longed for his entire life. It finally happens, but they are chosen alongside a suicidal jar of mustard (Danny McBride) that has seen the outside world and knows its deadly secret. The mustard leaps from the shopping cart to its death and Rogen and Wiig also fall trying to save it. This leads to a hilariously bad taste parody of Saving Private Ryan and 9/11 with broken food frantically trying to reassemble itself in a cloud of dust. From there, Rogen and Wiig journey through the store in an attempt to find their way home and also determine whether or not this ‘Great Beyond’ thing is actually a big ol’ pile of hooey.
On the one hand Sausage Party is a pretty standard CGI “believe in yourself” journey laced with offensive gags. Every conceivable pun and swearword is crammed in along with some of the dirtiest slapstick ever conceived. But thanks to veteran animation directors Greg Tiernan (Thomas The Tank Engine) and Conrad Vernon (Shrek 2) it all looks bright, poppy, and cute. The dichotomy of raunchy humor and kiddie visuals gets plenty of comedy mileage, especially thanks to the brilliant voice cast of regular Rogen collaborators like Wiig, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Paul Rudd, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, and especially Nick Kroll (who plays the funniest evil douchebag you’ll ever see). The laughs are consistent, but the premise is only one extended joke that would get tired were it not for the fact that Rogen/Goldberg have grander plans.
You see, those lovable stoner movie moguls aren’t just toying around with the aesthetics of Pixar, they also ape their storytelling formula by including a meaningful message. The whole “Great Beyond” storyline allows them to explore the absurdity of religion and how it divides people rather than pulling them together. All of the separated food tend to conform to established stereotypes like a Nazi sauerkraut singing about exterminating ‘the juice’ or a pair of sidekicks that are a feuding bagel (Edward Norton doing a hilarious Woody Allen) and a pita (David Krumholtz) in a mini Israel satire. Sausage Party takes the Blazing Saddles approach to satire by giddily causing absurd outrage to make a point. The movie even manages to add an inclusive atheist message that encourages everyone not to mock or scoff at faith, but to embrace love alongside the meaninglessness of existence. It’s all surprisingly wise stuff so there’s a lot to love in the mix of high and low humour.
Ever since Superbad made them a commercial brand, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s comedy partnership has consistently grown in ambition in ways they don’t get often credit for. On a certain level it makes sense. After all, they generally make movies about potheads joking about their dicks. However, there have increasingly been stabs and political satire and social commentary within the parade of drug and dick jokes (most notably The Interview, the movie that North Korea didn’t want you to see…until it was widely available online). Sausage Party feels like a big leap forward for the duo artistically, which is odd given that the deliberately misleading cutesy CGI marketing suggests that it might be their most openly commercial effort. R-rated animation just isn’t as common as it should be and the last time a film came out on this scale was probably South Park: Bigger, Longer, And Uncut. Sausage Party will likely surprise people, but hopefully it won’t take too long. It would be nice if this thing was a hit since CGI blockbusters aren’t going anywhere, so getting a few of them for grownups would be a blessing. There’s something about watching a family friendly cartoon character go for adult laughs that’s oddly charming for weirdos like myself. Hopefully this won’t be the only time it happens.