Movie Review: Sausage Party
By Ben Gruchow
August 22, 2016
Their respective packs are indeed chosen, but the journey to the Great Beyond is interrupted by a jar of returned honey mustard, who’s been to the Beyond and has been driven mad by the horrors he’s witnessed. He derails the cart, Frank and Brenda are left behind while the other items in the cart get to leave, and then we follow them through the market over the course of a night as they discover the true nature of the world, the “gods”, and their relationship to them.
This much is absolutely true about Sausage Party: it is a crystal-clear example of something that could be achieved in no other universe but animation. The writers consist of Rogen, Jonah Hill (also playing another hot dog) and Evan Goldberg, and their story and humor sensibilities are old hat by now. This movie is really nothing more than an indirect sequel to their 2013 This Is the End on a narrative level: like in that film, a bunch of innocuous friends and acquaintances are confronted by the specter of something big and supernatural (to them), and most of what we see are informal reactions, possibly ad-libbed, pitched at the level of a stoned twentysomething. This particular incarnation of the story, though, would be impossible to tell in live action. By resorting to CGI, Rogen and Goldberg and Hill, and directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, enable an aesthetic that is at least in theory totally new - and I learn from the movie’s Wikipedia page that this is the first CGI-animated film to ever be rated R.
It’s not a successful pioneer on that front, I’d argue; rating aside, we have progressed to the point where there really isn’t a “type” of film that we haven’t seen realized by the best of what computer animation can do; a movie that is limited in its budget, like this one was, may provide us with a legitimate reason why something does not look up to the level of its contemporaries, but it does not mean the movie must be excused on those grounds. And does Sausage Party ever look like something that came out sometime in 1997: when an all-CGI movie had some kind of precedent, without anyone outside of Pixar having any real idea what to do with the technology. The surfaces in this movie are slick, smooth, untextured, and rubbery. Character expressions *do* hold to a model; we are at least nowhere near the melting-wax consistency of the horrors from Foodfight!, but we’re still talking about onscreen participants who may as well have been plucked from a “Living Food” 3D Animation software pack and simply manipulated, rather than personalized in any way.
This is pretty destructive when the performers behind the onscreen characters are people with voices as distinctive as Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, but there’s a whole cavalcade of talent at work here, and most of the movie works hard at anonymizing all of them through the blandness of the screenplay anyway. Wiig is one of the most talented comic actresses of her generation, and yet Brenda is such a mirthless placeholder of a character that it took me until the end credits to realize who vocalized her. As the list of names keeps popping up, the thought kept occurring to me: there was no need to cast Paul Rudd, or Edward Norton, or Michael Cera, or James Franco, because none of the characters make any kind of real impression other than the one generated by the familiarity of this group of performers re-teaming.
That’s really what there is to take away from Sausage Party: it’s the same creative team behind This Is The End, joining up with the same cast from This Is The End, to make a movie that’s more or less just like This Is The End except in animated form, with superficially different plot machinations. If this is what you’re looking for, this is what you’ll get. Myself, I’m invested in the comic talent of the people here, but positively blasé about the retread nature of the work here. Everyone involved has made at least one smarter, funnier film in the last couple of years, and this feels like a big step back.