Sunday, 14 August 2016

Movie Review: Sausage Party (2016)



I once again find myself in a position similar to that when I reviewed Vacation, where I am under the impression that I could watch virtually anything as a follow-up and it’s bound to be a step-up from what I saw previously. While my opinion on Lights Out has been softened slightly in light of its rewrite, make no mistake, I still hate that piece of trash. So, I figured I’d actively go out and find a film I was really looking forward to, and this was certainly it. I’ve made my point about how much I’ve come to appreciate the films produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, but this might have one of the most striking trailers I’ve seen all year. Like, on par if not better than the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane, which turned out to be one of the best films of the year so far. Now, with how family-friendly animated films have really taken on board the idea of appealing everyone in said family with more mature story-telling and a basic level of respect for its audiences, I would normally question if making an R-rated animated film is even necessary in today’s day and age. As I’m about to get into, that question got answered in the best way possible. This is Sausage Party.


The plot: At the supermarket Shopwell’s, sausage Frank (Seth Rogen) and hot dog bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) await the day when they picked up off the shelf by a human and taken to The Great Beyond. However, as food products around him begin to question just what exactly happens when the gods decide to choose them, he ventures deeper in the supermarket to find the answer. When he discovers the terrible truth about what happens to them, and what will soon happen to his friends, he must warn everyone before they too meet a gruesome end.

The cast here is largely comprised of actors best known for their work in live-action cinema. Now, while the fabled English dubs of Studio Ghibli may insist otherwise, this could go extremely badly. Comparing voice acting to physical acting is like comparing a painting to a feature-length film: The format inherently contains a lot less, which means that a lot more has to delivered with the little that they are allowed. In that respect, I have to admit, I am genuinely surprised that the cast here is as good as it is. Bear in mind that a large number of characters here are basically walking stereotypes, with Rogen and Wiig as what could loosely be called the default male protagonist and default female love interest. From there, things only get more blatant, mostly going with broad cultural stereotypes that highlight one of the many, many things that this film can get away with because it is not in live-action. When it gets to the point where Edward Norton is in the film, and I kept thinking that he was Richard Kind (AKA the guy who voiced Bing Bong in Inside Out) and completely forgot he was even in the film, isolating individual performances feels rather pointless seeing as you’d probably never guess it was them unless strictly told so. That said, I’m not discarding them on those grounds. On the contrary, as I seriously cannot pick out a single performance here that felt out-of-place or badly delivered. Whether it’s Selma Hayek as a lesbian taco or Bill Hader as a weed-smoking Native American bottle of alcohol, everyone here works in that special way that is usually only found in the works of Ghibli.

This is, from what I can ascertain, the first R-rated CGI film to get this expansive a release. This is rather important to note for two reasons. One, this is potentially something that could either make or break an entire sub-genre; two, this needs to prove its own right to exist as a work. Well, to put the film on probably the most stable grounds possible, it does what any good animated film does: Tell a story that could not be done otherwise. In fact, the heavy racial and religious stereotypes employed here just feel like a natural offshoot of the fact that these are directors, writers and animators who truly understand the freedom that animation can afford them. And quite honestly, nothing says “We can do whatever the fuck we want” quite like this film. Admittedly, I went into this rather worried that its rather shocking and thinly-veiled gory trailer would just highlight the film’s only reason to watch. But then we get into the actual guts of the thing and… actually, before we go any further, I should say that this might be one of the most obvious films I’ve ever sat through. Any comments I’ve made previously about films beating their audiences into submission with their message could be applied here and then some. Same goes for the humour, which goes down a similar road to another supermarket-set animated comedy with Foodfight!, in that it is packed with an ungodly amount of food puns. However, unlike that abomination on all things shown at 25 frames-per-second, the jokes are actually funny. Maybe it’s because it admits how damn easy such jokes are to make, almost like they have to make them, or maybe it’s because there isn’t a single recognizable brand name in sight, but it works for the kind of film that it is. In non-CGI land, otherwise known as the real world, more off-colour jokes that are made amongst friends are usually done with the qualifier “Sorry, dude, I had to; the opportunity was right there.” Or, at least, that’s how things usually are between me and my friends.

It also helps that these people know what they’re doing when it comes to both filmmaking and screenwriting. They seem to have taken a seldom-ignored rule of cinema about making seemingly small things seem like the biggest sources of drama ever conceived, and you definitely get that impression. When it wants to be funny, it succeeds through a combination of rib-nudging quips and a lack of line-o-rama that further separates this from the other bro-comedies of recent times. This is helped by how much they are able to get away with, from Nazi jokes about killing the juice to a sex scene that makes Team America: World Police look like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. When it wants to be scary, it makes the act of eating food seem like the most terrifying thing imaginable, something helped by the score done by Christopher Lennertz and Alan friggin’ Manken, also known as that guy who owns your childhood if you grew up on Disney musicals. I never thought I could be so scared of a literal douchebag, but this film managed to do it. When it wants to be insightful, even through its incredibly on-the-nose fashion, it uses the smoke screen of computer animation to touch on a lot of topics: Religion, sexual politics, regular politics, the meaning of existence, not to mention good ol’ drugs as a means of mind expansion, in quite possibly one of the more comfortably surreal moments of the film. There is a very definite brain behind this film, and the way it discusses such things show not only very clear self-awareness about itself, but also an awareness that regardless of how obvious such ideas are, sometimes they still need to be said. Much like last year’s The Good Dinosaur, this uses the medium to portray ideas and actions that would never be showable otherwise. Except here, some of these notions would not only not pass the bar in a family film, they wouldn’t be acceptable in any live-action film. I highly doubt that a film that is this frank about its stance on religion, or lack of religion to be specific, and how far it is willing to take said stance would ever get a wide release if it wasn’t animated. That said, for as atheistic as it is, it manages to end on a note concerning religion as a means of community that is genuinely refreshing, mingling with the aforementioned sex scene to create this sense of optimistic nihilism in a way. Or, in a less Armond White turn of phrase, the meaning of our existence doesn’t matter; not when you can just kick back and use whatever means you have (sex, weed, alcohol, cheap-shotting comedies) to stop worrying for a while.

Since we’re once again talking about Point Grey Productions, it’s soundtrack time again! Now, as I said, this film is co-scored by Alan Manken, something that should be obvious when we get to the opening musical number where the store goods sing about The Great Beyond. However, even with that connection, this still has that weird trait with Point Grey about really knowing how to use music. The original score fills in all the boxes when it comes to thrills, even if it does go for similar extremes when it comes to the racial stereotypes. As for its use of licensed songs, I am seriously glad that this film still delivered on that front as well. Using Hungry Eyes in one of the most weirdly straight-forward ways possible, Meat Loaf belting out one of his classics to accompany one hell of a mindfragging music video moment, not to mention including Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go when the literal fruits start attacking… sometimes, I really have to buckle under the pressure and admit that, for as much as my previous reviews may argue, sometimes I just love shit that’s crudely stupid. Well, crudely stupid that is well-utilized at least.

All in all, if this does end up being the dawn of a new era of animated films, we literally could not have asked for a better vanguard for the genre. The cast fits into their very broad moulds very well, the animation is very cartoonish and stylized without feeling obnoxious, not to mention showing real artistry in how it can portray all sorts of different moods at a lightning-quick pace, the music is on par with Point Grey’s other productions, the filmmaking itself takes into account just how much it is capable of showing and uses it to its fullest potential and the writing takes a very Rage Against The Machine approach to its main plot concerning what comes after life and connections with gods: It’s loud, in-your-face and extremely direct, but that doesn’t make what it’s saying any less true, or awesome for that matter. This is the stoner film to end all stoner films, and even as someone who usually cringes at least once when watching those kinds of films, I could not stop laughing all the way through this thing. The only times I can recall actually stopping were when I was processing its surprisingly smart writing and marvelling at what the hell I was watching. It ranks higher than Hail Caesar!, as this film doesn’t so much tribute the old ways of filmmaking as it does kick open the doors for what I sincerely hope is a whole new avenue of cinematic storytelling. However, as much as I deeply love this film for how much it manages to encompass in an under-90-minute run time, it doesn’t quite match up to the emotional rollercoaster and truly gorgeous effort of Our Kind Of Traitor.

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