Making an animated feature that the parents will enjoy as much as the children will has always been a challenge. Directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon don’t even bother trying to strike that balance in Sausage Party — this one’s entirely for the grown-ups.
The story is deceptively simple — anthropomorphic food items in a supermarket yearn for the day they are chosen by the gods (that would be the humans who buy them) and taken to The Great Beyond, a paradise outside the sliding doors of the Shopwell supermarket. Seth Rogen’s Frank (obviously) the frankfurter and Kristen Wiig’s Brenda the bun stand in packages next to each other hoping that on the next red, white and blue day, when the flags are all put out, they will be chosen. But they come to learn, from a jar of honey mustard that’s returned to the shop, that it’s all a lie, that The Great Beyond is where food is killed, tortured, mutilated.
So it’s Toys, but with food. And swearing. And sex. And drugs. And lots more swearing, and astonishing, almost alarming, amounts of sex at what can only, reasonably, be described as the climax of the film. Writers Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Rogen and Evan Goldberg have taken a story devised by Goldberg, Rogen and Jonah Hill, and come up with a genuinely well-developed and coherent fictional world, one in which a bagel (Edward Norton) and a lavash (David Krumholtz) bicker about who should occupy the left bank of the aisle, Nick Kroll (Parks And Recreation’s The Douche) plays, natch, a douche, or Salma Hayek a lesbian taco.
The humour is broad and gross and foul and reprehensible and superbly funny. The scene where food first arrives in a human kitchen (hardly a spoiler; it’s in the trailer) is disturbingly funny, with a potato — Irish, of course — screaming “Jaysus fuck, I’m bein’ skinned alive!” as he is, quite literally, skinned alive. Much of the film is wrong, so very, very wrong, but it’s so shamelessly, relentlessly wrong that it’s fantastically funny. What could have been a tossed-off idea, something that Hill and Rogen dreamt up after getting a little higher than is entirely good for them and making a late-night supermarket run and giggling “Dude, what if…?” instead is a tightly-drawn, detailed and sophisticated film. Don’t miss, for example, the labels on every single package of food, from Ragtime ketchup to Chikubi (that would be Japanese for “nipple”) milk. Scenes are carefully structured, from Barry’s (Michael Cera) horrendous adventures in The Great Beyond, where he manages to make his way to the house of a human who, out of his head on bath salts, can see his food move and hear it talk, to the aftermath of a bag of flour hitting the floor of the shop, filmed like a sequence from the opening of Saving Private Ryan.
Don’t be misled. This is an animated feature, but it is, from start to finish, not in any possible way a film for children. It more than earns the R16 rating its New Zealand release enjoys. It’s also a superbly entertaining way to spend an hour and a half. And you’ll never look at your food in the same way again.