Twenty-one years ago, Pixar released Toy Story, the first completely CG film. Now that Buzz and Woody are of drinking age, they also get what could surprisingly be considered the first Toy Story parody with Sausage Party. But while one will go into Sausage Party expecting a dirty food version of Toy Story (it very much is that), it’s the unexpected extra layer of religious discussion that stands out amidst the constant food puns and innuendos.
In the universe of Sausage Party, the grocery store is full of foods that begin every day singing a joyous song (written by Alan Menken) to the gods that will take them to the great beyond—that is, having consumers purchase them and bring them to their homes. On the day before the 4th of July, hot dog Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen) can’t wait to be united with his girlfriend—hot dog bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) in the great beyond. Once they go to the wondrous unknown, they can leave their packaging and finally Frank can slip into Brenda.
This unrelenting belief throughout the food community is shaken when a bottle of Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) is returned to the store, claiming that the beyond isn’t the glorious nirvana everyone believes, but actually a living nightmare. As Frank searches for answers, he and his friends realize their blind faith might be more dangerous than accepting the truth.
This all of course lies underneath one of the most insane, offensive and filthy films that will come out this year. Sure, there’s wit here—some fantastically bad puns, an excellent Saving Private Ryan-inspired sequence, etc.—but most of the humor relies on food items saying basically any obscene phrases you can think of. Sausage Party isn’t against going as low-brow as possible. For example, pretty much any food culture is as stereotyped as you’d expect, and a bottle of liquor named Firewater (Bill Hader) is understandably problematic.
Rarely does Sausage Party fully succeed in meshing its offensiveness with its commentary and parody in ways that transcend the former. Most of the parody comes from direct correlations with the Toy Story franchise. Instead of the home of demented toy destructor Sid, short-yet-girthy weiner Barry (Michael Cera) attempts to escape the trash-covered home of a druggie (James Franco) trying to inject bath salts for the first time. Or in an attempt to discuss the Israeli-Palestine conflict, Frank and Brenda are joined by Sammy Bagel Jr. (Edward Norton, as one of the few unrecognizable performances) and a flatbread named Vash (David Krumholtz), in two roles where the questionable stereotyping and strange choices actually work for the story.
But far too often, Sausage Party attempts to shock rather than be as smart as it hints it has the potential to be. Many of its characters and voice actors are just wasted as one-note jokes. Salma Hayek voices Teresa, a lesbian taco who has a crush on Brenda’s buns. In one of the film’s greatest casting choices, Nick Kroll utilizes his Bobby Bottleservice character to play a literal douche.
Directors Conrad Vernon (Shrek 2 & Monsters vs. Aliens) and Greg Tiernan (who has made a number of Thomas the Tank Engine films) know how to hit the beats of this type of film—so much so that, though Sausage Party is uneven at times, all is made whole by a third act that presents scene after scene of some of the most unbelievable ridiculousness ever shown in a film. Credit goes to Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, who wrote This Is the End and The Interview, as well as to The Night Before writers Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir. This team knows how to end their films with a literal and metaphorical bang that pays off beautifully.
There’s true brilliance among the crassness of Sausage Party, which at times attempts an almost The Lego Movie or WALL-E-level of making a larger point, without hitting the audience over the head with its morals. Yet its biggest selling point is also what holds it down, as many of its jokes seem to settle for a level of eyeroll-worthy, max-offensiveness, even as the simpler, well-constructed jokes are knocked out of the park. Still, Sausage Party is a delicious treat covered in a filthy wrapper. For some, that will be a deal breaker, but for plenty of others, it will be a selling point.
Directors: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon
Writers: Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Starring: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera, Edward Norton, David Krumholtz, Nick Kroll, Salma Hayek
Release Date: August 12, 2016
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can find more of his writing at RossBonaime.com and follow him on Twitter.