The gimmick of Sausage Party is not a bad one: It’s basically a Pixar satire, except instead of sentient robots, or rats, or toys, the self-aware heroes of our story are supermarket foods. The joke is that if our grocery items actually had thoughts and dreams and hopes and felt pain, their lives would be abject misery, trapped in packages until they are released, then ruthlessly and savagely devoured. It’s a clever twist on the fantasy world of Pixar, where we empathize with inanimate objects or less evolved organisms without truly engaging with the reality of their circumstances. You think that talking hot dog with the big eyes and floppy feet is cute? Well, he’s about to be boiled alive and chewed in front of all his friends and family. How cute do you find him, really?
This single joke would be enough to sustain most of Sausage Party, as it provides seemingly endless opportunities to riff on that premise. (Those poor baby carrots are going to haunt my dreams.) But because this is a Seth Rogen-Evan Goldberg jam, the movie is also relentlessly low-brow in pursuit of higher goals. High, in that there’s a surprisingly realistic and mature look at atheism and how we discuss spiritual issues in the public square. Low, in that the movie at one point features a bagel and a lavash, having bonded over their shared love of hummus, consummating that bond through vigorous analingus. (Or whatever orifice a lavash has back there.) I ultimately found the movie’s core premise more compelling than the philosophical underpinnings or the can-you-top-this gross-out humor. I won’t soon forget the desolate, forever-scarred talking condom.
Our heroes are a hot dog named Frank (voiced by Rogen) and Brenda (Kristen Wiig), his perfect match, a hot dog bun. They are in love and awaiting the Fourth of July, when they believe the gods will release them from the supermarket and take them to heaven, where they will have all sorts of protein-carbohydrate copulation. But a mishap in the grocery cart—caused by a nihilist honey mustard (Danny McBride) and an aggressive, roided-up douche (yeah, I know, but Nick Kroll does his best)—leaves them stranded in the supermarket with said lavash (David Krumholtz) and bagel (Edward Norton, doing a groaning Woody Allen impression).
This leads to a very Pixar-esque Grand Adventure, as they battle with the truth about whether or not there really is a “Great Beyond” outside the store, while their friends, led by abnormal hot dog Barry (voiced by Michael Cera), try to save them. Along the way, they meet all sorts of ethnic stereotypes that the movie both undermines and reinforces, as is the style in these sorts of comedies. There are also, inevitably, wise old non-perishables who have seen this all before and can guide our heroes to the truth.
The movie is a brisk sit and is smart not to overextend itself. This is a juvenile comedy about supermarkets and is not opposed to a silly pun from time to time. (I felt for the sad little beet unfortunate to have a homonymic name.) It throws joke after joke after joke, a high percentage enough of which land to make it worthwhile, if you can get through all the cheerful offensiveness. It can ultimately get a little exhausting to watch the movie try to punch itself out with its vulgarity; one joke about hot dogs and buns “opening up and sliding in” is fine, but once you reach the double figures you’re ready for everybody to move on.
Same with the atheism plotline, which basically asks Frank to figure out how to tell everyone that there is no life outside the store, that it’s misery and pain and then you die and it’s over, without, you know, making their life worse. It’s a clever idea, and gives the film a “serious” patina, but it’s telling that it resolves this conflict with an extended food orgy scene. When in doubt, have a taco go down on a pastry.
One of the more clever conceits is how it plays with the central conundrum of Pixar films: How do you connect all these animals or toys or robots or whatever—beings that, to humans, have no emotions or thoughts or even faces—to the human world that they walk around in? In Toy Story, it involved “briefly breaking the rules,” but by Finding Dory, an octopus was driving a truck. The joke here is that humans can only see the talking food when they have injected bath salts, which leads to a joyous chaos-nugget of a scene in which the foods fight back against their human captors, who all think they are tripping on something serious.
It’s a good joke and works at what the movie does best: satirize the Pixar style, one that is so familiar that it has almost become a cliché. We might not need every orgy joke. We might not need a “thoughtful” backdrop of a godless universe metaphor. But yeah: To watch a jolly potato with an Irish accent thinking he’s being tickled by the fingers of gods only to realize, to his horror, that he’s about to be skinned alive and cut into pieces before his body is fried … that’s a joke I can get behind. That joke might not work forever, but it works enough. Pour one out for the tubers.
Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly for the New Republic and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site