Do you know how I know Seth Rogen is a well-liked man? He got Megan Ellison, wunderkind patron of the auteurs and head of Annapurna, to produce his stoner comedy about anthropomorphic food. And I am fine with that—it shows that Ellison has a more varied palate than her initial batch of brainy, dark films would suggest (she produced Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master at age 26). But, just because Ellison's pedigree is attached to Sausage Party doesn't mean that it's at the level of quality of those other films. Rogen put together the story with Jonah Hill and his writing partner, Evan Goldberg, who then shared screenwriting responsibilities with Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir. Add to that an army of producers and two co-directors, Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, and you have a lot of different cooks in the kitchen. The diffuse talent behind the camera (or computer) leads to a pastiche of a product that tries to balance its I'm-fourteen-and-just-discovered-swearing sensibility with some interesting ideas about religion, and sort of succeeds at both.
Frank (Rogen) is a sausage who, like all the other food in the supermarket, yearns to depart the shelf for the Great Beyond, where the gods (a.k.a., people) will guide them to an eternity of freedom and happiness. Until then, all the food is conditioned to stay in their packages and observe strict self-denial until their glory day arrives. This proves difficult for Frank and his girlfriend, Brenda (Kristen Wiig as a curvy hot dog bun), whose desire for each other is so great that they occasionally sneak their hands out of their packages to touch "just the tips." When a customer returns a jar of honey mustard (Danny McBride), he reveals that the Great Beyond holds nothing but brutal death for all food.
Like most mainstream films, Sausage Party is filled with incident, partially to pad out a rather thin premise, but also to create often hilarious sequences that play off of food puns, regressive stereotypes and movie references (a standout is an early sequence that apes Saving Private Ryan's opening salvo of destruction and despair, except with food!). There is a bevy of characters, including a mismatched pair of religiously associated breads: a bagel and a portion of lavash. This is the sort of movie where the bagel is portrayed with a startlingly accurate imitation of Woody Allen, and the lavash has a Jafar-esque beard with a hooked nose and a Middle Eastern accent. The villain is none other than a douche, which is incidentally also a douche in personality and behavior, that develops a personal vendetta against Frank and Brenda. We also get a confusing and unfortunate portrayal of Native Americans in the form of Firewater, a bottle of liquor who leads a tribe of Non-Perishables, food items that have been around for a long time and have much wisdom to share.
Many scenes drag on without any particular joke beyond the sight gag of a hot dog saying, "Fuck," or extremely overused sexual innuendo based on the union of sausage with bun. Some scenes are clever enough to warrant a sensible chuckle, and a few are worth laughing out loud over. Where the film is lacking is in the animation, which may be due in part to the budget of $19 million, which is quite low for an animated feature. The art direction is colorful and vibrant, with certain areas of the store being better than others (I was partial to the saloon where all the Mexican food was, but the Indian section was a lost opportunity). The character designs are predictably simple and have workmanlike fluidity to their movement, but examples of actual wit are few and far between. The stoner comedy tends to hold less interest for me, because it inherently requires the viewer to lower her standards in order to find it funny. While it is unsurprising that this is the sort of film that came out of this particular group of people--directors Tiernan and Vernon have backgrounds in Thomas the Tank Engine and mid-tier Dreamworks animation, respectively--it was nevertheless disappointing.