Sausage Party Far from Wurst Animated Movie

Christian Bolles, Editor-in-Chief

What makes a cartoon cartoonish? The medium has historically been geared toward children as a digestible, often short-form study in simplicity that gives developing minds a reason to stay engaged and learn valuable lessons. Vibrant colors, over-the-top narratives, and ham-fisted characters are all stereotypical characteristics of this kid-oriented fare. The inherent irony in the art form, of course, is that it’s all made by adults. Grown people who fully understand the concepts of sex, violence and drugs are responsible for the creation of worlds where none of those things exist as anything more than veiled references. Inevitably, however, they sneak in. Ghosts of mature themes are present in almost every cartoon imaginable, from Spongebob to The Rugrats to CatDog (especially CatDog … yeesh). That’s where the oft-repeated mantra “right in the childhood” comes from; when re-watching old favorites, we often notice disturbing undertones that went completely over our heads as kids.

Sausage Party, the latest film from the people behind This Is The End, takes those undertones, turns them into overtones, and pumps them full of filth. The result is a raunchy whopper of an experience that uses its endless supply of shock value to full effect, eventually delivering a surprisingly poignant thesis statement on the nuances of belief. Though not made by Pixar (undoubtedly to the relief of many parents), this film is the natural endpoint of the arc of the 3D-animated family flick, pioneered by that legendary studio with Toy Story. Whereas the third film in that beloved trilogy ended with a farewell to the audience that had grown up with Woody and his friends, Sausage Party acts as a roaring, often inhospitable welcome to the adult world.

The film follows the physical and spiritual journeys of Frank (Seth Rogen), an aptly-named hot dog, as he endeavors to uncover the truth behind his existence. He shares a package with misshapen weenie Barry (Michael Cera) and lusts after his girlfriend, a bun called Brenda (Kristen Wiig, delivering the feature’s strongest performance). In the supermarket-centric world of Sausage Party, most inanimate objects are anthropomorphized, making sense of their reality through the worship of humans as gods. To them, the doors leading out of the market are the gates to heaven (or, as they call it, “The Great Beyond”), which means that salvation is just a matter of being fresh, obedient and, above all, devout. Of course, the truth is far gorier than these wide-eyed, horny food items could ever dream.

The mileage Sausage Party gets out of object violence is both impressive and horrifying. When, for example, a living piece of cheese is shredded onto sentient nachos, which are then microwaved, one gets the sense that the filmmakers had a little bit too much fun. Wherever one could possibly imagine the premise going, Sausage Party pushes it a few miles further. This is not a movie for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach.

And oh, it is hard to swallow. Boldly-drawn stereotypes abound in the aisles of Sausage Party’s market to the point of near oversaturation. However, the strong narrative threads, incisive writing, and vibrant animation hold it all together long enough for the story to completely shoot past any possible criticisms of tastelessness with an explosively subversive finale that has to be seen to be believed. There is one notorious 6-minute scene that, both times the film was viewed for this review, elicited nothing but stunned laughter from the entire audience, a stroke (well, many strokes) of genius which manages to retroactively validate the rest of the movie.

At its core, Sausage Party is really a film about belief and understanding, both religious and otherwise. It weighs piety and skepticism on equal scales, allowing for a poignant, if obvious, examination of the ways in which feeling and fact interact. The supermarket itself is a pocket reality that suggests our world without mirroring it, much in the way that Pixar’s virtual spaces feel fantastical in their separation from this reality. Ultimately, Pixar films and Sausage Party share the goal of breaking down the walls between individuals and celebrating friendship, even if the latter’s expression of those values might be a bit… stickier. That’s not to say that Sausage Party matches the quality of Pixar’s best films; its intentionally subversive premise puts it at a disadvantage (taking itself too seriously would be fatal), and the animation, while excellent, never touches the heights of the latter team’s mastery of the craft. For what it is, though, Sausage Party is one and a half hours that’ll leave you stuffed and, if you can get past its rougher edges, maybe even craving more.