Sunday, 18 September 2016

Sausage Party (2016) (Review)


In a summer cursed with unoriginality, sequels and adaptations, Sausage Party initially stood out as the antithesis of everything we had come to expect from the blockbuster season, and indeed the animation genre; an R-Rated 'cartoon fuelled with more F-bombs and sex references per minute than you can count one hand. aimed at completely the opposite side of the demographic spectrum. A Disney or Pixar release, this is not. It features the ensemble cast expected of a Seth Rogen collaboration, including Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, James Franco and Danny McBride, all playing various food items found in the fictional supermarket. With a great deal of buzz surrounding the release, and a solid 82% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, how will the film play to general audiences?

Frank (Rogen), a sausage, hopes to leave the store with love interest Brenda (Wiig), a hot dog bun, with the 'gods' who will take him to the great beyond, where all food will find freedom. However, after learning the cold, hard truth about their existence, he must go on a journey to stop the murder at the hands of the humans, encouraging his friends too to escape their fate. Read that synopsis again and try and tell me that this film has no potential: it does, it has it in buckets, but it largely succumbs, however, and ultimately becomes a testing animation that touches on a few interesting ideas before throwing a rude joke in because it lacks the confidence to do anything more with some thought-provoking themes other than enforcing them with too much vigour and vulgarity. Animation in general has become really quite incredible with engaging audiences with complex and thought-provoking themes, including a selection of them this year alone - Finding Dory and Zootopia, to name just a few - but Sausage Party fails to present these themes in the right way, forcing you to leave your brain at the door if you are to find any amusement in this sloppy comedy serving.

With the talent involved, the film should be bursting with laughs from start to end and it certainly has its moments. The solid voice cast do more than enough to bring the anthropomorphised food to life and each of them do have their brief moments to illustrate why they are big names in the business. While Seth Rogen's filmography - arguably Ted aside - does nothing for me, he certainly has spearheaded and revived a certain style of comedy and continues to do so with Sausage Party, which should be applauded for its initial smartness and invention alone, even if it never lives up to its promise. Succeeding in evoking the style of animation that Disney/Pixar have mastered, Sausage Party creates quirky characters and underdogs and presents them with the same uplifting spirit family-friendly animation is known for, just with a few extra ingredients in the mix. Stylistically, Sausage Party nails its satirical presentation of the animation genre, but thats all about it gets right...

Thematically, some big ideas are touched upon and some elements that could have worked very well come off as either half-baked or way too conceited to be appreciated, fumbling them almost entirely. When the film considers cultural clashes through the characters of a bagel and a lavash, it tricks you into believing far more exists beyond the barrage of curse words and innuendos that are fired off and hiding behind smut. This, however, is one of the only examples of the film diving below the surface and even that isn't explored to the highest degree: one doesn't expect major character work or deep philosophical themes in every scene or for it to be front and centre of this 'food porn' comedy, but it would greatly benefit it, and freshen up the otherwise stale film. It dances between blatant stereotypes and completely opposing countertypes so quickly that we see no character development at all and everything, including the jaw-dropping penultimate scene, feels a stretch too far and completely undeserved, even for a story about food discovering the reason behind their existence.

Crude, vulgar and puerile don't even begin to cut it with this film and the novelty very quickly wear off after the first ten minutes of obscenities. The jokes do fire off radially but the film still feels very unbalanced - some jokes hitting but most of them missing - and are well passed their sell-by date after an hour or so of the same antics unfolding. It's brazen and in your face and it can be appreciated for being a little bolder than most, but that's down almost entirely to the originality of the premise rather than the execution of it. If the humour was half as original as the idea of a sausage on a journey for the truth, this would be a film succeeding on more levels than it does in its current form, but it feels so lazy and uninspired in the humour department. Of course, thats all down to preference and I would pick a Melissa McCarthy film over a Seth Rogen one any day but I can still notice when something's funny and when its been hammered home to death. It feels silly to criticise an R-rated animation for being both too gross and too childish (that's not in terms of content...) but this somehow manages the seemingly impossible.

Littered throughout Sausage Party's relatively brief 89 minute run-time are some incredibly funny comedic sequences that demonstrate what a brilliant, inventive and ground-breaking comedy this film could be; from the moment the 'battlefield' scene on the supermarket floor plays out to the trailer-friendly moment the potato is 'first to enter eternity' and is promptly skinned, along with a montage of other hilarious food demises. This can only tide you over for so long though and the language, sex references and repetitive nature become tiresome and too one-note to sustain a comedy, especially one with so much potential. The whole film seems to merge into one and inspires very little to compel further viewings. If a sequel is on the horizon, they need to harness the potential and create something a little more than food swearing and sex humour over and over again. That said, some of the puns were bangers.

(5/10)

Summary: Sporadically amusing but more often than not repetitive, Sausage Party's talented voice cast aren't enough to distract from the gross-out, one-note vulgarity that is better in theory than in execution.

Highlight: The two previously mentioned sequences really stand out. The rest all merges into one.

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