“Sausage Party,” a computer-animated R-rated comedy about walking, talking grocery items, is essentially “Toy Story” with a filthy mind and food products instead of toys. It is shameless. It is puerile. It traffics in retro notions of womanhood and base ethnic and social stereotypes.
It’s also the most philosophically inclined movie release of the summer, a digital cartoon that questions human belief systems on an almost granular ontological level. All this and a final act that’s the most subversive, eyeball-scarring 15 minutes of pop-culture monkey-wrenching you’re likely to see all year.
All right-thinking minds will properly detest the movie. I have to admit I laughed my asparagus off.
It’s as if all the bros in the Big Bro movie tent had gotten together and smoked up a great bad idea: a CGI adventure about a hot dog named Frank (voiced by co-writer Seth Rogen), his girlfriend, Brenda Bun (Kristen Wiig), and the paradisical Great Beyond that all the grocery items at Shopwells supermarket believe is waiting for them once they’re plucked off the shelves and brought home by the shopping Gods.
There’s even a dandy opening musical number scored by Alan Menken (of “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” fame) in which every food gets a say. This includes the German sauerkraut that wants to kill the juice. From the get-go, “Sausage Party” pushes the comedy envelope in ways not seen since the heyday of Mel Brooks.
Only a traumatized jar of honey mustard (Danny McBride), bought and returned, sounds the alarm about what happens once the Gods bring their purchases home. Unfortunately, none of the characters believe him until it’s too late. These include Frank and Brenda, who bicker bitterly once they’re free of their packaging and have to find their way back to their aisle; the timid misfit sausage Barry (Michael Cera); a cross-ethnic duo named Kareem Abdul Lavash (David Krumholtz) and Sammy Bagel Jr. (Edward Norton) (let me repeat that: Edward Norton), working out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the run; a lesbian taco (Salma Hayek); and a piece of gum in the form of physicist Stephen Hawking (Scott Underwood).
The villain, needless to say, is a douche (Nick Kroll).
Directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, “Sausage Party” is certifiably insane and scurrilous as hell, yet as hard as it tries to offend — and it tries really, really hard — a contrarian intelligence peeks through. This is a movie about the deep-seated need to believe in heavenly rewards and about the contortions and complacencies and lies such beliefs can inspire. When Frank learns the Horrible Truth from the shaman-like Firewater (Bill Hader) — that humans eat their supermarket purchases, that paradise is a place of murder and oblivion and chewed-up baby carrots — he embarks on a mission to enlighten his fellow grocery items. As we all know, such good intentions rarely go unpunished.
“Sausage Party” has its dead spots and weak one-liners, and there isn’t much here for any women in the audience who don’t want to play along with the boys. The visual design of Brenda lands somewhere between the unseemly and the insulting. There are more than enough exit ramps for those so inclined.
But there’s also plenty of detail and wit to offset the fairly ugly production design, and the film’s climax is a genuinely startling vision of exploited retail inventory taking its bloody revenge on all those clueless consumers pushing their shopping carts. (Think about that next time you’re in line at Whole Foods.)
This triumph of the dill is followed by a sequence that literally redefines the phrase “food orgy” and that represents the filmmakers — or whoever was in that smoke-filled room — pushing the envelope of propriety until it snaps with gleeful abandon. The scene is wrong, so deeply wrong, and in a craven, sold-out summer movie marketplace, the laughter it engenders is liberating. Clean-up on Aisle 12? Never mind, it’s too late.
Directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon. Written by Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, and Evan Goldberg. Featuring the voices of Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Edward Norton, Nick Kroll, Salma Hayek, Bill Hader, and Danny McBride. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 89 minutes. R (strong crude sexual content, pervasive language, and drug use)Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.