“What the [expletive] did I just watch?” That’s the first thing I tweeted after the credits ended on Sausage Party. The eight-years-in-the-making animated film — directed by Greg Tiernan (Thomas & Friends) and Conrad Vernon (Shrek 2, Monsters vs. Aliens) and written by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, Kyle Hunter, and Ariel Shaffir — destroyed the Paramount Theater audience at tonight’s SXSW screening. Still, I can hardly find (printable) words to describe it. Even in its current work-in-progress state — temp music galore and in many cases still images standing in for unfinished animation — it’s a filthy masterpiece on par with South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. Nearly every joke is a potential spoiler and nearly every moment contains something that’s going to either freak someone out or offend them to their core. You can get a small sense of what I mean with the somewhat NSFW red band trailer that dropped tonight after the screening. Watch it above.
In essence, Sausage Party uses the Pixar formula as its starting point and finishes somewhere around Lars Von Trier’s The Idiots. The premise is simple: What if food could feel? No, that’s not quite it. It’s more like What if food could feel, and swear, and be racist and have sex? It stars Seth Rogen as Frank, a hot dog, and Kristen Wiig as Bun, his girlfriend. The pair live in their respective packages along with every other item in a fictional grocery store (“Shopwell”) where all items of food belong to a religion that worships the human shoppers as gods who they pray will select them and take them into “the great beyond,” the food version of heaven.
Obviously, the truth is that when they’re “chosen,” the food is taken from the comfort and ease of their grocery store to their doom. What happens when Frank, Bun and several of their new and old friends discover that horrifying truth forms the meat of the story. That’s the simplest way to put it, and anything more detailed will spoil it. And make no mistake, Sausage Party is a film that deserves to be seen as unspoiled as possible. It thrives on constant escalation of shock value, beginning with Frank and his fellow hot dogs swearing profusely while talking about how badly they want to have sex with, yes, the buns, continuing with some very blatant and very strange drug humor, climaxing in a bloody and highly sexual revolt, and ending on an aggressively absurdist note.
It isn’t just shock, however that moves Sausage Party along. The film also at least wants to trick its audience into thinking it has something to say. Or several things to say, really. Nearly every character represents a national or racial stereotype in some way, and those qualities are pushed to levels that some viewers might find racist. The discovery of the truth undermines the very religion and society in which the food live. And the importance of companionship is treated with absolute seriousness amidst all the profane chaos.
So the film is able to riff on such sticky issues as why atheists shouldn’t act like jerks, the dangers of global warming denialism, sexual freedom, and the Israel/Palestine conflict. It might be a bridge too far for many people, especially the racial humor. And not every joke lands (though they come so fast and so often you barely have time to notice.) But when it works, and it mostly works, it’s one of the funniest movies, animated or not, of recent memory.
The film is a risk for Sony and for the creative team behind it and one almost wants to congratulate them just for trying. But I’m hoping in the year already defined by one very successful R-rated film in a genre traditionally more family friendly, Sausage Party manages to defy the odds. If only because the world could use more stories where bath salts give people psychic abilities.
Along with Rogen and Wiig, the film features the voices of James Franco, Salma Hayek, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Edward Norton, and Michael Cera. Megan Ellison and Annapurna Pictures produced. The animation is produced by Nitrogen Studios in Vancouver. Sausage Party is slated to hit theaters August 12.