Most of us never dreamed that 2016 would bring an unadulterated vision of anthropomorphic foodstuffs making sweet, filthy, uninhibited love to other foodstuffs. Well, the R-rated Sausage Party is here to gift us that and more. But fair warning: For the second year in a row after Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa, the best animated film of the year is probably not for children—unless you’re prepared for the kids to ask very big questions about religion, existentialism, and what parts go where when the contents of your kitchen pantry get to banging each others’ brains out in a rapturous group orgy.
Conceived by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Jonah Hill, the raunchy Sausage Party feels like the one stoned-at-4 a.m.-with-your-bros idea that actually works (well, given the $30 million backing of visionary financiers like Megan Ellison): All the food we humans merely see as food are really sentient little delicious beings who spend every morning eagerly hoping to be picked by the human-gods to relish in the Great Beyond: the promised land of plenty that awaits outside the sliding doors of their chain supermarket.
They sing morning hymnals, praying to be the chosen ones who get whisked away to their destinies in a shopping cart. And while products from different ethnicities and cuisines might believe in different afterlives, they all believe. And so food lives their daily food lives in pious devotion, stifling their more prurient urges because, they’ve been taught, the gods will punish them otherwise.
Not that they don’t get antsy for action anyway. A package of beefed-up wieners compare length and girth and drool at the thought of slipping into their neighboring lady buns. Frank (Rogen), a sausage, and his girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig), a shapely bun, are saving themselves for the Great Beyond. Michael Cera gives one of the finest performances of his career as Barry, a deformed hot dog whose self-esteem is crippled by the bullying of other macho wieners. “I can fill a bun,” he whimpers, hanging his sausage head dejectedly in the corner of his plastic wrapping.
Vash, a crusty piece of lavash bread (David Krumholtz), is living for the 77 bottles of extra virgin olive oil he’s been promised. And Teresa the taco (a magnificent Salma Hayek) aches with a hunger for forbidden love. “I’m a hard, horny taco,” she cries to Brenda, the object of her lust, whose soft doughy curves send her fillings a flutter.
Basically, all food really wants to do is fuck. Can you blame them?
In Sausage Party, food is people and people are monstrous gods, and that’s pretty much the extent of the clever commentary wrapped in silly sex jokes that lends the film its highbrow-lowbrow genius. The reckoning begins while most of the denizens of Shopwell’s supermarket keep drinking the Kool-Aid believing in a rewarding afterlife, and a returned jar of honey mustard (Danny McBride) rejoins the shelves with crippling PTSD and a madman’s vision of the outside world.
Honey Mustard reveals that the Great Beyond is a lie, but no one’s ready to believe him. When he opts to sacrifice himself rather than get shipped out again to an even worse fate, his violent end triggers a cataclysmic event for Frank, Brenda, and their supermarket-mates—including a desperate, juiced-up douche (Nick Kroll) whose sanity and purpose is shattered as his feminine hygiene dreams slip out of view.
Frank’s personal awakening begins during this tragedy, a standout sequence that turns a cleanup in the aisles into a Saving Private Ryan-esque warzone nightmare. Fallen out of their packaging, Frank, Brenda, the lavash, and the lavash’s mortal enemy, Sammy Bagel Jr. (Edward Norton), embark on a daunting odyssey for answers and salvation across the store, through the hedonistic liquor aisles, and into the hidden lairs of the oldest, wisest products on the sales floor: The non-perishables.
Animated with a bright Pixar-like flair, Sausage Party is directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon (Monsters vs. Aliens) with an almost tangible physicality. Kudos to the filmmakers for embracing the innate sensuality of food with a relentless barrage of innuendo and ballsy design winks. The bready breasts on the lady buns, for example, and their rather… evocative… lips will probably spark some very specific food-based sexual awakenings for any prepubescent youngsters who sneak into the theater.
But maybe tweens and teens should be watching Sausage Party, a film that makes food bone food with explicit abandon but also champions rationality over blind faith, encourages healthy sexual expression and acceptance, and points out that plenty of our prepackaged notions of otherness and division are relics of misguided traditions that have passed their expiration date. Its unapologetic exploitation of just about every conceivable stereotype risks offending a lot of viewers, but the film has a built-in excuse in, say, the way the food industry brands Mexican, Asian, and “ethnic” foods in real life. Ultimately that’s a gamble Sausage Party is willing to make, because it all has a point; this is a movie in which a German tube of sauerkraut with a Hitler ‘stache screams hatred at innocent “juice” and the most bitter of bickering enemies, the lavash and the bagel, learn to overcome the enmity of their peoples who’ve been long at war over the rightful birthright to the aisle they share.
Needless to say, Rogen and Goldberg and Co. have a multitude of targets in their sights. The ugly truth of their purpose awakened, Frank attempts to enlighten the other foods but encounters new obstacles to progress: Without faith, hopelessness and panic takes over. Our hero wiener must learn to unite and inspire his food-people, delivering a stirring call to arms that triggers a last-act sequence so rousingly staged, you almost forget you’re watching food literally fight—and then screw—for their lives.
Meanwhile, it’s little weenie Barry’s B-plot that fills in the rules of the Sausage Party universe. Escaping a bloody massacre in the Great Beyond, he sets out to find his way back home, terrified and alone. But it’s not just food that’s sentient; he tiptoes through the crumpled bodies of dead soda cans (and much, much worse) on the darkened suburban streets, and befriends a hyper intelligent wad of chewing gum who fills in the details of this metaphysical reality.
After 88 minutes of alternatingly dumb and profound R-rated shenanigans, Sausage Party takes an even darker turn involving bath salts and glorious, straight-up, thrilling murder. A final meta-revelation suggests there are layers of ponderous consciousness to be found beyond the edible Matrix, too. The food orgy’s an unparalleled highlight and some of the most daring, liberating, and sensual sex between inanimate objects committed to cinema since Team America. But it’s the existential provocations that’ll plague you. You might find yourself alone one night imagining your dinner screaming with every bite you take, and then wonder: Is that half-eaten slice of pizza plotting cheesy vengeance upon me… or am I the half-eaten slice of pizza?