The computer animation revolution initiated by Pixar’s Toy Story has been running for two decades, but no-one’s tried doing this before: an animation pitched squarely at the filthy minded, closer in content and tone to Ralph Bakshi than Brad Bird, that sets a bar from its first word of dialogue, a Seth Rogen-muttered “shit”. As Sausage Party’s prime mover, Rogen has realised something the studio suits have struggled to conceive of late: that there are gaps in the market for different kinds of consumable product, and that he might be just the man to (insert throaty chuckle here) fill them.
Consumables are key here. Where previous ‘toons have pondered what might go on after hours in the toybox/zoo/arcade, Sausage Party invites us to observe what happens the aisles of well-stocked emporium Shopwell’s once the automatic doors are locked for the night. It is, mostly, what happens in bars just before last orders: much briny flirting, more in hope than expectation, between the hot dog sausages (for whom we are supposed to read heterosexual men) and the hot dog buns (their female equivalent), premised on the likelihood of the meat contingent spreading those buns and going several inches deep.
It takes a while to adjust to the sight and sound of these wide-eyed, smiling, conventionally polished animated creations dropping the F, C and S-bombs so liberally. (And wait until you see where the tinned sweetcorn comes out in “The Great Beyond”, as the world outside those automatic doors is known; it’s no fun being a talking condom in this world, either.) Yet the scatology is so relentless, so much a part of the joke, that it soon becomes standard operating procedure, as if the minions in Minions had developed beyond sniggering at the word “bottom”.
The Rogenness can freshen (or scuzz) up these movies’ shop-worn quest narratives a little, certainly – and that’s what Sausage Party relies upon. After being loosed from their packaging, Rogen’s top dog Frank and sweetest bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) find themselves being pursued, in an inspired touch, by an angry douche representing male privilege’s worst excesses; and when I say douche, I mean an actual feminine hygiene product, enraged after being deprived of the opportunity to get up between one shopper’s thighs. (Listen closely, and you’ll hear Walt Disney spinning in his cryogenic storage facility.)
Having an entire supermarket at their disposal gives the animators fresh produce to squeeze and mould; their creative stocktaking keeps adding diverse new items to the film’s basket. I enjoyed the unfailingly polite – if briefly glimpsed – six-pack of Canadian lager, and the nervy bagel and aggrieved flatbread concerned that their spacious aisle still may not be big enough for the both of them. The take-no-prisoners approach to taste and political sensibilities may, however, be best summarised by the highstepping frankfurters who openly state their intention to “exterminate the juice”.
As with much commercial animation, its greasy, sugary highs wear off once the initial worldbuilding cedes to frenetic action; Sausage Party isn’t high art, more a snack best washed down with a jumbo cola. There’s a scene in which a Rogen-ish humanoid (voiced by James Franco) shoots up bath salts and starts to see his comestibles as sentient lifeforms – and somewhere in the detail of that, I suspect, lies Sausage Party’s origins, and its limitations. The rest nevertheless offers fistfuls of good, honest, dirty fun, no matter how you choose to stuff your taco, or fill your mouth.
Sausage Party is available on DVD through Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.