Friday 10 June 2022

Happy meal: "The Bob's Burgers Movie"

In Fox's ever-swelling animation portfolio,
Bob's Burgers is the happy medium between The Simpsons and Family Guy. Grimier than the former, set as it is in a diner that's seen better days and plentiful health-and-safety violations, it's nevertheless sweeter and less snarky than the occasionally sour latter, content to be droll when it's not being outright goofy, and centred on a loving, mutually supportive family unit. All three shows offer comforting variations of the same familiar dynamic; their slovenly patriarchs have even crossed over to cameo in the other two shows, suggesting a level of ready interchangeability. (Bob's is the youngest franchise, but all three date from a moment before TV animators had the bright idea of trying something beyond converting the stock set-up of the primetime live-action sitcom into day-glo images.) As overseen by Loren Bouchard, the series has maintained an unusually high standard of writing over its 13 seasons. Unlike 2007's The Simpsons Movie, a spin-off that arrived some time after its show's so-called "Golden Age" (and some years before the Second Golden Age some of the more imaginative recent episodes have hinted at), The Bob's Burgers Movie has reached us at a point where its creatives are still happening across fresh ideas and new directions for their characters. So, if you haven't already, meet the Belchers (and no, the name is not an accident): put-upon, balding chef Bob (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin), his daffy wife Linda (John Roberts), and their three children - dreamy-dorky Tina (Dan Mintz), daredevil/pyromaniac Louise (Kristen Schaal), and my personal spirit animal Gene (Eugene Mirman), all untrammelled appetite and unexpected reference points, whose keyboard here achieves a screen first in inserting a fart noise amid the opening Fox fanfare. What follows, thankfully, avoids the several-episodes-back-to-back feel of many big-screen spin-offs; TBBM may actually be closer in form to those "summer specials" Whizzer & Chips used to put out to see youngsters through the long drives of family holidays.

From the off, movie is bigger than (artfully modest) show, scaled up by judicious use of the widescreen (look sharp for the hand-drawn "World's Smelliest Man" certificate now visible above Bob's grill), flourishes of digitally enhanced animation, and fuller versions of those musical numbers Bouchard (here co-directing with Bernard Derriman) has snuck into the series and its spiritual successor Central Park. The narrative stakes, too, have been upscaled: now the Belchers have seven days to avoid defaulting on their next rent payment, a situation hardly helped when a vast sinkhole opens up outside the restaurant, sending potential customers fleeing and reopening a long-buried local murder-mystery. Here, Bouchard and co-writer Nora Smith bring to the multiplex a version of that supremely flexible and free-flowing plotting The Simpsons turned into a new narrative artform, weaving A, B and C plots in ways that feel organic rather than mechanical or contrived, and while still finding the time and energy to trade in very funny throwaway jokes. (A personal favourite: a long hold on the closing door of a biker bar blasting out the Miami Sound Machine's "Conga".) The shift towards the kinds of plots and tropes our movies have conventionally traded in - the race against time, the earth-shaking disaster movie, the Bond-style lair, the final-reel chase - means there's scant time for the glorious, spitballing idiosyncrasy of individual BB episodes: nothing that quite matches the poignancy of Gene befriending a talking toilet in the woods (S03E15) or the connoisseurial thrill of watching a 21-minute show morphing into a re-run of The Most Dangerous Game with water balloons (S05E21). But all anecdotal evidence would suggest The Bob's Burgers Movie is serving a dual purpose in the early-summer multiplex: providing the warmest of welcomes to new customers, while offering seasoned regulars the pleasure of seeing a rare gem of a show being skilfully supersized for a whole new medium.

The Bob's Burgers Movie is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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