The old adage about not wanting to see how sausage is made might be applied to Seth Rogen’s ostentatiously raunchy animated flick, which is so calculated to shock—not only through foul language, ethnic stereotypes and drug jokes but overwhelming sexual imagery, horror-movie-style (though food-centered) violence and even attacks on religious belief—that one can only imagine script conferences where everybody was trying to outdo everybody else in tastelessness. The result is even more outrageous than Rogen’s live-action fare, but also more inventive; so if you gravitate to his brand of nothing’s-sacred, frat-boy humor, “Sausage Party” will be a blast. Those allergic to Rogen and his ways, however, should keep their distance. And under no circumstances should you bring the kids, though boys of a certain age will be dying to sneak in, parental wishes notwithstanding.
The setting is a supermarket called Shopwell’s, where the anthropomorphic merchandise greets every morning extolling the chance to be taken to the “great beyond” (i.e., purchased) by the “gods” (human customers)—something they’ve been indoctrinated to believe will bring them bliss. A hot dog named Frank (voiced by Rogen) aches to be bought alongside his girlfriend, bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig), so they can finally join together, and to their joy their packages are in fact tossed into a shopping cart by a comely housewife (Lauren Miller). But one of her many other items is a bottle of Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) that’s been returned to the store having seen what actually happens to the foodstuffs in the “great beyond.” In trying to escape the cart he causes it to turn over, with all the would-be purchases left in the aisle in an amusing scene reminiscent of a disaster movie. Some are so ruined they’re tossed out, like a douche named Douche (Nick Kroll), who becomes a manic villain, rejuvenating himself crudely with a damaged box of juice and aiming at revenge on Frank and Brenda.
They, meanwhile, have joined with two other edibles, wimpy bagel Sammy Jr. (Edward Norton) and snooty lavash Vash (David Krumholtz)—who constantly bicker in a reflection of Middle Eastern animosities—and all are saved from Vash by taco Teresa (Salma Hayek), who’s got the hots for Brenda. Eventually Frank learns from the imperishibles Firewater (Bill Hader), Grits (Craig Robinson) and Twink (Scott Underwood) that they concocted the whole “great beyond” hoax.
But the other merchandise won’t believe him until Barry (Michael Cera), an oddly-shaped sausage and Frank’s chum, returns from the outside after an adventure with a goofy human druggie (Paul Rudd) to report on what it’s really like, with human slicing and dicing folk like his fellow wiener Carl (Jonah Hill). Helped by Gum (Scott Underwood), a Stephen Hawking type in a battery-powered wheelchair, they lead a rebellion against the store’s customers and staff, finishing off Douche in the process.
There have been very adult-oriented animated movies before; you only have to recall Ralph Bakshi’s “Fritz the Cat,” the X-rated 1972 picture based on Robert Crumb’s comic, which became a huge hit and inspired others of its kind (including a sequel). There have been others since, like Charlie Kaufman’s “Anomalisa.” The fact that it’s exceptionally risqué by cartoon standards, though, is hardly enough to make this a “Party” you’d want to visit. Nor is the fusillade of profanity (more F-bombs than you could possibly count), sniggering sexual business (a concluding orgy that’s pretty astonishing, even it’s all among comestibles) and drug jokes (one ending in a pretty grisly gag involving human decapitation—although in this context that’s not much more disturbing than seeing baby carrots get sliced to bits).
What’s more interesting is how the script raises the issue of conflict between rationality and religious belief, though of course it doesn’t do so terribly deeply. And while its ethnic stereotyping might initially come across as crude, in the end it’s used to convey a “let’s all get along” message that’s applied to Middle Eastern foes, people with different sexual preferences and immigrants, legal or not. (Issues of racial difference seem to be missing, but you can’t have everything.) In short, Rogen wants to deliver some nice messages, even though in his customary gross-out terms. And it has to be said that the production quality is fine—good CGI animation and pro voice work down the line.
So “Sausage Party” obviously aims to have something to offend everybody, and at that it succeeds pretty well. But though its veneer of fast-moving, innocent fun isn’t quite so convincing, the vulgarity proves to be funnier in cartoon form than it usually is in Rogen’s live-action comedies. The result is a movie that’s clearly not for everyone, but those at whom it’s targeted–whether allowed to enter according to the R rating or not–will find it a hoot.