This has been an awful year, replete with hate-fueled mass shootings, continued holy war, mutated fever pandemic, a spewing DayGlo sewage pipe running for president, and the continued existence of Twitter. It can, at times, seem hopeless, as if nothing could possibly be strong enough at this point to shake some sense into the world.
But I have some good news: Sausage Party is here to save us all from the madness and inspire a new kind of harmony among people of all races, religions, and political stripes. Yes, Sausage Party, the R-rated animated comedy about horny food products from Seth Rogen, the stoner with the honking laugh.
You wouldn’t know it from the marketing campaign, which mostly focused — not untruthfully — on the movie’s wide assortment of culinary sex puns (the lesbian taco, especially). But those jokes are simply the casing of this cinematic sausage, hiding a much meatier and juicier message within.
The film begins with a musical number that serves as both comedy bit and serious satire, with a side of exposition; each sentient food item in the grocery store believes that when humans buy them, they are taken out through the sliding glass doors into “The Great Beyond”, so long as they’ve lived according to the strict moral standards demanded by The Gods. The song sings the praises of these mysterious Gods, and slips in a threat to anyone who might question the veracity of their beliefs.
It’s a lot like the Oscar-nominated ear worm “Everything Is Awesome,” from The Lego Movie, but instead of ironically praising the iron grip that corporations have on our lives, it pokes at an even bigger monster: The intractable conflict between religions, ethnic groups, and political parties.
After the song, the first sign of the film’s satirical intent comes when Frank, the sausage voiced by Rogen, touches “tips” with Brenda, the off-puttingly vaginal bun voiced by Kristen Wiig. They’re virgins, stuck in their packaging, and just can’t help themselves. But when shit goes awry, Brenda is struck with guilt; she is certain that having acted out of passion pissed off the Gods enough to doom her to food hell. After all, according to one protesting produce, “God Hates Figs.”
As an audience, of course, we know her concern is silly — she’s gonna get eaten, because there is no grocery god — and while that stings for any religious folks out there scarfing popcorn, the film doesn’t so much preach atheism as it does cold, hard logic. Frank learns of the fallacy of the Great Beyond prophecy during a deep conversation with a wise Native American bottle of booze (voiced by Bill Hader doing his best Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson), and desperately tries to convince Brenda that her fears are misguided. She needs to pull her head out of her bun and flee certain doom instead of waiting for divine intervention.
The existence of a God is hardly the film’s only religious concern. One of the sharpest — and surface-level stupid — subplots involves a bagel named Sammy Bagel, Jr. and a flat bread named Kareem Abdul Lavash. Sammy is clearly Jewish (voiced by Edward Norton, he sounds like Woody Allen), and Kareem, as voiced by Dave Krumholtz (who, curiously, has starred as an old Jewish mom in a web series), is obviously a Palestinian. They are constantly arguing, about shelf space (the bagels and the juice got kicked out of their original aisle by the sauerkraut, and have to find a new homeland) and just about everything else; their bickering knows no bounds.
Now, there is no wanting for ethnic stereotypes in this film, but it’s an equal-opportunity offender, and none of them are particularly harmful. By leaning into them, they create characters so distinct that it’s easy to put them in conflict, and then find resolutions.
Without giving away the plot, the film finds a way to not only unite these two seemingly natural rivals (OK, hummus is involved) and overcome a monster that the filmmakers could have never predicted would be so pertinent today: A gigantic, power-mad douche with a heavy New York accent. Voiced by Nick Kroll, who has played several characters named “Douche” now — the feminine hygiene product destroys everyone and everything in its path… especially Mexican food.
Can something be an allegory if it was written and animated before the rise of its corollary?
There are a number of other obvious social metaphors in the movie, but we won’t blow them here. And yes, it’s a lot easier for an animated movie about food to find a path to peace and understanding than it is for an angry nation torn apart by radical religious and political actors, but Sausage Party’s atheistic humanism is a refreshing treat. That such a hopeful message comes from a film about a talking wiener, and is capped with a massive food orgy, is all the more remarkable, and also helpful; it always helps to have some sugar to help the medicine go down.