Upon walking out of the theater, there was a strange feeling my mind had. It was almost like my eyes swelled up to the size of Beaker’s from The Muppets. There is no other movie I can think of that left me feeling amazed and shocked at the same time. In many ways, reviewing “Sausage Party” is hard because this is truly a movie that must be seen to be believed. It’s unapologetic, its stereotypical, its dirty to the max, its a cesspool of swears and innuendos, its insane but I enjoyed every minute of it.
The basic gist is that food in a grocery store comes to life every day with the hope of being picked. You see, each product believes that when they are chosen, they are taken to a heaven of their own to enjoy. Right off the bat, you can tell exactly what kind of movie this is. Much like with “South Park” or “The Simpsons Movie,” its a cartoony and dumb concept that holds a sharp and clever commentary. And even if this is an idea that has been done before in dumb (“Foodfight”) and smart places (“The Brave Little Toaster.”)
“Sausage Party” becomes more of a view on religion and beliefs without taking a brutal beating to it. Much like with Monty Python, the comedy on the subject matter is handled well by taking satirical jabs as opposed to stepping out and making mean ramblings. One such example is a Jewish bagel arguing with a Muslim lavash about how different they are. But not by what kind of product they appear as, they argue about different beliefs and the common misconceptions with their religious customs. As the lavash dreams how he wishes to be bathed by 100 bottles of virgin oil, the bagel disagrees with the “pure nature” he proclaims. A little predicable but the delivery makes it worth the laughs.
Seth Rogan plays the lead named Frank, a sausage who gets lost from his cart during a accident. While seeking to be back on the shelf, Frank starts to question not only his purpose, but also the value of why food exists. Even if we know what happens to food, the joke is funnier when we see his reaction to the terrible truth and wonder just how he will coupe with it. As always, Rogan is a lot of fun bring a manic energy while knowing when to be charming and likable.
Kristen Wigg is surprisingly funny voicing Frank’s girlfriend Brenda, a hot dog bun who wishes for…she’s a hot dog bun. What do you think is on her mind? Perhaps interesting is how Wigg’s character is used for a counterpoint as Brenda feels the humans (or “Gods” as they are referred to) are not ones to mess with still having faith in the food’s belief system. Even more startling is Wigg’s raunchy style of comedy is let loose to some welcome and hilarious lines. Coming of off “Ghostbusters,” I felt this movie suited her better to allow more breathing room for her shtick. Her character is more than a one note walking “hot dog in bun” joke. Brenda starts to question if the value of life should truly be questioned while also wondering if morale code should be worth sticking to.
Speaking of which, the best way to describe the movie and its comedy is very much if “The Brave Little Toaster” was directed by John Waters. Just when you think the opportunity to joke about sentient groceries are wearing thin, another joke lurks around the corner unexpectedly. There are moments in “Sausage Party” where on paper is sounds dumb, but then you see the clever side of it once it gets executed. This is notable in a scene when one of the sauasges (Micheal Cera) has an encounter with a druggie who goes on a “bad trip.” Every joke seeks a good opportunity into what kind of life this addict has along with the kind of things that would happen on a drug high. It hits bullseye without missing a single beat.
The only problems I have with “Sausage Party” are surprisingly minor. In this universe, people can’t see the food walk and talk unless are drugged up. This leads to a curious question of how the products look in the eyes of a human being in reality as opposed to the reality of food. This is evident in a gag when two baby carrots try to run and it shows a shot of them running. It then cuts to a shot of the lady seeing two carrots rolling off the counter showing “reality’s perspective.” There were points when I did question what would certain moments look like from reality’s point of view as food runs across floors or mingle with each other. There is one other nitpick and it’s aimed at the final joke in the movie. Instead of ending on a high note, it breaks the fourth wall in a way so bizarre that I questioned if it was ever needed. Even a friend of mine agreed that the scene preceding it would have just been fine to end on. After a climatic and jaw-dropping moment, they try to sneak in one more jab that could have been easily cut out seeing how little it effects the story.
But for what’s worth, “Sausage Party” is worth the recommendation. There are moments that I still can help but snicker over they appear in a movie like this. I enjoyed the jokes, the characters and theological stuff as well. Its that one summer surprise that packs tons of laughs and plenty of creative effort. Now as expected, children are not the target audience for this movie. In fact, I do question if parents will be that dumbfounded to take them to see it despite the marketing clearly saying its R-rated. For those curious fools who think a tyke will sit through it, I wouldn’t even attempt it. I predict that it will be a movie that will keep kids far away from the refrigerator as possible as adults laugh over the absurd nature this movie brings.
When one brings up “Finding Nemo,” most attention turns to the character Dory. A small blue fish, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, who has trouble remembering mostly anything. Instead of an annoying running gag, Dory was an interesting character. The fact she is struggling to think back and maintain her previous thoughts was well written and knew when to be funny. “Nemo” still holds up enough on its own, but was this sequel worth the 13 year wait?
The plot nearly rehashes a good bulk of material from the first movie, but at least it has the advantage to expand on a few things. The first third is mainly comprised of scenes from the first movie as an attempt to remind viewers of previous events. Instead of an angler-fish for example, our heroes get briefly menaced by a giant squid. This is mostly one problem I have with “Finding Dory” as certain moments almost feel like a rehash of the first film. This is the standard trap most movies like “Ghostbuster II” and some of the “Pink Panther” movies where it rehashes some material instead of giving new stuff.
Thankfully, that is not the case here. The final 2/3rds focus on the new environment our characters go to and certainly a lot more exploring on Dory’s character. Instead of a comedic sidekick, we dive into the backstory of this odd fish and how she was separated from her own parents. The search for her folks moves on as it leads them to an aquarium that acts as a hospital for Marine animals. This opens the door to see new creatures and view the world of what a zoo would be like from the eyes of an animal. It leads the way for some clever gags like a “touch pool” and incredible visuals like a massive tank full of different fish.
Fans of the first movie will be happy to hear Dory is great as ever. Ellen’s innocent yet playful personality leads to some funny moments, but even some heartfelt ones. As we progress on the search for Dory’s parents, the story allows this character to be explored more in different ways. Certain moments from “Finding Nemo” are called back, but feel expanded on (the line “I remember it…because when I look at you, I can feel it. And I look at you, I’m home” has more deeper meaning than before.) We get treated to key flashbacks that act like visual clues to the viewer before the final revelation comes into play. Both act as a prequel that is satisfying and useful to expand into Dory’s origin.
Again, much of the movie teeters on feeling recycled but instead does it in a fresh manner. Instead of the “Tank Gang,” we get a couple of Marine animals waiting to be set back into the ocean or enjoy life. Highlights include a beluga whale (Ty Burrell) who self-doubts himself, a whale shark (Kaitlin Olson) who was a childhood friend and even a couple of sea-lions that are territorial like the pelicans and seagulls from the first movie. Each has their own quirk and personality that helps them stand out and become much useful later on.
Perhaps the soul character who will be talk of the town is Ed O’Neill as Hank, a grouchy octopus that is interested in breaking out to another aquarium for selfish comfort than return to the ocean. The minute this suction cup inhabited, CGI creation first appeared, it had me in stitches. Hank is, without a doubt, one of Pixar’s best characters since Sadness or Bing Bong from “Inside Out.” Not only do I love the “Grinch”-like personality, but just the way it moves sly and quick around the aquarium. It serves as a bigger challenge for the workers as Hank uses tons of camouflage methods in order to blend in. Truly the animators had a lot of fun and creativity behind the ways Hank could hide or change color. The movement alone is almost reminiscent of a fast paced Chuck Jones creation, but knows when to slow down for a bit.
For most of the summer, there hasn’t been a single movie I’ve seen that makes me really say “this is what a summer movie should be.” “Finding Dory” comes close to being this level if it weren’t for a few things. I wish the “rehashed” bits in the first third were better done and there is one small dark turn that feels almost unnecessary. Though this “small dark turn” only lasts for a few before turning into an upbeat moment, it still has decent build up. I do admire the twists and obstacles that get thrown out as we start to wonder just how Dory will be able to achieve that happy ending.
Even more, “Dory” is probably the most unique in the Pixar batch for being a movie less about discovering family and more on learning to live with disability. We met these characters who have personal problems and some with internal flaws that can’t be dealt with easily. As Dory struggles to overcome her memory problems, we want to see her succeed instead of laughing at her pity. Its rare for a movie to help coupe with those who have problems like this to tell them its ok to live with these things. And honestly, I’m good with that.
However, parents be warned. Some parts of “Finding Dory” might be a tad intense for younger viewers. From a thrilling squid chase to (again) a certain dark moment near the end, this has material that might upset some kids. While its nothing traumatizing or brutal (like say “Good Dinosaur”), it more feels like the same level of intensity as the first movie. If your kids saw “Finding Nemo” and was ok with the peril, they should be fine then. On the bright side, we do get a cute short call “Piper” that might be able to calm some sensitive viewers down. In connecting with the main theme of the movie, we get treated to a tiny bird who is trying to overcome a big obstacle. In a nutshell, the animation was stylish yet fluffed enough to not deter from the Pixar style. And when a heartwarming short and a good movie go hand in hand, you know your ticket price was worth it in the end.
The bar has been raised so high for Pixar, its a wonder how they are able to make one story after another. I will still say the peak for the animation studio was Up. A movie that was able to present heavy themes of coming of age, dealing with loss and making the most of life for a simple idea. This summer, Inside Out nearly trumped that with a premise that has been done before but executed differently. The result was such an enjoyable affair that once again, I wondered just how far these animators and storytellers could go. However, for every good movie they make, there is one that isn’t full of the charm and wonder but at least you can see some form of effort. And this where I’m sad to say, The Good Dinosaur falls in the middle of this.
Once the end credits began to begin, I felt mixed and torn on this latest entry from the studio that showed what toys do alone and what monsters lurk behind our closet doors. One the one hand, this is a grand eye-candy visual of a film in terms of atmosphere. For a CGI movie, the water looks and moves like water, the trees sway like real trees and the ground these extinct creatures walk along is probably the most impressive I’ve seen from Pixar. However, I feel so much focus was spent on working on the scale textures and less on the story along with its concept.
The movie asks “What if the meteor didn’t kill the dinosaurs” as we see the giant space rock zoom past the Earth allowing the prehistoric beasts to evolve over time. What could have been a unique “Planet of the Apes” idea instead has the whole tone play out like a Western. Apatosaurus are seen farming, Tyrannosaurus runs a ranch with prehistoric longhorns and Velociraptors are cattle rustlers. These are interesting ideas for social class in this world but these three barley meet or play off each other outside of the last two mentioned. It seems the world of these creatures are more fixed on the reins of their environment as opposed to being one giant community as seen in Finding Nemo or A Bug’s Life. Perhaps it would have been better if somehow these three species played off each other more but the movie is more focused on finding a story as opposed to sticking with one.
A young Apatosaurus named Arlo is risked with trying to help his folks out while dealing with conquering his fears and making an impression on his siblings and parents. This is symbolized by a footprint placed on the rock wall of a silo as opposed to something that feels more earned like leadership or at least respect. If one were to predict the story already, a death in the family happens causing Arlo to be more traumatized and eventually gets swept down the river as he gets placed on a journey for home. In fact, the way he gets separated from his home happens so sporadically you could swear the movie is rushing itself.
Along the way, a human boy with a dog-like personality befriends him, named Spot by the worrisome protagonist, as the little caveman tries to help find his way home. Sad how this is the only strong element of the movie as we see how these two play off each other. The idea of a strong yet small cave dweller helping a dinosaur lends itself to some humorous moments and a couple of heartwarming ones too. Most notable is a scene when Arlo tries to communicate the idea of family to Spot with sticks and sand. Without giving too much away, it turned out to be one of the most well-executed scenes in the movie. However, it gets crushed by a twist near the end removing the heart touching feeling yet some of it remaining.
In a nutshell, there really isn’t too much to discuss seeing how paper thin the concept and story are executed. From what I heard, there were some production problems behind this one causing a major overhaul tossing out an entire cast and story. I do wonder what that other version would have been like in hindsight seeing it would have been fun to see John Lithgow as a dinosaur. The final result is really a Western with dinosaurs that has some unique ideas but doesn’t go any further. I feel bad as I can only imagine the amount of time those animators spent trying to perfect every rock and blade of grass but to match it to a movie that is barley sub-par. While I don’t feel this is the worst or even a bad movie, I am unfortunate to say this is an uneven one and from times surprisingly brutal for a Pixar film. Animals get swallowed in whole, some get nipped at the body, Arlo’s tripping over rocks come off as more painful than a minor injury and concepts of death seem to be tagged on as opposed to explored deeply as in Up (again, a much better Pixar movie). Which is why the real winner for the holiday season goes to The Peanuts Movie; a movie full of heart, deals with the subject of perseverance on a level kids can understand and a story that is easy to follow and simple. There are tons of great ideas in Good Dinosaur, especially a nice performance by Sam Elliot in a minor role, but if only these story elements and cliches were evolved into a better feature.
Also attached to the movie is a short called Sanjay’s Super Team, a short that explores Hindu religion in a way that is understandable to kids and adults. The story follows little Sanjay as he pictures the Indian gods and goddess as a group of superheroes. Surprisingly, a lot of matieral is covered in the span of 5 minutes from tradition to old vs. new as Sanjay’s father tries to get his son to understand the observance of the Hundu culture. How a short is able to present so much in just a short time as opposed to a full-length feature that goes nearly nowhere with its concept feels surprisingly to me. The idea of comparing ancient gods to how we view superheroes is a common theme as characters like Superman and Spider-Man are see as the modern “Greek gods.” And yet, I feel so much deeper ground is covered when we see Sanjay’s interpretation of these powerful beings and how well it pays off at the end. Here’s hoping this one gets the Oscar for Best Animated Short.
To say “Pixar is back” is a complete understatement. The studio we know never left us and kept working on projects. Many people praise “Inside Out” as the animation studio’s comeback hit is due to the previous films we had like “Cars 2,” “Brave” and “Monsters University.” And even then as a new film from them comes out, we praise it like they raised the bar so high that it can’t be topped. Yet another movie from them comes along to provide the same reaction. I stopped my hype at “Up” knowing that I would never experience an animated movie with so much dramatic weight. Their latest entry comes close but I would have to say seeing its so recent, its probably second best.
The story centers on the mind of an eleven-year old girl named Riley as we peak inside her brain and see how it runs. Basically her emotions drive about like the Enterprise as each different feeling takes control how Riley feels. As she interacts with the world around her, her sentient emotions have a hard time knowing when its the right time to use the controls. With Joy (Amy Poehler) at the helm, she makes sure that everything in Riley’s head is in control despite the other emotions striving for a turn.
Now, this is not a completely original idea but this movie is pure proof you can take the old and bring new life. Directors Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen are able to bring a fresh new view of what goes on inside your mind and I appreciated every minute of its creativity. I liked how the memories are used as a fuel source for the world that is created, when the other emotions take a hand in making their choices in Riley’s lifestyle and other bits that feel like a psychology class for kids. This is a good thing and a bad thing as terms like “subconscious” and “long-term memory” get tossed around to the point if we wonder how kids will understand it. The setting alone is visually bright and vibrant to explain it that it doesn’t worry me too much.
However, one emotion gets in the way as Sadness (The Office‘s Phyllis Smith) makes a major flub that has herself and Joy outside the command center of Riley’s brain and into the deep part of her mind. It is here things really pick up as we see clever elements that explain how a person’s brain works but not to the point of sugar coating it. We witness brain nerves sucking up old memories that don’t mean anything like piano lessons or phone numbers, a studio that creates dreams at night and even a place where Riley’s own imagination exists but keeps being reformed. As we dig into Riley’s brain (literally), we start to understand what kind of person she is and start to connect with her. Elements like fear of clowns or playing hockey play up as important parts of her mind that show her character than rather explain it verbally. Rarely has a setting describe the main character than just have us study one.
Unfortunately, things are not going well back at HQ as the other emotions (Fear, Anger and Disgust) try to take control of Riley but find that without Joy or Sadness, the little girl they were looking after since she was a toddler is out of control. It is often said that rules set up in a movie were meant to be broken and when I saw Riley’s mind fall apart, I relished in joy over the twist and turns “Inside Out” provides us. Some that are so heartbreaking that I can’t even fathom to explain like the lost imaginary friend Bing Bong which is one of many elements that make this movie a must see.
The animation design has a 1960s feel when we enter in Riley’s brain as it contrasts with the realistic colors and designs of the world outside. I found those choices interesting as much as the abstract look of the emotions as akin to the Muppets with big wide ping-pong eyeballs and fluffy nerves that make it less human but still able to connect. Speaking of Muppets, its odd to mention that two previous Muppeteers make a cameo that add to the odd yet out of control nature of “Inside Out.” When something goes wrong in Riley’s head, we fear the worst as parts of her mind crumble into an abyss of forgotten memories as her personality changes.
To say “Inside Out” is the best Pixar movie is jumping the gun too much. I already said “Up” will be for personal reasons but I would have to say this movie is my second favorite. With few flaws to distract, we enjoy the colorful yet strange world of a child’s mind that later gets duplicated in a great joke midway with Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan as Riley’s parents. As a argument at dinner seems dramatic on the outside, the comedy is played up when we look into the parent’s minds and see how they calculate their next “move.”
The moral at the end is a big one that often doesn’t get discussed. That every negative element has a reason to exist. Like how Lewis Black’s Anger tempted to say a swear word, we know there is a reason for bad things even when they are unexpected. “Inside Out” is cleverly written, fun and above all tear-jerking. It brought about a rare moment when I began to appreciate the existence of my sadness than anything else. Perhaps that is just what the magic of Pixar really is to remind adult viewers its ok to cry in a family movie.