At this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival Seth Rogen debuted, as a work-in-progress, his new animated feature Sausage Party. It is the first foray into the “R-rated world” for an animated feature. If you have no problems with watching food have sex, it’s really funny.
Sausage Party tells the story of the food inhabitants of a Wal-Mart-like grocery store who, Toy Story style, come alive when no humans are looking. Its cast includes a bunch of A-listers, who happen to be Seth Rogen’s pals. Although, in the Q&A that followed the screening, Rogen admitted that not all of his friends wanted to be in it.
The story was good, the humor was, to use an old fashioned word, bawdy, and, Rogen admitted, it was not easy to get made.
The hero of Sausage Party is Frank, a real hot dog, voiced by Rogen. Frank has a girlfriend, Brenda, a bun, voiced by Kristen Wiig. (Hot dog, bun; see where this is going?) They live in a world where almost all the food wants to be purchased so they can be taken to “the great beyond,” the land on the other side of the supermarket doors. They believe that there, they will be taken care of and pampered by humans forever, and their expiration date will no longer have any meaning.
The crisis that sets Frank on his adventure involves food that comes back from the great beyond and tries to convince the rest of the food that they will not be taken care of by humans, but cooked and eaten.
This is a pretty heavy premise for a cartoon and it goes deeper (oops, maybe I shouldn’t have said that), exploring sexual, racial, and political issues as well. Key characters include Teresa, a taco with lesbian leanings, voiced by Salma Hayek, and Sammy, voiced by Edward Norton, a bagel who must cooperate with a khubz, and Arab flatbread, voiced by David Krumholtz.
Other voices you’ll recognize, or not, include those belonging to Jonah Hill, James Franco, Michael Cera, Bill Hader, and Paul Rudd.
The directors, Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, are not unknowns either. Vernon directed Madagascar 3, Shrek 2, and Monsters vs. Aliens. Tiernan has directed many episodes of Thomas & Friends.
It is popularly believed that the rock band Blink-182 derived the numeric part of its name from the number of times the f-word was used in the movie Scarface. After Sausage Party is released, they may need to change their name to Blink-782.
One can sum up the level of the humor from one of the visuals in the background of one scene. When one of the anthropomorphic food items is loose in the human world, a container for Chinese take-out can be seen sitting on a table. The name on the side of the box is “Pu Ping.” Nice attention to detail, though.
In the Q&A that followed the film, Rogen and co-writer/producer Evan Goldberg, explained that making this film was not easy. An audience member asked Rogen how he pitched a movie like this.
Rogen said he never actually pitched it. “Getting someone to read it and pay for it was the hard part,” he explained. It took Rogen and Goldberg eight years from concept to completion of Sausage Party.
Another question involved all the sex in the cartoon and why it was only rated “R”, not “X”.
Rogen said that the rating rules apply to people having sex. He explained, “The rules don’t cover two veggies having oral sex.”
Rogen maintained that this really was a work in progress. Sometimes films at festivals are billed that way so the screening does not count as a premiere. Several of the scenes were not completely animated or didn’t have the sound synced. Rogen had praise for this festival. “SXSW treats comedy equally,” he said.
He asked the audience if any of them recognized Edward Norton’s voice as Sammy the Bagel, or did they think it was Woody Allen. Quite a few hands were raised for Woody Allen. “That’s what we were going for,” Rogen said, “but we were afraid to make it too obvious so he wouldn’t sue us. But, now that I’ve said that, I guess he will.”
The score also was not yet complete. Rogen said it was still being worked on by Allen Menken, known for Beauty and the Beast (1991), Tangled, and Galavant.
Rogen predicted the film will be completed and released by August. And did I mention it will be rated “R”? You can find the trailer on YouTube. Discretion prevents me from linking it here.