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‘Sausage Party’ review

'Sausage Party' is gory, raunchy, ridiculous ... and exceptionally clever

To say that Sausage Party revels in its raunchiness is a wild understatement.

No matter how you feel about the concept behind Sausage Party, the “R”-rated animated comedy hitting theaters this week, you have to admire the audacity of the team responsible for the film. While other studios are doing everything they can to make their projects appeal to the widest possible audience, Sausage Party has its sights unabashedly set on a very specific audience demographic – one that likes its comedy as raunchy as possible, and doesn’t mind if it’s a bunch of cartoon groceries making the jokes.

And to its credit, Sausage Party serves that audience very, very well.

Co-directed by animated feature filmmakers Greg Tiernan (Thomas & Friends) and Conrad Vernon (Shrek 2), Sausage Party follows a free-thinking hot dog named Frank, voiced by Seth Rogen, who undertakes a dangerous quest after learning the horrible truth about the relationship between his fellow grocery products and the “gods” who spirit them away from the store. The brainchild of Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Rogen’s frequent collaborator, Evan Goldberg, Sausage Party features an impressive cast of voice actors that includes Kristen Wiig as a buxom bun named Brenda, as well as Hill, Edward Norton, Michael Cera, Salma Hayek, Paul Rudd, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride, among other familiar voices.

It’s likely the best movie ever where an animated prophylactic talks to a lost, wide-eyed hot dog.

From the film’s opening musical number – which begins innocently enough, but eventually features goose-stepping sauerkraut jars screaming “kill the juice” – there’s a sense that Rogen and company are keen on seeing how far they can actually go in an unusual project like this one. And the answer to that question, it seems, is much farther than even the red-band trailers for the film suggest.

If there was ever any question about a filmmaker’s ability to get away with more in animation than one might be able to get away with in a live-action project while still getting a wide release, Sausage Party offers some tremendous evidence of the anything-goes flexibility with animation. Make no mistake: Sausage Party is a film that could only get released in theaters as an animated feature, and everyone involved with it seems well aware of that fact.

Amid all of the outrageous toilet humor, sex jokes, and ethnic-stereotype gags, though, there’s also a surprising amount of higher-brow comedy in Sausage Party. Rogen and the film’s creative team tackle topics as complicated as the conflict between Israel and Palestine (as personified by an anthropomorphic bagel’s ongoing argument with a lavash over the course of the film) and humanity’s struggle to find a happy medium between faith and science, and they find some respectably thoughtful ways to tackle them, too.

The film’s diverse voice cast also does a nice job of giving a cast of characters that might otherwise seem difficult to sympathize with some sincere, all-too-human personalities. Although Rogen capably carries the film as its truth-seeking sausage protagonist, The League actor Nick Kroll might offer the film’s best breakout performance as Douche, a bro-tastic, meathead feminine hygiene product with a chip on his shoulder (or nozzle, in this case).

Sausage Party is clearly meant to be a parody of the more innocent animated features of recent years, but the film not only distances itself from those projects in its content, but also in its presentation.

Darker than its family-friendly animated counterparts in both tone and palette, Sausage Party also looks a little rougher in its digital animation, and lacks the sort of crisp feel that Dreamworks or Pixar productions have in the way they depict their characters and the worlds they inhabit. This could very well be intentional, but it’s the sort of comparison that’s difficult not to make when one’s so accustomed to the bright visuals of the Disney universe, and the sea of other animated movies that seem to share its art style.

If a film’s success was only measured by whether it lives up to the promise of its trailer and the sort of film it presented itself as, Sausage Party is a raging win for Rogen and the rest of the team responsible for it. Raunchy, clever, and shamefully fun, Sausage Party more than lives up to the potential of the concept behind it. Whether it can succeed where so many R-rated, live-action raunchy comedies have failed, however, is the question that audiences will answer.

If nothing else, it’s likely to be the best movie we’ll ever get that features an animated and visibly used prophylactic engaging in conversation with a lost, wide-eyed hot dog on a city street.

So it has that going for it.