It’s 7 a.m. at Shopwells, the setting of Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon’s spicy Sausage Party, and the store — along with its souls — is open for salvation. This cartoon land, cooked up by writers Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and their stoner comedy cronies, is a small, small world to us and a great big one to its inhabitants. Underneath the grocery’s cheery skylight, shelves seem to stretch up to the clouds, like standing in the center of Manhattan and craning your neck to imagine all the lives behind all those windows.
And, like in the real world, though this United Nations of noshables shares a roof, ethnic snacks are segregated by aisles. Some foods pair perfectly, like Frank the Hot Dog (Rogen) and his girlfriend Brenda the Bun (Kristen Wiig), who coo that they’re just made for each other. But others, like the sesame oils in the Asian section, have no need to mingle with dapper envelopes of Earl Gray, and German Sauerkraut is rows from its enemy, the Juice. These goose-stepping jars of cabbage have already banished Sammy the Bagel (Edward Norton) to an uneasy coexistence with Lavash (David Krumholtz), a flatbread who dreams of the 77 bottles of extra virgin olive oil he’s been promised in the Great Beyond.
In fact, everyone’s dreaming of the Great Beyond, of being selected by the gods and carried through the sliding doors into the light. It’s the one thing all foods have in common. (If the Garam Masala simply expects to reincarnate as Mint Chutney, it’s keeping that to itself.) And so, at 6:59 a.m., Corn clears its throat and the entire store begins to sing — warbling Cabbage, two-liter tenors — pledging their love to the gods in joyous harmony.
A human places a jar of Bickle’s Honey Mustard in a cart. “Holy shit, I’ve been chosen!” it yelps. (This R-rated comedy considers cussing to be buy-one-get-800-free.) “Booyah, bitches! I’m out of here!”
And then the next morning, the mustard returns. God meant to buy dijon.
The jar, like its Robert De Niro namesake, has barely survived a trip to hell. It is crazy-eyed, shrieking and suicidal, and in the mustard’s panic not to get purchased again, it triggers a shopping cart catastrophe. Frank and Brenda are forced from their packages and traumatized by their own 9-11. No, really. Fifteen years after the towers came down — long enough that then-newborns now have driving permits — Sausage Party is the first to use the tragedy for wicked, guilty, and oddly purifying guffaw-gasps. The soundtrack shudders with the thud of falling produce hitting the floor. A bag of flour explodes, coating Frank and Brenda in white ash. A dying chicken soup tries to shove its noodles back into its can. A jar of peanut butter sobs over its shattered jelly wife, smeared in her sugary blood. It’s terrible. It’s demented. It’s unforgivable. I laughed, and thankfully, I wasn’t laughing alone.
Sausage Party is ballsy and dumb and brilliant all in one bite. You can gobble it up like empty calories, snickering at satisfying junk like the way Salma Hayek’s lesbian taco shell Teresa leers at literal white bread Brenda’s squeezable behind. (The animators have managed to fashion her soft dough into a bosomy ripple that recalls a silent film matron, while also giving her the split-open mouth of a blow-up doll. Just looking at her feels illegal.) Or you could choose to over-chew each joke, mulling how no god would stuff a crunchy taco with a hot dog bun — some foods just don’t mix. Then again, who asked us gods to make the rules? Left to their own recipes, anything goes. An exiled bottle of Firewater (Bill Hader) and an old blaxploitation-era box of Grits (Craig Robinson) groan, “Man, fuck them Crackers.” Then they do. Can’t imagine it? Don’t worry: The animators drew the orgy for you.
There is a plot — or, if you prefer, a main course. Frank treks to the Dark Aisle to learn the meaning of shelf life. Frank’s friend Barry (Michael Cera) witnesses the carnage of the Great Beyond. A ’roided out douchebag pumps himself up with illicit juice. But while Taco, Bagel, Bun, and Lavash pad back to their packages, the overhead fluorescents bleaching the screen like a high-noon sun, we feast on the details, like enjoying that Atkins-obsessed Hollywood made heroes out of carbs.
Humans, too, have faith that we exist for a purpose. And when a clerk (Paul Rudd) tosses expired hot dogs into the trash, their 10 tiny screams plummeting into darkness, Frank can’t understand the gods’ logic. “They stayed in their packages?!” he bleats. Tested by tragedy, we are all uncomprehending sticks of meat.
Behold the most philosophical comedy since the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man. It accepts the impossibility of a happy ending. Either food dies or humans do. Everything dies anyway, for reasons out of our control, and there’s no proof of what’s next. You can fight. You can hide. You can spend your hours getting literally baked and motor-boating a hot-link.
Leave it to a wad of gum (Scott Underwood), a chewed-up wheelchaired Stephen Hawking with the best visual gag in the movie, to put existence into perspective: “Beyond the limits of this Shopwells are other Shopwells,” he whispers, an impossible number of galaxies to explore. Once you accept that truth, freedom is infinite.