There are many moments during Sausage Party where you may feel as if the filmmakers aren’t interested in much more than raunch. Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon’s animated film is filled to the rafters with filthy puns, double entendres, and sight gags: hot dog buns that look like vaginas; a shorter and more deformed-looking wiener that tries to assuage his low self-esteem by saying to himself that girth matters more than length; numerous explicit depictions of sexual acts between supermarket products. Jokes like these are thrown at audiences nonstop, and with the glee of teenagers who seem to believe that constantly uttering “fuck” is the epitome of wit.
But Sausage Party also tries to be more than the sum of its bawdy parts. Because Independence Day is right on the horizon, it’s apt that Shopwell’s supermarket offers a veritable cross-section of races and cultures as wide as America itself. Among the products lining the market’s aisles is a hot dog named Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen) and his hot-dog-bun love interest, Brenda (Kristen Wiig); an Arabian flatbread, Lavash (David Krumholtz), and Jewish bagel, Sammy (Edward Norton, doing his best Woody Allen impression), who become a sniping odd-couple sidekick duo in the film; and a lesbian taco, Teresa (Salma Hayek), who takes a liking to Brenda. Less central to the plot are gags involving German Nazi-like sauerkraut and curry boxes with Indian accents. It’s all a bid for cultural inclusiveness, but the writing leans heavily and tritely on racial stereotypes, the nadir being the a pot-smoking Native American flask of firewater (Bill Hader) and an African-American box of grits (Craig Robinson) who constantly vocalizes his hatred of “crackers.”
The film’s religious commentary offers a bit more sophistication. If Rogen and Goldberg used a biblical apocalypse in This Is the End to explore sin and the possibility of redemption, Sausage Party pushes even further by fashioning an allegory of faith versus skepticism. This thematic thread is established in the Busby Berkeley-inspired opening musical number, in which the products at Shopwell’s express their excitement at being picked by shoppers to venture out into the world outside the supermarket, which they call “the great beyond.” But when a returned can of honey mustard (Danny McBride) feverishly tries to warn everyone about how the heavenly nature of the great beyond is a lie, only Frank is curious enough to investigate his claims. Eventually, he learns that a cabal of non-perishables manufactured the concept of an afterlife in order to shield the rest of the market’s products from knowing the certain death that awaits them. Despite procuring incontrovertible proof from a cookbook, Frank discovers, when he tries to reveal this truth to everyone else at Shopwell’s, that most of his friends prefer to believe in the more hopeful vision of their future.
Sausage Party generates unexpected suspense over how some of its characters will handle the feeling of utter hopelessness that comes with the knowledge that the great beyond toward which they’ve devoted their lifelong hopes and dreams is a sham. But like Pixar’s Toy Story 3, which also climaxed with its anthropomorphic characters facing seemingly certain death, the film isn’t willing to completely face the bleakness of its material. Instead, it concludes with a more upbeat burst of anarchic destruction that culminates with a celebratory orgy in which all of the products at Shopwell’s finally act on all the sexual desires they’ve repressed for the sake of waiting until they reached the great beyond. Though the filmmakers may not believe in a higher power, they still maintain a faith in raunchiness as an id-blasting form of liberation from rigid norms, spiritual, sexual, or otherwise.