Fans of the long-running animated series will find lots to enjoy in the film adaptation, but casual watchers may find too much patty on this bun.
Expanding a television show that usually runs for twenty-five minutes into a full-length feature film can be patty hard. Sorry, I mean pretty hard. After spending so much time in director Loren Bouchard’s colorful, sardonic world filled with enough burger puns to fill a McDonald’s ball pit, it’s hard to resist that sort of thing.
Bouchard, along with co-writers Jim Dauterive and Nora Smith, are mostly successful in stretching out the special Bob’s Burger sauce that’s made the show the anchor of Fox’s Sunday animation lineup for a decade. At its core, it’s a show (and film) about a quirky, endearing middle-class family living above the restaurant they own, trying to survive in a ludicrous world. Where The Bob’s Burgers Movie falters is the sagging middle act. That’s when the script stops being fun to do the hard work of getting from point A to point B. It’s a grinding plot that goes against the low-key nature of the show and its characters.
The film starts like a typically strong episode of the show. Per usual, the tiny burger restaurant owned by Bob Belcher (voiced by the all-timer, H. Jon Benjamin) is on the brink of ruin. He’s behind on the rent to their eye-patched landlord, Calvin Fischoeder (voiced by Kevin Kline even though I always think it’s Paul F. Tompkins). Moreover, the bank refuses to give the Belchers a loan. Even with the constant positive reinforcement from his devoted wife, Linda (John Roberts), Bob can’t escape his anxieties.
The plot gets meatier when a giant sinkhole appears in front of the diner. Just when Bob is at his breaking point, a skeleton also appears in the sinkhole. That turns the diner entrance into a crime scene, not traditionally a good thing for business. Once the sinkhole shows up, the movie itself gets stuck in a sinkhole of plotting. The three Belcher children, the always cheerful Gene (Eugene Mirman), pink bunny ear hat-wearing Louise (Kristen Schaal), and the greatest Horse Girl in the history of television, Tina (Dan Mintz), try to solve a murder mystery and save the family business in the process.
The film has enough key ingredients to be satisfying, but I recommend binging the TV show to get the full meal.
The kids are the heart and soul of the show, but the movie only devotes character growth time to Louise. Gene wants to rock out on a stage in the neighboring amusement park, Wonder Wharf, and poor Tina just wants a summer boyfriend. Neither gets the screen time they deserve.
Louise, the youngest of the siblings, has the ferocity of a girl who would be the last survivor on Yellowjackets. The best move the film pulls is giving her real vulnerability. She’s too scared to go upside down on the monkey bars, fearful her security blanket, the hat, will fall off. This leads her classmates to call her the dreaded B-word (Baby).
For the rest of the film, she struggles to come to terms with what her hat really means for her and much fear she truly hides under it. It culminates in a touching moment towards the end when we get the emotional backstory to the hat. It’s a perfect Bob’s Burgers scene that combines real emotional depth with its characters while being gently hilarious (the scene takes place in a Clam Car).
Fans of the show, especially ones like the lovable patron, Teddy (Larry Murphy), who have spent much of their time at Bob’s establishment over the last ten years, will find everything they love about the show here. Clever puns fill the background of almost every frame. My favorite is a zombie poster hanging in the back of a classroom that says, “Brains are for eating, not cheating.” In addition, there are a few of the show’s signature earworm songs throughout, even though they don’t hold a candle to some of the show’s bangers.
Casual fans or anyone unfortunate enough not to have seen the show aren’t missing anything essential. While still going strong, Burgers hasn’t been at the height of its powers since the Obama administration. That places it in great company with The Simpsons. It’s another classic Fox animated show that waited just a bit too long after its prime to release a movie. Unfortunately, Bob’s Burgers doesn’t have the meaty lineup of comedy writing legends to elevate the material. The film has enough key ingredients to be satisfying, but I recommend binging the TV show to get the full meal.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie fires up the grill starting May 27 in theatres.