The Buzz: How Did Sausage Party Get Made? and A Remake that Soars
The Buzz this week has been beaten down this summer by mediocre movies that it is happy to report that two films released wide this week was really good and thought provoking. So good in fact that the Buzz decided to talk about both of them. Sausage Party was so audacious that it might as well been called, “I can’t believe we made this” and Pete’s Dragon is a remake that captures the true American rambling spirit. Then we take a look at the new trailers released by the new film in the Star Wars universe while looking back at an adult-orientated animated films that looks at human existence to burning out like shooting stars.
Film: Sausage Party: Anthropomorphic animals or objects have often been used as a tool for parables. Morales and life lessons are easier to swallow with flights of fancy and metaphors. Aesop’s Fables are the most famous of this instrument for institutionalizing morality into children but the same is done from fairy tales to Disney animated features.
But, it can be done for adults too. That is something that people forget. Just last year, Charlie Kaufman used puppets as a medium to explore the loneliness of an adult male’s melancholic existential crisis in Anomalisa. Every season, South Park uses its hyper low-fi, hyper offensive humorous animation to make extreme satires on current events and taboo, all of which seem more acceptable because the characters are children made out of paper cutouts.
So, in the end of a boring summer movie season (I feel like I have been a Grinch all summer with the way my reviews have been sounding), the freshest movie of the season just so happens to be one about produce. With a premise that seems based on a 3 AM high between Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill, who are credited with story credit, Sausage Party is the most interesting yet flawed film all season and at this point of the dog days of summer, I will happily take that in the local multiplex.
For its 88 minutes running time, Sausage Party constantly poses the question, “How did this get made?” And the only answer is that it was cheap, at $19 million budget (and controversy about how it stayed so cheap, and the cache of the Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg team that have had hits with This is the End, Neighbors and another “How did this get made?” candidate, The Interview.
The film follows the traditional animated formula of what happens when humans aren’t around formula in the vein of Toy Story and The Secret Life of Pets. Set in a supermarket, CGI anamorphic grocery products wake up every morning singing a morning hymn to welcome the Gods, us humans, who are taking them to the great beyond, beyond the doors of the supermarket. This is the routine as Frank (Seth Rogen), a sausage, pines to finally be able to get into his bun girlfriend (Kristen Wiig). That is until Frank’s faith is shattered when a honey mustard jar is returned saying that all that they believed in was not real. Rather than passing on to the great beyond, the Gods just ate them.
The satire is blunt and obvious in the way South Park is and just like the TV cartoon series, there is unrelenting will in the universe that the film is created. This is food pun galore, including the main bad guy, a literal douche named Douche (Nick Kroll), constantly commenting on the food puns that he makes. The supermarket is a place for the writers to simply entertain themselves with the creativity of a fully fledge food universe that parallels ours. The kosher section is even having a feud with the foods located in the Mediterranean section.
The film fully acknowledges its stupidity and bro-out, gross out humor. But, it dares to be stupid without ever pretending to be smart which is the smartest thing Sausage Party could do. Sure, outwardly it has some asinine theme about the existential crisis of religion, but what happens at the end is a film that succumbs to its id; extreme violence and gratuitous food sex.
I’m not sure if I was fully on board with the humor of Sausage Party. In fact, the audience at my screening had a silence of unbelievable awe of what they are watching. I was in the same position. And I respect that. This movie had audacity to pull off a CGI animated, stoner, adult comedy about religion. It takes a huge sausage to do so.
Film: Pete’s Dragon: There has been a general negativity from me in recent film reviews. That’s not because I do not like or want movies to succeed. I feel like most of the wide released movies this summer has just made me feel apathetic. Everything has felt safe, rote and in the end, I am just left wondering, “Why did this get made?” besides the obvious reason of money.
Most of that comes from the lack of original IP (intellectual property). Generally, with these reviews, I try to pick the biggest release of the week. In the two and a half months, including this issue, there has only been three original films. That means that it was not based on a preexisting creative work or property. So, there was no reason for me to find in Pete’s Dragon, a remake of a not greatly beloved half animated, half live-action musical from the late 70’s, some of the best pleasures I had from a summer movie.
The original Pete’s Dragon is the perfect candidate for a remake. It’s a film that is dated in its love of combining live action and animated interaction and is not particularly well loved or remembered. But, the remake is a testament on what films need; a singular vision.
It was an interesting choice to have David Lowry to direct a children’s film. He is best remembered for the independent feature, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, a Midwestern ode to Terence Malick and Robert Altman. Here, he imbues a film about a child finding a friend with a dragon with the same Midwestern Americana that the film felt like an it was the embodiment of a Jason Isbell song. There are lots of woodcutters.
But, Lowry’s vision is earnestly sincere. Pete, a lost child in the woods, befriends a dragon, Elliot, who becomes his protector. The CGI dragon has personality, mainly of a dog, but it is the bond between Pete and Elliot that feels so warm. This is the earnestness that is needed in order to make this film work. Sure, there are the expected plots of men who attack Elliot because of fear (classic Amblin style stuff) and of Pete trying to acclimate to a new family with Bryce Dallas Howard and Wes Bentley.
What makes Pete’s Dragon feel so special and warm is this woodsy spirituality that lifts the spirit. There is not much to anything but being there with Pete and Elliot as they explore the landscaped forest. Then there are the moments when Pete does the same in the concrete roads of the town he is in (The film was shot in beautiful New Zealand).
It is hard to touch upon why this film works as well as it did. Lowry feels in charge the whole time relying on the simplicity of moments. Although it is about a boy and his dragon, it can easily be about a boy and his dog. The emotions are intimately grounded, widespread but specific. Pete’s Dragon is Bob Dylan or Ryan Adams. Its roots are in America but its soul is rambling through. The only difference is that this film has literal flights of fancy.
Coming Soon: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: It is obvious that Disney is taking all the right lessons from their advertising of Star Wars: The Force Awakens with the roll out of Rogue One. This film is the best way to use this massive property that Disney acquired. If you can only make a film involving the main story every few years, why not take advantage of this whole universe that has already been established? Rogue One is a prequel of sorts to the original trilogy about the group of bandits who were able to steal the Death Star blueprints that were so pivotal to the plot of the original film in 1977. Gareth Edwards of the great 2014 blockbuster, Godzilla, is at helm of this film, which has been described as a team up heist film. That team is also a great group of multi-ethnic faces led by Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed and, if you are a Chinese film fan as I am, the great Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen. But believe me when I say, these trailers have been awesome.
Rogue One is scheduled to be released December 16th.
Rewind: World of Tomorrow: Speaking of adult themes in animated films, the best animator today is one that dealing with existential crisis of human existence and despair. I am of course talking about the filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt. Last year, he released his greatest film yet and it is available on Netflix. Not convinced yet, it is only 16 minutes long, yet has more philosophical weight than Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Drawn using minimalist backdrops and stick figures, World of Tomorrow is about a little girl named Emily who is visited by her future clone who takes her on a tour of her future which is filled with love, despair and death as well as robots who fear death and one-eyed monsters. The film which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short will make you laugh and then suddenly cry. What more would you want from an animated film? (Right Pixar)
World of Tomorrow is available for streaming on Netflix.