2022 | PG-13 | starring the voices of H. John Benjamin, Kristen Schaal, Kevin Kline, Zach Galifianakis | directed by Loren Bouchard and Bernard Derriman | 1 hr 43 mins |
This is the point where, if we had a team of writers, I would hand off a review of The Bob’s Burger’s Movie to a fan of the long-running Fox animated series. Despite watching the show several times through it’s first several seasons, and despite being a fan of Lauren Bouchard’s previous series – Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and especially the criminally underrated Home Movies which introduced the world to the unique voice of H. John Benjamin – I was never able to get into the domestic ironically small adventures of the Bleachers, a family of three kids that ran a burger joint in a city wharf. Any show entering the movie space knows it has a balance to cater to series fans and make a stand-alone product that still works as a movie. Bob’s Burger’s does that just fine, but unlike a Borat or Downton Abby for me it didn’t have a rush of good will at it’s back from getting to jump into the world of this show again. So, take that with a grain of salt.
On the same day that Bob Belcher (H. John Benjamin) and his wife Linda (John Roberts) go to the bank begging for a loan to keep their family burger business a float, a massive sink hole opens up in front of the restaurant, making attracting enough customers to pay off their debt next to impossible. When their youngest, Louise (Kristen Schaal) is called a “baby” in school and attempts to prove her fearlessness by venturing into the sinkhole, she discovers the corpse of a man murdered on the marina 6 years prior and turns the whole area into a crime scene. With a few days left to pay the rent, Louise, Gene (Eugene Mirman) and Tina (Dan Mintz) venture into the world of the carnies to solve the mystery, get the loan and save the restaurant.
Oh, lots of men voicing women’s roles here. Hari Kondabolu should probably get on this.
Anyway, I bring to The Bob’s Burgers Movie the same watching-paint-dry befuddlement I do with Bob’s Burgers. Bourchard has a cleverness about him, much of the show’s humor is puns and Simpson-esque freeze-frame building sign gags, and the film is wonderfully hand-drawn and well paced. The stakes are just high enough for movie entry but just low enough to remain authentic to the series. I’ve just never found it funny. Are the Belchers supposed to be dumb or are they supposed to be clever? They waffle back and forth with whatever the situation requires. It’s not clear what Bouchard’s comic angle is here, what is he saying about any of this? Family, running a business, teen crushes (like Tina’s perpetual fascination with Jimmy Jr.), and in this movie carnival life and three eccentric property owners (lead by Kevin Kline as quirky marina owner Calvin Fishoeder)?
Are these characters really lovable? Whether it’s the screeching of ever-optimistic Linda or the generic dumb-kid schtick of Gene or the innate masculinity of Tina – I just don’t get it. In the show, Louise and Bob are the stars, with spunky Louise given the movie’s strongest arc and emotional core. We finally learn how she got her bunny ears, the movie challenges why she never takes them off and gets into her place in the school hierarchy. Most compelling is Louise’s inner struggle with her own fears vs. what she projects to everyone. Louise – and Schaal’s perfect voice for the character – remains the star of the film. It only highlights the problem, the show loves this character and nobody around her is given as much depth. Given how Bourchard excelled at ground-level childhood adventure with Home Movies it’s no surprise, but in the ensemble of Burgers everyone else feels like a supporting player to Louise.
Ultimately, the small, daily misadventures of the show – a glorified animated sitcom that could just as easily be made live-action – are elevated into a murder mystery for the movie, complete with musical numbers that are just ok and an elaborate third act villain monologue. The Bob’s Burgers Movie isn’t unfunny, which is a compliment with so many cringe comedies today, it is simply the absence of funny. An inoffensive, perfectly average feature-length episode that will surely please fans of the show. Whatever they see in it.
Bonus Review: The Sea Beast
2022 | PG | starring voices of Zaris-Angel Hator, Karl Urban, Jared Harris, Marianne Jean-Baptiste | directed by Chris Williams | 1 hr 55 mins |
In an era where English aristocrats send strongmen out to hunt sea monsters, Jacob Holland (Karl Urban) is one of the most legendary. However, one particularly fierce sea beast still eludes him. When the crown sends him out with his gruff, monster-obsessed captain (Jared Harris) and first mate (Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Broadchurch) to finally kill the beast for good Holland discovers the ship has a stow-away in Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator), a young orphan who idolizes Holland and seeks her own adventure.
Every time an animated movie successfully pulls off a few adult themes and villains that are real threats it is met with shock and surprise by the general audience. It happened with Studio Ghibli movies, it happens with Pixar movies, Phil Lord and Chris Miller movies, Studio Laika movies, the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy and now it’s happening with The Sea Beast. The film is gorgeously animated and ripe with period details crafted to create a swashbuckling sea adventure.
The story arc of The Sea Beast follows like this: a feared monster race from across the world is hunted by ferocious warriors who have wrapped their culture around fighting the bests until one of them is befriended by an empathetic kid who learns that they aren’t as dangerous as the legends have told, but an even greater monster lurks out there for it to fight and the kid must tame the monster and fight those who let fear drive them to kill it. Sound familiar? The Sea Beast is beat-for-beat How to Train Your Dragon about water creatures. Except where those movies subverted the expectations of the “It’s only defending itself” animal film, this one plays it completely straight.
Directed by Chris Williams of the far better Moana and Big Hero 6, Sea Beast is shallow, poorly pace, way-to-long at nearly 2 hours, and at every turn and story point recalls Dragon. And unflattering comparison to one of the best animated movies of the last decade.