There’s a meta moment at the beginning of The Simpsons Movie where Homer remarks, “I can’t believe we’re paying to see something we get on TV for free! If you ask me, everybody in this theater is a giant sucker!” I have the strong feeling that’s what quite a few people will be thinking when they see The Bob’s Burgers Movie in a theater, and I say that as an avid fan of the show!
I’ll be the first to concede that Bob’s Burgers is somewhat of an acquired taste and its offbeat brand of comedy may not be to everyone’s liking. Nevertheless, the show which could have easily been yet another Simpsons ripoff somehow found a devoted audience with its quirky humor. Just attend any major comic convention and you’re practically guaranteed to find at least one Belcher family group costume. But as the apocryphal story of Sir Isaac Newton and the apple has taught us, what goes up must come down.
There comes a point for nearly every show where it peaks and overstays its welcome. For the aforementioned Simpsons, most fans guesstimate between seasons 8-9. I’d probably say the same is true for Bob’s Burgers but after Season 10 if I’m being generous. The point is after 12 seasons with at least one more on the way, The Bob’s Burgers Movie is the franchise’s best shot and renewing fan interest. While I can’t say the animated film is likely to win over people who still haven’t gotten on board the Bob’s Burgers train, it will likely satisfy the diehard fans who have stuck around since the beginning.
It’s summertime for the Belcher clan consisting of the titular patriarch Bob (H. Jon Benjamin), exuberant Linda (John Roberts) and their oddball children – eldest daughter Tina (Dan Mintz), middle child Gene (Eugene Mirman), and the mischievous Louise (Kristen Schaal). But before that, they’ll face their biggest adventure yet that threatens not only the future of the restaurant but the entire Wonder Wharf amusement park and town.
Admittedly, the premise isn’t breaking new ground or territory that hasn’t already been explored before in the series itself, but the film’s primary interest lies in the characters over the story, with each Belcher having their own arc. Bob and Linda are trying to pay off a bank loan to save the restaurant; Tina is taking the next step in her romantic relationship with Jimmy Junior; Gene is fulfilling his musical dreams; Louise is overcoming her personal insecurities.
Bob’s Burgers creator and the film’s co-writer and co-director Loren Bouchard has described the project as a “character-driven, musical, mystery, comedy, action-adventure.” Despite a hodgepodge of different ideas, it actually works. Granted, the ratio of hit-to-miss jokes is decidedly lower than it was in its heyday but I can honestly say that it induced more intentional chuckles than the last few MCU films so I’d call that a win in my book.
The first six minutes are unquestionably sublime. It quickly and efficiently establishes the Belchers for any uninitiated viewers without any lazy exposition. Add to that, it’s all accomplished through a jaunty original song celebrating the “Sunny Side of Summer,” which may be one of the best pieces of music of the franchise since the epic “Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl” musical number.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t quite live up to those first six minutes. In fact, for a show praised for its wide breadth of original tunes (epitomized by The Bob’s Burgers Music Album, a collection of 107 songs from the show) the musical sequences are few and far between so the film never quite reaches the height of musical ingenuity like the South Park movie or your standard Disney animated feature.
With a big-screen movie comes a big budget and the filmmakers used every cent in making a gorgeous-looking film. Obviously, the constraints of producing seasonal animated television will always have their limitations, but the Bob’s Burgers team takes complete advantage of the possibilities afforded by the cinematic experience. I wouldn’t go so far as to compare The Bob’s Burgers Movie to what Bruce Timm and company accomplished when they took the seminal Batman: The Animated Series to the silver screen with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, but the efforts of Bouchard and co-director and Bernard Derriman, as well as countless others, do not deserve to go unappreciated.
The biggest drawback to producing episodic television, especially for an animated series with a sliding timeline where the characters never age, is that by the end everything inevitably resets and so there is never ever any real growth. With the rise of streaming, we’ve been seeing a shifting audience preference towards more serialized storytelling where characters do change. Although this may result in richer storytelling, there is some comfort in having something constant in this ever precarious world. Thus by the end of Bob’s Burgers Movie everything will return to the status quo. So don’t go in expecting any major developments for the show akin to The Rugrats Movie and the follow-up Rugrats in Paris that added new characters to the franchise. That said, the movie does manage the move the proverbial needle just enough that we’re left with a better understanding of the characters.
A constant question among the fandom is the deal with Louise’s pink bunny-eared hat. And while the franchise will never go so far as to show Louise onscreen without her trademark headwear, the film finally provides an answer. I’ll leave it at that but I’m not afraid to admit that the reveal actually tugged at my heartstrings. Unfortunately, rather than let the audience sit and digest the revelation, the film eagerly moves on to the Belcher’s next wacky escapade. Therein lies the underlying problem with The Bob’s Burgers Movie. The trademark fast-pacing and rapid-fire dialogue work amazingly well for comedy and television but it doesn’t know how or want to slow down and let us sit with quiet emotion.
At the end of the day though, Bob’s Burgers, much like the cuisine Bob serves, is comfort food, and after the last two years, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. With the world as complex and chaotic as it is right now, I think we could all use a distraction where things will eventually work out and in that regard, The Bob’s Burgers more than succeeds.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie opens exclusively in theaters Friday, May 27.