AUSTIN, TX: “I know people say like, ‘Yeah, it’s a work-in-progress,’ and they haven’t like, color-timed it or some shit. This is a fuckin’ work-in-progress!” So announced Seth Rogen before Monday night’s SXSW screening of Sausage Party, the forthcoming animated comedy he co-wrote and co-produced with his frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg. And he’s right; earlier works-in-progress, like last year’s Trainwreck and Saturday night’s Keanu, looked (to the naked eye) multiplex-ready. Sausage Party, to put it mildly, was not.
“I can’t stress enough how work-in-progress many parts of it are,” Rogen repeated. “You will very quickly see that this is not like semantical trickery — it’s not fucking done yet.” But the full house at Austin’s Paramount Theatre got a sense of what the movie will be, when it hits theaters in August; basically, if the idea of a Rogen and Co. hard-R animated movie about hot dogs called Sausage Party sounds like something you’d like, well, this is that thing. You know who you are.
Boiled down to its basics, Sausage Party is the story of “Frank” (voiced by Rogen), a hot dog, and “Brenda” (Kristen Wiig), his hot dog bun girlfriend. They live at Shopwell’s, where all the foodstuffs look forward to the day when they’re selected by “the Gods” (people) and taken to “the Great Beyond”; Frank and Brenda and their fellow dogs and buns are eagerly anticipating “red, white, and blue day,” when they all get to go to the Great Beyond. But a horrible cart accident – with an uproarious Saving Private Ryan shout-out – causes them to separate from their packs, and they spend the rest of the film trying to get back to their shelves, and to escape an evil douche (Nick Kroll, calling everybody “bro”).
“Sausage Party” co-writers/co-producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg introduce their SXSW work-in-progress screening. (Jason Bailey / Flavorwire)
“Seriously, it’s so weird to say, this has been a real passion project of ours for a really long time,” Rogen laughed, explaining how they first got the idea eight years ago. “It honestly came from an innocent place — we really love animated movies, and we would look at what a lot of them did. People like to project emotions onto the things around them: onto their toys, onto their cars, onto their pets. That’s kind of what Pixar has done for the last 20 years. So we thought, what would it be like if our food had feelings? And we very quickly realized, Oh, that would be fucked up! Cause we eat it!”
Over the course of that time, they added (believe it or not) some dimension to the piece. All the business about the Great Beyond leads to a closer look at faith and religion than you might expect from the logline; when Frank begins to have his doubts about the Great Beyond, he fumes, “It might be nice if there was some kind of proof!” The brutal horror-show of a dinner prep sequence once the groceries get home – boiling, frying, shredding, burning – almost plays like a PSA for veganism. And when Frank and Betsy find themselves lost in the store with a bagel (voiced by Edward Norton, doing a spot-on Woody Allen) and a loaf of lavash (David Krumholtz), there’s much discussion of their quarrels over “shelf space”: “Isn’t there room for both of you on your aisle? It seems like a pretty big aisle!”
The makers of “Sausage Party” at its SXSW work-in-progress screening. (Jason Bailey / Flavorwire)
Rogen and Goldberg (and their co-writers Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir) also use that journey through the aisles to take our protagonists on a full tour of international foods, resulting in enough ethnic stereotype-based humor for a week’s worth of Salon thinkpieces. Some of it is, admittedly, funny and/or transgressive; some of it is one joke stretched thin, and the movie can play that way in spots as well. But when it works – when they do their big musical number about the Great Beyond, when they stumble upon an out-of-control party in the liquor aisle, and when a full-on, graphic food orgy breaks out – it really works.
Directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon keep things moving at a good clip, and find a workable animated style: cute, but not too cute. And Rogen wasn’t kidding about the roughness of the version they shared; while many sequences seemed fully animated, others were missing background and details, some were animatics, a few scenes even played out in storyboards. But he encouraged the crowd to look at those scotch-taped placeholders as part of the experience: “I mean, you are truly seeing something no one else will ever get to see, ever in the world.” That’s certainly true. Frankly, it’s still a little hard to believe, even after seeing it, that Sausage Party is a thing that exists in any form. And that’s meant as a compliment.
Sausage Party’s final version is set for theatrical release in August.