There’s good reason to be weary of full-length feature films based on ongoing television series.
The biggest issue is scale. (Or the “this could’ve been a regular episode” conundrum.) For a show that airs every week, what story deserves a 90-minute-plus movie on the big screen? If the movie stay within television limits, it will either feel pointless at best, or like a tacky cash grab at worst. Go too big, and you risk losing the series’ spirit.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie, on paper, is both unintuitive and totally obvious. The animated FOX sitcom about Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin), the owner of the eponymous, financially-dire restaurant, and his ragtag family, has been a comfortable primetime mainstay for 12 seasons. (You’re also bound to run into it across several cable channels.) It doesn’t strive for the biting social satire of early Simpsons, or the brave tastelessness of early Family Guy. While certainly borne from those traditions, Bob’s Burgers’ own irreverent comedy serves the modest ambitions of the working-class Belchers. They just want to get by one craftly-named burger at a time. Why blow up that charming, feel-good scrappiness with a big-budget film? With Disney bankrolling it, why wouldn’t you?
The answers to those questions don’t matter much to the Belchers, who are working through the final days before summer. Summer brings with it new opportunities, and everyone is ready for something new and exciting. Tina (Dan Mintz) wants longtime crush Jimmy Junior to be her summer boyfriend, Gene (Eugene Mirman) wants to be a rockstar using utensils, and Louise (Kristen Schaal) is ready to prove she’s a fearless badass. Bob and Linda (John Roberts) would like to keep their restaurant afloat, but the local bank is threatening to repossess their equipment if they don’t pay back their business loan in seven days.
If that isn’t enough to keep the Belchers pre-occupied, a sinkhole opens up in front of their restaurant and sets off a wacky mystery that could make everything worse. Or better, perhaps?
The Bob’s Burgers Movie is keenly aware that a full-length movie is a shaky proposition. With tongue firmly in cheek, director (and show creator) Loren Bouchard toys with animated movie tropes and tosses them. For instance, the opening teases the use of 3D animation, but quickly tosses that regrettable aesthetic aside. Musical comedy plays a huge role in Bob’s Burgers, and it makes sense to go heavy on splashy, expensive-looking musical numbers. The film, however, exhibits restraint, limiting itself to three.
That might sound like The Bob’s Burgers Movie is just an overblown episode of the show, the worst thing it could be. Thanks to some very savvy writing, it isn’t. The film solves the scale problem by being self-aware enough about the plot’s absurdity, while regarding its impact seriously. The series has never been particularly worried about continuity, so where the film fits within the series doesn’t matter much. You do, however, see real, tangible growth in the characters that makes it feel substantial. The Bob’s Burgers Movie doesn’t feel like a chore, nor does it feel meaningless. It earns its existence.
That deft approach helps the film work for series fans and newcomers to the Belchers’ hijinks. With so many multiverses and interconnected projects fighting for people’s attention, The Bob’s Burgers Movie is easy to get without dumbing itself down. It is chock-full of Easter eggs that long-time fans will love, but it’s not required reading for casual moviegoers. The film gives just enough information for newer audiences to understand basic character dynamics. It also trusts them to pick things up along the way. (Do I personally wish there was more Tammy? Yes, but I’ll be fine with the scraps of her I get.)
You appreciate the lack of hand-holding, because the movie is strongest when it just lets the jokes, one-liners, and sight gags fly. (It loses some momentum and interest when it has to explain the answer to its mystery in the final act.) The side-splitting humor alone is enough to turn a first-timer into a casual fan. There are scenes that will make you chuckle lightly, and make you grab your sides from laughing so hard. However, it is the thoughtful character work – for Bob and Louise (Kristen Schaal) in particular – that will push people into buying past seasons on Blu-Ray.
You can debate the cynicism behind it all you want, and it is worth debating. Still, it’s very hard not to love The Bob’s Burgers Movie. The film escapes the traps that many big screen animated adaptations fall into, emerging as a vital extension of the Bob’s Burgers universe with significant stakes and genuinely great moments. For people with some familiarity with the series, the movie didn’t have to do much to be a success. Rather than coasting on goodwill, the Belchers, as usual, put their best foot forward. This time, the recipe is just right.
The Bob's Burgers movie leaps over the traps of big screen adaptations with gusto, hilarity, and surprising pathos.
A late-stage millennial lover of most things related to pop culture. Becomes irrationally irritated by Oscar predictions that don’t come true.