The Bob’s Burgers Movie and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Animation
Directed by Loren Bouchard & Bernard Derriman
When adapting a TV show like this, the question that needs to be answered is why this story needed to be a movie; a question that’s only gotten harder to answer now that we expect even more from TV shows and streaming services. There are of course remakes that I remember being a particularly popular thing around the early 2000s, presumably kicked off by the success of Charlie’s Angels, but really good movies that are an extension of an ongoing TV show? Well, we’ve got those SpongeBob movies, but it gets pretty thin on the ground after that. Can The Blecher family’s first cinematic outing prove to be the exception to the rule, or will they burn their buns flying too close to the sun? Let’s find out!!
Summer is fast approaching and it couldn’t come soon enough because Bob Belcher (H Jon Benjamin) is in dire need to make some money to cover his loans which are dangerously overdue. His wife Linda (John Roberts) is looking on the bright side and throwing in some jazz hands for good measure, but jazz hands will not be enough to save them when a sinkhole opens right in front of their restaurant; blocking all foot traffic and making it impossible for customers to buy burgers which means that next loan payment will be next to impossible to make. If that wasn’t enough, their youngest daughter Louise (Kristen Schaal), in a bid to prove herself as the bravest kid around, goes down the hole only to find a dead body which makes things even more difficult for the Belchers to get back on track; especially when the primary suspect is their landlord Mr. Fischoeder (Kevin Kline) who is the only one who can help them in this financial bind. Wanting to save her family’s business and once again prove everyone wrong about her being a baby, Louise enlists the help of her older siblings Tina and Gene (Dan Mintz and Eugene Mirman) to solve this mystery and prove that Mr. Fischoeder was not the killer! Can the Belcher kids bring the murderer to justice while saving their restaurant in the process? Just how far will Bob and Linda go start selling burgers again, and is it a risk they will ultimately regret taking? Seriously, does Bob radiate bad luck, or is the universe just out to get him; possibly for making a burger recipe with kale in it?
A movie like this has to deliver on something that you can’t see at home; something to justify the higher budget, the money spent to promote it, and to convince audiences to go out of their house to see it in theaters. For me, that’s the biggest failing of this movie as nothing about it really felt like something we needed to see as a movie instead of part of the show itself. Still, once you get past that and just look at it as an overlong episode of Bob’s Burgers, a show that is not one of my favorites out there but that I have a solid appreciation for, it does work and is pretty darn funny. Unlike The Simpsons Movie which came out when that show had well over 300 episodes, Bob’s Burgers hasn’t quite overstayed its welcome or run out of ideas, so it does retain a lot of the flavor and quality from the show’s better episodes which should come as a relief to fans, but for those who haven’t jumped on the Belcher train yet, it’s still gonna be something of a hard sell. Not as hard as selling half of Bob’s burger ideas, but I’m pretty sure he comes up with the pun first for those anyway.
What’s always worked about the show still works here. The cast is fun, the writing is sharp, and there’s enough Teddy for a die-hard Teddy fan such as myself to feel more than satisfied! I’ve never quite nailed down the show’s appeal for me specifically, but I appreciate it for a lot of things that it doesn’t do. It’s not crass or offensive like a lot of adult-oriented animation tends to strive for, and yet it doesn’t feel condescending in its wholesomeness. The Simpsons at its peak always had an edge of cynicism, mostly for the false reality that sitcoms before it portrayed to the masses (early seasons definitely leaned into this with Homer’s constant befuddlement at life’s constant hurdles), and while Bob’s Burgers is in no way enamored with the American Dream (Bob’s a good person stuck in a world that will never truly reward him for his efforts), it doesn’t really try to be about that either and just lets the characters be who they are while throwing out clever one-liners. The movie is similarly structured with most of the running time going to back and forth conversations set against the rather simplistic mystery, and if you liked all that about the show then there’s no reason you wouldn’t like it here; especially if your favorite character is Louise. She gets a lot of screen time and some of the most in-depth characterization she’s gotten so far which was nice to see, and it’s always nice whenever Kristen Schaal gets the spotlight.
There are some aspects of this that do take advantage of the added budget and longer running time. The dance numbers in particular have a lot of moving parts and the animation looks like it might have been Rotoscoped which allows for a lot more fluidity than you’d see on TV. There’s also a lot more shading long with some very striking backgrounds, and while it doesn’t add much overall I do like the wider aspect ratio which gives it a more cinematic feel. Aside from that though, the movie doesn’t have a lot to offer for someone looking for more than the show. The music is on par with the series, the writing is pretty much exactly the same without any significant flourishes or even raunchiness to set it apart, and there aren’t even any of the obvious trappings of a film adaptation like getting big-name celebrities to voice new characters. The one thing they do that is something of a trope for these kinds of adaptations is that they give fans something they’ve intentionally held back from them since the start of the series. I won’t go into details here, but it’s nice that they gave fans something they’ve surely wanted to see for some time. To an extent, it is admirable that they didn’t lose anything when they made the leap to the silver screen, and the movie doesn’t even feel that padded despite being three times as long as what the writers are used to, but maybe a bit more pizazz here and there wouldn’t have hurt things too much.
Where the movie really falters is the plot itself. The murder mystery could have been the thing that sets this apart from the show, a genuine sense of danger or clever intrigue against the backdrop of Ocean Avenue, but instead, it’s overly convoluted and feels secondary to the usual Belcher antics. It’s not even particularly clever which is a shame given how strong the humor is written, and if you don’t guess who the killer is before a body even turns up, then you’re probably not paying attention. It’s also skewed quite heavily towards Louise which leaves Gene and Tina as tagalongs with very minor story arcs. It’s a bit of a shame, especially with Tina being a fan favorite, but even with the longer running time you can only do so much, and Louise’s story is strong enough that I wouldn’t want them to try and cut it down to make room for other characters. Then again, it’s not like the murder mystery was much to write home about so perhaps we could have made a few cuts there. Since we’re on the subject, maybe we should try to answer the question that this movie couldn’t; namely, what could they have done to really sell this as a cinematic experience and not just a long episode of the show? What could they have given us here that they couldn’t do on TV already? Well South Park had a pretty easy job figuring that out since all they needed to do was pump up the raunchiness, but Bob Belcher isn’t about to throw out F-bombs, so you need something less obvious. The SpongeBob movies managed to knock out three decent pictures with road trips and mixed media, but even then there are plenty of episodes with them out of town and they even did that one episode with a bunch of different animation styles. Perhaps the show has been bold enough already that anything truly transgressive would slip too far outside of their target audience, but I still feel it was a waste to not make something bigger and better than the show we already get to see at home.
I’m sure fans will probably be satisfied and will probably end up enjoying it even more than I did. It’s clearly a lot of time, effort, and love dedicated to something that they will enjoy, but it’s ultimately not much more fulfilling than three or four episodes played back to back and that’s the sticking point for me. I can overlook the wonky murder mystery plot or the sidelining of certain characters, but the whole thing feels a little too small for the screen you have to see it on and it will feel much more at home when it’s… well, at home. If you’re a fan of the show it’s probably worth your time to check it out in a theater, especially if you have a nice one that’s fun to go to, but everyone else will be just fine waiting for it to show up on Hulu in a few months. Heck, it’d at least be something to justify paying for the service every month as I’m just using it to rewatch the same fifteen seasons of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia over and over again. Hey, when is that show gonna get a movie?