On the one hand, it's profoundly unfair to attack a movie like Sausage Party for the quality of its animation. The whole point of the Disney-Pixar business model is that you spend a gargantuan pile of money to make an even more gargantuan pile back; the reason those studios' films look so good is that cost well over a hundred million dollars even at their cheapest, which means they need to make several hundred million dollars to turn a profit. Take a step down in budget, and you see the same thing with DreamWorks; another step down (but keep the giant box office windfalls) and you're at Illumination. You can't do that with an adults-only cartoon; they are by their nature going to be hugely limited in appeal. The $30 million (or $19 million, depending on which report you trust: pennies either way) it cost to make Sausage Party is close to the maximum that could possibly be spent on it by any producer with a serious interest in ever seeing a profit, and if you're going to insist on making a film using fully-rendered CGI (and if you're not, here in the 2010s marketplace, you're going to limit your appeal even further), $30 million simply isn't going to buy very much.

On the other hand, Sausage Party looks, like, really bad. Direct-to-video mockbuster bad. Not one surface, whether it is made of wood nor metal nor flesh and blood, fails to looks like it has been covered in plastic glaze; several characters' eyes appear to be exposed several F-stops brighter than the rest of their bodies. One particular character, a talking crunchy taco shell, has an entire face that feels like it's been glued to her using the Photoshop smear tool. Again, this is unfair, but understanding why the thing is does not excuse it. This is, by the way, exactly why the stranglehold 3-D CG animation has on the American theatrical market pisses me off: dirty cartoons from Ralph Bakshi to South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut have found ways to make cost-cutting measures at least look like a deliberate style. You can't do that with CGI: it's pretty much either good or bad, at least as long as it's done in the "ape natural lighting and real-world physics" mode that pretty much invariably happens.

But anyway, here I am talking about the animation in Sausage Party, and isn't that silly. The film is, of course, making all sorts of waves for how edgy and whatnot it is: a not-quite-parody and not-quite-satire of the Pixar-style premise of a secret world where inanimate objects have an elaborate culture unseen by humans, and in this case speak unbelievably dirty lines of dialogue and have wildly acrobatic animated sex. Which is where the comedy comes in, and I suppose it even works: comedy is, after all, the art of unexpected juxtapositions that shock us into laughter. The handful of writers - though bro-auteurs Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg are quite obviously the ringleaders - know the Pixar model inside and out, from the abrupt switch between sentiment and goofiness to the third-act chase scene, and they alternate between using and mocking these conventions with a fairly high level of success. Insofar as the joke is "this is Toy Story but they talk about fucking and drugs", Sausage Party could not be a better riff, which is all it theoretically takes to make the joke work.

Theoretically. Now, it isn't mine to tell people that what they're laughing at isn't funny, because humor is that most subjective of all things. And the giddiness of the movie is charming and amusing, and I laughed. I did not laugh hard, nor often. In part this is because, to a significant extent, "this is Toy Story but they talk about fucking and drugs" really is the primary gag - the opening 10 minutes or so are an especially dire case of the movie doing nothing whatsoever for a laugh other than dropping in F-bombs, on the grounds that, hell, isn't seeing a toyetic cartoon character say "fuck" for no reason funny? And it is. Once. After which point we've gotten the joke. If I can go to the most obvious possibly comparison point, how about South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut? That film's creators, Trey Parker & Matt Stone, make a big show of their inaugural "fuck", and then they never again uses that as the joke in and of itself. The joke of something like "Uncle Fucka" is precisely that neither farts nor cursing are actually funny until ramped up to such a degree of absurdity that they cease to mean anything. Sausage Party mostly seems to think that cursing is actually funny, and instead of complicating it, a great deal of the humor is just about escalating it to ever cruder, grander heights. And even there, South Park has it beat: that film understands that if you have a movie full of F-bombs, the climactic joke isn't a whole lot of F-bombs, the climactic joke is that "Barbra Streisand" is the ultimate curse word.

But still, it's quite fearless, that escalation; you can kind of see the wildly over-the-top ending coming from a fair distance away, but the joyful enthusiasm with which the filmmakers pursue it, abandoning even the slightest hint of taste or restraint, is hard to argue against. You can tell that they were a bit ecstatic to make this, ecstatic that they could get away with so very much and do it in a way that's so unbelievably generous to the characters. It's really quite sweet, in fact. I still don't find it funny, but it's sweet.

The film, anyway, follows the travails of a hot dog named Frank (Rogen) who lives on a grocery store shelf next to a sexy hot dog bun named Brenda (Kristin Wiig) - like, unacceptably sexy, with a curvy ass and giant boobs and a mouth shaped like a tight vagina, and it's a uniquely off-putting attempt to do the whole "sexy lady version of a gender-neutral thing" trend, which is maybe the joke? I don't think it's a joke. Anyway the pair shamelessly flirts, and talk about what will happen when one of the Gods puts them in a shopping cart and takes them to the Great Beyond outside the store, where Frank will finally be able to slide up inside Brenda. But as a honey mustard jar (Danny McBride) who was returned to the store reveals, the Great Beyond is a nightmarish hell where the Gods are interested only in eating the sentient beings they have purchased, and he causes an accident that leaves Frank and Brenda cast outside of their respective packages and forced to navigate the store to find their way back home. Meanwhile, they are pursued by an asshole douche (Nick Kroll) convinced that Frank is responsible for leaving him bent and broken. Along the way, they pick up a trio of shocking ethnic stereotypes that I think the film thinks it's playing with ironically, though there's no onscreen evidence backing this up: Kareem Abdul Lavash (David Krumholtz) and Sammy Bagel, Jr. (Edward Norton), who despite his name is a pretty unambiguous Woody Allen nebbish type, who between them re-enact the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the closeted lesbian Teresa del Taco (Salma Hayek). It's kind of mystifying, really, the number of ethnic stereotypes Sausage Party trots out like it's no big thing: the wise old Indian figure, a bottle of spirits named Firewater (Bill Hader), is easily the most weirdly, distractingly terrible but it's the brief cameo appearance of several Chinese sauce bottles, speaking in wholly unapologetic Engrish, that wins "most unecessarily awful" honors. I half-wonder if this is in there so the folks progressive enough to remain unoffended by the sexual and religious libertinism can still be mortally offended, because let's be perfectly clear, Sausage Party is very much the kind of movie that intends to claim a victory if it leaves any viewer offended for any reason.

So all of that happens, alongside a subplot concerning the horror-movie violence that befalls food once it reaches a human kitchen, and at least the film has the courage of its convictions. It also has what has become the de rigueur Rogen/Goldberg attempt at Philosophical Depth. Not the whole Israeli-Palestinian thing, which is frankly just forced and dumb, though at least it assumes its target audience has a functioning understanding of international politics, and that's rare territory for such a broad bit of American-made entertainment. No, it's the thing where Frank learns the truth about the food world's religion of being chosen by the Gods to see the holiness outside of the grocery store, that their entire system is a damnable lie, and tries to reveal this truth to everyone, annoying the hell out of Brenda in the process. It's a smart enough parable of the way that religion starts out reasonable and productive before turning sectarian and puritanical, and how loudmouthed atheists needs to cool it on the arrogance if they want to point those things out, and it's worked organically into the fabric of the adventure narrative. It's not really groundbreaking - like the theology in the same team's This Is the End, a film which Sausage Party resembles in many incidental ways, this feels very much like the kind of stoner profundity that is awe-inspiring to a bright but lazy undergraduate. That is to say, the film's target audience.

Which is also to say, not me, and I return to the point: you can't tell people that what they're laughing at isn't funny, and the crowd I saw Sausage Party with loved it. I do not begrudge their love, though I sure as hell don't share it. The film is a clever enough subversion of stock animation tropes, I suppose, though the concept doesn't really go beyond what a 10-minute short - or hell, even a trailer - could do with the same basic material. It's shocking and therefore funny when cartoons curse and perform oral sex - ultimately, this is the film's vision for what "adult animation" looks like. In Japan, where "adult animation" is about as bold and groundbreaking a concept as vanilla ice cream, they get things like Kon Satoshi's Paprika and Miyazaki Hayao's The Wind Rises. We get animated films like that in America, too: complicated studies of human beings with philosophical depths that no child, no matter how precocious, could fully appreciate. You know, films like Inside Out. Sausage Party is a film for witty, urbane, politically-minded adolescents - but still adolescents. It is what it is, anyway, and I'm happy for the people that it makes happy. At the very least, it's better for American film culture that this exists than if it didn't.