Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Studios
The Belcher family is stuck, literally and figuratively. Sitcoms, live or animated, are built on stasis. But even by these standards, Bob’s Burgers has settled into a particularly predictable pace over 12 seasons – a pace in which not only little changes, but the fundamental challenges and obstacles facing the family also remain the same.
For husband and wife team Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) and Linda (John Roberts), it’s always the same mad dash to pay their rent and their bills. For oldest daughter Tina (Dan Mintz), it’s her desire to make it official with her longtime crush and neighbor, Jimmy Jr. (also voiced by Benjamin). For his son Gene (Eugene Mirman), it’s the desire to write the next big song. For youngest daughter Louise (Kristen Schaal), it’s a burning need to prove that she’s more than just a little girl. It’s the Bob’s Burgers formula, give or take various nonsense like a Jon Hamm-voiced toilet. If you accept its rigidity and security, Bob’s Burgers movie information – the first film adaptation of the series – is a jubilant distraction. Narratively, this is nothing new, but the predictability of the plot and the ease with which Bob’s Burgers the impresario Loren Bouchard guides us there as co-director and co-screenwriter is a comfort.
The story here is scaled back from the Belcher family’s wackiest antics (no balloon fetishes, no animal anus paintings), but visually, Ocean Avenue has been expanded. The animation has unparalleled dynamism, depth and fluidity. During dance sequences, some characters look like separate cutouts from the main action, and this effect adds subtle layering. A diopter shot during the villain’s boastful, sung explanation of his master plan offers a close-up view of their facial expressions and a wider shot of their dancing bodies (of course). A chase scene through a Wonder Wharf storage space is both a whirlwind of movement and an opportunity for clever production design details like googly-eyed stuffed animals and uniquely shaped bumper cars. Altogether, the effect is an enchanting drop into the world of the Belchers, and the simplicity of the story and the emphasis on family intimacy allow for this optical immersion.
It’s almost summer and the Belcher family is anxious. Bob and Linda owe the bank a loan for their restaurant equipment, and after being denied an extension, they only have one week to pay it back. Tina worries about whether Jimmy Jr. will agree to be her summer boyfriend. Gene invents a new musical instrument by attaching two plastic spoons to an empty metal napkin box, but has a nightmare in which no one comes to see his band, the Itty Bitty Ditty Committee, play. Louise, offended by a classmate who calls her a “baby” for her refusal to perform a stunt in the playground, falls into a spiral of doubt. So when a gigantic sinkhole appears in front of Bob’s Burgers, Louise decides to explore it to prove her bravery – uncovering an unsolved mystery that attracts an array of neighbors, allies, enemies, and Belcher enemies.
They all play a part in a well-paced, well-focused thriller: Belchers owner Mr. Fischoeder (Kevin Kline), his brother, Felix (Zach Galifianakis), and their cousin, Grover (David Wain); devoted family friend Teddy (Larry Murphy) and Detective Sergeant Bosco (Gary Cole); Wonder Wharf carny Mickey (John Q. Kubin) and One-Eyed Snakes motorcycle gang member Critter (Robert Ben Garant). Meanwhile, the Belchers do what they do best: they sing in moments of optimism and doubt; they sneak around and investigate, either accidentally offending carnies or marveling at the quirks of wealthy Fischoeders. And, of course, they support, encourage, and love each other, with some thoughtful twists on established family roles that add emotional flair to the film’s finale.
Disposable gags are good, like Jimmy Jr.’s best friend Zeke (Bobby Tisdale) tumbling through school hallways doing an amateur version of parkour and the Fischoeder brothers poking fun at the Belchers’ relative poverty with a “Yeah, jealous? And vocally, the cast is his usual talent, especially Benjamin, whether it’s unleashing Bob’s “Oh, my God” moan at his family’s antics, adding a bit of whiny love to the dreamy version of Tina from Jimmy Jr., or to express the fusion of Louise, mischievous figurine from Bad Kuchi Kopi. The only real performance misstep is Wain’s singing voice, which gets a little high-pitched and hard to follow.
But beneath all the craziness, the central tension at the heart of Bob’s Burgers has always been about the cost, literal and figurative, of chasing your dreams. When is all that physical and emotional work not worth it? Wouldn’t it just be easier to be rich and dissatisfied? Bob’s Burgers manifestly rejects cynicism, and Bob’s Burgers movie information is no different. It’s an enjoyable, unchallenging expansion of the worldview of family, friendship, and loyalty that Bouchard and the Belchers have made their own.