Order Up! – The Bob’s Burgers Movie

I’ve been a fan of Bob’s Burgers from the very beginning. From the first episode, I have been enamored with Loren Bouchard’s distinctly kooky characters and the lovably insane Jersey Shore-like world. So you can imagine that when The Bob’s Burgers Movie was announced back in 2017, I was just as excited as I was to see The Simpsons Movie a decade before. Giving this wonderful, lively program the big screen treatment was sure to be filled with all the references and callbacks a true fan could want. And hopefully, there would be a compelling story true to the characters that we’ve come to know and love for so long. In essence, my hope was that it would be the polar opposite of Doctor Strange 2.

Thankfully, the film succeeds on both of these fronts. It’s by no means perfect, and if you’re not already a fan of the show (or just haven’t seen it in a while), it might be a bit too chaotic to work for you. But for what it is, the movie more than honors its ongoing legacy and the fans who have fallen for its quirks over the years.

Set the week before summer vacation, the film sees Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin) and wife Linda (John Roberts; one of the earliest tropes the show subverted was having male voice actors for a lot of female roles, rather than the other way around, especially for younger characters) stuck in a characteristic financial crunch. Several episodes have focused on their ability – or lack thereof – to make rent on their restaurant, but this time, on top of that, they’re late on their loan payments to the bank for the actual equipment they use to cook. As often happens for Bob, when it rains, it pours, so in addition to being given a one-week deadline to pay the bank, a sinkhole opens up in front of the restaurant, and with the discovery of human remains inside the hole, he effectively cannot operate, forcing him to illegally take the advice of his friend/best customer Teddy (Larry Murphy) and operate a makeshift burger cart without a license inside the nearby Wonder Wharf pier amusement park, owned by his landlord, Calvin Fischoeder (an ever delightfully aloof, creepy, and dismissive Kevin Kline who delivers his lines in the most perfect quasi-villain fashion in all of television), who is accompanied by his scheming brother Felix (Zach Galifianakis) and cousin/family lawyer Grover (David Wain).

Meanwhile the three Belcher kids, Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal) are on their last week of school, and each has a goal for the summer. Gene, often the least utilized of the Belchers, directs his manic energy towards creating a new musical instrument out of a napkin dispenser, rubber bands, and spoons – very in character for him – and wishes to perform at the Wharf’s anniversary celebration with his makeshift band of school kids, the Itty Bitty Ditty Committee. If you didn’t laugh at that name, you have no chance of enjoying this film. Tina, with her constantly budding puberty, wants to make her crush, Jimmy Pesto Jr. (also Benjamin) her “summer boyfriend,” and in true Tina fashion, she fantasizes about Jimmy Jr. in his underwear (she’s obsessed with butts) riding horses with “sexy” zombies (her other two passions).

The core story for the children, however, focuses on Louise. A pint-sized being of pure id, she is on the cusp of taking a major step in her life, possibly getting rid of the pink bunny ear hat she’s worn since her first day of preschool. She’s further goaded by the “mean girl” in her class, Chloe Barbash (Stephanie Beatriz), calling her a scared baby. Initially thinking that going down into the sinkhole will sufficiently prove her bravery, the discovery of the skeleton drives her to solve the potential murder mystery as a true statement of her courage.

While all three kids have story beats that are true to their characters (as do Bob and Linda), this is where the brilliance of the show lies. On the surface, Louise is an agent of chaos, a loud and reckless spitfire who often sparks most of the show’s comedy. But she’s also the emotional center in many of the best episodes, and is a lot of times the most complex and multidimensional of the entire ensemble. She is brave, but doesn’t always see it in herself. She’s sarcastic, but genuine and earnestly empathetic to those she deems to be good people (just watch any number of episodes with Regular-Sized Rudy, voiced by Brian Huskey, to whom she is destined to fall in love someday, I just know it!). And as much as she acts like she doesn’t care about the real world around her (either preferring her stuffed animals or whatever self-serving plots might benefit her in a fleeting moment), she’s the only one of the Belcher children who truly cares about the success – or at least sustainability – of the restaurant. In fact, it’s more a deep concern for the restaurant’s survival that she decides to conscript her siblings to help her solve the underlying mystery rather than any truly selfish reason once she’s aware of the danger to her family. She’s been my favorite character from the very beginning of the series, and the film makes what I believe is the correct decision to showcase her in this glossy, overly shaded cinematic take.

The other area where the film really captures the essence of the show is in the musical numbers. The TV series has always featured original music (or the occasionally clever cover), typically during the credits, and sometimes within the main plots of episodes. They’re spectacularly written, blending both the emotionality of a Broadway ballad or showstopper with hilariously literal lyrics. But what makes them so memorable and distinctive from say, a musical number on The Simpsons or Family Guy, is the fact that none of the main cast members is a particularly good singer. Their almost intentional off-key warbling leans in to this infectiously chintzy charm, a loving mediocrity that illustrates the everyman nature of the family. They’re never going to be the toast of the town, but they’ll also never be hilariously over-the-top failures like on The Venture Bros. That middling sweet spot has been the lifeblood of the series for 12 seasons now, and the quality shows no signs of letting up anytime soon.

Now, as I said, the film is still somewhat flawed, even in terms of fan service. Some audience favorites are noticeably absent – particularly Linda’s deranged cat-lady sister Gayle (voiced in the series by Megan Mullally) – and Bob’s original antagonists, Health Inspector Hugo (Sam Seder) and rival restaurateur Jimmy Pesto Sr. only make brief cameos (in the latter case, a silent one; it should be noted that voice actor Jay Johnston was fired from the show after allegedly participating in the January 6 Insurrection last year, likely explaining his absence from the film). Further, the mystery itself isn’t really a mystery to any longtime fans of the show, as one of the major players is a fairly recent addition to the canon, and it’s obvious what their motivations are.

And while I enjoyed the story, it plays just a touch more fantastical than most Bob’s Burgers stories would. Sure the Belchers et al get into some hijinks that occasionally come close to high concept, but it’s rare when a plot doesn’t stay grounded in some sort of universal experience. Even the more outlandish stories are usually based in imagination rather than real events in the show’s universe. Here, that grounding is more character-focused, particularly on Bob and Louise, than it is on story, which isn’t exactly disappointing, but it is a departure that will be noticed by those who come in expecting a feature length episode of the show.

Still, this is an entirely satisfying outing, giving one of the best shows on TV a true cinematic polish. It’s full of great laughs, and in true Bob’s Burgers fashion, the emotional core of the show endears the audience to the shenanigans. It’s been five years since the film was announced, and it was certainly worth the wait.

Grade: B

Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? Who’s your favorite character on the show? Do you have any good ideas for the Burger of the Day? Let me know!

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