When an animated TV show makes the leap to the feature film world, one imagines that there is a kind of “go big” mentality that comes with the move. Putting aside the literal size of the screens in the respective mediums, the expanded runtime invites expanded stories, and what better way to expand is there than scaling up? It’s logical, and time tested by some of the biggest titles from the last few decades – be it The Simpsons Movie trapping the town of Springfield in a giant dome; South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut launching a U.S.-Canadian War; and Beavis And Butt-Head Do America taking its titular couch potato protagonists on a cross-country road trip.
That familiar mentality isn’t what’s behind Loren Bouchard and Bernard Derriman’s The Bob’s Burgers Movie, however. There are disasters with major consequences, and characters put in serious peril, but not really on a scale significantly different than what fans are familiar with from the show. Instead of going for anything explosive or redefining, the film is really just a wonderful translation of everything that is great about the show – unfurling a story that naturally reaches all of the beloved nooks and crannies of the of the world. It utilizes its characters well enough to not need a globe-trotting adventure plot or potential apocalyptic stakes, and, like the series, it’s a delight.
Written by Loren Bouchard, Jim Dauterive, and Nora Smith – all of whom have been a part of Bob’s Burgers since the show’s premiere in 2011 – The Bob’s Burger’s Movie opens with the Belcher family facing a familiar crisis: the eponymous restaurant is broke, and without financial support or bill extensions the business will go under. In an optimistic opening musical number, Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) and Linda (John Roberts) make plans to go to the bank and wow their account manager with a well-made burger… but the offer is rejected and they learn that they have seven days to make their loan payments before repossessions of restaurant equipment start.
The Belchers think they may have a chance to pay off their debts thanks to the forthcoming eightieth anniversary of Wonder Wharf – the amusement park on the pier down the street – but insult is added to injury when a sinkhole opens up directly in front of Bob’s Burgers. And to make matters even worse, a dead body is discovered in the pit, and there are suspicions that he is a homicide victim.
While Bob, Linda, and their friend/regular customer Teddy (Larry Murphy) try and find a way to make the money the restaurant needs, the Belcher children – Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal) – decide to take a different tactic. In order to save the family business, the kids take it upon themselves to try and solve the six-year-old murder, all the while grappling with their own personal issues going into the summer.
The Bob's Burgers Movie is basically a feature-length episode, and that's a strength.
Bob and Linda have their funny moments in The Bob’s Burgers Movie, attempting to turn the business into an illicit mobile cart, but fans of the series won’t be surprised to learn that it is the adventure of the Belcher children that provides the biggest smiles in the feature. On top of getting a terrific narrative that allows them to revisit characters and elements from memorable episodes of the animated series – from the One Eyed Snakes biker gang, to Mickey (Bill Hader), the crook-turned-carnie – they all get their own interesting and intimate stories that get at the heart of what each of the characters are about.
Gene, who is always trying to come up with radical new instruments and making bizarre noises, is forced to confront his relationship with music; Tina overanalyzes her hopes to make her longtime crush, Jimmy Jr. (H. Jon Benjamin), her summer boyfriend; and Louise has her mettle tested when classmates accuse her of being a chicken, and she works to prove her bravery. All of these storylines provide laugh-out-loud and sweet moments for each of the kids – with a special bonus coming in the form of fans learning the origin story behind Louise’s mysterious, pink, bunny ear hat.
It should also be noted that just because The Bob’s Burgers Movie keeps its story contained and intimate doesn’t mean that it’s either without big surprises or meaningful moments for the show (which will begin airing its thirteenth season later this year) and fans. With callbacks to some of the most dramatic episodes in early seasons, there are some notable revelations and moments that could permanently change characters going forwards.
The Bob's Burgers Movie doesn't do anything new animation-wise, but it still looks great.
The only real drawback of the simple approach by The Bob’s Burgers Movie is the opportunity it robs from an aesthetic perspective. Traditionally, one of the best things about films based on animated shows is that the scaled-up story allows the animators to showcase their talents in new and interesting ways, but the story told here doesn’t really allow that. There certainly are examples of cool production design in new locations (the standout being a secret lair that I can’t discuss too much for spoiler reasons), and musical/fantastical sequences are all kinds of flashy, but there isn’t much that either hasn’t been previously featured on the show, or could have reasonably been depicted in a past or future episode.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie is a success for many of the same reasons why the show has grown to be so popular in the last 11 years. The dynamic between the strange members of the Belcher family strikes the exact right balance of sweet, weird, dark, and goofy, and the film finds a great story to tell to mix all of those elements together. Fans will adore it, and while it won’t convert any haters, it so well represents the best elements of the series that it may inspire on-and-off-again viewers to firm up their fanhood.
NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.