The Fox Network stalwart Bob’s Burgers breaks out from its TV residency and into cinemas for an expanded adventure, but with its sitcom elements intact.
The list of TV sitcoms and shows that have made the stretch to the big screen is long, though the results are often patchy. It’s a precarious tightrope to walk, demanding that the writers both expand on a show’s look and feel to fit a bigger canvas and deepen the content to fit a longer format, all while keeping the intimacy and small cabal of characters that make these shows so beloved and the standard TV formats so evergreen.
Largely, this transposition of Bob’s Burgers handles those tasks well; producing a satisfying hour and a half capable of charming even someone with limited knowledge of the show.
This is not an insular affair dealing solely in fan service, nor does it demand deep knowledge of its characters. My experience of the long-running show, which is now moving towards its 13th season and 250th episode, doesn’t extend much further than knowing its premise – Bob Belcher, the downtrodden owner of the titular diner, navigates the day-to-day problems thrown up by family, friends and the world at large – and the fact its central voice, the distinctive H. Jon Benjamin, is also the voice of Fox’s animated super-spy Sterling Archer (this was riffed on in a suitably violent – that’s a warning – A History of Violence-style ‘crossover’ segment for Archer back in 2017). There’s also this rather splendid music video for the band Sleater-Kinney.
This relative ignorance on my part, importantly, largely matters not because Bob’s Burgers The Movie tells a self-contained twin-plot story that blends an easily parsable whodunnit tale for the children to solve with some saving-the-business business for the adults to deal with.
In both cases, it quickly and effectively serves to establish its characters and stakes, before giving everyone in the cast a chance to shine – including some of the notable irregulars it brings into the ensemble. Eschewing the temptation to throw everyone from the TV cast into the pot just for kicks, the film picks out Aziz Ansari to reprise his role as Darryl, the prospective love interest of the teenage Tina Belcher, alongside Kevin Cline and Zach Galifianakis as the brothers Calvin and Felix Fischoeder, Gary Cole as Sgt. Bosco, and Stephanie Beatriz as Louise’s schoolmate-and-proto-nemesis, Chloe.
The obvious comparison here is with two other long-running adult-skewed animations that have made their way to cinemas, with differing levels of success: The Simpsons and South Park. So, predictably, that’s where I’m going to go – as lessons, you suspect, have been learned. While The Simpsons Movie sacrificed the key character of Springfield itself when its cinema iteration chose the on-the-run/journey of discovery format – and thus only really takes off when the story returns there – South Park kept it largely local throughout, and instead leaned on some genius musical segments and a film-within-a-film to heighten the storytelling to absolutely stellar effect.
Bob’s Burgers The Movie doesn’t lean into the movie musical format anywhere near as heavily as Parker and Stone chose to lean on the brilliance of Marc Shaimen for Bigger Longer and Uncut, but it does rely on added songs to do some of the heavy lifting when it comes to establishing the internal needs and wants of its key characters. They not only add spice but also serve to allow the viewer into the story’s world quickly and without the need for reams of exposition – in short, the perfect use of song as per the template of modern musicals, and also just a lot of fun.
This movie, save for a few minutes spent in school and in a rougher part of town, never travels further than the end of the street to weave its story, and is all the better for it. Also, it makes the wise decision to move its eponymous central character to the side a little, and make his three children the real stars of the show. This allows the longer format to tell a tale that affords both growth for the characters while safely returning everything to the status quo by the end. Which, is essentially the process of growing up when you think about it, as well as being the central trope of the sitcom format.
Thus, Bob’s Burgers The Movie serves up a plate of big-screen fun, plenty of charming characters, some great sight gags and plenty of straight-up laughs without upsetting the central timeline of the series, beyond – probably – a ‘what a crazy summer’ gag when the series does come back. I found it a greatly enticing entry point to the smaller format show, which showcases a set of charming characters whom I instantly want to know more about. Not just one for the fans, then, this movie definitely stands alone as a slice of entertainment to relish.
Bob’s Burgers The Movie is in cinemas from 27th May.
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