Film, Film Review

REVIEW: The Bob’s Burgers Movie (2022) dir. Loren Bouchard & Bernard Derriman

Opens Friday, 5/27 @ Somerville Theatre


(L-R): Bob Belcher (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin), Linda Belcher (voiced by John Roberts), Louise Belcher (voiced by Kristen Schaal), Gene Belcher (voiced by Eugene Mirman), and Tina Belcher (voiced by Dan Mintz) in 20th Century Studios’ THE BOB’S BURGERS MOVIE. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

With all due respect to The Office, I would posit that the ultimate comfort-watch of the streaming age is Bob’s Burgers. Created in 2011 by Loren Bouchard (an alumnus of Watertown’s late, lamented Soup2Nuts animation studio), the primetime cartoon has quietly grown into something of a phenomenon, boasting one of the best voice casts on television and a run of consistently good-to-great seasons which has now, by just about anyone’s metric, lasted longer than that of The Simpsons. Currently wrapping its twelfth season (and already renewed for number 13), a feature film was, if not inevitable, then at least a natural extension of the show’s near-universal goodwill. The Bob’s Burgers Movie may not be revelatory, but it is as fleet-footed and good-hearted as the show from which it spawned.

It’s summer in the unnamed pierfront town that houses the titular restaurant, and Bob and Linda Belcher (voiced, as in the show, by H. Jon Benjamin and John Roberts) are in a characteristically precarious spot; they are rejected for an extension on their loan, and will require a particularly boisterous month of sales in order to escape foreclosure. This is easier said than done, especially after an enormous sinkhole swallows the sidewalk and much of the street in front of the restaurant. The Belchers’ problems are compounded when precocious youngest daughter Louise (Kristen Schaal) discovers the years-old corpse of a local carny in the pit, and an investigation implicates the Belchers’ eccentric landlord Mr. Fischoeder (Kevin Kline) and his incompetent brother Felix (Zach Galifinakis). Realizing it’s up to her to save her family’s home and restaurant, Louise enlists her socially awkward older sister Tina (Dan Mintz) and flamboyant musician brother Gene (Eugene Mirman) to solve the murder and clear Mr. Fischoeder’s name.

Tina Belcher (voiced by Dan Mintz), Gene Belcher (voiced by Eugene Mirman), and Louise Belcher (voiced by Kristen Schaal) in 20th Century Studios’ THE BOB’S BURGERS MOVIE. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

I have a feeling this is going to be a relatively brief review, because if you’ve ever watched Bob’s Burgers (as I suspect most currently reading this have) you probably already know whether you’re going to like The Bob’s Burgers Movie. Apart from a marked upgrade in the animation department (more on that in a bit), this is, for all intents and purposes, a triple-length episode of the TV show. There are no noticeable instances of the writers straying outside the bounds of network TV standards and practices (like the memorable flash of nudity in The Simpsons Movie), and nothing happens which would seem to affect the show’s continuity going forwards (as in the big-screen installments of Rugrats or The X-Files). The stakes of the plot are perhaps higher than the average episode, but even then only just; both the scope and the details of the story aren’t too far off from the “Wharf Horse” / “World Wharf II” two-parter which closed out season four. There aren’t any big name guest stars, outside of the show’s considerable bench of well-known comics who voice most of the supporting roles.* In other words, if you’ve ever plopped down on the couch and watched a handful of Bob’s Burgers episodes in one sitting, you’ve already gotten the experience of The Bob’s Burgers Movie.

But I want to make it clear: all of this is as it should be. Bob’s Burgers is not a show which lends itself to big narrative swings; there’s no “lore,” and, apart from a handful of runners and call-backs, it is blessedly non-serialized. Instead, The Bob’s Burgers Movie wisely focuses on what has made the show such an enduring success: the interplay between, and surprising warmth of, its core characters. As in Bouchard’s previous shows Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist and Home Movies (which also featured the voice of Benjamin, as well as several of Bob’s key supporting players), Bob’s Burgers is built on tight, occasionally improvised comic interplay between its voice actors, recorded in the same room whenever possible. What makes The Bob’s Burgers Movie isn’t the plot (though that is appropriately offbeat and lightly morbid) or the extended cinematic scenes; it’s the scenes of the Belcher children riffing off each other as they walk from one location to the next, or Bob’s groans of annoyance at Linda’s more overbearing moments. Even at its most extravagant, Bob’s Burgers isn’t about spectacle; it’s about the cheerful weirdos at the center of it all.

(L-R): Tina Belcher (voiced by Dan Mintz) and Jimmy Pesto Jr. (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) in 20th Century Studios’ THE BOB’S BURGERS MOVIE. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

One area in which The Bob’s Burgers Movie does manage to stretch its legs is its musical numbers. The show’s catchy original songs have been one of its secret weapons since its earliest days; two sprawling triple-album soundtracks have been released on Sub Pop, and it seems inevitable that more will follow as the series continues. Freed from the constraints of weekly television, the animators are able to visualize some truly exhilarating set pieces, including an energizing curtain-raiser and a Busby Berkeley-style number performed by unsavory carnival workers. Superheroes aside, few genres make as compelling a case for the big-screen experience as the musical, and the animators of Bob’s Burgers seem keenly aware of this.

Could The Bob’s Burgers Movie stand to be more ambitious? Perhaps; even in this lengthened format, the writers seem to have trouble juggling the various A- and B-stories (Tina’s subplot, involving another round of hesitancy over perpetual love-object Jimmy Jr., and Gene’s, about his dream of performing music on stage at the local carnival, fade into the background amidst more pressing matters). But, again, these seem like silly qualms. The Bob’s Burgers Movie understands what makes the show so appealing, and makes the smart decision to stick to what it does best. 

* – Well, most of them; for obvious reasons, Bob’s rival Jimmy Pesto is relegated to a handful of silent background gags.

The Bob’s Burgers Movie
dir. Loren Bouchard & Bernard Derriman
102 min.

Opens Friday, 5/27 @ Somerville Theatre (and pretty much everywhere else)
Live introduction by Eugene Mirman (voice of Gene Belcher) Friday, 5/27, 8:00 @ Somerville Theatre!

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