This week Loren Bouchard’s Bob’s Burgers follows in the footsteps of fellow animated comedies South Park and The Simpsons with its own theatrically released feature spin-off. As with those films (released in 1999 and 2007 respectively) the central question remains the same: what is the value of a feature film when viewers are getting upwards of 20 half-hour episodes a year anyway?
In the case of those earlier features, there was a creditable attempt to expand the scope and scale from the original series while retaining the specific tone and humour that made them such a success in the first place. With The Bob’s Burgers Movie, directed by Bouchard and Australian animator Bernard Derriman, the tone and humour are certainly brought across intact but the scale is no bigger than the standard weekly instalment. That is partly understandable: while regularly absurd, the narratives of Bob’s Burgers hew much more closely to real life than the elaborate fantasies of South Park and The Simpsons. It may even be commendable: there is a long legacy of genuinely awful TV-to-film adaptations in the UK, for example, that show what happens when you drag the casts of 1970s sitcoms out of their traditional environment. (Take Are You Being Served (1977). Or, rather, don’t. Instead run a mile and hide – nothing good will come from viewing it.) Still and all, it does leave The Bob’s Burgers Movie in the unenviable position of seeming like an extended episode of the TV series; something that those other animated features managed to avoid.
When a sinkhole opens up directly outside Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) and Linda’s (John Roberts) burger restaurant, it makes earning enough to pay their loan repayments close to impossible. When Louise (Kristen Schaal) discovers a long-hidden skeleton in the hole, it sets off a murder mystery that she and her siblings Tina (Dan Mintz) and Gene (Eugene Mirman) are intent upon solving.
There is honestly nothing plot-wise that one cannot get over a couple of episodes of the series. That alone is likely to make The Bob’s Burgers Movie struggle in theatres, particularly given the remarkably short theatrical windows Hollywood is employing these days. It does cast a disappointing pall over the film to be honest; there is a constant sense of potential being wasted. Beyond that? A 100-minute episode of Bob’s is still a 100-minute episode of Bob’s; existing fans of the show are going to have a ball here. The characters are on point, the jokes are in fine form, and most of the famous guest and supporting players manage a cameo at least. Bob’s Burgers had a pretty rough introduction for Australian viewers – although it is now entirely available on Disney+ – so it may even work as a good introduction for anyone unfamiliar with it. (Everyone should become familiar with it: it’s presently neck-and-neck with South Park for America’s best animated comedy series).
One thing the cinema budget does afford the film is higher quality animation. The series as it stands is perfectly well design and animated, but the greater budget lends an additional sense of depth and greater fluidity of motion. It seems a weird element to praise, but thanks to the animation the choreography during musical numbers is genuinely great. This is the major aspect in which being a film really helps: the Belcher family have never looked this good.
Moderate expectations if you are already a fan, and The Bob’s Burgers Movie is a wonderfully funny time. Come into it as a comparative newbie, and you might find a few elements confusing – it assumes you know a lot of the characters – but are still rewarded with one of 2022’s better comedies to date.