SAN DIEGO — “I think the MPAA didn’t know how to handle food,” Seth Rogen said of his raunchy animated comedy “Sausage Party,” releasing Aug. 12, at a post-sausage Q&A session Thursday night. “They crossed into this unprecedented area of, ‘Is [the sausage] a d—? If it’s a pita bread’s ball sack, is it a ball sack?'”
That conundrum for the industry’s trade association is as good a way as any into discussing the film, which dabbles in religious and socio-political overtones while also featuring an actual douche bag sexually assault a juice box. There is nothing like “Sausage Party,” which first screened as a work in progress at the South by Southwest film festival in March. It is 100 percent its own thing.
The film, co-written by Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill and directed by Greg Tiernan (“Thomas and Friends”) and Conrad Vernon (“Shrek 2”), was born out of a love of animated movies, Rogen said, particularly the Pixar brand. Rogen and company set out to follow the structure and tropes of those films with a story about talking food, but of course things immediately went in a trademark vulgar direction from there.
“The day after we knew we wanted to make a movie about food, we decided food had to f— each other,” Rogen said. “We were like, ‘Someone is going to make an R-rated Pixar movie one day and I’m going to be pissed if we’re not the guys to do it.”
The crux of the narrative centers on the notion of “The Great Beyond,” a heaven-like utopia that various anthropomorphic items in a supermarket believe they will be carted off to once “chosen” by “gods” (customers). A sausage, Frank (Seth Rogen), learns the awful truth — that the gods eat food and it’s horrific — and attempts to reveal his findings.
That premise, as well as many stoned nights wandering around supermarkets with a pad in hand, opened countless doors to a number of interesting areas, including the testy relationship between a pita (David Krumholtz) and bagel that sounds like Woody Allen (Edward Norton). Yes, a movie about talking food that ends in a condiment-soaked orgy digs into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — with remarkable aplomb.
“If food doesn’t think it gets eaten, what does it think,” Rogen recalled brainstorming. “And that kind of led us down the path of beliefs and how people face the idea that you expire in different ways, and they have different ideas to support those ideas.”
Norton was a huge champion for the film as soon as Goldberg pitched it to him. He became a bit of an ambassador, convincing others — like Salma Hayek — to be a part of it. He also, according to Rogen, tried to explain the premise to “Birdman” and “The Revenant” director Alejandro G. Iñárritu at a dinner party one night. He was apparently unsuccessful.
In any case, “Sausage Party” is one of the best films of the year for its sheer audacity and deft handling of hot button subject matter. But while there is probably no hope for an animated feature Oscar nomination — the mind reels at the thought of it screening for octogenarians at the Academy’s esteemed Samuel Goldwyn Theater — Sony should give it a serious shove anyway, just to be a disrupter in the race. It’s an intriguing complement to, say, “Zootopia,” which deals heavily in zeitgeist matters with lovable talking animals and is already considered the frontrunner to win the Oscar.
Either way, the goal for Rogen and company is to keep expanding this zany world.
“It’s the first time we’ve ended a movie with the intention of making another one,” he said. “We have an idea of where we’d like it to go and we’d love to just make talking sausage movies for the rest of our lives. Who wouldn’t?”