SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched “The Bob’s Burgers Movie.”
For over 10 years, Loren Bouchard has been telling the stories of the Belcher clan on a weekly basis. Created by Bouchard, “Bob’s Burgers” premiered in 2011 as an animated sitcom about married couple Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) and Linda Belcher (John Roberts) and their three kids — Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman) and Louise (Kristen Schaal) — as they operate their small family owned burger shop and navigate the mundane absurdity of everyday life.
Initial reviews of the show when it premiered were mixed; for Variety, Brian Lowry wrote that it “too often falls on the wrong side of the ‘entertaining’/’annoying’ divide.” But over the course of the first and second season, the show began revealing both its characters’ more idiosyncratic quirks — whether it’s Linda’s boundless optimism or Tina’s obsession with butts — and a sweet but never saccharine depiction of a family that deeply loves each other, warts and all. Eventually, the show gained momentum to become a certified hit, winning two Emmy awards and developing a loyal following of fans who consider it the ultimate comfort food.
Now, the show is taking a leap out of TV onto the big screen with “The Bob’s Burgers Movie.” Releasing Friday, the movie represents Bouchard’s first ever time working in film, as well as the first time he’s ever directed the Belchers in general; his last directorial credit before the movie was in 2007, for Adult Swim show “Lucy: The Daughter of the Devil.” In making this transition to a new medium, Bouchard wrote the screenplay with Nora Smith, who has worked on the show since the first season, and co-directed with Bernard Derriman, who has served as the show’s supervising director and producer since 2013.
Ahead of the film’s premiere, the three spoke to Variety about working during the pandemic, finding the heart of the film and if they already have plans for a sequel.
Loren, what were the challenges for you in adapting to directing the movie, after having never directed the show?
Loren Bouchard: If you’re a writer, if you’re kind of an audio driven person like I am and you’re a dialogue driven person like I am, one of the things you have to do is trick yourself into thinking visually, and it doesn’t come naturally to some of us. I could have worked in radio. I really think about dialogue and music before I think about anything you might call visual or directorial. And it’s going to hurt you if you’re trying to make a movie — you’re going to make a talky movie with boring shots. So I never questioned whether Bernard and I would direct it together. And it’s basically just him being charitable and letting me come along for the ride. All I had to do in return was try to think visually and see if I could manage to up my game in terms of focusing on what you’re seeing in addition to what you’re hearing.
The film got delayed a ton. Were you working on it at all during COVID, or was it pretty much done by the time the pandemic happened?
Nora Smith: The whole time. It’s a whole full time job to make a TV show, and then we were also making a movie.
Bouchard: We used every minute they gave us.
Bernard Derriman: Luckily, it was pretty seamless once it kicked in. One day we’re in the office and then it was like, “stay at home” and then “everyone come in and pick your computers up.” And within a day we’re back into it again. So we really didn’t skip a beat. It worked pretty quickly, and that’s the beauty of working in animation
Bouchard: To say, “Here’s the movie you were making. Here’s the date you were shooting for. We’re gonna move the date.” It was everything. It meant that we could go back and really make sure that we were leaving it all on the field. Time is the enemy in animation. You’re always fighting to do another retake of a shot, or get another take of a line, or do another pass on the music or edit the thing a little tighter. In a lot of ways, this was the perfect timeline for us. We appreciated every extra second.
How did you think about making the film higher stakes, while still keeping true to the show?
Smith: Early on, we decided we liked the murder mystery idea for the movie, because that’s not quite something we could do on the show. And that felt, immediately, like it got us a little bit bigger. And also, it just is really exciting to think about a storyline for that genre.
Bouchard: We really wanted to go at the question, what does it look like when they face the possible failure of the restaurant? What if you actually hear Bob say, “We’re not gonna make it?” What does that look like? And we treated it as as real as possible. So we raised the stakes in terms of this murder mystery and there’s life and death stakes, but there’s also the possibility that this restaurant might fail for real. And then on top of that, in terms of stakes, you want each of the characters to have what makes them them be threatened.
Derriman: And I think too, credit to Loren and Nora, they had to walk that line of raising the stakes, but not changing the characters irreversibly because this movie still does live within the series. It comes at a point of time within the seasons. And it can’t be something that breaks the show afterwards. They did a great job of coming up with a story where you’re able to raise the stakes, big enough for a big-screen event, but they can still go back to normal life.
The show, at this point, has such a large recurring cast. How did you think about incorporating them all into the film?
Bouchard: We’re indebted to all the characters who’ve appeared on the show, each character that walks on and gets a laugh and seems kind of at home in that world makes that world a little better. And we love the fact that we’ve been on the air long enough to have had quite a lot of them. So when it came time to make the movie, it’s like a big box of candy. Who can we put in the movie? And your first urge is to just put them all in. But we did have to resist that, we found that it overcrowded the story in a way that, instead of honoring those characters, it was going to hurt the core. So in the end, the main characters, the family and Teddy and the Fischoeders, they had to be elevated. They had to have a story, especially our family had to have a story that was fully felt. And so as a result, some cameos had to be cut.
Having seen the movie, I’d say Louise gets arguably the most focus, but all of the family and Teddy have their moments in the spotlight. How did you make sure they all had those moments to shine?
Bouchard We do it every week. And we’re religious about it. If we’re telling an A-story, that’s going to feature a character or two, you never leave the other family members without a clear arc of some kind. So we have that built in our muscles and for the movie, we knew we had to do it and then some. So we talked, right from the beginning, about each character, what was their defining quality in our minds, and how could it be challenged and effectively threatened over the course of the movie and redeemed at the end.
The film is pretty lighthearted, but there is this idea in it about how rich people like the Fischoeders get into drama with each other and the Belchers suffer the consequences. Was that class aspect something that felt important from the show, to have in the movie?
Bouchard: I love that aspect of the show that pretty proudly wears their blue collar class identity on their sleeves, but doesn’t do it in a way that feels like “Oh, I’ve seen that before.” I think class issues are more interesting when you avoid the cliches of class warfare. To me, not only is it stale, it’s also misleading. We love the Belchers being struggling, working class people who are trying to make their restaurant work, and may not succeed and don’t know how they’re going to pay the rent next month. But they’re also creative and tolerant and curious, and I think it’s nice to be telling stories from that point of view and not reducing the family down to a much more simplified and less real version of the blue collar family. And I think similarly, Fischoeder, its fun to tell stories about eccentric, rich people who don’t quite fit the mold also.
Smith: But Fischoeder also is in awe of Bob a little bit, so it’s a little bit of a power balance. I think in a way, a tiny bit, he looks up to Bob.
A big part of “Bob’s Burgers” has always been the music, and this movie has some great musical numbers. What was your process writing the songs?
Bouchard: It was a great pleasure. Writing songs is really fun. I’m lucky to be able to do it with Nora, she came to my house at the very beginning of starting to think about music for the movie, while we were still writing the script. And she picked up the ukulele that I have and, I think she would describe herself this way — she does not usually play the ukulele.
Smith: I’m excellent at the ukulele, I know three chords.
Bouchard: She had these two chords that were phenomenal, and she played them for me. And it was one of those things, I knew the second she played them, that those were the first two chords of the movie. And it was so exciting. I just ripped it out of her hand, made her show them to me, and it just felt like the car had been set on the track and we were going to write that that first song. Writing songs is one of those things you don’t want to look too closely at. It’s a little mysterious how it happens. But it sure is nice to do it with somebody else who can sort of kick things off when you’re stalled or who can take things over — if you’ve got an idea for a melody and you’re just singing nonsense words and and they can fill in the lyrics. It’s probably one of the greatest pleasures in the world. I feel really lucky to be able to do it.
Smith: I don’t even know the name of that chord.
Bouchard: No, no one does.
Have there been thoughts percolating about a potential sequel film? Turning it into a trilogy?
Smith: I’ve percolated thoughts, but I don’t know if my percolations mean much. When we were making this movie, all the stuff we couldn’t put into this one, because it didn’t fit this story, we were like, “Oh, maybe we’ll do it in the sequel.” So we already have areas we’re thinking about, but A: they have to ask us to. And B: we wouldn’t do it unless we knew that we had a really exciting, solid story that needed to be told.
Bouchard: We would love to make another movie. It was really fun, and so of course, you can’t help starting to think, what would it be? I have nothing to tease, we have no answers, but yeah, you start thinking about it. Even if they said we couldn’t, we’d probably write one anyway.
This interview has been edited and condensed.